Monday, 18 February 2013

The Imaginary Left/Right Schism in Anarchy

Anarchy simply means "without rulers" and so all anarchists by definition agree with the non-aggression principle; the idea that people should not harm other people. I am writing this article because I continually run into arguments in liberty and anarchist circles between "left" anarchists and "right" anarchists. The problem is that as a so-called "right" anarchist, I rarely find I disagree with "left" anarchists when it gets right down to it. In fact more and more I am convinced that our positions are identical and we simply understand language differently and that the language we use when talking with each other prevents us from effectively communicating with one another.

The main disagreement seems to be generated over the word "property". Leftists will often tell you that property is coercion. When I ask them to describe what property is and why its coercion I usually find myself in agreement with them. They might say "The idea that you draw a line in the land and call this land your property is ridiculous. Just because someone puts a foot across that line does not mean you are morally permitted to shoot them dead?" I describe myself as an anarcho-capitalist and I can tell you that this is not my idea of what property is. I don't think that one owns land per se, and I don't think you can shoot someone dead for touching your property.

If you ask a leftist about ownership they will often be hesitant to say that they even own themselves. Admittedly it is a kind of inelegant way to describe the idea that only I have the right to be my own master. If you ask them if anybody has the right to use force against you they will of course agree that nobody has that right. So there is no disagreement here.

Another word that often causes unnecessary argumentation is the word "capitalist". The left often defines that word to mean a system where the ruling class extracts wealth from the poor and use it to describe the politico-economic system we currently have. This is not how "right" wing anarchists use the word "capitalist". When I say "capitalism" I am describing a process by which a biological organism obtains material possessions. So if I take a virgin resource like a tree and cut it down and fashion it into a log cabin I am a capitalist. Likewise if I gather food, I am a capitalist. If I spend years working to create value for other people and continually trading until I own a manufacturing plant of some sort, I am a capitalist. Most leftists I talk to seem to agree that someone (owns/possesses/has-the-right-to-control) the product of their own labour.

I've alluded to the state as family hypothesis of political perspectives in previous articles. Essentially, the research seems to show that right wing people were raised in patriarchal families and left wing people were raised in matriarchal families. I've also self-identified as having a left-wing brain in the past, which begs the question: why do I call myself an anarcho-capitalist or libertarian? I would answer that by saying that the terminology that the right uses is more precise and useful to a science minded skeptic like me, I find left wing terminology to often be annoyingly vague. I find words like "bourgeois" to be relatively useless terms for example.

If I had to sum up the difference between left-wing and right-wing people its that left-wing people focus on encouraging the group to share and right-wing people focus on encouraging the respect of individual boundaries. These aren't antithetical but rather complimentary worldviews, just like having a mom and dad as equal partners in a family tends to work best. Mom encourages nurturing and sharing and Dad tends to enforce boundaries using protective force when necessary. You can't share unless you own something and we can all agree that you shouldn't take what isn't yours or harm another person and that is the essence of anarchy. So in a peaceful world, Mom and Dad look at their roles as nurturing and protecting someone until they achieve autonomy. A Mom might look at a peaceful relationship and say "that is beautiful the way they're sharing" a Dad might look at a peaceful relationship and say, "that's great the way they are respecting boundaries."

Too often people end up engaging in communication that is dominating in nature. It starts with the premise that "I am right and I need to show the other person how they are wrong." This kind of communication, isn't really communication at all, it is simply an exercise in domination and in fact its driven by fear and insecurity. I'd like to encourage everybody to engage in curiosity when they get involved in conversations with people they think they disagree with. Ask lots of questions, clarify definitions, see if you can find out exactly what the other person is trying to communicate....you'll probably find you don't even disagree. The state is a byproduct of the family and if we ever want to get rid of the state we have to start by having a healthy relationship with ourselves and those we choose to be in our families. We need to adopt personal mind-sets of learning from the other rather than dominating the other.

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