"When all think alike, no one is thinking very much." ~ Walter Lippmann
Call Me an Abolitionist, Please
Exclusive to STR
December 18, 2006
Imagine two groups struggling to win (or, in one case, to retain) public support for their respective, opposing causes. The dominant group has managed to define the other's name to mean 'violent, uncivilized destroyers of property and enemies of functioning society' in the public mind, despite that definition being the polar opposite of the truth.
Still, the slandered group continues using the pejorative name to describe itself. 'We are violent, uncivilized destroyers of property and enemies of functioning society!' proclaim members of the group. 'And we're proud of it! You'd join us if you only understood us better!'
Strangely, the public does not respond in a positive fashion.
- - - - -
Of course, this is only a 'what if' scenario. No group in the real world would be foolish enough to continue calling itself by a name that meant something so negative in the public mind. It would be like the Republicans or the Greens renaming themselves the 'Child Molester Party.' A more counterproductive tactical or marketing move is difficult to imagine.
- - - - -
I was just kidding about 'no group in the real world' being so foolish, of course: anarchists continue using a descriptor that actually does mean 'violent, uncivilized destroyers of property and enemies of functioning society' to 99% of the public. We can rail all we want about how wrong and unfair that is, but the fact remains that nearly everyone defines 'anarchist' differently and far more negatively than we do. Thanks to more than a century of media effort (aided and abetted by violent idiots who have called themselves anarchists), 'anarchy' has been relentlessly and successfully defined as, essentially: 'chaos and violence, and destruction of property rights and civil order.' In short: 'anarchy' = 'chaos' or even 'terrorism' in the public mind. This is not a label I want attached to myself, especially during America 's War on Terror.
I see negative and hostile views of 'anarchy' frequently and am certain you do as well. A few examples:
Aug 18th 2005
From The Economist print edition
"Repression did little to stop anarchist violence. But eventually the world moved on and the movement withered ."
By Rick Coolsaet
"TERRORISM is ancient, found in every age, every continent, every religion. So why the current obsession with security, the suspicion that a monstrous hidden enemy is behind every attack in the world? History has had many eras when terrorism and fear were rife in events much like those of today. On 24 June 1894 an Italian anarchist, Sante Jeronimo Caserio, assassinated the French president, Marie-Fran'ois Sadi Carnot, the culmination of a series of anarchist attacks in France and elsewhere. The international community felt threatened by this."
By Robert D. Kaplan
"How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet ."
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
"One week ago, experts and observers warned that Darfur risked 'sliding into a perpetual state of lawlessness'."
"The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as 'close to anarchy' with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption. "
By ERIC LIPTON, CHRISTOPHER DREW, SCOTT SHANE and DAVID ROHDE
Published: September 11, 2005
"The governor of Louisiana was 'blistering mad.' It was the third night after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans , and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco needed buses to rescue thousands of people from the fetid Superdome and convention center. But only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived."
- - - - -
What does anarchy really mean? In a practical sense, the term has no meaning; with so many conflicting definitions, the word means whatever someone thinks it means. There is no universally accepted definition for the word. Of course, there are dictionary definitions of anarchy. Here's the entry from my on-disc copy [circa mid-1990s] of The American Heritage Dictionary:
an'ar'chy ('n''r-k') n., pl. an'ar'chies. 1. Absence of any form of political authority. 2. Political disorder and confusion. 3. Absence of any cohesive principle, such as a common standard or purpose. [New Latin anarchia, from Greek anarkhia, from anarkhos, without a ruler : an-, without; see A-1 + arkhos, ruler; see -ARCH.]
Definition #3 is especially disturbing, as it absolutely negates the principled adherence to nonaggression which lies at the heart of 'anarchy' as I understand the term.
Another way to highlight the nearly random usage of the term 'anarchy' is found at the WikiPedia page on Anarchy, which lists these different anarchist schools of thought in a sidebar:
Capitalist – Christian
Collectivist – Communist
Eco – Feminist
Green – Individualist
Mutualist – Primitivist
Social – Syndicalist
The goals, definitions, and methods of these groups vary widely, and not all of them acknowledge the nonaggression principle. I do not see how any person could find themselves in full agreement with even two or three of these, much less with all these versions of 'anarchy' at once. By the way, note that 'libertarian/market anarchist' – Strike The Root's self-description – isn't even listed. Here's STR 's self-description in detail:
'Strike The Root is a daily journal of current events and commentary from a libertarian/market anarchist perspective. The mission of STR is to advance the cause of liberty, primarily by de-mystifying and de-legitimizing the State. STR seeks a world where people are free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they don't use force or fraud against peaceful people.'
Now, that's a definition I can embrace: the anarchist, as STR sees him or her, 'seeks a world where people are free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they don't use force or fraud against peaceful people.' To be blunt, anything less would be uncivilized. But again, this is NOT the definition most people find in their mental search engines when they hear the term 'anarchist.'
Mark Davis recently made the point in a column at STR that 'anarchy is simply a free society.' Yet Davis' column, titled Defining Anarchy, is mostly devoted to describing the ways people misunderstand the term anarchy and correcting the misconceptions; as Davis points out, whenever a massive government failure creates chaos, the public (and of course the media) calls the result 'anarchy.' Davis' column is a terrific educational tool, but the very need for such a piece highlights the point of this column: any movement that must expend so much effort correcting inaccurate and prejudicial views of its own position is a movement choosing to fail.
Our opponents have successfully defined 'anarchy' in such a way that to merely say the word is to warn others against us.
We are not merely foolish to allow ourselves to be described by this word; we are not only setting ourselves up for continued and total failure: using the term 'anarchist' to describe ourselves, especially in post-Patriot, Military Tribunal America, puts us at peril.
- - - -
So: you're a 'live and let live' person who believes any initiated coercion is wrong. What DO you call yourself?
I have a suggestion. If you want to abolish the use of initiated coercion, why not call yourself, as I do, an abolitionist?
Reasons for using this term include:
Accuracy: the world 'abolitionist' accurately describes a person who wants to abolish something, in this case the evil of initiated coercion.
Positive connotations: The term was widely used by those who wanted to abolish slavery, and slavery is, of course, merely a specific and extreme form of initiated coercion. This use of the term 'abolitionism' is the only one I was familiar with before doing a web search, and I would wager that most Americans have never heard of any other: in a practical sense, 'abolitionism' means the movement to abolish slavery. The movement to abolish all intiated coercion – all forms and degrees of slavery and attempted slavery, large and small – is clearly a continuation of the original. Positive feelings people rightfully have for the movement to abolish slavery are equally well deserved by those who seek to abolish all forms of initiated coercion. Furthermore, abolishing slavery did not tear the world apart or cause chaos or misery (the Civil War did, but in most nations slavery was abolished without resorting to war. Even in America it was the war, not freedom for the slaves, that caused violence and misery – and Americans are clear on that).
Continuation of a righteous cause: As long as initiated coercion exists – from government, from the mob, from organized religion, from home-invasion robbers and rapists, from gangs of ten-year-old bullies at school, or from any other source – the cause of abolitionism should and must continue.
Explicit recognition that how we treat each other matters: Abolishing initiated coercion requires insisting that each person is the owner and proprietor of his or her own body, mind, property, and life generally. The abolitionist insists on the rights of others. Abolitionism holds that using force or threats of force against peaceful human beings is a crime – something any decent person can support. This explicit concern for others puts abolitionism in harmony with the ancient Eastern doctrine of ahimsa, at least where human life is concerned. It puts abolitionism in harmony with the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That means abolitionism is in harmony with every major religion I am aware of, and with plenty of religions most people have never heard of. Abolitionism fits well with Jesus' insistence that we should love one another (John 13:34 – 35), because coercion is the practical opposite of love. Indeed, coercion erodes and destroys love.
Civil society requires nothing less than complete abolition of initiated coercion. If history and current events teach us nothing else, they teach us that initiated coercion is evil, and that when used widely and systematically (as every government does) it becomes, all too often, an evil of epic proportions. All excuses, schemes, and rationalizations for initiating coercion against others only create more coercion. We've tried 'the divine right of kings.' We've tried 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' We've tried 'democracy.' It doesn't matter how you dress it up: initiating force or threats of force against peaceful human beings is a crime, and creates nothing but injustice, violence, and misery. Using the term 'abolitionism' points out that ALL forms of initiated coercion must go; belief that it is necessary or benign to initiate coercion for this or for that reason, or in some special manner, is delusional and dangerous.
So call me an abolitionist, please. I hope you will consider joining me in use of the term.