A Reply to Joe Rahi

One of the first people to follow me here was Joe Rahi. Go check out their blog. It’s cool, I’ll wait here until you’re done.

Right, so you will have noticed that Joe describes themselves as a Christian anarchist, a philosophy that I recently touched on in a none-too-positive light. Parallel to writing my blog I had also been chatting with Joe in the comments section of a post in which they describe the intersection of their politics and their faith. I for one found it refreshing that Joe is willing to enter into a honest and sincere dialogue. While we may not come to complete accord I do feel it is only right that we try to understand each others point of view as much as critique from our own perspectives, so to this end I asked if there was anything Joe would like to ask me. I was posed the following questions:

“I have two questions for you (but they are practically the same); what do you believe is the meaning of life? And what is the foundation of your political ideas?”

Well, seek and you shall find…

Life, The Universe, and Everything
The Meaning of Life – sounds grand, bigger than just us, kinda special. Well… not to me. I kind of think this is one of those concepts that meets the very definition of deepity. On the face of it this seems profound, almost as if there could be an ultimate objective answer or that we can get to some universally accepted truth but I don’t subscribe to this school of thought. Instead I find the meaning we place in life can be demonstrated through the morality we profess and the actions we take. With this as my position the next logical step to me looking at the meaning I place on life would be to examine where our moral values come from.

In this task, rather than take up a huge word count I would advise watching QualiaSoup’s YouTube series on morality, which at this time has three parts that I have been broadly in agreement with.

With those vid’s in mind  I would propose that almost every single person in the world selects the morals they wish to follow. Over time they adapt on the individual level as well as across whole societies. Those ideas with lasting worth endure or re-occur while those that cannot be justified are mostly abandoned. Some with religious faith will choose their morality unquestioningly from positions of authority – either texts, leaders or community pressure However even when doing this an individual cherry picks the bits they like (or are culturally pressured or indoctrinated into to professing) and whitewash, handwave or contort the bits they find less savoury.

Instead of going through this intellectually dishonest task I try to make a critical evaluation of the world, examining the ideals and cultural norms I wish to see and try and line them up with my actions. This leads to my morality and the meaning that I give life; not a static, unchanging set of commandments set in stone but instead a critically evaluated code that can be improved upon as new information comes to light and well reasoned without recourse to supernatural beings or outside authority.

Why Anarchist Communism?
So in the past I’ve talked a bit about why I think anarchist communism is a relevant and vital political philosophy given the dominant culture, and the only methodology which takes into account the morals I wish to see in the world while standing up to the vigour’s of critical evaluation, but how and why did I come to that conclusion?

My political identification through life has went from being the child of “Old Labour” parents that had a fair amount of the hippy ethic mixed in for good measure. I grew up with a deep sense that people should have dignity, that all the essentials of life should be provided to all, and that there should be a bottom-line for quality of life which people can’t fall bellow. I remember looking at communism at high school and thinking it was a great idea but there had to be some kind of flaws I was missing in the key ideology because every “communist” county was an absolute hell-hole. I didn’t realise at the time that the communist countries were shit because of the lack of communism, and that the term was being misappropriated by the governments in question and misattributed by their opponents. That said the idea that we can and should work to end homelessness, starvation and every other preventable ill of our dominant culture has been a constant since my youth.

As I went through my late teens it became more and more apparent that the Labour party did not, and had never really had, shared anything with socialism as I had come to understand it. I stopped identifying with the Labour party and described myself more plainly as a socialist. I read Marx and got from him that abolition of money and work in its current format are essential to prevent the exploitation of others. I was not convinced by the idea that to reach these goals that mirroring the structures that preserve capitalism had been successful and I avoided involvement in what seemed to me to be the hugely flawed positions given by the SWP, the SSY, FRFI, and their ilk. In the end it looked like they would either follow the trajectory of the Labour party or the Marxist/Leninist/Maoist states, neither of which was appealing.

I began a long process of examining systems of governance and society, often talking late into the night with close friends. I realised that no matter what we discussed to tinker with forms of representation that the same problems kept reoccurring  My position moved more and more towards anti-authoritarianism and solutions which utilised directly democratic methods.

I realised that I couldn’t be the only person who had came up against the same problems and sought out writers who has already been down this road. I soon found that the early socialists had far more developed positions and were not only able to share my concerns, but had already proposed solutions, not through dogmatic programmes but through using and refining our principals here and now. My anarchism became more refined and the process of review and reflection led me to conclude that the term I felt most closely described my politics was anarcho-communism.

Over several years a friend who was a member of the Anarchist Federation who pointed out that my politics where broadly in line with that of the fed. At the same time I realised that the one thing I was not undertaking that every writer talked about was involving myself in organising in a way where my means would give the ends I seek. I began the slow process of changing my life to allow this to happen more and more, and this process is ongoing today.

Answers on the Back of a Postcard
So, getting back to the questions as they were posed…

What do you believe is the meaning of life?
There is not one single “meaning of life”, but instead a series of motivating factors that lead us towards undertaking certain actions. My morals, my politics and my actions are all intimately connected and this IS what life IS. Meaning is what we assign to those decisions or what we attribute to our motives to take them. I’d also say the same is true for everyone else. Sometimes we fuck up or are forced into activity that contradicts our interests and we live with those mistakes, but we have the choice to to learn from them and improve ourselves.

What is the foundation of your political ideas?
That we have all the tools and ability to create a world where well-being is available to all. A world where we have horizontally organised egalitarian collectives working along the principles of direct democracy, free association and mutual aid. A world where oppression is challenged and the we destroy the concept of economic class to prevent exploitation. In short: anarchist communism.

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3 Responses to A Reply to Joe Rahi

  1. joerahi says:

    Thanks for the reply. Great answers.
    But, what is the process by which you choose your morals? By what do you test them in order to adapt them and measure their lasting worth? Considering how much agreement there is on most matters of morality, it seems to me logical that we must all have a very similar way of choosing morality. And, couldn’t this general formula for choosing morality be called an objective meaning of life?
    You said that you don’t see it as bigger than us, but it seems to me that you still do, as it’s not just amoral egoism. There is some principle you’re holding above yourself.
    I also noticed that in talking about the meaning of life, you talked a lot about the meaning you give it, and the ideals you wish to see, which makes a lot of sense, as no one wants to live out a meaning that isn’t their own. But, do you not feel meaningless by the fact that you and the principles you serve in life will one day die? What good is something once it is over?
    I love your vision for a better world. Particularly the dignity of all people.

    • floaker says:

      How do I choose my morals? Well, I’m no expert in the field, but I would say that there is no one thing that will create someone’s moral outlook. There are a few main components I can think of as responsible: The dominant culture and society that I have been raised within will have given the general base-line; Things I have learned from others will play there part; A larger portion will come through human empathy and the dual ability to imagine the position of another and to project your situation out into the world; Also the ability to apply critical reasoning and skeptical enquiry to situations both works with and creates new moral standpoints.

      How do I test them? Well, how do my actions make me feel? What impact do they have on others? What led me to undertake them? Does it have logical consistency? How does it tally with what I have been taught? All the things I list above that create morals are also the things by which we examine and re-evaluate them. In the past I have had connotative dissonance between my morals and my actions and I’m open to the idea that I may be doing that on some point now.

      Do we all choose our morals in the same way? Yes and no. We all have roughly the same capacity, but we have all experienced different socialisation, have been informed in different ways, have varying standards by which we will accept or evaluate information, suffer oppressions and exploitation in different ways, and benefit from different privileges in different ways. For example most societies have rampant murder as a bad thing, but that is because we don’t want to be murdered and the idea of doing with that for most will be something horrid for that reason, however the dominant social morals allow for capitalism (one of the most violent and bloodthirsty systems to engulf the globe) to continue.

      While we may come to common interest in certain things because of the above factors, but they are not objective in the sense that they only have meaning to us. A small number of people may not share them, and from the point of view of another species our relative moral positions may mean nothing regardless of the universality of acceptance by humans.

      While I do not think my morality isn’t “bigger than us” in a supernatural sense, our actions and output does effect others, both directly and indirectly. I will be part of the past endeavours of humanity, as will we all, and I want to try and both enact and refine the best of my morals to leave the world a better place. If I am holding something as being bigger than me it would have to be the truth in the idea that I will die, and I only have this one life, so I have to make it the best one I can. There is a small chance that something I do will be remembered directly, but even if not my indirect presence was here, and that is good enough for me. I don’t need to know who the person who laid the pavement outside of my house was to be thankful it is there.

      What good is something once it is over? That is a broad question that needs broken down: What was the thing? How did it end? What impact does it still have? What has replaced it? Knowledge is refined, improved, discovered, misrepresented, lost, found and rejected all the time – morality is similar in that regard.

      Thanks again for the discussion, I hope you are enjoying it as much as I have been. Also thank you for the compliment on my outlook as I can foresee it as one point of common ground we have regardless of all else.

  2. Pingback: Morals, Ethics & State | Floaker

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