Wednesday 26 December 2012

Monbiot's Dilemma

George Monbiot: The day my inner anarchist lost out to the bourgeois me

A very enjoyable and well written story, however it seems to me that George and his friends were never anarchists in anything more than name to begin with.  George's anarchism didn't 'give way' to his bourgeois liberalism.  To be an anarchist means to take responsibility for oneself all the duties and otherwise performed by the state -- to stop recognising such authority but also to stop relying on such authorities.  These so called anarchists didn't do these things.  They were actually pacifist liberals; they thought they could do away with violence (or even confrontation) and simply reason with whoever they came into conflict with.  Turns out that doesn't work, so they needed the police to step in.

There can be no such thing as a pacifist anarchist.  Or, rather, a pacifist anarchist probably isn't going to live very long.  Or, a pacifist anarchist can only survive in a world of pacifists.  You can be a pacifist if you get other people to protect you (if you accept statist liberalism -- free of violence or the threat of violence because you get others to do it for you).  But without that 'outsourcing' you either have to grow a spine and do it yourself or pretend that good intentions and reason can overcome all divisions and obstacles (quite a delusion).

The moral of the story, I think, is that you can recognise that people such as this traveller have been abused, excluded, disenfranchised and still be faced with a very real problem with regard to how to deal with them.  Explaining how they are the way they are (by social factors not genetic predisposition or theological 'evil') tells us nothing about how to deal with them as they are.  They are no less a problem, despite all the explanation.  The old hippyish liberalism which would have everyone just being a bit nicer to each other comes crashing down the moment such bourgeois pretensions actually meet anyone genuinely downtrodden and disenfranchised and realises that some of these people would rather kick you in the head and steal your phone than listen to your self-involved bourgeois psycho-babble, which is literally meaningless to them.

Recognising that there are bad, broken people in the world who no amount of care or reasoning can reach doesn't mean that 'there are just evil people in the world who were born evil and that's that'.  That's a totally false deduction.  It means that, despite having a clear idea of how and why people turn out like this, we have no magic wand to wave to make people nice and friendly and non-violent.  Only a totally different upbringing is likely to do that.  And it's a bit late for grown men, who know only bitterness and violence and whose very personality is built from that world.

Nobody is 'born evil'.  Criminals are made, not born.  But that doesn't help us much when confronted with real, non-abstract, criminals, right there, in our faces, stealing our stuff and threatening to break our bodies.  It's not that the abstract ideas about what causes criminality are wrong or that they're not 'real', it's that they don't help us much in immediate situations.  In fact these ideas about criminality in the abstract are real and are important but they do not in themselves give us a course of action.  Why?  Well, because they won't stop people who don't share our ideas stealing from and attacking us.  If we are pacifist liberals we can pretend that we do no violence (because we've outsourced our violence to others).  But 'anarchists' very quickly realise that violence can't be so easily set aside -- that if it isn't outsourced it can't just be ignored, not without disregarding one's own safety and well-being.

It's all very well to have grown up avoiding confrontation and abhorring violence (I know I have) but that world can only exist because it is protected from the less fortunate, more violent worlds of others.  That's George's dilemma -- how to step outside the protections that liberal society have granted, given that one of these is protection from the violence of criminals.  (And, of course, quite often that very apparatus of 'protection' is the source of violence, but that doesn't change the fact that most of us rely on it for protection most of the time.)