Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Being Pissed Off Can Change the World

(or: Anarchy and its inextricable relationship to democracy, capitalism, and socialism)

I’ve been writing a screenplay about space bikers. And they’re inspiring me to do some real research on anarchism, which challenges me to study my first philosophical love: democracy.

When people think of anarchism, they look to the likes of Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky to give them some ideas and foundations. The problem is, Emma Goldman’s a great speaker but has problems with some of her conclusions (of the “great, flying leaps in logic” variety), and Noam Chomsky’s focus on socialism can’t truly be called anarchic: and this makes both of them less than ideal choices when we’re really looking at the core of anarchism, which is individual freedom and liberties.

This is how the concept of anarchism came about: Many people want less government; some want no government. But if you ask a lot of self-styled anarchists, they recognize the need for government among the majority of the population – a position which is actually counter to the core belief of anarchy (being that governments are evil because they promote violence). And when we look at so-called “hardcore” anarchists, many of them actually believe not in anarchy, but democracy.

Noam Chomsky wrote a line in 1970 that anarchists need to be a certain kind of socialist. I add to that: an anarchist must also be a certain kind of capitalist, a certain kind of fascist, a certain kind of purist—and a kind of realist, too. Anarchy is about survival of the fittest. It’s about social Darwinism. And I utterly disagree with it in many ways. But it does have some good points. Points which I won’t extol here. If you want to know the positive side, ask an anarchist.

Society needs rules. We need to know what is expected of us, in order to understand how we affect others. We need to know how we affect others, because this gives us a predictable future, where we can know whether or not we will survive, and how well. Anyone who doesn’t care about survival ought to be shot (and this is a joke, folks: please don’t go out and shoot someone for mouthing off about not caring whether they live or die!). The rules of society also need to be simple—one thing that they most certainly are not, at the moment. Perhaps this is one of the true aims of the anarchism movement; and perhaps anarchism is just a lame excuse to say “your rules don’t apply to me: nah, nah, na-nah, nah” (a position I’m sure we could test all day with results that confirm application of a good many rules to any individual).

Conformity to the rules is the norm. This doesn’t mean that it’s abnormal to break a rule once in a while. It also doesn’t mean that non-conformists can’t conform to something. If they reject everything, then they’re not non-conformists, they’re just unthinking rebels. Non-conformists can’t uniformly reject everything, or they’re conforming to a stereotype about non-conformists (don’t you love this logic?). But to lack rules altogether (or to reject them) means that there is no society, no music, no culture, and no communication—including speech. Without some rules, things like this blog wouldn’t work.

Rules shouldn’t have to be rigid boundaries all the time. In most cases, rules are merely an observation of the way that things work. They’re one way of doing things. Many people make the mistake of thinking that because something is a rule, that’s the only way it can work. In some cases, this is true; but it’s nowhere near a majority of cases in human experience. If it can work a different way, is it really harmful?

I reject the idea of socialism in general because of the fact that most people like freedom. Socialism putz all of the cards (and trust) in one basket (the basket of government). It places the ultimate responsibility on the government, and therefore it invests trust and power over these systems, on which people rely for their lives, in the government. Having had a dose of socialized medicine in both Europe and Canada, I can honestly say that not only am I against socialized medicine, but that Michael Moore is full of it.

(NOTE: Moore actually did cop—ON CAMERA—to making up the details to justify his position on socialized medicine, rather than doing a fair and balanced journalistic piece with “Sicko”. He justified this by saying: “It’s just the way research is done.” Not! Yes, folks: yellow journalism is alive and well! Moore is no more a journalist than Bush was a democratic leader. Any attribution is in name only. And that’s my opinion only: I’m entitled to it. I also have misgivings about his other works, which although convincing, are packed with half-truths, assumptions, and unfounded conjecture if people want to actually look at the REAL evidence.)

Socialism doesn’t create a better system, it creates one in which people complain that foreigners take all their best benefits (especially if a tourist gets hurt while on vacation). It creates a system which still gives people the short end of things if they don’t pay their taxes. And socialized medicine does not pay all of the bills: many people still have to supplement for things considered “elective surgery,” such as a nose job to repair a deviated septum and help that mouth-breather down the street not appear sick all the time. Plenty of us have had our fill of socialized medicine in the US: just ask those who are on the Medicaid system what they think.

Capitalism actually makes a great deal of sense, when tempered with a good ethic of sharing and interdependence. The idea of balancing resources is also highly appealing, because it implies that an unlimited amount of wealth is just waiting to be found and tapped. The ethic of helping your neighbor needs to be alive and well, for capitalism to actually work as a philosophy. Which means that one needs a certain amount of dissatisfaction in order to allow for motivation to excel in this system. It requires a small amount of greed, as opposed to the large amount which tends to be the norm today. And it requires a large amount of privatized charity. That’s the part that most people don’t get: helping their neighbor benefits them in ways which are profitable, yet not monetarily beneficial. Not all profit is financial.

Democracy is another philosophy that people who are self-styled anarchists are actually practicing in its purest form: an Athenian democracy is a democracy where everyone individually has a say, and where the direction of the majority of the group as a whole is considered the most correct. I’m a big believer in democracy. It’s not perfect (nothing is), but it’s one of the keys which makes life work the best for everyone involved. It preserves the freedom to choose. If people were just willing to put the principles of democracy into personal practice, they would quickly find the world turning into the type of place which breeds the values we all claim to hold dear. Like freedom.

All sentient beings crave freedom (as a group, though there are bound to be exceptions). But humankind (and I can say this with authority, being that I’m human) tends not to really want freedom with all of its responsibilities; rather, humans want nothing more than to be comfortable and free from the world. This is in contrast to freedom, which is to say being free in the world.

The “Big Picture” of freedom is taking utter responsibility for your own actions, and accepting the consequences in a world where the popular choice is to accept laws we don’t necessarily agree with. The concept of fighting for change is often expressed, but without action this expression is little more than complaining—and it’s annoying after a while. It is acceptance of the status quo of the culture. And if you truly disagree, you are motivated to support change, not the status quo. But if you are not motivated enough to actually enact that change, do you really want it?

Change of any kind requires dissatisfaction. If you aren’t dissatisfied, you’re not going to want to change. People don’t like being dissatisfied. They also don’t tend to like change. And where the tendency toward “a better way” means something different, it’s easy to fall into the trap of too much change. Like anything healthy, there’s a balance which must be found: a balancing point at which harmonious interchange occurs. Whether you’re anarchist, fascist, Marxist, Zionist, or any other kind of “-ist”, the only way change occurs is by getting angry enough about something that you decide to take action. Nothing happens when people fail to take action. I don’t remember who to attribute the quote to, but I think whoever it was, they said it best:

“The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing.”

Action is necessary if change is what you really need. And if you think about that action just a little, you can avoid violence, but never conflict: conflict is created any time you don’t completely agree with someone (and it’s impossible to agree with everyone, since opposing ideas are what make us individuals). And conflict’s inevitability means that people who understand things like debate and critical thinking have a leg up in the world.

Change doesn’t really take brains: it only takes motivation enough to act. This is how being pissed off can change the world. Negative feelings can bring about a positive consequence.