Countries: A problem the Earth doesn’t need?
I was in the pub the other day when an alien called Zinfluu came in. (That wasn’t his real name, obviously, but they have different alphabets and I don’t want to overly-complicate things too early.) He seemed a bit over-enthusiastic and jelly-like at first, but he was friendly enough, so I started telling him about Earth. Suddenly he pulled out a map of Earth, and asks me what all the lines mean. He couldn’t see them on the surface of the planet, he said, when he arrived from the actual bloody sky in his actual bloody spaceship.
“Zinfluu,” I said, “those are countries.”
“Snargle-bargle funktong,” he replied, drunk.
“Countries, idiot, countries.”
He remained confused, which was probably the language barrier and the bungling new effects of Earthbooze.
“Right, Zinfluu, it’s very, very simple. Get off my arm. People are born somewhere, and the world is divided up into chunks, and that makes them a certain kind of person, like ‘English,’ or ‘Chinese’ probably, and so they have to do and think certain things growing up because they have social contracts with these abstract entities called ‘states’ based on the genetic and geographic accidents of their births, and they get given a tax number, and some ownership documents —get off my arm— then the states pay individuals called the police to enforce rules chosen by different groups of individuals called governments, and take money from everyone inside the drawn-on borders to fund it, then pay other individuals called soldiers to protect those individuals inside the drawn-on borders from other individuals outside the drawn-on borders that pay taxes to different groups of individuals in different geographic locations. Also, each one has a song. Now get off my arm, you tourist jelly shape.”
“Funkop nog blom,” he said, and I was shocked. He was right, of course. From his smashed and objective alien viewpoint, ‘countries’ were a baffling and dangerous, incoherent and inefficient idea. More importantly, though, they just weren’t real, even though quite a lot of people seemed to be constantly pretending they were.
And if anybody knew what wasn’t real, it was Zinfluu, because he was a redundant narrative device. He touched my bum in a silly way, then disappeared.
Despite photographs from space seeming to prove that Earth has just one big, basically connected, dry, green bit, the majority of people on that one big, basically connected, dry, green bit still seem to prefer the conclusion that it is actually made up of around 200-300 entirely different and separate parts called ‘countries,’ ‘territories’ and ‘colonies,’ the number of which is decided internationally and unanimously by the last person to edit Wikipedia.
This mode of thinking — statism — if we want to slap a name sticker on its old, wrinkled face, has some immediately obvious and bizarre effects.
Firstly, it means that human beings have switched, only in the tiny, last percentile of their total hairless existence, from a free and nomadic species of upright monkeys that generally roamed around and put stuff from trees directly into their gobs, into a curious and unprecedented animal where almost every new member that is born is immediately, slightly owned.
Despite not choosing the longitude and latitude of our mothers at the instant we emerge from their vaginas into all this bloody nonsense, we can not leave whatever involuntary territory we land on without the sanction of the government that says it’s theirs. We can not own land or property without the sanction of a government, or trade legally without the sanction of a government, and will always have a portion of our economic value taxed by a government, and will always have to abide by rules under the threat of violence or imprisonment by a government, and might even risk being killed for resisting any such violence or imprisonment by a government. In a weird way, it often feels a bit like we are farmed and controlled for our economic productivity by an institution we do not and could not choose. When we are not economically productive, we can be given welfare, and when we are not playing by the rules, we can be imprisoned. Both options are funded by taxation, anyway, so it doesn’t much matter for the governments, which are pretty unique amongst big, worldly institutions in that they do not produce value (which even religions do by babbling about a magic cake, then passing round a sparkly hat). They can only take value, then redistribute it. This is accomplished through regrettably violence-backed taxation, the manipulation of currency, and odd ideas like deficit financing, whereby national debt is created to make potential people who aren’t even alive yet pay for stuff now. The money is borrowed by today’s politicians (or today’s people, if you’re democratically inclined), in the knowledge that it wont have to be paid back until they are well out of office, we are all out of work, and an entirely new set of humans face our tax bill.
So it is that we are still born into a kind of modern, comfortable slavery, kept in place by an increasing number of abstract restrictions, growing upwards towards the hidden guns that keep us working; only just alive and already owing money (a problem made worse if you’re born in the Christian side of the soup, and have a second, spiritual debt to a friendly hapless Jew who died way back when a road, a sewer, a workplace and a kitchen were all the same thing…)
The second problem with statism is how inconsistent it is with any rational attempt at morality. While ethical issues are of course difficult to define, what should be obvious to anyone smart enough to make a sandwich without getting trapped in the washing machine is that there are no such things as ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and the absence of these convenient but fictional absolutes means we have to give our brains, not Father Christmas or other supernatural creatures, responsibility in figuring them out. However, consistent moral principles do not apply very easily to the world of states because there is such a noticeable moral hypocrisy at its core — in that its basic mechanisms for functioning are not unlike theft, threat, debt, and violence, which we are almost universally told are wrong when other children do them in the playground — and an inconsistent web of contradictory laws on its surface — where the exact same action can be deemed moral/legal or immoral/illegal, depending only on your geographic location, and not on its intention, justification or consequences.
Our ethical priorities might always be warped when we trust the paradox that a murderer is always bad, but a soldier is always good, despite the difference only sometimes being a uniform and a paycheck; or that theft is bad, but when you call it taxation, it switches suddenly to only goodness, as if stealing stuff is not actually the problem, just as long as you share it afterwards with your favourite friends. Similarly absurd nonsense will also exist as long as different states continue to enforce ‘morality’ on their citizens, and national boundaries mean you can do incredibly silly things like start a bottle of wine as a law-abiding citizen, then walk across an imaginary line and finish it as a merry criminal, or have consensual homosexual sex too near the wrong border, and be one small act of bum fun clumsiness away from an illegal orgasm being the last one of your little gay life.
While you might argue that states, in general, exist exactly to protect you from such nastiness, it is important to remember that ‘your state’ fully controls the police, the military, the law, and the legal system, has exactly the bottomless funding that you don’t, and naturally (like any organism or organisation) wants to protect, sustain and advance itself, so will always – at a push – use those resources in whatever way it deems necessary and essential for its own survival. It wont vote for its own non-existence, even if 51% of its citizens demanded it. This is, of course, regardless of what is in your interests, or anyone else’s interests, or ‘the Planet’s’ pesky interests, and regardless of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ The late comedian George Carlin said it best: “Your ‘rights’ aren’t rights if someone can take ’em away. They’re privileges.”
Still, I guess all that is irrelevant when you live in a good country.
Now I know I’m waffling on about the subject of taxes a lot, and that’s about as sexy as eating pickles from your hand on a speed-date, but it is basically one of the most important riddles to unwind if you want to penetrate why this world isn’t as nice as the one John Lennon tried to achieve by heroically spending a whole day in bed with Yoko Ono.
Because when we talk about what a ‘country’ actually is, we are not talking about a group of people (a culture) or an area of land (a region), we are talking actually about the limits to which one institution can tax a group of people in an area of land before before another one takes over. Apart from making patriotism seem a less glamorous thing to celebrate (“We were born in a place where we are taxed by the same organisation! Amazing! God save the Queen!“), it also exposes a core goal that countries might just share with businesses, advertisers, cults, and the ‘business’ religions: to get your money, and keep your loyalty, by convincing you of their own virtue, particularly compared to the virtue of their competitors.
The difference between businesses, advertisers and (to a lesser extent) religions, however, is that they do in some way have to earn our money – to tickle it out of us – by providing something of value (religions sell us ‘salvation,’ the alleviation of guilt, etc.), whereas our governments inherently do not — they can just poke us with a gun for our money, and not let us poke back — and that is why they can afford the luxury of getting their greasy sausage-fingers all over welfare programs like public education. Then, time and time again, what ‘we’ learn in state-funded schools gravitates towards a narrative that firstly defines ‘us’ as a group with shared values and heritage (which muddies our idea of what a country really is), and then secondly, writes that fictional group’s role into a fairytale remix of history as the good guys, even if that version of real events is so untrue it could somehow ruin a horse up a tree from a mile away.
Thus in England, they train lots of new English people, and in France they train lots of new French people; they all get taller, hairier and more boring at roughly the same speed either side of a bit of water they could swim across, and suddenly find themselves adults who magically believe they’re different, and are proud of that difference.
Ignoring the obvious Darwinian spanner that all of them are some level of immigrant anyway — because humans don’t come from magic forest space eggs, silly — their patriotism represents nothing but an unearned smugness in the recent achievements of other dead souls who were born on the same lump of taxed land as they were; and worse, a silly celebration of the skewed historical baggage of ‘their people,’ which isn’t really the history of ‘their people’ at all, but the history of the rulers of ‘their people.’ Peasants never huddled around either side of the sea experimenting with elastic so they could fling themselves at each other for a nice war. No, they had to be rounded up, convinced, paid and ordered to fight by someone with a more impressive hat. That’s why patriotism is always valuable to the owners.
I was born British, it seems, because the little book I need to leave my drunk, wet island says so, and I remember learning in school how ‘we’ beat evil, imperialist Nazi Germany in World War: Part II, but not how the same unpleasant, imperialist ‘we’ brutally occupied Ireland or India, or, well, The World before that. I only remember learning Winston Churchill’s ‘heroic’ role in defeating the axis powers on the battlefields of Europe, but not about his queasier role in the simultaneous starving of millions of people in India (“I hate [them]. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”) I remember learning how ‘democracy’ was supposedly wrestled in this country from the aristocracy and landed elite, but not about the bloody and brutal origins of its entirely unelected monarchy.
‘God Save the Queen’? Umm… why, exactly?
Like most children, I was only given half of the story of ‘my country,’ and, rather conveniently you might say, the half I was missing was the half I needed to evaluate it even-mindedly. Of course, you could fart yourself into the sky, and enjoy the same rose-tinted shit any where you land. In the most American parts of America, for example, their patriots trumpet democracy, liberty, freedom, The Constitution, the Founding Fathers, defeating fascism, and that American Dreamy Thing, with considerably less painted belly-wobbling over the inconvenience of native Americans existing, the wealth built upon slavery, McCarthyism, the internment of Japanese-Americans during and after the War, its napalm, its nukes, Guantanamo Bay, or just about anything the bloated bully caricature of a country does across the world now with its corporate and military might, too often in direct and almost hilarious hypocrisy with its stated ‘ideals.’
The problem is if we are teaching children stuff that’s wrong, and indeed that seems to be one of humanity’s specialist subjects, then schooling is more like a conveyor belt system for patriot-rearing than genuine, agenda-less education. We all laugh and scorn when we see the heavily indoctrinated children of fanatical groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (the ‘God Hates Fags’ lot), yet we only mock them because the things they are rigidly taught as children are so different to the things that we are rigidly taught as children. Swap the cosmic accidents of our births, and, without independent thinking, we would be on the pavement telling God who He doesn’t like, and they would be us, reading this blog, perhaps, and feeling slightly annoyed at the comparison to such dappy sign-crayoning twonks. (And if you are reading this, Jael Phelps, you’re probably the hottest girl who has ever despised everything I stand for.)
If you want to understand why there’s so much conflict between the slightly varied shades and shapes of humanity, it’s because American children learn how ‘they’ defeated the British, British children learn how ‘they’ defeated the Germans, German children learn ‘they’ defeated the French, and the French children presumably have an extra hour of maths or cigarettes.
The teams are invented; the histories are faked; the virtuous feel-all-nice feeling is fabricated.
After that, there is also Nationalism, which you can grow by locking Patriotism in the basement for a year, feeding it a diet of sugar and batteries, and repeatedly kicking it in the head with a flag-painted sex toy glued to a shoe. Nationalists, like the dildo-battered, cross-eyed dungeon gimps they are, not only insist on the virtues of their country, but also tend to believe that their country is better than all others.
George Orwell, who is generally more right about most things than most people, called Nationalism, “the worst enemy of Peace.”
As we probably didn’t learn earlier from Long Rant Part I, it is important to (try to) apply logic to have consistent moral beliefs. For example, if we believe that soldiers are good and brave and sexy because they ‘fight for their country,’ then logically we must extend that viewpoint to all soldiers from all countries, as all soldiers must believe the same. Yet then, something funny happens. Suddenly, war stops being the simple Mel Gibson-friendly good versus evil story of history.
No, suddenly war is a lot of young people who are all told they’re Right, misguidedly trying to put metal in each other for the interests of mostly old people that they absolutely don’t know. This is why Patriotism, and every now-and-then Nationalism, are so important to those in power, and why the most blatant and active endorsements of it will always come from the generally lie-happy lips of politicians, a large percentage of whom have been proven by recent advancements in physiological biochemistry to be bastards, just bastards.
That’s why your average British chump, for example, will take pride in the patriotic nonsense-or-nostalgia of ‘us’ being the good guys in fighting against National Socialist imperialism, but will reply when asked about the brutal reign of ‘our’ empire the century before with something more whimsical about teaching darkies how to play cricket or use a Dessert Fork. Indeed, it is surprising how much bullshit we’ll believe to maintain the illusion that ‘we’ are the good guys — or it isn’t when you consider the institutions that are in charge of our upbringing and education for all of our formative years — and, while everyone’s still swimming in the brainwashing bath of their patriotism, governments and militaries can continue to trample across the good earth behind whatever false banner of progress ‘their’ people will believe, whether it be the walking ‘n’ stabbing conquests ‘n’ crusades of Jesus ‘n’ Mohammed-fanciers in the Middle Ages, or the almost entirely racist ‘civilising’ mission of the British Empire a bit later, or the more recent internationalist sharing-is-caring agenda of the former Soviet Union, or the ongoing buzzword-happy driver behind the USA’s impressive, unwieldy and somewhat secret empire: ‘spreading democracy.’
Like with all mammalian animals, once a human being’s loyalty and empathy have been limited to its own ‘tribe,’ it only takes some alpha male-like figure(s) to scream danger! before they can direct the resulting bio-survival anxiety into a charge against another ‘tribe.’
Muslims! Savages! Pirates! Communists! Terrorists!
That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
We are fundamentally and deliberately confounded about what war is always, always about on every ‘side’ because what it is often about rarely makes ‘us’ sound very warm and cuddly for pursuing it or not working harder to avoid it: reasons like outsourcing political ideology, pursuing economic control, trade advantage, political power, natural resource acquisition, the expansion or readjustment of taxable territory, and then the lucrative, contracted rebuilding of everything ‘we’ accidentally broke in the process. Naughty us. Bad.
War exists because we have countries, and could not exist without them. War exists because we have border-divided taxation, and could not exist without it. War is the single greatest scourge of humanity’s history, the dumbest, darkest thing we regularly inflict upon ourselves, and, statistically-speaking, its international, colour-blind and multicultural death toll only rises as we allegedly mature as a species. In the 20th century alone, it claimed hundreds of millions of souls in similarly mindless but increasingly efficient ways. One of the main reasons it’s been curbed at all now (some argue that we’re in history’s most peaceful period) is that there’s no longer any realistic way to kill lots and lots of people without killing all people, yourself included. Nuclear weapons mean we’ve reached a kind of reluctant, in-built technological stalemate. Carl Sagan summarised the Cold War best:
Imagine a room, awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9000 matches; the other has 7000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who is ahead.
This is, I guess, the silver lining to a very dark cloud, because war is bleak and stupid and expensive and terrifying from almost every angle you look at it.
Weirdly, it all starts, somehow, with people making money by trading their time for the production of goods and services, then the government taking some of that value to effectively socialise the costs of weaponry and the salaries of its soldiers, and then it ends, often too far away to watch with binoculars, with a blood-splattered bar tab of death, destruction and financial decimation, and few tangible achievements, except perhaps for the small percentage of people who initiated and profited from the process. In between those nutty fucking bookends, people’s taxes (which are not normally subjected to the usual risks and checks of a free-ish market) are squandered erratically, debt is created alongside it for fun, precious resources are perpetually drawn into a tax-backed black hole without reward, there are horrific numbers of deaths, appalling numbers of injuries, and there grows a fertile climate for rape and torture. Sometimes more innocent people are killed than soldiers, sometimes more soldiers commit suicide than kill each other. There’s the ongoing wasted labor value of broken young minds and mutilated young bodies spread across continents, civilian and military families are torn apart, neighbourhoods and communities are lastingly devastated, civilians are often further radicalised against their aggressors, racism and xenophobia are basically encouraged, secrecy, misinformation and propaganda are rife, infrastructure and arable land are destroyed, natural environments are poisoned, economic growth (foreign and domestic) is stifled, priceless artefacts of architectural, cultural and historical significance are lost, potential societal or financial progress is suspended in the cause of recovery and restoration, returning soldiers are haphazardly and disastrously ‘reintegrated’ into society, a lot of them are irreparably fucked up, useless and dangerous, many end up on the welfare bill for life, there’s a continuation of the ongoing and unquantifiable moral corruption of the world’s children who grow up in the times and debris of self-proclaimed civilised adults ‘solving’ their problems with incredible violence, and not a single fucking lesson ever seems to be learned in the process.
It’s a devastating bill, morally, socially, economically, and every -ally in between. No wonder we are often told that war is necessary by the rulers of countries, because without those rulers and those countries, war would not exist at all.
It could not exist, even.
James Maddison, in his 1795 book, Political Observations said this:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.
Furthermore, whilst these bullshit clubs of ‘us’ and ‘them’ still exist, future war is boringly inevitable.
Indeed, it never really went away; overt invasions were simply re-branded for a media-saturated generation as ‘regime changes,’ etc., and the World War retreated a little further into the shadows to be fought by proxy. All the players still exist, all the conditions still exist, all the motives still exist, and all the same mobilising movements crawl beneath the radar of people’s understanding, now as ever. It is terrifying to learn how close, and how often, this clumsy planet of ours nearly stumbled into nuclear war in the 20th Century, and that was with a lot less nuclear players than there are today, and with whichever bonkers fingers we’ve now ‘elected’ or which have installed themselves to hover over the End of the World buttons.
The stakes have never been so high, and perhaps could not be any higher considering the apocalyptic nature of today’s greatest blowy-uppy things, yet the global society has in no way effectively addressed the root causes that exist as thoroughly today as they have since the beginnings of tax-backed national conflicts thousands of years ago, in a time where paid and patriotic peasants hacked other paid and patriotic peasants to death with angled metal shapes.
Einstein summarised our progress best with a stark and chilling statement: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
We’re still divided, and friction simmers at our borders.
Once upon a time, my friend’s girlfriend broke up with him on a dark and storming night, and he was particularly miserable as he slunk home in the rain. Choosing to become a walking cliché, apparently, he picked up a bottle of scotch, a pack of cigarettes, and, presumably to ensure his level of despair was fully registered by the cashier, a porno magazine. He folded it into his jacket, purchased an Indian takeaway, then continued his journey home through the dull and lonely night in the direction of what would soon become a sad, spiced and smelly pit of bachelor shame. Eventually, he passed a shop with three young, attractive girls hiding under a canopy from the rain. Ever the tragic romantic, he chose this moment to raise both hands to shield and light his damp cigarette. However, in that small action, the weather-weakened paper bag holding his takeaway split from under him, and its curried contents splattered loudly on his shoes. With the girls’ full attention, he crouched down in some ill-planned attempt to improve the mess. As he did so, the porno mag slipped from his inside pocket and landed labia-side-up on the slop. With a look of lost, mild doom, and a bent, soggy, cigarette lolling unlit between his lips, he turned to the girls, and said the only thing you could.
None of that is relevant, obviously, but it’s certainly a light-hearted way to segway between two heavy topics titled ‘War’ and ‘Economics,’ I think you’d agree.
Because it turns out that countries might not only be bad luck for all the sad souls who end up in the direct crossfire of their competition, but also for just about everyone else in between as well. If ending war wasn’t a good enough reason to convince you that the World needs to urgently rethink its current brand of statism before it blows itself up like a grass-covered cake, perhaps massive economic incentives are. Most people like money because money buys cheese, and there’s considerable wealth to be be won, even separate to the 1.8 trillion dollars the globe impoverishes itself every year, protecting itself from, well, itself (1).
To understand exactly what I’m pie-flapping on about now, though, we have to quickly crash through the accordion-like history of states and empires as they expand, collapse, and inevitably begin that endless cycle again like a perpetually battered housewife screaming he’s changed! while her face is in gravy.
The libertarian, ‘long-view’ reading of history is this, and I certainly see something worth thinking about in it: a state begins small, and as such allows its ‘citizens’ a lot of social and economic freedom. Think the USA, in 1776. This social and economic freedom leads to increased wealth, as people and markets trade and associate relatively freely. This increased wealth then leads to increased taxation, inevitably; importantly, it also generally means less resistance to higher taxes, because everybody is too busy washing their money in raspberry cider, laughing at tramps, and stapling jewellery to their novelty robot hamsters. This increased tax revenue then leads to a growing state, obviously, which can start to feed upon the wealth of its people like an increasingly prick-filled parasite. As a state increases in size, it inevitably drains the overall wealth of its populus more, spends more of that wealth unsustainably, and increasingly hinders freer forms of trade through all kinds of monopolised, essentially ‘unfair’ (although not necessarily ‘bad’) interference (regulations, levies, tariffs, licenses, subsidies, blockades, Minimum Wage laws, etc.) This tends to breed corruption in business (because companies, by their definition, have to make profit), knock-on corruption in government (because now an incentive exists for bribery, anti-democratic lobbying, and occassional profiteroles with sun-tanned fuckfaces like Rupert Murdoch), and the government’s solution is quite often more government which, sometimes, is a bit like stuffing fistfuls of sausage into all the head-holes of a person suffering a violent pork overdose. Finally, the state grows so large that it risks strangling the economic and social freedoms of ‘its people,’ therefore decreasing their wealth (and their collateral value with which they can be borrowed against), its commitments are stretched to increasingly wider borders (imagine how much it cost protecting Ancient Rome when it was just a little warm slither of Europe, then how much when it’s borders grew exponentially wider and further apart), and finally becomes its most repressive and shit before its inevitable collapse… just in time for whatever inflating rascal of a country is ready to take the next shot at the Big Time. (China.)
Certain freedoms, it seems, lead to productivity and wealth.
Productivity and wealth invite increasing predations by the more parasitic of classes.
Increasing taxation (and more self-interested parties with your money) slowly invites collapse.
It is as true of the Roman Empire, which ballooned with the resulting wealth of its trade roads and technological advancements, then collapsed later under the burden of its expensive imperialism and tax-fleeing city populus, as it is of the United States today, which was founded upon the noble-sounding principles of liberty (and small, limited government), then rapidly expanded in just two short centuries to become the biggest, most expansive, and most powerful state the world has ever known. Its Empire now looks increasingly like it is in the last stage of its cycle; with high taxes, huge debts, huge government, huge expenditure, decreasing domestic freedoms, and the emergence of demonic cardboard creatures called Kardashians, which are the opposite of books. Meanwhile, some of the most productive parts of its original economy have migrated or been outsourced to ‘freer’ parts of the global economy, where there are less government rules or regulations, and corporations can even get easy-to-batter children to make trainers for a kumquat a week, dump scary neon gunge directly into the hats of nearby fishermen, and hire private armies to murder the locals happy.
Who would care, after all? Who would know?
Meanwhile, the 20th Century insisted on popping out endlessly amazing technology babies like a slutty invention tortoise, and the resulting information, transport and communications revolution pulled us together into an increasingly co-dependent global economy.
However, that didn’t stop the ancient, dumb existence of countries from interfering with the generally free, beneficial and voluntary trade that was making most of the world wealthier, to the detriment of everyone involved except the most rich and the most violent who were able to dictate the angle of the playing field. National boundaries still interfere in a not very enlightened way with the efficient distribution and movement of labour, cause unnecessary overpopulation in areas of economic significance, rampant abuse of natural resources which aren’t deemed common heritage, the outsourcing of environmental destruction to anywhere it’s less immediately obvious, and a shitstorm of unfun for any ancient peoples stupid enough to draw their country outline thousands of years ago on a chunk of the planet that the God of America later found out had oil under it.
So, countries are stupid. OK. Right. Good. Well, now what?
Well, it seems to my dumb head that there could be only two main kinds of solution to the problems mentioned in this article. The first is anarchism, the vague idea that there should be no states and borders at all. The second solution is actually not so dissimilar, yet is also a goal so far in the other direction it is sure to get the conspiracy-minded froffing at the mouth: the idea that, eventually, there should be only One State: a kind of One World Government, or final layer of Global Governance (a big Unted States of the E.U. of everyone), or, if you want to make friends on the most confused and upset corners of the internet, a ‘New World Order.’ Dun dun daaaa.
Now, anarchism as a ‘political’ philosophy (it’s actually a spectrum of philosophies, with its own wings of ‘right’ and ‘left,’ anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-syndicalism) is obviously little known and little respected, like an old person’s advice on e-mail or party drugs. Indeed, the word is unhelpfully used in common tongue as a synonym for chaos, disorder, risk, danger, and frightened visions of an idiot apocalypse future where children are sick uneducated scum, the poor die in smelly ways on unmaintained roads, and you can’t even walk to your grandmother’s cabbage patch without being pistol-whipped in the boobs by a gang of lawless biker chavs who steal your post while they laugh at your sandals. Normally, without even thinking about it, most people are impulse-fast to dismiss any brand of anarchism as a scary, radical and unrealistic proposal. ‘Have you met humans?’ they ask, astonished.
Again, considering the top-down institutions in charge of our education, ideals, and even the meaning of the language we use, it is not surprising that we know little about the ideas of anarchism, distrust the notion of anarchism, and instinctively attack, discredit or dismiss it whenever someone like me brings it up. It is the opposite of statism, the declared enemy of statism, and we were all brought up without choice in-and-by a state, in a world of preceding generations who were the same. The emotional and cultural scars of such multi-generational helplessness are deep, wide and well ingrained. Given this inherited state of affairs, what possible incentive would a state have to put anarchism anywhere near a curriculum?
What is surprising, however, is how little we recognise the benefits of anarchy (in Latin, simply: ‘no rulers’) in our normal, happy, dull everyday lives. We choose our partners freely, all of our friends are voluntary; we choose our religion (in theory), our shoes, our jobs, our pets, our cars, our houses, our curtains, and the expressions on our faces without third-party coercion. We choose how to spend our free time, whether to have children, hate children, or nibble on our kneecaps for fun. When we go to the supermarket, we do not need leaders, governments, or state direction. We vote with our cash. When ninety people buy melons, and only six buy coconuts, the subtle, invisible mechanisms beneath the marketplace respond by producing more melons and less coconuts, or adjusting the price of them accordingly. Think about it. Melons.
Criticism of anarchism, weirdly then, almost always fall into the same apocalyptic categories: that people in general are too selfish and too rubbish to do the right things without being forced to (which, if true, makes ‘democracy’ a long, elaborate and boring joke); that there are no incentives to do things like maintain roads for the common good (the old ‘Problem of the Commons’ idea says that we would all just stare at them, baffled and tutting, as we rot inside our caravans); and that there would be no way to fund protection from fires, poverty, assault, pollution, drugs, disease, invasion, aliens, spontaneous hat explosions, dragons, aggressive yoghurt, or anything. In reality, these fears are often no more sensible than placing a hamburger and a whistle in an ice skate, and expecting to hear the Happy Birthday song as you toss it from a cliff towards a biscuit. Indeed, most arguments against anarchism don’t sound like logic or sense at all, but more like an emotional backlash of helpless self-justification. In the absence of freedom, and with no choice of freedom, we look past the bars of our cage, and find it emotionally comfortable to see the Wilderness outside as a terrifying expanse that we need protecting from.
We choose to love the cage when we can not leave it.
In reality, of course, the effectiveness of a truly freed market (we don’t have anything even like a “free” market now, because of states’ interference with the movement of labour and capital) might just be its ability to solve considerable amounts of our country-caused problems. If you’re worried about something, there is immediately an incentive for an individual or business to alleviate that worry. On top of this, many people are offended by how ineffectually the state is protecting us from them now (see the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Terrorism, or the War on any other Abstract Noun for neat examples of the state’s ‘progress’ with anything it says its doing with everyone’s money.)
Indeed, the charm of anarchist theory today, more than ever, is that it’s starting to be tested rather in the non-hierarchical, leaderless, borderless, and egalitarian realm of the Internet, and has mostly flourished to an astonishing degree in almost every conceivable way. Set fire to the gates, and its the gate-keepers who get burned first. Perhaps no better example of how some form of anarchism might just work exists than eBay, where millions of anonymous people from all over the planet trade their property, dreams and children safely, conveniently, competitively and voluntarily, in different currencies, without policing or coercion, through just a clever system of ratings, integrity, insurance, and swearing at each other. The lovely bloody internet, indeed, is a perfect microcosm of all mankind’s best ideas competing and collaborating fairly in the same space for the first time in history: the capitalist drive for progress and profit, the socialist equality of access, the democratic ideal of participation, all of which are nestled happily in the playground of innovation generated by an anarchistic, relatively leader-less system. Countries, borders and legal jurisdictions basically do not exist on the internet (or are near-impossible to enforce), which is why it has evolved entirely within my lifetime from a slow, confusing, blinky-bleepy thing that boring people used to contact other boring people about maths, into the single most satisfying and efficient distraction that humanity has ever devised to waste my life.
If there is an alternative to be found to our current model of childish, squabbling nation states, then, the internet will be the soil in which it grows. It’s certainly not hard to imagine ways in which we could solve previously ‘unsolvable’ problems with previously unthinkable combinations of clever new things like Block-chain technology, crypto-currencies, smart contracts, Big Data, and A.I.
Incidentally, the hypothetical total freedom of the internet is not unrelated to the reasons that it is increasingly under attack by government, politicians and politically-entrenched corporations. It is a threat to the ruling classes like they have never known, and you only have to glimpse the spite-filled and frightening vendetta of propaganda, economic boycotting, and legal action against entities like WikiLeaks to witness the start of the shakedown. The Internet is being attacked now through ominous lettery legislation like CISPA, SOPA, and ACTA, and will continue to be attacked in the future until somebody wrestles the tin of alphabetti spaghetti from people like Sarah Palin’s lumbering hooves, or our best technical minds pry it away, finally, from the last of its roots which could be chopped down by any one; because it is not good, old-fashioned violence, or strikes, or protests, or ‘revolution’ that are a threat to statism (‘they’ have got prisons, schools, money, guns, and an effective monopoly on control), it is honest education, building systems which entrench collaboration and solidarity, peaceful methods of bypassing control and corruption, and never, ever using the word ‘comrade’ again, please.
The web has the potential to be the first hub of a tolerant, global, educated, interconnected, and war-weary generation who finally understand that the illusion of separation has always been exploited by our leaders to keep us competing for their benefit, rather than co-operating for ours.
That’s about all I have to say about that.
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’ — Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, 1974
Image Sources: [Earth] [Passport] [Jessie] [Jael] [Bombs] [Walrus] [Paris] [Flag] [Border] [Moon]