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Was My Life Worth Living? (1934) (berkeley.edu)
132 points by t0dd 979 days ago | past | web | 101 comments



I've never understood (even after reading this article) how anyone who's anti-authoritarian can honestly believe that removing a government is a good idea. The author claims that it's human nature to abuse power as an argument in favor of anarchism. But to me it seems very obvious that that is exactly what will happen if people are left without constraints. Those who can get some power will get more, and there's nothing to stop them.

So, is there anyone who sympathise with the author who would like to explain how a society could become more equal/fair/anything positive without a government?


I was a "left-anarchist" or "ultra-leftist" in my early 20's so I can explain this point of view in a moderately sympathetic way. The following is not my actual opinion, but rather a summary of the beliefs I once held. As far as I'm aware it's also fairly different from Goldman's viewpoint too.

The starting point is to identify classical liberalism as a veneer over power structures based on arbitrary authority. For example, the same society that claimed to support freedom of expression would lock women away in mental institutions for acting in a way deemed inappropriate (not so much nowadays, but definitely in the 30's). Today we still see a lot of arbitrary authority (often illegal) exercised by the government and its agents. Only a small portion of this is deemed "political" enough to gain media attention, and perhaps be corrected in the courts.

Furthermore, the ideology of individual rights can be used to create "rights" that couldn't even be justified from a natural rights perspective, but are rather created to bolster the idea of an atomized society. Government subsidization of roads (rather than public transport) is a good example of this. While there is no natural right to drive a car on a government subsidized road, the ideology of individualism leads people to suppose that people are somehow more "free" under this setup than under a regime of mainly public transportation.

To summarize, left-anarchists view classical individual rights as a chimera, where the real agenda is a society of atomized individuals with no sense of community, all subject to the authority of the state. The main claim of left-anarchists is that in the absence of this oppression, a natural order based on community enforcement will evolve, in which strict legal rights are not necessary to protect individual's wellbeing, because the community is good and cares about its members. Various examples are given for this, such as primitive tribal societies, temporary anarchistic situations such as during the Spanish civil war, working class communities who self-police rather than cooperating with law enforcement, and social orders that arise around the use of common property, such as with surfing.


First of all, thanks for just the kind of explanation I was looking for.

> The main claim of left-anarchists is that in the absence of this oppression, a natural order based on community enforcement will evolve[...]

And my problem with such claims is that it seems like you're actually just proposing another kind of government; a local and decentralized one. After all a government is just an agreement between a set of people to organize affairs of mutual interest, right?

Would it be correct to say that anarchists (in general or the left kind) actually prefers several smaller societies rather than one big central one?

Also one could argue (as you kinda did) that once upon a time there were only such tribal societies, and that the societies we see today have evolved from those. So if you (with the belief you once held) argue that we should revert to such a system, how would you propose to prevent the inevitable "degradation" to the current system?


No problem.

>And my problem with such claims is that it seems like you're actually just proposing another kind of government; a local and decentralized one. After all a government is just an agreement between a set of people to organize affairs of mutual interest, right?

Agreed, but left-anarchists tend not to argue based on some absolute principal, so this is not an issue (as I mentioned in my disclaimer, our views were quite different from "classical" anarchists).

>Would it be correct to say that anarchists (in general or the left kind) actually prefers several smaller societies rather than one big central one?

Yes

>Also one could argue (as you kinda did) that once upon a time there were only such tribal societies, and that the societies we see today have evolved from those. So if you (with the belief you once held) argue that we should revert to such a system, how would you propose to prevent the inevitable "degradation" to the current system?

I agree, which is one reason why I no longer hold these beliefs. But the more important reason for me is that these societies just weren't as good as they were claimed to be. It's easy not to notice the problems in a society that you don't live in or even know very much about.

The only beliefs that I have in common with those groups are (1) that formal rights need to be closely scrutinized to see if they actually correspond to some rights in the real world, and (2) there may in some situations be ways of producing the best outcome that don't involve formal rights, but instead involve informal conventions that arise from the community.


it seems very obvious that that is exactly what will happen if people are left without constraints. Those who can get some power will get more, and there's nothing to stop them

Then clearly after we abolish government, we just need to establish some kind of power structure to limit this effect. Perhaps to keep things fair, we can put this power structure subject to votes by the people.

There. Solved. Anarchy!


But the moment you've done that, you've established a de-facto government, thus violating the definition of anarchy. This happens with a lot of utopian schemes, actually: the logistics of maintaining them require them to mutate into something decidedly other than the original intent. Eventually, in the case of anarchy, the de-facto government inevitably finds a way to cement its power in a more de-jure fashion, and from there corruption proceeds as normal.


See: Poe's Law :)


Have you ever investigated the origins and etymology of the word "utopia"? Most these days seem happy to sling the word around without knowing where it came from and what it means; should you be among that number, I recommend the subject to your attention, as you may well find interest in the result of such investigation.


I do sympathise with the author and I think that on the countrary, if people were more involved in their society, which is a major part of anarchism and the decentralisation it promotes, such people would have a much harder time aquiring such power than today. Today, those kind of people have whole instutions adjusted to such aims, the government and capitalism.

Thus, the aim is to build a society that people want to defend by themselves, not just a paid subgroup - e.g the police or military.

Regarding fairness and equality there's a lot of things that anarchism promotes, here's a few controversial:

* Socialism

* Decentralisation and organisation from the bottom up.

* Abolishment of the ownership of land and private property.

And no, the last point does not mean that someone will steal your toothbrush, rather that someone should not be able to amass the tools of explotation, such as more industry/machines than one can use by oneselve or acquire land that one cannot possibly culativate by their own.


It's obvious that this ideal society of yours is modelled for a rather small group. Complete lack of delegation can't possibly scale very far at all. But to me it seems a society has to grow and specialize to become more effective. If for not other reason than because there will be competition from external groups.

If you have two or more of these decentralized groups, how would conflicts be handled between them? If two or more wants to trade or create an alliance, some kind of organizing unit has to formed to ensure all parties play by the rules. Voila, a government.

I assume you're not advocating for going back to some tribal farming-style society? If so, can you explain how the anarchist society you're proposing would perform more complex tasks such as trade, or just large-scale manufacturing, without a government?


> It's obvious that this ideal society of yours is modelled for a rather small group.

Why is that?

> Complete lack of delegation can't possibly scale very far at all. I have not said anything about a complete lack of delegation. I think representation voted from the bottom up is a rational way of representing a group of people. However, this kind of representation differ much from one would call representation today, eg:

* The members of an organisation (e.g a workplace or a community) would either vote for someone to be a representative or that status would be rotated among the members.

* A representative's task would be to forward the issues or votes that the members have voted on.

* A representative's status would be revocable at any time.

* Being a representative would not in anyway be a full-time occupation, rather a very limited part.

> But to me it seems a society has to grow and specialize to become more effective. If for not other reason than because there will be competition from external groups.

I'm not sure I follow here, what do you mean by the need to become more effective. To what end?

> If you have two or more of these decentralized groups, how would conflicts be handled between them? If two or more wants to trade or create an alliance, some kind of organizing unit has to formed to ensure all parties play by the rules. Voila, a government.

I have no reason to belive people can't organise rationally without a government, rather the opposite. A highly organised society - from the bottom up - is not a government. Additionally, I don't think one can argue in favour of government in the realm of conflict handling as governments have quite a poor track record regarding this.

> I assume you're not advocating for going back to some tribal farming-style society? If so, can you explain how the anarchist society you're proposing would perform more complex tasks such as trade, or just large-scale manufacturing, without a government?

That's correct. I'm not advocating for a "back-to-the-roots" society. Naturally the exchange of goods in one way or another will occur, however I would like to emphasize that large-scale manufacturing per se, and perhaps the concept of perpetual growth, is no goal of an anarchist society compared to todays growth-based economy. Basically, if there's a need for large scale industries, it would be organised, otherwise not.

This is a very broad and complex subject, and many people (and various anarchist writings) is better than me to answer this, but maybe you could be a bit more specific in your questions to make them more answerable?


I'm sorry if I was a bit unspecific. I haven't really formed a clear opinion yet so it's hard to articulate what I don't understand. Also that was written while I shoveled down my lunch.

About the obvious small group thing, it thought the following quotes:

> "if people were more involved in their society" > "the aim is to build a society that people want to defend by themselves"

meant that you'd prefer that people get involved directly rather than elect people to "defend" or rule their society for them. It seems I misunderstood that part though.

However now I'm now confused by you clarification. If there's any kind of voting and representation, no matter how revocable, isn't that a form of government? If these persons are elected by the majority (I don't see any other option) they will sooner or later make choices for you? I was under the impression that anarchism is about getting rid of any kind of government?

in most governments today representatives' statuses can be revoked. It might be more or less difficult and opaque - I'm the first one to admit that most current governments are broken - but that does not necessary mean that governments are inherently bad.

---

My thoughts about efficiency and organization was based on the assumption that large scale organization can't happen without a governing body. I realize now that might be were my major misassumption and possible our disagreement lies. You say that

> A highly organised society - from the bottom up - is not a government

I would argue that in any highly organized society the top unit is the government. Assuming of course that the top unit has some actual increase responsibility and/or accountability compared to the rest of the organization (otherwise they're not really on the top).

I'd also argue that all governments was at one point formed from the bottom up. I'm not sure if it's very productive to reason this way though, but governments are not a separate unit from the rest of human society. They are created by humans and are upheld because most people agree enough to not try to abolish them.

A counter-argument here might be that people are sheep and irrational and that the governments have evolved into something so complicated and convoluted that they're not able to change to the people's will anymore, but I don't see how that changes anything. If the current governments occurred as a result of earlier (eventually) anarchisticish societies, what will prevent them from regressing?


> However now I'm now confused by you clarification. If there's any kind of voting and representation, no matter how revocable, isn't that a form of government?

No, just as any kind of organisation would not be called a government, the kind of organisation I promote wouldn't be. For example, you wouldn't call your local union or workplace a government.

Let's not pretend that current representatives are revocable, it not in the hands of the voters. For another society, it wouldn't even be a part time occupation for a worker among other workers.

Anyways, I would like to hear why authority needs to exist, rather than explain why it doesn't.


>>if people were more involved in their society

I think I see the flaw in your plan...

Most folks would rather delegate AFAICT.


They would indeed rather delegate governance, and for the best of reasons; the more effort an individual is required to expend on governing, the less she has available to pursue her own talents and interests.

As for the respondents suggesting the answer is, in paraphrase, to "make governance interesting again" -- I would suggest they may wish to think twice about that superficially appealing suggestion. The process of governance was "interesting" in 1950s China, in 1930s Germany, 1920s Russia, the United States around 1925-1945; while conditions were vastly different in each case, of course, there is a strong common thread, and it is simply this: the process of governance is interesting only when times are not good; indeed, the worse things are, the more interesting the task of running the show tends to be. The argument eventually reduces to a suggestion that it would be nice to have a disaster or two around the place, in order to liven things up for everyone. Which it would, no doubt! But I submit such excitement is hardly worth the cost.


And that might be because politics seem distant, irrelevant, unalterable and (maybe as a result of this) plain boring. If politics and power became more decentralized, perhaps it would become more relevant and engaging to people.


Or maybe it could just be that we've had a taste of politics in our private lives, and decided we would much rather spend our time coding.


I believe that if people feel they can make a difference, people will get involved. If generally people can't make a difference, like today, people get apathetic.


I agree more might get involved but I'm less than convinced it would be enough to stave off the accumulation of power by warlords etc, and the eventual degeneration to a neo-feudal society.

But it's all just opinion at this end of the debate.


A decentralised society doesn't mean an unorganised society though.


I agree with your comment.

I want a society that understands and cherishes individual rights, and a government that is limited to and efficacious in protecting them.


> a government that is limited to and efficacious in protecting them (individual rights).

Oddly, you just provided the downfall of such a government. From the obvious 'think of the children' type of abuse of power you would also have those that see protecting some rights as infringing on others.

The FDA is an example of the latter. The FDA is a consumer rights organization, yet there are no shortage of people that see any protections as infringing on their rights.


Thank you for your comment.

Are you saying that a government focused on protecting individual rights cannot exist, because people sometimes disagree?

If so, that's too big a leap for me -- I don't see how one necessarily follows from the other.


> because people sometimes disagree?

Because the majority may disagree. The majority will choose to infringe upon the rights of whatever minority there is if they disagree with it for whatever reason. Sometimes it's just the loud that push it and the majority don't care and stay quiet, but the result is the same.

Protecting rights is an aim every good government must have but it can not be the only aim. It must also recognize when to step in to put a stop to the majority infringing on the rights of others. A government exists for the good of the society as a whole as well as the good of the individual.


In my original comment, part of what I said was that I wanted a society that understood and cherished individual rights. If we had such a society (we don't) the majority would not choose to infringe upon the rights of minorities.

As regards the second paragraph, above, if a government is committed to protecting individual rights, implicit in that is not allowing majorities to infringe the rights of others.

A government that genuinely protects the rights of individuals also provides for the good of society as a whole, but this happens by side effect, if you will, rather than as the result of an explicit aim of the government. In other words, when you protect individual rights, you do what is best for all concerned.

Finally, I want to emphasize that I do not expect to see such a society anytime soon. Said differently, I think that what I advocate is possible, but unlikely.


> The FDA is a consumer rights organization

No, not really. It does not even remotely represent patients needs, and patient organizations do not take part in any of the FDA decisions, as far as I know.


Yes it is. Just because it doesn't rush the newest cancer treatment to market or that it doesn't work the way you think it should doesn't change that.

I saw an old advertizement the other day declaring the health benefits of donuts. The other day we had a link here with Mickey Mouse hawking amphetamines as, again, a healthy way to perk up.

You can't sell food or drugs in the US that make false health claims because of the oversight of the FDA. You can't bring a drug to market without extensive testing for the same reason. Your food has to be clearly labeled with it's contents and a real breakdown of its nutritional facts because of FDA regulations.

The FDA is a consumer rights agency.


Then if it were the case why isn't the FDA paying way more attention the quality of clinical trials before approving new drugs? Why do they only require a single successful clinical trial to register anything? Why don't they audit the clinical trial sites to confirm that the results reported by the drug companies are reliable and not falsified?


I suppose that the amount of people that are willing to work in quantifiable/effective ways that give the individual, as much as any society, the incentive to push towards a society that understands and cherishes individual rights, and a government that is limited to and efficacious in protecting them will be less than the amount who want it, so in the logical conclusion of things:

we will get neither until that imbalanced can be addressed.


I seems to me that hackers are by nature anarchists and even a simple idea of authoritative power(goverment) is repulsive to them. I don't see point arguing for or against goverment, it's just the attitude that matters in my opinion.


Pure anarchism has many of the same problems as pure communism. In practice it's a system that is typically unstable and rapidly degenerates into simple autocracy or oligarchy.


Humans have lived for nearly 200,000 years without states. States, which for their ~10,000 year history have been very ephemeral. Civilization keeps barreling on while states collapse and begin again. The forces that lead to the flux of states like internal power struggles, class conflict, and environmental destruction wouldn't exist in anarchy/communism.

Check out Clastres who argues that pre-civilization human communities had mechanisms to ward off the formation of states.


You're arguing with the wrong person, I'm not arguing for statism. I'm saying that naive anarchism is dangerous. Which it is. And primitive pseudo-anarchism (even 200,000 years ago societies had power structures) is probably not suitable for the modern, industrialized age.

Does that mean that powerful central authorities, states, are the only answer? Not at all. But I would appreciate it if there weren't so many anti-statists who fulfilled every caricature of folks who liken libertarianism and anarchism with a desire to regress to the chaos of somalia or what-have-you.

There are likely many ways to have a free and egalitarian society without a central authority but the idea that all it takes is removal of the state is extraordinarily naive and has the potential for as much human misery as has been caused by all of the failures of institutional communism in the 20th century.


Wasn't intending to argue with you, I was just using your comment as a springboard for a comment. I agree with all your points!

I'm not inclined towards a pure conflict against the state without a currently-unfathomable communist process behind the insurrection that topples the state. Look at Egypt: pure conflict that toppled the state, but no great force underlying the conflict to sustain the necessary life outside the state. So you get the Muslim Brotherhood and the military quickly occupying the same state space. I'm interested in conflict, for sure, but only conflict supported by (communist, decentralized, anti-authoritarian, anti-statist) organization capable of sustaining beautiful lives amidst state collapse.


Anyone seeking power to "lead" people, never done it for the benefit of people.

When you outlaw "leaders" then you might get somewhere.


Reading this essay gives the impression that this person was singular, and her time singular as well.

I was always told anarchism implied violence and generally other bad things, but after reading Graeber's "Debt: the first 5000 years", I chanced upon "Anarchy works"

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-anar...

which is interesting to read, for at least the depictions of how anarchism has played out in several previous situations, socially and economically.


> I was always told anarchism implied violence and generally other bad things

Well, she was involved in a plot to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, the stated purpose being to "strike terror into the soul of his class" and "bring the teachings of Anarchism before the world"


If you want to dig a little deeper into anarchism & like gelderloos' writing, he also wrote a popular book called "How nonviolence protects the state", which raises some points in support of violence as a revolutionary tactic:

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-how-...

Main argument is, violence is necessary because the state always uses violence. He also raises some points about nonviolence empowering the state's violence, as well as nonviolent radicals' criticism of violent radicals being a form of oppression.

If you want to get real deep into anarchist literature, Derek Jenson's Endgame will tell you about how necessary it is for us to destroy civilization in order to promote the survivability of the planet.


That's the trouble with anarchism and its fellows: you can start from whatever set of premises you like, but sooner or later, you always find yourself either mired in irrelevance or earnestly explaining how, in order to bring about a better world for everyone, it is absolutely necessary and morally imperative to murder millions of people and build mountains out of their skulls, which is okay, because it's not everyone but just the bad people, and if they weren't bad people then you wouldn't have to murder them, so it's all their fault really, and it's easy to tell how bad they are by the way you're murdering them.


That was a nice read. Thanks for the link.

I also read Graeber's Debt, and then his Democracy Project. The one thing I can't shake in all of the anarchist literature is what seems to be a fundamental assumption that an individualist altruism can be the foundation of all societies worldwide. It may work sometimes and in certain societies (with certain natural economies), but the abuse and indifference so often found in human society makes a strong case against such human governance possible on any large scale.

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary."


    individualist altruism can be the foundation
I have the impression that, more than individual's altruism, it is voluntary participation that makes such systems work, i.e. voluntary participation in distributed altruism. (reads like a CS thesis on multithreading..)


How can we know if we are not angels with a handful of milleniums of governments and religious institutions actively engaged in telling us we are not?

Structural Oppression is a real thing.


Because it didn't start that way. Because _nearly_ every society shows signs of warfare, banding together, governance and structuring society in some sort of hierarchical way. Because even when there is absolutely no reason for someone to _not_ help someone they see in need, they sometimes don't.

Now, this doesn't say we can't make it better, and that anarchists experiments aren't worth trying. But to assert that all hierarchical structuring of society is necessarily bad seems completely unfounded, and misses what good things hierarchical structure brings to human society.


Example: Einstein. This is an example of someone escaping hierarchical society to give us an unquestionable good. Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza, Galileo, the nominalist Peter Abelard; goods that had to circumnavigate hierarchical society.

If I say "a handful of millenniums" I am pointing to the evidence of history. Splinter groups and revolutionaries both of thought and action resisting governments have given us the goods we receive. To say that hierarchical society is the backdrop behindwhich they do good works is begging the question.

Moreover, simply because hierarchical society has done good for us, on the average, does not meant it MUST continue to do so. As I stated earlier, Chomksy, etc. have argued for why anarchism MUST work, not that it works more often than non-anarchisms.


Bruno and Galileo are more memorable than their contemporaries who worked more closely within the hierarchy, but achieved less if you assess their contributions objectively.

>Moreover, simply because hierarchical society has done good for us, on the average, does not meant it MUST continue to do so.

Sure. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


Extraordinary means require extraordinary measures.


Imagine a world wherein our intellectual heroes and vagabonds did not have to answer to the unchecked rule of tyranny, rather than the other way around.

Whence cometh the world of unchecked human excellence?


Given the relative rarity of human excellence, less good than the converse, on balance; were it otherwise, what you rightly call 'excellence' would be merely commonplace.


Yes, you hit the period right on the sentence.


You mistake me, I think, due to imprecision on my part; by 'it' in the second clause, I refer to the rarity of human excellence, not to a theoretical flowering of suppressed potential in the absence of what you regard as oppressive rule.


Low hanging fruit.


Let us stipulate the basic sensibility of your question, and consider its necessary consequences, disregarding the essential imprecision of a term like "angels" for the sake of interesting discourse.

We have, then, "...governments and religious institutions actively engaged in telling us we are not [angels]". We may presume, from the fact that this behavior persists throughout human history, that these agencies see some concrete benefit in so doing; while of course one may find individuals and institutions acting against their own interests, such behavior cannot lend itself to survival across centuries.

Were all humans angels, would those who constitute these doleful organizations see such benefit? I find it doubtful; while "angel" is not properly formulated here or anywhere else, we can assume from context that the cardinal quality of such a creature would be a perfect altruism, one to which gain of self at expense of another would be not merely distasteful but insuperably repellent, if indeed conceivable at all.

The necessary conclusion, then, is that, while there may be some humans who are actually angels, all humans cannot possibly be angels, because no true angel would act in behalf of a scheme centered upon convincing other angels they were in fact not angels, to the real and significant benefit of the schemers.

We therefore find ourselves with the following dilemma: either not all humans are angels, and to have stable and effective government, we must find some way to rule which accounts for this fact; or, not all things which have the human semblance are human, and to have stable and effective government, we must identify and exterminate the unhuman creatures which beset us, down to the last not-man, not-woman, and not-child, in order that we true humans may govern ourselves, free of their blight, in whatever fashion our shared perfect altruism sees fit.

Perhaps you feel I have unfairly caricatured one of these points of view. If so, I commend to you a careful study of the history of the twentieth century, in which the latter opinion may fairly be said to have run rampant across large swaths of the globe.


"[...] while there may be [some] humans who are actually angels [...]"

There you go. You really showed me and my vague language.

Robbed the posey right out of it, ya did.


So your argument is -- some humans being possessed of what we seem to be calling angelic altruism, and some humans being not so blessed -- that, rather than finding some means of rule which accommodates both dispositions, we should overturn all governments and seek not to replace them with anything? You fascinate me. How do you imagine this working?


That's a lot of morass.

Smaller government until it is not essential. We praise those Administrations that get out of the way.


Robert Tucker, Kropotkin, Chomsky, etc. all give us a clear idea as to how and why anarchism MUST work.

Governments (where before religions, but at a moral level, religions still do) exist as a function of hegemonic markets (corporations) such that governments limit the powers of liberty of individuals through the frameworks of blind justice (corporations are just like us).

This is not new. Corporations are not just like us. What do economic categories have to do with the rightness or wrongness of action? What does economic stratification have to do with the limits of human freedom? If our autonomy is limited, we do not need an Indexed Dollar to inform us of this; the market will tell us all by itself.

Just like as J.S. Mill argued in terms of Women's Suffrage — Why do we need a government to legislate what Women can or cannot do when Nature will determine this all on her own?

Why do we need a Government to legislate what we are economically capable of or not? (We don't.)


Why do we need a government to legislate what Women can or cannot do when Nature will determine this all on her own?

What an odd think to say. It's the nature of humans to form government, and the most natural one is despotism. Shut down the macro-governments we have now and you'll have millions of micro-tyrannies overnight. And the role of woman there would be about that of a slave.

Similar stuff about god giving "inalienable rights" is rhetorical hocus-pocus.


That is not the nature of humans. That's the nature of some humans to rule and enslave others. Some people just want to be left alone - I would argue that most people want that. Then a group of thugs comes over, sets us fighting against each other, calls it a democracy and feeds off our labour. I wasn't asked to sign any kind of contract with any government, I was never asked if I want to pay taxes to finance things I actually despise. If you believe our society ought to be humane - help the poor, provide for elderly etc. - then convince me to give you money voluntarily and convince me you can do a good job of helping the poor (and keep convincing me all the while I'm paying you). Governments pretend you have a vote that makes a difference, then they just rob you indefinitely.


> Governments pretend you have a vote that makes a difference, then they just rob you indefinitely.

You know, I'm willing to bet a lot of Republican congressmen feel this way.


Really? Just straight to "micro-tyrannies"? I'm just going to throw this out that this is an unscientific claim, and it's a matter of opinion.

I think it's sensationalist gun-jumping, and does not take into consideration the actual economics at play (at least in the U.S.). Nor does it take us hackers as a serious economic force into consideration.

1. The Urban Archipelago: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=19813

Nor does it take into consideration that the political compass is vastly more complicated than is popularized in the mainstream political theatre.

2. http://www.la-articles.org.uk/pc.htm

I don't have anything constructive to respond with in terms of "where women would fit in" given than your claim amounts to a biased post-apocalyptic scenario to begin with. (Also unscientific.)

Your abstractions I do not think are doing the work you want them to. The U.S. isn't some "macro-government" that can be thrown into the pot of all other "macro-governments." It's the U.S., and it's considerably unprecedented.


When Jeri Ellsworth left Valve, she said there is a de facto hierarchy in Valve even though they claim to be "flat". Plenty of discussion about the effect from when that happened. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6015182

You should look further than the USA for examples. "Power vacuums" attract people who want power. When a warlard gets killed in an area with no effective government, another one steps in.


There's an interesting corollary to this, which is that organized crime is often better than the alternative. Locking up Pablo Escobar didn't cause his cartel to just go away, it caused his cartel to disintegrate into warring factions which led to even more crime and violence. Drug lords and mob bosses tend to keep that stuff under control because it's bad for business.


It's not just that, either: it's that single people can be reasoned with, but large numbers of people can't be. If you have a mob boss, you can make a deal with him and he'll enforce it on his side for you, but if there are a hundred random guys, you have to make a deal with all of them.

Democracy very quickly makes plain the scope of this challenge, and it's why it works with so much less effort on small scales.


Well, it depends on the single person. If there are a hundred random guys, at least one of them will cooperate with you. That's the flip side.


That Urban Archipelago is interesting in the way it's a sign of the times - from 10 years ago. After Bush got elected, the "blue" folks felt besieged, and there was talk of a republican government forcing its backwards ways on the world. The republicans controlled both houses and the presidency.

Times are quite a bit different now; republicans control only the house, although the Tea party has radicalized them. I still don't know what that has to do with anarchy, though.

The mere idea of anarchy is itself inherently sensationalist - it's something that wouldn't happen without an apocalypse. It's also something that we can never evaluate "Scientifically" - we're not going to just disband a government and see what happens in the aftermath.


Great essay in its early stages, where she talked about how we should always fight for freedom and equality. But she lost me on the second half. Anarchy is the same as having a government, except instead of having one entity terrorizing the population, you get thousands of psychopaths terrorizing the population. People are fundamentally shitty organisms. Giving them free rein, either as a dictator of one government, or as the leader of a band of marauding anarchists, is never a good idea. Monopolizing violence and creating protections against the corruption of government by the strong at the expense of the weak should be the goal.

Democratic balanced government with strong individual protections is a good thing if it is protected from corruption. If not, you just end up with a kleptocracy.

Government is just another tool. It can be used for good or evil. It's up to us to make it stay on the right side of the line.


Also, it's not useful to refer to "government" as the thing being opposed by anarchism. What they are really opposing is hierarchical organization in general.

I used to be more sympathetic to that point of view, but I eventually realized that too many nifty things (such as the computer I'm typing on) could not possibly have come into existence without a disciplined, well-managed hierarchy of some sort. Somebody has to be the boss, or we might as well all go climb back into the trees.


I am as taken by the form as I am by the content. What beautiful writing. While there's something to be said for concision, an essay like this shows that medium-to-large sentences can be deployed to great effect. It almost feels like she's establishing a cadence at points.


I'm happy to hear you've had the same reaction to it I've always had. The words flow with some supernatural precision. I always return to it, for the beautiful writing, for reminders of her lifelong commitment to an ideal. If you want to read more from her, check out her autobiography: "Living My Life" http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/emma-goldman-living-m...


We do get that she was an admitted terrorist and conspired to murder a man, right? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman#Homestead_plot


Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment...

Most of us, for fairly obvious reasons, decry the use of violence by individuals, yet we are all complicit in the use of violence by the state. Our democratic governments imprison and kill in our names both in war and for the enforcement of our laws. Sometimes (often?) wrongfully.

Why is our collective violence de rigueur but individual violence is immediately presumed to be evil and wrong?

Presumably use of violence by the state is intended to be "justified"; i.e. it is not random, emotional, or for gain (except, perhaps a societal gain of increased safety), but either for the cause of "justice", or for safety--and these calculated, functional properties with an aim of public good make the action acceptable.

The obvious difficulty of individual violence is the tendency for it to be emotional or for personal gain, or for a lack of rigor in establishment of guilt in the presumed crime of the victim. But if guilt has been firmly established, if the target of violence has, beyond a shadow of a doubt, committed heinous acts, then what is the fundamental difference? Isn't the elimination of a destructive force by an individual precisely the same in outcome as the elimination of the same force by a collection of individuals?

And in a thoroughly corrupt system which promotes, protects, and encourages these destructive forces--or a system which feigns to protect and represent its citizens (but doesn't actually do so)--mustn't the responsibilities of protecting and shepherding at some point eventually fall to the citizens themselves? Surely evil carrying your banner is still evil?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no proponent of violence. I think (even) our government should commit considerably less violence. I think we generally need to scorn violence by the individual because of the likelihood that it be unrigorous, emotional, or selfish. But I don't know that the difference in emotional weight between "kill" and "murder"--that is to say "unlawfully kill"--should be so great. It seems to me that the philosophical basis for the two should be the same, rather than scorning one and supporting the other because it carries a badge.


> Why is our collective violence de rigueur but individual violence is immediately presumed to be evil and wrong?

The difference is one of authority. Goldman's authority to kill isn't accepted by society at large, whereas the due process of election, appointment, induction, training, and periodic evaluation is so accepted. You can argue about whether or not that acceptance is a good thing or a bad thing, and Goldman likely felt it was a bad thing, but that acceptance is the fundamental difference.

The presumption that individual violence is wrong follows from this systemization of it. When it wasn't, we did commit individual violence with no reason. This is rapidly apparent in watching children interact without intervention: they exhibit the full range of human extremes in both cooperating spectacularly but also in conflicting violently. By systematizing it, we've made it rare and remarkable.

And because it stands out, it's now considered wrong.


Well put.

The consequences of that are where things get interesting:

When violence is systemized we consider it OK. When something stands out we consider it wrong. Authority is presumed to be benevolent (or, at least, extra-moral).


> Authority is presumed to be benevolent (or, at least, extra-moral).

It's subtler than that, though with our current standard of civics education it's not apparent.

It's that we presume that we ourselves is correct, and since we ourselves are a source of authority, then the authority we contribute to must therefore be correct. Benevolence has nothing to do with it; it's just egocentrism. We don't think of ourselves as nice; we think of ourselves as right.


when you conspire to kill another human being for whatever reason - it is a decision that you alone are making and have the full power to stop at any time, so you bear the full responsibility for it. When your state orders you to nuke Hiroshima, for example, it's a much more complicated situation, however horrific. So the two situations cannot be compared directly


Choosing to kill with non-governmental violence does not mean that the decision is made alone. In fact, the particular assassination in question was a plot involving multiple individuals. Killing via the government is a group decision involving more individuals. What is the magic number of individuals at which we no longer have to evaluate the morality of the situation? And, if such a number exists, what defines it?

And yes, the individuals perpetrating the action bear responsibility. But if the action is the correct one, then they bear responsibility for doing the right thing, no? Surely statehood is not an inherent justification for violence; the underlying action always has to be the correct one, regardless of the perpetrator.

I completely agree that state-ordered violence is complicated, but you’ve only begged the question that it cannot be compared to individual (or smaller-group) violence, not given a reason why it cannot.


I just noticed that you said "your state orders you", oops. That's not the situation I'm talking about. The morality of soldiers is a complex and interesting topic, but what my comment is about is the responsibility (or lack there of) borne by all citizens, given that their government (presumably) represents them in its actions.


Systemic violence so drastically outweighs "individual violence" in quantity and affect that there's just no real comparison. Me smacking a dude for talking shit doesn't even come close to the totality of systemic violence: war, poverty, houselessness, rape, abuse, racism, hunger, prison, policing, immigrant concentration camps, border security, alienation, queer bashing, trans murders, environmental catastrophe on a global scale. And that's just the present situation. This violence is felt by individuals very personally, but it is systemic in cause, affect, and result.

The police, media, and state point the finger at a very specific subset of activity and call it violence in order to distract from the overwhelming violence they perpetrate. This is particularly true of those who resist the current state of affairs. Rioters are "violent" because they smash windows. The cops who beat them are merely restoring order. Police are rarely described as "violent" even though they frequently shoot people and control populations with the use of force. Prisoners are the violent ones, not the ones who lock people up in cages. The most oppressed are the violent ones, not those who maintain the system of violence.

To give a little perspective on anarchy and violence:

Anarchism tends to reject moralism. The question isn't whether it's good or bad to kill Frick. It's not about punishing a person for a bad behavior as that sounds awfully like what the state does and it's so-called "Justice." Rather, it's about what force this activity will generate. If a hated figure is assassinated, will this spark revolt? This idea was called "propaganda of the deed" and a similar idea lives on in smashing windows and similar small-scale activities among current North American anarchists: activities that can be picked up by others easily and may spread among the wider population. Other ideas tend to focus on blowing shit up and stuff, like the CCF and FAI. That's cool and all, but I don't think that spectacular acts of violence against the state will do anything to hasten its demise.


The article was interesting as I haven't had much exposure to anarchist thought. But I'm bothered by one glaring assumption and that is, just what does she mean by freedom or liberty?

Obviously she means freedom from external forces such as governments and other institutions, but the way she refers to it, it's as if it's something more than that. What she's referring to seems more comprehensive, idyllic or transcendent even.

Anyone, any anarchists, care to elaborate on a rough definition of freedom within that frame of thinking?


Good question. Early anarchists use the words 'freedom' and 'liberty' in a vague manner. This is OK, because anarchy isn't a theory that needs to be based on logical assumptions. It's not a theory at all, but a tendency and a force against the existent. Goldman is using the words in a transcendent fashion, so that when (old) anarchists say 'freedom,' they mean a vague situation beyond the State, unknowable for now- a dream worth fighting for.

Present-day anarchists almost never use the two words in part because of their vagueness and inherent liberalism and in part because of their modern co-optation by neoliberalism and the right. Liberals use the words 'freedom' and 'liberty' to mean the agency of property owners to do what they will with their property and the right to possess things so that others may not use them. It's about markets and money. Freedom of speech, 'having your say,' is important in the marketplace of ideas, where ideas are flattened and life is exorcised.

The anarchist tendency views 'freedom' as the ability to live one's life in a way of their own choosing. It's certainly freedom in the communist sense: the ability to freely access the goods, food, housing, clothes, etc. necessary for life. But anarchy is also freedom from the influences of the State, patriarchy, civilization, white supremacy, all of the great forces which seek to corral us and fuck with our lives and desires.


Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks.


Where are today's anarchists?


See: http://www.crimethinc.com

Also, it looks like you're in the Bay Area. You can stop by Bound Together Books in SF, The Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley, or The Holdout in Oakland.

The East Bay Anarchist Conversation and Book Event is next Saturday at Humanist Hall in Oakland: http://eastbayanarchist.com/the-second-annual-east-bay-anarc...

As an entrepreneur, you might also be interested to read about the anarchist community's overlap with the creation of projects such as Twitter (see the Institute for Applied Autonomy), as well as the early emphasis on self-publishing through projects like Indymedia.


I just came across iSee[0]. Do you know if it has an API? It would be really cool to try to automatically plot routes to places without surveillance cameras.

[0] http://66.93.183.118:8080/isee/s1?zm=0&id=5876


We are all over the place. Uniforms for easy identification aren't really our thing.


Cataloged meticulously.


Right here.


There's a host of radical spaces in the bay beyond the ones Moxie mentioned. But hackerspaces like Noisebridge and Sudoroom have a large quantity of explicit and involved anarchists as core members, as well as a long tradition of using anarchist organizing models and even on occasion referring to themselves as anarchist projects.


I don't know about today, but yesterday a pretty large number of them were at the 2013 Anarchist Bookfair at Queen Mary's College in London. http://www.anarchistbookfair.org.uk/


I leave my books on Post-scarcity Anarchism on the table when in public. I talk about Planned Economies openly in public.

I decided not to pursue academia to show you what an Anarchist looks like.

But a majority of society needs to feel validated by the exploits of Miley Cyrus and needs to feel connected with the limits of Obama's sermon-like ratiocinations or the GOP's economic exploitation strategies.


Have you considered the possibility that you're just nonsensical and really annoying?


Quot capita tot sensus.


There is definitely a thick, deep, wide current of "gov love" in pop culture, and it's good to question it. It's expressed in movies (and TV shows) where government representatives solve problems for the common people. Those reps can be cops, James Bond, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, or what have you. They are the heroes, the saviors. In these narratives, the government heroes swoop in to protect the weak from being preyed on by the strong.

And yet there is no shortage of stories that highlight the incompetence, corruption, and even out-right malicious intent of government, even popularly elected ones. So it's not one-sided, at least.

In my view, what's missing from all such arguments is any kind of frame of reference. The anarchist claim is unsatisfying, to say the least, that the governments role is to maximize individual expression. To me, the best possible world is not the one where people can express themselves. Specifically, the best possible world is the one which can colonize other worlds. And it could very well be that dictatorship would work for that purpose (but I hope not).

Why is spreading life beyond earth so important? Because without doing that, in the long run, life will end. And that is the closest I have come to having an article of faith: that we humans are the stewards, and the hope, of all life on earth. Unless we act, every living thing is doomed in the long run. (Of course, the question arises: what if we colonize other worlds successfully? What then? To which I answer: let's cross that bridge when we get to it.)

With that frame, one can start to answer the question "Is Anarchy right?" The answer that I come up with is: probably not. We have a lot of problems with the way the US gov is structured, and particularly problems with how the judicial branch oversees the executive and holds it accountable. That important check seems to have degraded at virtually every level of society, federal, state and local, and I believe represents the greatest societal challenge we face. But is it a problem that is inherent to democracy, and something only something like anarchy can fix?

Society is a lot like a life-raft, making high density human habitation possible. Laws are the framework that any government provides and constitute the lowest level interface you must support to participate in the maintenance and growth of the life-raft. Basically: Don't speed. Don't kill people. Don't steal stuff. Pay your taxes. If you do these things, you're mostly going to be okay.

The real craziness starts with regulation, particularly when that regulation doesn't fit the popular view of what that regulation is or what it's purpose is. The three big national regulators that people think about when it comes to "government interference" would be the FDA, the FCC, and the SEC. We find it problematic when these organizations actively stop (and punish) small entities looking to compete with larger ones, often for arbitrary and clearly corrupt reasons. There is a revolving door between industry and government that is difficult for non-specialists to penetrate. But it is my view that these battles must be fought, and leadership (which starts with the President) must pro-actively root out corruption and misapplication of the law. And the best place to start with that, is simplicity. We need a profound reduction in the size of the legal corpus. Adding a rule that, for the next 20 years, Congress must repeal 2 laws for every law pass would be a good start.

In any event, my point is that I don't think anarchy could lead us to the highest goal of human society, the colonization of other worlds. Authoritarianism, as distasteful as it is, is handy for large-scale, complex tasks like that. I don't like it. But I don't see another option.


I think Bertrand Russell's comments about the eventual extinction of human race are, as a matter of psychology, much closer to the way most people think:

". . . if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending -- something dead, cold, and lifeless.

I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out -- at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation -- it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things." from "Why I Am Not a Christian: http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html


Our risk profile is slightly higher than that: the odds of a big meteor-strike, or a Yosemite caldera eruption, are non-zero. This is ignoring man-made (and so man-preventable) threats like global nuclear war or catastrophic climate change. But yes, I see it as an exciting challenge, not a reason to be depressed. I suspect that there is plenty of life in the universe - and I further suspect that precious few ecologies manage to reproduce. The challenges are mind-boggling: first, you need intelligent life. Second, that species needs to advance technologically to the point of being able to get off planet, and then (a much, much bigger leap) to get to another star. Heck, it may not even be possible. But we've got to try.


> Why is spreading life beyond earth so important? Because without doing that, in the long run, life will end.

Why is that? Which existential threat are you referring to? Overpopulation? The sun's transition into a red giant? (Not trying to be snarky, just looking for clarification.)

I'm not sure I agree that prolonging the survival of life should be an overriding goal that takes precedence over all other concerns. Firstly, there is nothing intrinsically good about life. It's a complex physical process, one which has resulted in incredible emergent behaviors, but if all life were to vanish tomorrow, the Universe wouldn't really be worse off. The Universe has no goal, no desires (or at least none that we could claim to have knowledge of at this point); it's simply a bunch of atoms interacting. So this whole idea that "we must preserve the existence of life no matter what" has no objective basis. It's more a result of our own struggle to find meaning in the Universe, our own psychological need to believe that all of this isn't just cosmic dust in the end.

My point: I don't think that human misery should be allowed in service of the "greater goal" of keeping life around. Because why bother? What's the point of sustaining life if misery is a prerequisite? If we can colonize other planets and explore the Universe, that's great; I'm just saying that we shouldn't use that as an overriding goal above all other concerns. The "best possible world" would be one in which everyone has the opportunity to pursue their desires, as long as their desires don't conflict with the desires of other living things (the feasibility of this scenario is another discussion altogether).

And yes, I realize that if a giant asteroid were to strike the Earth tomorrow, that would interfere with a lot of people's desires. I just think that "spread at any cost" is a bad goal for humanity. If I had to choose between 100 more years of life on Earth in which everyone lived peaceful, fulfilling lives vs. one million more years of life spreading throughout the Universe at the cost of significant anguish and poverty, I think I'd lean towards Option #1.


>The Universe has no goal, no desires (or at least none that we could claim to have knowledge of at this point); it's simply a bunch of atoms interacting.

I don't think the universe has a goal but I wouldn't care if it did. I only care about my own goals and I prefer the human race survive.

Just because the universe has no goal doesn't mean we shouldn't do or care about anything.


I agree completely; my nihilistic viewpoint was not meant to suggest inaction. Rather, my point was that we cannot use "ensuring the continued existence of life" as the sole justification for potentially oppressive structures of power, as javajosh was suggesting.

In other words, don't try to sell me on Authoritarianism by saying "well, it may suck for some people but it's our best way of getting off the planet, and that's what matters most."


You could have simplified that a lot:

I disagree with you because I subscribe to hedonism and you don't


Life ends, why not just have a good time?

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Your goal of going to other planets seems extremely arbitrary. Also pointless. People have survived for millions of years until now, the Earth isn't going anywhere. If you mean the long long term then sure we eventually need to leave, but getting there decades or even centuries sooner isn't going to make a difference. If something happens on Earth to destroy all life like Global warming or nuclear war (both I think are unlikely to cause full extinction, if they occur at all) it'd be far simpler to solve those problems or build shelters on Earth than to create a sulf-sufficent colony in space.

I also don't think it will make any difference anyways. I believe in a few decades we will have smarter-than-human AI. At that point it can design better AIs and so on, and eventually get machines hundreds or thousands of times more intelligent than humans. They can design spacecraft that make ours look like paper-airplanes. Any space programs before that are futile and not likely to help.




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