Panarchy: The Utility of Personal Experience

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

During an earlier political incarnation of myself, when I was more a leftist, my wife and I had attended a seminar in the local community college on the Mondragon cooperatives. I got excited about this, and we (mostly me) were inspired to try a farm co-op--despite the limited connection this idea might have with Mondragon. At the time we owned a run-down 93-acre ex-dairy farm in a small valley of Oregon’s coast range, that we could use for this experiment. We talked to the man who had put on the seminar, and he agreed to become a member and to bring others he knew on board who would be interested in trying it.

I learned some things about communal living, that I could not have learned any other way.

For one thing, it was amazing how much everything became bureaucratized. In a normal farm, if you see some thing that needs doing, you either do it right then, or you put it in your mental “to do” list at the appropriate priority. In a commune, there must be a meeting. For something so simple as planting a fruit tree, we had to involve every member (including those who would not be doing any of the work), and discuss where the money would come from to buy the tree, who would go get it, who would dig the hole, where the hole would be dug, who would water the tree, and on and on.

For another thing, when sharing a house with such people (there was a small, run-down 1950s vintage ranch style house on this run-down farm), everything turns into a conflict. One problem was the primitive and overloaded, old septic system. As a result, if large volumes of water were run into it, the system would back up, effluent would end up in the crawl space, and other bad things one could imagine. Now, if only my wife and I were living there, I would just tell her, “No full bathtubs when running your bath,” and that would be the end of it, until we got around to fixing the system. But with the co-op, there was one female person (a tub of lard, to put it mildly) who insisted on full baths every evening--in a house with several adults and one bathroom. The more I wanted her to keep the water use reasonable, the more she ran into the tub, just to spite me, apparently. And she never had to go into that crawl space to do any work on this old house, with used toilet paper all over, like I did.

During a good sunny work day, there was a mix of participation. One of the members was a hard-charging man who just loved to tear into some job on this farm and get it working; he was a joy to work with. The fellow who gave the seminar, on the other hand, would get his shorts on and lie out in the sun, or on a couch reading a book. Manual labor was for others, not him. This drove my workaholic wife up the wall, needless to say. All sorts of jealousies and strife appeared.

After about a year of this, we gave up on the idea. Fortunately we had not yet signed the farm over to the co-op. Our experiment in communal living was done, and the people went back where they came from. I developed a fine appreciation for private property, for simple, direct control of one’s local environment, and huge dislike of bureaucracy. I turned into a stark, raving libertarian, more or less. None of these things would have registered firmly in my mind, if I had simply read about it in a news story or book.

As Will Rogers used to say, "There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves." I was one of that group, peeing on the electric fence.

What does this story have to do with Panarchy?

Often we try to sway people to this political philosophy or that. But with humans, it is, “Those convinced against their will, are of the same opinion still.” It’s a shame that we can’t easily persuade others through truth and logic to become anarchists or anarcho-capitalists; but on the up side, those who do become convinced through whatever means, are not easily persuaded back out of it. Humans have a “conservative” gene in them, apparently, no doubt developed over the millennia sitting at camp fires, in our tribal period. This gene discounts talk, no matter how persuasive, and uses personal experience in preference to it, as a guide for future behavior. There must have been some survival utility to this tendency, otherwise we wouldn’t have it.

Panarchy allows personal experience to happen. And most importantly, it does it in a way that limits the damage of poor choices. Want communal life? Join the communist polity. Actually experience how that will work out. Many will find it’s not for them, after all, just as I did. Some may find they like it very much, and expend a lot of effort to keep it viable. I would say, “More power to ‘em,” but the point of Panarchy is they won’t have power over others not like them. So I would rather just congratulate them for finding an environment that suits them--and secretly question their sanity, heh.

This is quite a bit different than stuffing an entire country into communism. What a lethal mess!

People who are passionate advocates of . . . whatever, should get to experience that whatever. It may have the effect of reducing their ardor for it. That’s a good thing, right?

Stop fighting communism, or fascism, or whatever. Let those who want it, have it. Tell them you want them to have it! Just remind them you are not interested in being dragooned into their preferred scheme. This is the ultimate “live and let live.”

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Alex R. Knight III's picture

A good one, Paul.  Glad I was never quite old enough back in the hippie-era to catch the communalism wave.  :-)  Closest thing was just a lot of friends -- usually only one at a time -- staying in the guest room for long stretches and partying it up.  Lot of pot and beer and great music across the upstairs landing from my room.  :-)

Jim Davies's picture

'Just remind them you are not interested in being dragooned into their preferred scheme. This is the ultimate “live and let live.”'
The absurdity of that sentence fairly boggles the mind. Perhaps you'd care to name one fascist or communist country in which dissidents' preferences carried any weight whatever.
Your long and welcome absence from this site had encouraged me to suppose that, the owner having declined to eject you, you had quit on your own. Sorry to see you back.
Any tempted to give "panarchy" a second look should read my Panarchy is for Losers.

John deLaubenfels's picture

You seem to be replying to some other column.  Or perhaps you missed the sentence, "This is quite a bit different than stuffing an entire country into communism. What a lethal mess!"  Sorry, two sentences (I felt I had to add that to keep from provoking a rant about idiots who can't count sentences).

Jim Davies's picture

No, John, my remarks were right on target. As often before, Paul's article set out to distract readers from anarchism, to promote which STR is supposed to exist. From your other post below I see that you may not be familiar with his trick. It's explained in my Panarchy is for Losers.

calinb's picture

"Your long and welcome absence from this site had encouraged me to suppose that, the owner having declined to eject you, you had quit on your own. Sorry to see you back."

"Sam, I have indeed wished that Paul Bonneau be banned from writing anything on STR, and I repeat that desire here and now with all the emphasis at my command."


I've been lurking on this site for many years. Because I prefer to not engage in discourse with people inclined to make comments like the ones I quote above, I generally abstain from posting here. However, I very much wish for you to know that your contributions have never changed my mind about anything (changed how I think) but Paul Bonneau's words have done so!


"I cannot prove that he is a government agent provocateur, but my opinion is that he is."

I have followed Paul's writings from long ago on the Montana Alliance for Liberty Yahoo group and I highly doubt that your assertion is true. In my opinion, his work passes a "Turing Test" for anarchism. If he is a government agent provocateur, he is a very ineffective one!

Samarami's picture
    "...Because I prefer to not engage in discourse with people inclined to make comments like the ones I quote above, I generally abstain from posting here..."

Calinb, I too prefer to not engage in discourse with naysayers. They bore me.

That said, I'm determined not to allow any commenter(s) to suppress my quest for liberty and freedom. Nor will I allow cynics to censor my prerogative to express myself. I think Paul can say the very same thing; and am inspired by his continuing to post essays and comments at STR. Even when I do not totally agree with him.

Jim and Paul and I have in history enjoyed each others' web interchanges. We've also spatted and sparred a bit (especially of late). I truly hope I've learned from the crossfire.

I want always to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. And that's what I think you're trying to get across here.

However, abstaining from interacting with others will not strengthen the forum. I truly wish many of the old-timers would return and "buck up" -- not allowing 'em " get'cha down...". Sam

Serenity's picture

i give up. you folks can have your bickering and infighting. no difference between you and liberals.  each one trying to one up the other and each one wanting to ram their beliefs down someone elses throat. little hitlers with a belief that there is only ONE way to achieve a goal. one belief. one method to anarchy. i can see why it is backsliding. i left politics behind a long time ago. i had the belief in anarchy but it is and has become yet another political party. no room in it for ideas. no room for beliefs other then the sanctioned one. each person in it seeks to be the ruler they claim to want to eliminate. enjoy your infighting. i have advised STR i will no longer attempt to be a guest editor. i won't do it even temporary. my time is valuable and i won't waste it on politics which is all this has become. it certainly isn't about striking the root. it isn't about liberty or freedom or live and let live. or even the anarchy of no rulers. no masters. it is simply attacking each other with all sorts of fallacies, personal attacks. unproven inuendos against each other. each one with a knife in hand waiting to carve up anyone who dares be different or disagree. what a waste of time and effort. you can keep it. i won't be back. 

Samarami's picture

Your frustration is definitely understandable. I do hope you'll reconsider. You've been a very good anchor over a moribund period of STR's history. I, too, long for the days when good but often very controversial essays were posted regularly -- often with literally hundreds of comments thereto, sometimes tumultuous, sometimes in agreement.

If libertarians are afraid of controversy, they're pretty ineffective voices for us. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

Well said, Sam. Serenity can result, I suppose, from absence of all thought and controversy; but that's a poor way to achieve it.

Jim Davies's picture

Serenity, like Samarami I hope you'll reconsider, and think you're mistaken. But may I take up one line in your post: you wrote of "a belief that there is only ONE way to achieve a goal. one belief. one method to anarchy."
By "anarchy" I presume you mean a society rid of the curse of government, and by "way" or "method" I presume you mean a plan to get there. Correct me if I presume wrongly.
I'm aware of only one such plan, documented here, which a few of us worked out back in 2006. Do you know of some other?  I've watched, but have seen none. There's plenty of activity, but nothing having the form of a plan - with clear objectives, methodology, contingencies etc. But if you've seen one, please name it before you go - if go you must.

John deLaubenfels's picture

Thoughtful column, Paul.  Let me raise the question, what is the difference between anarchy and panarchy?  In an anarchic society, there would surely be huge numbers of voluntarily-formed groups, each with its own rules for membership and conduct.  Doesn't this come down to the same thing as panarchy?

Paul's picture

Perhaps this may sound a bit flippant, but your question is like saying, "what is the difference between Catholicism and religious tolerance?" Anarchy is a political philosophy. Panarchy is just a notion or framework that (allegedly) makes it easier for diverse political philosophies to co-exist in the same general area. Even calling it a framework is probably overstating it. Even now a liberal and conservative can already live next door to each other without killing each other. Panarchy just makes that easier.

If you want to think of Panarchy as just glorified anarchy, I don't mind. Maybe it really is. Hell, if you want to say that Panarchy just allows people to get along, without this being associated with anarchy somehow (a term that carries some baggage after all), or to say this is a sly way of getting ordinary liberals and conservatives to sign onto anarchy, I won't even mind that. Hey, I'm easy! :-) I just think it is a generally useful concept, not something that is of concern only to anarchists.

Samarami's picture

Paul, it’s genuinely nice to see you back.

I’ve always surmised that you used “Panarchy” with a similar tongue-in-cheek brashness that I use “sovereign state”. It’s not that I’m not serious about personal sovereignty (MY personal sovereignty – here, now, where I’m “at” – which is my responsibility and nobody else’s); but I admit, truth-be-known, that I have interjected “state” to more-or-less bait the Jim’s and the Suverans2’s of the world.

But the term “panarchy” is redundant as I see it. The way I think you’re using it could be interchanged with a term such as “individualist sovereignty” without introducing “archy”. “Archy” implies some sort of organized group, with leaders, vice-presidents, enforcers of laws and rules, etc etc. “Rulership”. I found myself experiencing some discomfort with your use of the word “allows” in your statement, “…Panarchy allows personal experience to happen…” Personal freedom and sovereignty do give rise to a number of personal experiences (as you so outlined) – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But that’s not due to someone’s “allowing”. I do not need any rulers to have personal experiences – I just need to get my head out of my arse. And learn from the negatives as well as the positives.

    ”… Stop fighting communism, or fascism, or whatever. Let those who want it, have it…”

I find myself wanting to presume your meaning is much like Larken Rose in his “The Most Dangerous Superstition:

    “So, reader, if your beliefs and superstitions – many of which you did not choose for yourself, but merely inherited as unquestioned “hand-me-down” beliefs – matter to you more than truth and justice, then please stop reading now and give this book to someone else. If, on the other hand, you are willing to question some of your long-held, preconceived notions – if doing so might reduce the suffering of others – then read this book. And then give it to someone else”.

It’s a writer’s gambit – what I call “good intellectual blackmail” (if any blackmail can be “good”). Mr. Rose would not have written the book if he was sincere in his wish for you to remain steeped in your “beliefs and superstitions” (by ceasing to read his book and handing it off). As Larken illustrates they have unquestionably been the most dangerous of superstitions.

Communism and fascism are indeed dangerous superstitions. We fight them – daily. Up and down our streets. Within our families. But we fight without coercion that is concomitant with those “ism’s” and “archy’s” that imply rulership outside ourselves. There’s not a lot we can “do” other than set examples by writing and conversing and being willing to be the odd-man out – show them liberty and freedom by the way we live our lives. Personally and individually.

“Panarchy” == intellectual blackmail(???)

I’ll address Mr. Davies’ comment here, to you: I, too, have been concerned by your long absence from STR. But I knew the host of STR is not so immature as to listen to Jim’s diatribes against you – and even to “cast you into outer darkness”, as he (Jim) had apparently advocated. My mind is boggled by anybody calling himself or herself “libertarian” engaging in that style of forcible vitriol.

I enjoy your essays and your interchange in “comments”. I believe most who contribute here agree. Those who are left out of those who have simply quit the forum to sidestep the venom and the vituperation.

My introductory statement stands: I’m glad to see you back, and hope you stay and continue your contributions to STR. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

Sam, I have indeed wished that Paul Bonneau be banned from writing anything on STR, and I repeat that desire here and now with all the emphasis at my command. I cannot prove that he is a government agent provocateur, but my opinion is that he is. Whether so or not, the effect is the same: as you have yourself observed, if I recall correctly, STR has become a mere shadow of its former self. The owner/editor's abject failure to expel him is a large part of the reason. By his own open admission he has declared that nobody has any rights, so by definition he is not an anarchist. He has also called for compromise with statism by means of panarchy, above as previously; he therefore has no proper place on a site that calls for the abolition of initiated force. It is a disgrace to STR's published mission statement that he is allowed to continue here in good standing.
Tolerance is a fine virtue, as of course is the libertarian principle of "live and let live". Now answer me this: suppose an open, explicit statist - a socialist or fascist, whatever - were to publish an article on STR. Would your tolerance extend to wanting his views to continue to appear? If not, why not? - where is your borderline? Or if so, then you are saying there is no limit, that STR is merely an open forum like all the others, and need strike no root of evil at all.

Samarami's picture
    "...Now answer me this: suppose an open, explicit statist - a socialist or fascist, whatever - were to publish an article on STR. Would your tolerance extend to wanting his views to continue to appear? If not, why not? - where is your borderline?..."

As of now there are so few participants at STR I doubt if the "splash" would ripple much h2o. I would hope Rob would have the temerity and the maturity to let it go up on the board. Virtually any opinion here in the past has been met quite well by the tzo's, Per Bylunds, et al (including both thee and me). How else to envision a libertarian world unless one has a statist world to hold up as an example of why we continue to hammer away to destroy that most dangerous of superstitions.

Rather dull preachin' to the choir, and as of now there isn't even much of a choir left. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

The question, Sam, was pretty clear, surely? And pertinent? And you don't have to answer it if you don't want to; a simple "I don't wish to answer that" would have done.
But you wrote 114 words, yet offered no reply. That's a waste of everyone's time.

Samarami's picture

4 or five words, my friend: I have nothing to fear. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

I didn't ask you that, Sam, I asked whether or not you'd approve, or think it appropriate, if some open statist were to be allowed to publish articles on STR. The site is (supposedly) not just for you or me or the choir; it is an outreach instrument to promote freedom from government.
So if Hillary Clinton were to become a contributor of articles here, for example, your only comment would be "I have nothing to fear"?
Of course you don't. But that is irrelevant and, I regret to say, pathetic. I have to wonder if you have any idea what STR is for.

Samarami's picture

With you, Jim, it really doesn't matter what you asked me. I'll be embroiled in some foolish word game no matter. With you.

A forum generally attracts those who are "with" the general forum content. If ultra-liberals, ultra-neocons, et al., wish to post here I'll "approve" their "right" to so post. Doesn't mean I'll "approve" the content of their post. In the days of the "heavy hitters" at STR I needed have no fear that the ultra's would gain much footage here at STR. Sometimes I merely ignore combativeness and foolishness (foolishness to ME: I'm sure each of them sincerely believe what they post, and do not translate the post into "combative" or "disagreeable").

Early in my libertarian acceptance I did sign into a few controversial forums. But when I discovered I was in "over-my-head" -- that I had virtually NO "fellow travelers" (folks with libertarian leaning) -- the fun began to wear off. I'm not combative by nature.

And I'm definitely no dogmatist. That -- long before I identified as anarchist -- probably interfered most with my ability to feel like an effective educator in government ("public" ha ha) schools. Anarchists tend to avoid dogma.


Paul's picture

"Panarchy" redundant? Possibly. But who's to say that redundancy has no utility? We are not talking about math axioms here, but human behavior. Cooper's 4 rules of gun handling are redundant too - which is exactly the point.

"Allows" - probably a poor choice of words on my part, that's all. Maybe "facilitates" would be a better word, although I usually roll my eyes when I hear anyone else use it.

"Communism and fascism are indeed dangerous superstitions. We fight them – daily." I don't know about that. I don't fight anyone who wants to live in a commune on their own. I fight imposition. I think people too easily slip into opposition mode without defining for themselves exactly what and why they are opposing (I'm referring here to the general public, mostly).

As to me being gone from here, it's not any big thing. Just peaks and valleys in the need to communicate. Getting older means realizing you don't need to express an opinion on every little thing. I'll be moving soon too; that will distract me some. I'll probably post here as long as there is a here to post to.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

I think it's long since abundantly evident to most -- if not all -- others just whose absence from this site would be most welcome.

Jim Davies's picture

And a cheerful good morning to you too, Alex.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Paul:  Wondering if you've ever come across this essay?  Just thought I'd pass it along in case not: