When I was asked to do this essay, I didn’t know how to respond since I am technically an anarchist. For the sake of brevity and to keep the conversation on track, I’ll explain how I came across my anarchist worldview, which has more in common with Libertarians than either of us wish to acknowledge.
Douglas Adams once famously wrote “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Being at sea on a warship is similar. It involves long periods where the nearest land is three miles below your feet and the view is slightly less dull than drying paint. Depending on the ship and the mission, you may get long watches in the night where nothing is happening and you look out ahead of the ship and there is nothing but darkness and stars. It is like a world that hasn’t been created yet. You look to the rear and the same stars mix with the bioluminescent algae that the propellers agitate. It is beautiful, but very lonely. And then there are flurries of maddening activity in which one can hardly pause to catch ones breath, but mostly it’s a dull, mindless tedium. This, I think, is why NASA investigates sailors and submariners to understand the effects of long deep space voyages on a social dynamic. But I digress.
I don’t know what others did with those long hours where there was nothing to do and all conversation had been exhausted, but I thought. I was, in my youth, a staunch conservative authoritarian because of my upbringing. I had never given any thought to the concept of power, as I took it for granted that there are haves and have-nots and clearly I was of the latter persuasion. One day, I was sweeping the passageways of my ship, I think we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a couple thousand miles away from the nearest land, which was Diego Garcia. We were in the middle of nowhere. I had had an unpleasant interaction with my supervisor and I replayed it over and over in my head when I was struck with a thought: why did this intellectually, physically, and morally inferior specimen exercise any control over me? Why? Because I let him. And that is how power works. Government is derived from the just consent of the governed.
But wait… That’s not how power works. Tyrant kings and dictators lose the consent of the governed, but they get kicked out of office only rarely. Certainly I did not and do not consent to be ruled by this human kumquat. So is the entire principle of just consent faulty? No, kings have historically been chosen by a college of trusted religious figures bearing the trust of the people. Dictators often win fair and democratic elections. Just consent is the beginning. It is how the parasite of which I have spoken before [link to other post?] is introduced into the body.
This begs the question: where does the removal of consent become ineffective? And the answer that I came up with is complex and dependent upon the individual instance. In many cases, granting moral authority and trust to a leader is the death knell of just consent. Because when you object, you become evil. In our own instance (oh yes, just consent in America is deader than disco), it was when we gave our government the monopoly on deadly force. Which is not to say that they’re the only ones who can employ deadly force, but when you do you have a lot of explaining to do. And who do you explain things to? The government.
Expanding that concept, literally everything that a government does carries with it the threat of overwhelming and violent force to compel your compliance. Traffic lights, for example. I love a traffic light. Wonderful things, traffic lights. But… (you read that the second time in The Doctor’s voice, didn’t you?)
Look closer. What happens when you violate a traffic light? A policeman pulls you over and probably fines you. And if you don’t pay the fine? Eventually they’ll arrest you. And if you refuse arrest? They subdue you. And if you fight back? Well, the fact is that it eventually comes down to the use of overwhelming violence. Now we have given them the power of life and death over us. They can compel us to do anything in the service of our master, the State or put us to the blade if we refuse. We have created, in the words of Voltairine De Cleyre, the Gods of the World.
Then, I read an amazing short story by Harlan Ellison entitled “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” in which there is one section of dialog which really stuck with me:
“Not everyone thinks [that it’s a terrible world they live in]. Most people enjoy order.”
“I don’t, and most of the people I know don’t.”
“That’s not true. How do you think we caught you?”
“I’m not interested.”
“A girl named pretty Alice told us who you were.”
“That’s a lie.”
“It’s true. You unnerve her. She wants to belong, she wants
to conform, I’m going to turn you off.”
Pretty Alice, if you haven’t guessed, is as much of a wife to the Harlequin as people have in this world. But think for a moment about the implications of that. A world in which the state has such power over its subjects that minor deviation from their way of life (“After all, his name was Everett C. Marm, and he wasn’t much to begin with, except a man who had no sense of time.”) was enough to cause a wife to become so unnerved she would turn in her husband to be executed.
We attached a leech to ourselves, trusting it to do the right thing, made the leech our god, and became so beholden to it that we would sell out our family to stay on its good side. The revelation hit me like a stampede of buffalo on a quiet street outside of the San Diego Convention Center at two o’clock in the morning.
I could not trust something so dangerous. In fact, I pledged my enmity to it on that very moment and I became an anarchist. Position noted on charts, 23.4431S/091.9521E (no, that’s not the actual position, I just picked a random place in the Indian Ocean). While sailing on a US Navy warship.