"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
A Revolutionary Psychology
Exclusive to STR
October 29, 2007
Imagine it. The State is on the verge of total collapse.
Seeing little difference between the federal government and a Mafia gang, the people are increasingly refusing to pay taxes to the corrupt government. Elections see dramatically lower turnout over the years as politicians no longer command power or respect within the community. Cops and soldiers increasingly refuse to obey orders. Crooked, politically connected corporations pine for their government dime, but the Fed and its inflation-breeding, counterfeiting ways are no more (boo-hoo). Meanwhile, people go about their business more or less as they did before; only now, private defense agencies, community councils and other means of organization are rapidly developing. It's an uncertain time, but as people increasingly take responsibility for themselves and their own, a freer world is emerging. Sounds good, no?
Well, forget it!
No, people are not ready. The values and psychology upon which an anarchist culture would depend simply don't yet exist on a large enough scale. We have few allies. It seems people care little about our carefully constructed intellectual theories -- no, they prefer bread and circuses. I'm sure our friends at the Mises Institute can provide a fascinating economic explanation for this, but it will sway nobody. Mass rallies, strikes, and demonstrations will only preach to the converted. Heated sermons about "I hate the State rah rah rah" are not likely to work, either. Anarchism is a risky proposition given the world's authoritarian history, and people naturally don't want to take risks that they think won't pay off.
You say you want a revolution?
The revolution will not be televised. It will not be glamorous. It will not be a sudden overthrow of world governments. It will not be a violent, climactic struggle against the Dark Side of the Force. Instead, it will be a quieter revolution of the mind.
The biggest hurdle to such a transformation is the statist psychology and "sense of life" shoved down our throats from an early age. It underlies all the wars, programs, ideologies, and institutions that anarchists oppose. It is, in short, a negative, malevolent view of the world and of human nature. What distinguishes this psychology?
Fear, envy, passivity, irrational thinking, collectivism, moral relativism, unearned guilt, learned helplessness, and a sense of humanity as fundamentally bad...these are our true enemies.
Fear and envy are great weapons against people's spirits. The ten o'clock news or your typical newspaper pushes endless stories of violent crime, sudden disasters, endless hazards and dangers, and freak accidents -- scaring you, like they scared me when I was a kid. It puts into overdrive the part of your mind that detects threats. Feel the envy of hapless losers who, in the name of "equality" or "social justice," preach against people with greater artistic or academic talent, business acumen, financial security, success, and moral integrity than themselves. That kind of talk lights a fire under people's inadequacies and breeds resentment of others. Fear and envy lead us to fight amongst ourselves as well as see enemies where there are none; foreigners, fellow citizens, even our next-door neighbors. More critically, they open the door for false saviors to "protect" us or "end inequality" (through force, of course). And it all just goes downhill from there.
Passivity further weakens us. It keeps you simmering in silence as petty bullies, ignorant bigots, bosses on a power trip, and crooked politicians get away with crap they shouldn't get away with. It lets people evade responsibility for themselves, throw that burden on others, and blame others for their own failings (welfare and lawsuits against McDonalds come to mind here). It makes students stay nervously silent when asked for their opinions in class. It makes people stumble in confusion when there's nobody watching them and telling them what to do. Passivity is really a more extreme form of laziness; waiting for other people to take care of things, to ask the right questions, to take action. And there are plenty of people who are more than happy to grab the ball while you're lounging on the bench.
Meanwhile, irrational thinking leaves our minds cloudy, less able to think things through and more willing to accept B.S. just so we can feel better or feel like our fears, prejudices, and actions are justifiable. Listen to frantic voices on the radio scream about human beings, no different than you and I, who are part of an "Axis of Evil" or "steal our jobs" or "invade our borders" or otherwise threaten us. Look on as people justify absurd practices, policies and government programs through emotional appeals -- not actual facts, reason, or principle. And watch as people buy it hook, line, and sinker! All because thinking for two minutes is a painful experience beyond mention.
Collectivism is a threat too. It's hard for anyone to argue for their own life, their own liberty and their own happiness when they lack a firm concept of self to begin with. How often do you hear that we must surrender individual interests to the "greater good" ' whatever that means? Have you ever noticed a sort of twisted team mentality when it comes to nation-states or petty politics? Democrats versus Republicans, America versus Iraq... On a similar level we also get rich versus poor, black versus white, straight versus gay, man versus woman... Within these "teams", collectivism takes away that voice inside you that says that you own yourself, you are not a mere cog in a machine, and therefore you are not to be dominated by the "team".
Moral relativism eliminates our ability to distinguish right from wrong. Witness people who say "Well, right and wrong are subjective!", "We're limited in our perception, you can never really say what's what!", "We should never judge others!" Then watch them drown their consciences in cheap beer and American Idol when bullies and tyrants abuse their rights and freedoms.
Finally, unearned guilt leads us to feel like we are fundamentally bad, which leads to self pity, which in turn makes us willing to accept false saviors -- a church that says you are going to Hell if you don't please an invisible man, a self-help guru or psychic hawking B.S., the latest "miracle" product or diet, or even an up-and-coming political candidate promising to "heal" us. Guilt, like racism or other absurd belief, has to be actively taught from childbirth, preying on people's insecurities. People are made to feel this way regardless of anything they have actually done, and in the end they stifle that part of them that says they are capable, competent beings who don't need a savior.
You're wondering, why do I blather on about this? What does any of this have to do with anarchism?
Your mind is really all you have to defend yourself from being illegitimately controlled, dominated, and taken advantage of. Some of the above characteristics are just part of being an imperfect human; we all have justifiable fears and uncertainties and sometimes we allow ourselves to fall into irrational thinking. Others have to be actively taught, social reinforcement keeps them in place and can inflame them to monstrous levels. As the years pass, you reach a point where you end up tearing your own self down, and nobody has to do it for you -- not the schools, not your family, not society, not the ad men, not the Pentagon. In the end, this sinister process weakens your mind and spirit, it makes you less able to stand up to those who wish to dominate, hurt and control you.
This is the kind of psychology that dominates today -- one fit for losers, victims, and slaves.
You say you want a revolution?
It's time for a new psychology to motivate a freer and possibly more humane society, one fit for the 21st Century and beyond. This is where the revolution lies.
This new psychology would be centered on a greater respect for life, autonomy, independence, and self-determination, controlling your own life and your own destiny. It would also emphasize the things needed to maintain itself: direct action, a healthy suspicion of authority, avoiding unnecessary debt (which diverts your energies from more essential things), rejecting needless violence, and uncompromising ethical values. It would go hand in hand with the kind of institutions that would arise in a freer society ' these would reject the idea that coercive force and domination are proper ways to achieve organization or social change. This would go hand-in-hand with a freedom-culture the likes of which we've only seen in the early days of America (and even then it wasn't totally free; ask a Black person).
This new psychology would reject the current "sense of life" that dwells in the muck and mediocrity of the world, holding that as the absolute. It would evoke a world where people are not in chains (psychological or otherwise), where they can and must take control of their lives, own their minds, and become astonishingly moral and competent beings at their best. I don't mean something na've like "humanity is fundamentally good" or evil like "humanity is basically bad" but rather, "humanity can and should do better!"
Let me ask you: How often have you heard such affirming things from the media, the State, religion, and the B.S. ideologies out there? I can probably guess the answer as I'm writing this.
How do you encourage this kind of revolutionary psychology? Picture, if you will, planting a little seed of doubt in people's minds. As it sprouts, it will drive people to question the crap they've been taught, it will cajole them to think that something just isn't quite right... A person's inner psychology is deeply ingrained in them, and it is extremely difficult to change once it's solidified. This is true even if you see that person could be sympathetic to the anarchist alternative. It's going to take direct interaction with people, upholding values and living with integrity ' education by example, not standing on a soapbox 24/7. A few strategic comments, deeds, or cleverly written words, here or there, will do more to turn heads and slap them into consciousness.
Buy a copy of Murray Rothbard's The Case Against the Fed for your nephew who aspires to be an economics major. Calmly explain to your co-workers, who support Hillary or Rudy, how statist programs or laws can backfire and grease someone's palms in the end -- no matter how compassionate they may seem on the surface. When your friend argues for the war and against abortion rights (or vice versa), remind him of the inconsistency. When your mother says that people are "nuts" and need to be "saved" or controlled, tell her that it's the criminals and evil people who need it, not the rest of us. When you hear complaints about stupid/crazy people, suggest to them that stupidity is a learned behavior, courtesy of the schools.
You can't make people change, you can't convert them into anarchists or freethinkers. They'll have to do that themselves, of their own volition. Planting the seed of doubt is just the beginning.
They'll find it repulsive at first. They'll be angry. They'll try to ignore it. They're used to wallowing in negative statist psychology after all, they've invested much energy in it, and it gets to a comfy rut after a while. But with the proper prodding, they may not be able to stop thinking about it once they start. But even planting that seed is a small victory against the evil, amoral, destructive State ' such victories don't come often.
I too migrated to anarchism after a long, drawn-out process of doubt and hesitation, as the world around me failed to live up to the illusions I had built for myself as a statist. All I need was someone to slap me (thank you Joshua!).