There are some positions on issues that are implicitly against the dominant views in society that when mentioned automatically begin an unspoken argument with those aren’t on board already:
- Veganism: The rejection of the comodification of all animals.
- Atheism: The lack of belief in a god or gods.
- Anarchism: Seeks the abolition of state, capital and unjustifiable hierarchy in our social relationships and the creation of horizontal networks of voluntary association working along side one another in mutual aid.
The stance taken in each of these fields puts me at odds with others due to a common underlying feature…
The Burden of Proof
The underlying reason for conflict in all three cases is that the burden of proof is being placed on the structures asserted upon society – structures of hierarchy, privilege and dominance – to justify themselves. Anarchism in particular does not rely on taking a dogmatic stance to reach fixed position so much as asking people to employ the methods of sceptical enquiry and critical thought to find the best methods for reaching the goal of a society where needs are met and well-being for all is the prime concern.
“[Anarchism is] based on the assumption that any structure of authority and domination has to justify itself – none of them are self-justifying. Whether they’re in individual relations, or international affairs, or the workplace, or whatever – they have a burden of proof to bear, and if they can’t bear that burden (which they usually can’t), they’re illegitimate and should be dismantled and replaced by alternative structures which are free and participatory and are not based on authoritarian systems.”
– Anarchism 101, Noam Chomsky
To my mind an anarchist analysis of the use of animals as commodities would show that while there are plenty of arguments from tradition and personal taste that can be used to try and justify the many cruelties we inflict upon other species, these do not show why such behaviours are necessary and as such should be removed.
As for believing in god(s), in the whole of recorded history the only case put forward for their existence can be clearly demonstrated as either arguments from ignorance, arguments from authority, arguments from tradition, or unverifiable/unrepeatable personal experience. These cannot justify any prioritisation or imposition of the moral codes or social mores from the attendant belief systems.
When compared to other political philosophies anarchism often gets lumped in with other strands of leftist thought. While we profess the same goal of communism, “the left” peruses authoritarian methods that cannot meet their burden of proof as to their necessity. On the other hand anarchist thought has found that the ends reached are tied to the means used to produce them, and so anarchists reject authoritarian means as they will not provide libertarian results.
Actions speak louder than words
While I would stop short of saying that someone was not an anarchist if they held some belief in the supernatural or were vegetarian or an omnivore, I do find that there is a conflict in interests that, depending on circumstances, may make them act in contradiction to their anarchism.
This contradiction becomes irreconcilable when someone says they are an an anarchist while participating in an authoritarian left-wing group or while putting their time and energy into reformist parliamentary campaigns. If the methods being employed do not follow directly democratic organisation modes or employ direct action to resolve an issue or seek goals that move society towards anarchist communism, then ultimately the individual is engaging in systems of domination that do not meet the burden of proof to their necessity. Their claim to be an anarchist is hollow.
In conclusion I feel that anarchists everywhere, myself included, should work to identify any cognitive dissonance between our anarchism and those structures of authority we have not yet questioned and still participate with. When we put out time and energy into trot front groups or parliamentary battles we use more energy for lesser results. Conversely, when anarchists actually follow a consistent anarchist methodology, not having to be part of the same organisation but following principles of mutual aid to other anarchist endeavours, then we find that our ideas punch above their weight. Only by doing this can we remove ourselves from acting against our interests and put energy into those endeavours that will build the new world in the shell of the old.
POSTSCRIPT: So, it was pointed out in a conversation about this post elsewhere that I was getting kinda hyperbolic at the end that:
“Strictly speaking, this is neither irreconcilable nor an example of cognitive dissonance. Both would only apply here if a person held fairly standard anti-state/anti-parliamentarian anarchist positions while *believing* that revolutionary goals could be achieved through those other-than-direct-means. Neither apply if an engagement with those means is understood in terms of utility (however marginal), and this doesn’t make for a ‘hollow’ anarchism or imply ‘bad faith’ on the part of participants.”
I totally accept this point as it is often necessary to work in less than ideal circumstances in the interest of concrete material gains in the here-and-now. However I am still critical of those who would choose to call themselves anarchists while ignoring anarchist methodology and focus all their attention solely into work that has no revolutionary aim or hinders progress towards a free society. If someone is constantly acting to reinforce structures of authority then what is the worth of their professed anarchism?
…perhaps more to follow…