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The Anarchist’s Dream

A utopia or a possible reality?

The anarchist’s dream: the new land of promises. The era of collaboration between human -and other- beings who peacefully share their resources and coexist in harmony, with no state enforcing any rules. The sun will shine, the birds will chime, all life will smile in this utopian society of equality. Can this promise come true, or will it end up in chaos, violence, and the rule of the jungle where the fittest survives, just like the capitalist or the American dream?

Text and Image: Evita Belegri

So, what is this anarchist’s dream? It is mostly good faith in humans; the belief that they will be rational with each other and willing to collaborate without it being ordered. Imagine a functional and peaceful society where everyone naturally cooperates for the common good. However, the questions of how to facilitate cooperation shades all these dreams. The anarchist utopia is shattered by problems of resolving conflict, managing societies without fear of them getting attacked, or the need to develop a military. The answers to these questions are based on a hypothesis; speculating how humans were behaving with each other before any kind of political institution was invented - the state of nature.

The State of Nature; Are we evil or peaceful?

Philosophers have never agreed on what the state of nature exactly looks like; each has their own theories. Hobbes viewed the state of nature as ‘solitary’, ‘poor’, ‘nasty’, ‘brutish’ and ‘short’, while humans always looked to satisfy their own self-interest and lived in constant fear as there was no institution to protect them. Seeking security, humans willingly exchanged their freedom with protection provided by political authority. The political institution’s part of the deal is to guard one’s property and survival, while the human’s part of the deal is to obey this authority at all costs. For Hobbes, any kind of institution is better than anarchy.

Another famous political philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, supported that the state of nature was a period of happiness, equality, and prosperity for humans. However, humanity ‘fell from grace’ when they started organising in societies with division of labour and developing tools to facilitate survival. This led to the creation of private property and more leisure time, giving people the chance to compare themselves with each other, becoming competitive. He summarised his point in his famous phrase: ‘man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’.

Yet, which of the two theories should we believe? Are humans naturally drawn to be peaceful and happy or are they naturally drawn to be self-interested and evil? Philosophical theories are substantiated with good argumentation, but they remain nothing but speculations.

Instead of theorising about the past and imaginary states of humanness, what we can do is look at the current reality and recognise what is the current system and what behaviours it brings out to humans. By tracing where they come from and evaluating them, we can possibly find a way to change what we are socialised into in the present and discover what behaviours the anarchist utopia may bring out of people, and assess whether they can work.

Instinct Competition

I was encouraged to think about how our present behaviours derive from the capitalist system when in the curriculum of a course about Degrowth, Francis Merson gave a lecture on drives. He demonstrated that all people have certain instincts that come from living thousands of years with the survival-of-the-fittest logic. For example, hunger being one of the instincts meant that organisms capable of hunger were motivated to consume enough to sustain their energy levels, and thus were more likely to survive in contrast to those who did not have the capability for hunger. Drives are universal for everyone, but how people learn to satisfy them is social. Moreover, what drives are more dominant or prioritised and what drives are compromised are also societal as different drives are useful in different societies. Thus, a capitalist society would activate different instincts than an anarchist one.

According to Merson, capitalism stimulates the instincts of status climbing and knowledge or material acquisition (seeking). Those two drives go hand in hand. More money means more stuff and more stuff means higher status. Hence, in this hierarchical society of capitalism, those who have no money have also very low status. Fear - of being excluded from social life and resources if you do not fulfil the previous two drives- is also one dominant trait activated in capitalism.

In contrast, Merson emphasised that a non-hierarchical and non-capitalist society which has abandoned the growth imperative and now is targeted towards human wellbeing, would have care, attachment, and play as primary instincts. That is because anarchy is based on collaboration rather than status. As people would not be focused on accumulating stuff or status - since in an anarchist society there would be no point in doing so- they would put more time and emphasis into connecting with others. To make partnerships more easily and to ensure the protection of one another, people would have to be socialised into caring for others by helping or teaching them. Play would add on these instincts as it is strongly involved with social bonding.

The hypothesis is that if people are socialised in fulfilling those drives instead of being socialised in the current hierarchical model based on fear, seeking and status type people would start being more cooperative and more peaceful with each other. Following this argument an anarchist utopia of collaboration is plausible.

Not so quick…

Naturally, socialisation is a major factor in one’s behaviour, but not all people have the same opinions or ways of behaving. Even with the best parenting or societal monitoring, people can grow to become greedy, violent, or selfish. Don’t forget as well that anarchy is about freedom; we should have the liberty to choose what we want or how we want to behave for ourselves.

If we want to move towards this imaginary anarchist utopia, we cannot do it in one way and in one go. To me, a big revolution where one universal form of anarchy will be applied to the world is not utopian but rather dystopian. A social system must be adjusted to the human’s needs and desires and not have humans adjust to it. Some anarchist plans will work, and some will not. I propose that anarchists should look at the demands of local society rather than have an ideal of how all societies should look like. As Scott advised in Seeing Like a State for every development project: take small reversible steps. There is not one single form of anarchy and if something does not work for a specific society, then it should be changed. We cannot know in a capitalist society if anarchy is indeed a utopia or a reality, but we will never change or know if it is applicable if we do not start slowly moving towards it.

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