I used to write “I” as “i” before deciding that capitalizing the first person singular was a matter of proper spelling, because clarity is more useful than subversion in the day to day. In a discussion on the ‘book just now – a post about some jerk in the news, and the connection between nationalism and racism with respect to federal governments in North America – and a guy who is a friend of a friend, commenting – trolling, really – on the post in a series of replies to some comment he had made on the original post wrote, in his final reply of many, “…i’m an anarchist, I don’t believe in borders or government or law enforcement anyway.”
I don’t know the person who wrote this, which is why I’m going to use it to demonstrate the way I think about ideology, political and social thought.
First of all, when someone says they’re an anarchist in the context of writing a post on Facebook in 2016, as opposed to, say, a declared anarchist in 1937 in Spain, defenestrates any and all seriousness. At least for me. And what do I know? Maybe the person really is willing to sacrafice his life for his anti-government principles and is part of a dedicated cell plotting the overthrow of the capitalist state, but I sorely doubt it.
When he writes that he doesn’t believe in “borders or governments or law enforcement” what I hear is cynicism, which I understand as a kind of negative belief, in which the terminology used symbolically represents other people as unreliable sources, or, more literally, unbelievable. He characterizes the government as being operated by unintelligent, antisocial people, because he imagines that government is somehow a transgression against the world as it ought to be, and cannot imagine why anyone would make such an obvious (from his point of view) departure from the natural order. The problem with this characterization is that it removes the possibility of individuals within the government having free will, since everything they do, they do for the wrong reasons. Any recognition of someone from the government doing the right thing for the right reason is strictly held as exceptional (thus proving the rule of corruption) – but to contradict this view is to violate his essential worldview.
The problem with our diminuitive anarchist’s position is, precisely, that it eliminates the possibility of meaningful political action by deligitimizing all meaningful political action. Take the law against murder. Nobody would argue against the law against murder in the sense of taking the life of a fellow human being – politics is what we call the process of deciding on a shared, workable definition of who is a “human being” and who is not. One of the reasons people today can see that the practice of slavery in the United States was a terrible thing is that it was dehumanizing in the sense that a master could murder his slave and not be held accountable by the law, as the slave did not fully count as a human being. On the other hand, if one considers a human embryo a human being, then abortion really is wrong, and must be stopped at all costs. The cynical position puts the kibosh on the whole discussion – because enforcing the law is wrong in any case. For my own part, I believe that the Civil War was worth it’s terrible cause, because slavery was abolished. And I believe that Margaret Sanger was right in helping women obtain access to birth control, that the Supreme Court was right to rule in Roe v Wade that women have the right to choose an abortion, for whatever reason, and that the government has the right to force medical providers to include birth control services. Our anarchist, of course, cannot say the same.
By inverting belief in such a way, you get perversity. The cynic believes that authority is perverse, that the whole point of having power is to abuse it, not to help others. Therefore, in a position of power, he will do the wrong thing, because that’s what he thinks of as what he is supposed to do, expected to do.
Resist cynicism. It rots the soul.