Monday, 18 November 2013

Utopias? I shit 'em...

"We don't have to worry about the boredom of utopia - we shan't get there." - Colin Ward, Anarchy In Action

We ramble rhapsodies for a future world. We explain, as thinkers did over a hundred years ago, how we do not need governments. We explain that our communities would be better off looking after their own affairs. We explain that a world based on free association and mutual aid is more desirable than one where we compete and conflict. The listener, who may be sympathetic, still smiles ruefully and shakes their head. They say that it's all well and good, but it's our ideas are too far fetched. They say we demand a perfect world. They say we demand utopia.

Anarchism, for me, does not reach for a utopia. An anarchist society simply lays down social and economic conditions in which individuals and communities will be happiest, most productive and most creative. These fundamental ideas (as covered comprehensively in Colin Ward's above quoted book) are naturally apparent in society. When relieved of their compulsory functions as workers, consumers and/or subjects of government, people practice anarchistic ideas without realising it. We all know people who garden, write, sew, mend, paint for hours outside of their jobs or studies. And they are willing to share these skills without expecting anything in return. They do this because it is a good within itself - it is emotionally healthy, and strengthens communities. Our social groupings are based on non-compulsory free association, as are clubs centred on special interests. They don't threaten arrest or the sack if you don't turn up. They presume, correctly, that individuals are happier making free choices.

And then there's the letter of the law, the government's imposed boundaries and limitations on our behaviour. I do not know a single person who is fully devoted to obeying the law. This isn't just anarchist circles, it's everyone. Everyone breaks laws, usually if a) it doesn't hurt anyone and b) they can get away with it. We do not feel naturally attached to the State's law, but we do feel naturally attached to unwritten social laws. It isn't because of law that we don't indiscriminately stab people, it's because we know, deep down, it's really unpleasant 1. Essentially, when possible, we will disregard the idea that a government can order us about.

These are not images from a utopia. This is how we behave when we are free from hierarchy and coercion, even if it's only for a short time. The egalitarian mindset necessary to work within an anarchist society is already within us.

But why would we even want to aim for a utopia? Why would want a world where everyone agrees and lives in perfect balance? It sounds so boring. No differences, no discussion, no changes... utopia is the death knell to our development. Fortunately, nothing is developing exponentially to perfection, and nor should it. The world is constantly changing, tumbling through social and natural evolution. We, similarly, are in a constant state of change. We are inspired by new ideas and new environments. The more we experience, the more our perspectives shift and broaden. This inevitably creates tensions, but these tensions are not to be avoided as aberrations. They are to be confronted in order to produce meaningful change, whether that be personal, social or global.

You may be thinking that this is hippy bullshit. You may be right. But the point stands: a utopia is a pointless thing to strive for. I reject the notion that I am searching for one. I want to see a society where people and communities are unfettered in their free development, and only bound by natural laws and communality. It is the current system of governments and capitalism that is annihilating this process of free change. It is destroying and demeaning us all. Anarchists want to release the world from these shackles and see where we end up. If we don't focus on spreading discontent with our horrendous situation, then we are going to end up in a very unpleasant place indeed.

1. This is, of course, when individuals do not reproduce their conditioning from an inherently violent society, which is all too inevitable. When this occurs, terrible things can happen - everything from prejudice to murder. I do not mean to disregard the awful things that happen in the world, I am merely demonstrating that when relieved of this, people are generally caring and interested in helping themselves and others.

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