My sister’s dog has passed obedience school, but she (the dog not my sister) put up a hell of a fight at first, I’m told, and was put in another class. Eventually she agreed to work on agility, but not necessary buy into the whole deal. I get it. Having pretty much been a round peg in a square holed society all my life, I know what it’s like to try to buck the system, color outside the lines, and, yes, not fetch when commanded.
In third grade, Miss Blumenthal, had us march to “Onward Christian Soldiers” each morning. I, like the good little budding libertarian that I was and not knowing anything about libertarianism or anarchism or whatnot, began at some point to march in the opposite direction and see how many of my classmates I could get to follow me instead of Miss B.
Out I would go. And so, sitting at a desk in the hall, I would pass the time with the janitor. He seemed far more interesting than the tyrant inside the room. Was this the start of my empathizing with the working class?
There has always been a struggle between authoritarians and libertarians. Between the rule maker gatekeepers and the Little Rascals. Freedom is about not being subservient. It has little to do with the modern neo-liberal definition of freedom to choose i.e. choosing among 50 different cereal types. The so-called libertarian thinkers in the U.S. are just a bunch of guys sitting around yapping about how great the so-called free market is. They are hardly out in the real world trying to figure out a different kind of organization than what we have now which is a privileged hierarchical ( and highly patriarchal) state. They are false prophets because they really do want the state to exist, but just for the 1%. They preach competition not cooperation.
Colin Ward calls those who believe in mutual society:
“seeds beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism.”
The ideas of cooperative living in humans and animals have been there since time began. Oh we rascals, we ferals, we merry band of misfits, criminals, rebels, free spirits, and goof balls take heart. For thousands of years people have figured out locally how to live together. They have figured out how to “get along” in their families and work places. Ward says in “Unwritten Handbook” that
…the choice between libertarian and authoritarian solutions occurs every day and in every way, and the extent to which we choose, or accept, or are fobbed off with, or lack the imagination and inventiveness to discover alternatives to, the authoritarian solutions to small problems is the extent to which we are their powerless victims in big affairs.
So the libertarians, anarchists, or whatever you call them in the 19th century like Thoreau, William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement, and others were busy trying out ideas like clock making and garment making co-operatives, alternative schools, and local currencies. 150 years later and we have little imagination left , it seems. David Graeber talks about this in is essays “Revolutions in Reverse”. We have been told for 50 years or so that there is no alternative to this repressive patriarchy. But there used to be. So why not again?
There is no need for revolution, says Ward, because there will always be authoritarians and libertarians. But there is a need to stop behaving like prisoners. Liberation is what the Occupy movement is about. It’s about unleashing the imagination once again. It is about living outside and not in a box. It is about resisting those that want to herd us back into boxes like voting booths and classrooms.
Self-reliance is not about taking your rifle and sitting in your house waiting for the god damn gubmit to take it away. That’s weak, defensive, and namby-pamby. Self-reliance is about banding together with your neighbors and your co-workers for collective self-preservation. This coming together built barns and canals and world wide webs. It their free time they came together to create drama and songs. It moved boulders and trees to build roads and in that wonderful time when they lay down their tools, their free free time, they invented lasagna and harmonicas.
One of Colin Ward’s favorite quotations was from Gustav Landauer:
“The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but it is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.”
Right now there are debates happening about how to make a new contract within the parameters of non-violence but also not a passive resistance. Workers taking over factories in Argentina and running them for themselves is a good example. They did have to face police who attempted to block them from taking over the factories. So this kind of peaceable group action is not always neat.
So, my friends, not only should we “think different”, but act different. Act local. Make a new contract. And remember that we live, all of us, yearning to be free; albeit beneath the snow.
Notes: Books for this essay that got me thinking are: Jerry Fresia’s “Toward an American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions”; David Goodway’s “Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward; David Graeber’s “Revolutions in Reverse”.