Is anarchism a possibility?
Is it always possible everywhere at anytime, or is it conditional?
There are two main branches (and endless schisms) of anarchism-
- anarcho-communism (ancom)
- anarcho-capitalism (ancap)
The essential difference between the two centers around the idea of property rights. The ancom faction does not believe we have a right to property, whereas the ancaps believe that we do. Both groups do agree, however, that individual rights exist. Although they are in disagreement about where they come from. Ancoms believe they come from the collective strength of society, while ancaps believe that they are granted by the very fact of our existence. So before we get to property, lets examine the assumptions that both have about rights.
Rights are essentially the ability to exercise freedoms, liberties or justice. In our natural uncivilized state, we are able to exercise all of these with no systematic impediments. Therefore to say that society has granted you rights is to say that they usurped your ability to exercise freedom, liberty and justice through systematic impediments. One who is able to exercise their will faces only natural consequences, so if society places systematic consequences for an action, then rights are just limitations on your freedoms, liberties and ability to enact justice personally (natural consequence). If your will is limited in these ways, then what you have is not anarchism, so anarcho-communism is not really anarchism at all.
Meanwhile ancaps generally refer to natural laws or rights, which is really just a more sophisticated way of saying that these rights were granted by a cosmic creator/overseer. They are essentially metaphysical or religious assertions about the nature of reality and our existence. And while it is possible that some primal entity did bestow such rights onto human beings, it is not demonstrable to any degree of certainty. God has a funny habit of refusing to settle disputes about what it did or did not do or say. So while the ancap position on rights is a distinct possibility, it would rely on another sort of superhuman authority, which is not really anarchism at all, either.
Rights do not exist. They are an appeal to a power far greater than the individual. They implicate a ruler and therefore have no place in discussions on anarchist societies. Either we have the free will and agency to exercise our freedoms, liberties and enact justice according to our own desires and moral codes with the expectation of natural consequences for some behaviors, or we have a ruler.
To say that ancoms do not believe in owning property is not completely accurate. They believe in communal property. That is, property owned by everybody in the community. And their claim is that only global anarcho-communism could insure their rights to all of the properties necessary to collect resources for building human technologies. Because resources are scarce (not infinite and omnipresent), without global participation overcoming the obstruction of private land owners, ancom-ism could only exist in primitive times, before the human way of life relied on complex networks of resource distribution. And I will contend that all-or-nothing is in no way at all related to anarchism by definition or in spirit.
Ancaps face a similar problem. Land-ownership for the purpose of securing and controlling resources was essentially the birth of the state. Any widespread ownership of land that goes beyond basic homesteading property is essentially the formation of a kind of state. It creates monopolies and power structures that cannot help but to oppress individuals by their very nature. And so ancaps are not really anarchists either, but just escape this logical conclusion through semantic games about what constitutes a power structure.
The modern world is capitalist-dependent. Modern technology relies on capitalism, both in creation and maintenance. The complex networks of resources required to provide the necessities of complex technological civilization are only possible through the society-granted property rights espoused by ancoms, and the economic functions of capital investments to manage those properties espoused by ancaps. Those rights and management services then necessitate the state, and so the conclusions of both sets of anarchists are self-refuting and/or impossible.
Is anarchism possible unconditionally? No. Modern society could not function without the large power structures that make it possible. Yet there is only a single condition which makes it impossible, and that condition is scarcity.
Scarcity is a limitation imposed on us by nature itself. Our quest to advance technologically has gone hand-in-hand with attempts to overcome those limitations by building entities more powerful than human beings themselves, and these entities have since dominated mankind and removed its will. We are enslaved by technology due to scarcity. Yet mankind has overcome other natural limitations in the past using technology. Aircraft and rocket ships are both ways of snubbing gravity via technology. So if we were similarly able to use technology to overcome the limitations of scarcity, then we would cease to be enslaved by technology. That which has enslaved us also has the power to free us.
Post scarcity technology is close to becoming a real thing. If we can learn to harness the illimitable energy around us and transform it into any matter we desire, we will have access to any resources, anywhere, at any time. The world would have no need for vast power structures to distribute resources. It would have no need for currencies to manage resources with. The basic necessities could be plucked from the air as easy as tap on a touchscreen. Specialized goods created by individual craftsmen could be traded based on barter, gifting or reputation. And the instincts that we have harbored since the beginning of time, which made it possible to survive in the competitive world of resource scarcity, would no longer have a purpose. We could shed them like tails and no longer be slaves to our fearful and aggressive impulses, without which, we would be truly free. The worst parts of humanity are responses to oppression in our societies and environment, which would disappear in a post-scarcity world. We would have full free will with no need to suspect our fellow man of acting on the impulses that are borne of scarcity.
Anarchism is possible. At this point it is only a matter of invention and engineering, which barring self-destruction, seems likely in the near future. The job of today’s anarchist should cease to be the petty squabbles between ancoms and ancaps about property rights, and instead prepare their fellow humans for the future through ideas. We must show people the conditions which make true individual free will a possibility so that they can become amenable to helping to create them, or at least support them. We must also begin to shed endless generations of impulses that will have no place in the future. Fear and greed must be minimized in order to absorb the shock of the massive change humanity may soon experience. Our psychological states must begin to anticipate that.
The possibility of anarchism is not predicated on some natural underlying state of humanity. It shall be their reward for evolving intentionally via a symbiotic relationship with technology. Scarcity and technology combined enslave, but post-scarcity technology frees us even from our animal nature. What will become possible as a result of overcoming these limitations is beyond what either you or I can imagine. But we can try!
Written by Joshua Scott Hotchkin February 5, 2016