If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation become necessary. There is then a state of enlightened anarchy. In such a state everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour. In the ideal State, therefore, there is no political power because there is no State.’ – Gandhi
‘Anarchy is not misrule but no rule’ – Floating Anarchy Manifesto, Daevid Allen
Following on from my previous post, ‘Big Brother is the Reincarnation of God, I have been considering how we give up our power to our god-surrogate, whether that be in the form of governments, corporations, or indeed organised religions.
Of course one of the main ways in which we surrender ourselves to the ‘Man Upstairs’ is through opting for convenience over our own long term benefit. I remember when Google first launched the GMail service, and certain troublemakers pointed out that the Big G would have to analyse all our private emails in order to supply us with targeted advertising. I considered these warnings for a few minutes, to be sure, but then remembering the Google motto of ‘Don’t Be Evil’, and their perceived track record of generally being pretty good around privacy issues, I chose, as apparently a vast majority did, to ignore the potential dangers and focus on the features of this new email service. And I have to say, that GMail is a great email service, and certainly pushed the whole notion of how to provide email up a level, introducing many innovations which have since been copied by other providers (even Microsoft eventually caught on, after a few years).
But with the Snowden revelations, and those of other whistleblowers, we realise that our trust in Google was misplaced, or perhaps being more charitable, our trust in how the internet works was misplaced – we still don’t know how much Google or other corporations knew about, or are able to prevent, the likes of the NSA spying on everyone’s emails. We may assume that as they didn’t see it as a problem to analyse everyone’s emails themselves, that personal privacy was not exactly at the top of their list, but of course we had the clear option of rejecting the GMail model on privacy grounds, and we chose not to, which brings me to one of the main points of this article.
We are at a crossroads where we have to decide if we are always going to chose the most convenient option offered to us, or if we are going to step up and take back our power. In the Venn diagram of Convenience vs Personal Power there is apparently only a small intersection between these two forces competing for our attention – one is endlessly blared at us from the Masters of our Universe in the outer world, the other comes as a persistent whisper from within.
Now we are called on to wade into the deep waters called ‘Responsibility’ – a swampy region which has been out of bounds for most people since the 1950s as anything to be taken seriously… please let me explain…
The beatniks and hippies in the industrial West saw the concept of Responsibility for what it had become: a semantic illusion whereby the needs of the Church, Corporation or State were made out to be equal to our own inner prompting, our own personal sense of Doing The Right Thing. As the encroaching radios and televisions started to drown out our own inner voice, we were told what it was to Do The Right Thing – consume this, ‘support the troops’, reject the Other (they might be a Communist, out to destroy our ‘Freedom’!), and many people unwittingly bought into this – because it was convenient to just be told what to think rather than having to exercise their own brains.
The younger generation from the late 50s onwards started to reject this paradigm – creating the Generation Gap and the phenomenon of the Rebel Without A Cause. The beatniks wanted to just ‘take it easy’ and ‘hang loose’ – ‘Responsibility’ was a dirty word, a trick used to get kids to enrol in pointless imperial wars or dead-end wage-slave occupations. ‘Why don’t you take responsibility?’ was really just another way of saying ‘Why don’t you conform to the demands of a dying imperial culture at the expense of your own soul?’
However now it can be said that the baby did go the same way as the bathwater; and that as Adam Curtis’ excellent documentary series ‘The Century of the Self‘ demonstrated, multinational corporations soon found a way to use this desire for a ‘hang loose’ lifestyle for their own ends… illustrated in the classic line from ‘Withnail and I’: “We are at the end of an age. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is nearly over. They’re selling hippy wigs in Woolworths, man”.
Convenience became the new god, and we didn’t care who provided it, or at what cost. Responsibility was old-hat, man; ‘they’ would take care of everything and we could just stay cool. With the rise of the punk movement a new distrust arose, ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’, DIY culture, and so on, but Responsibility was still the enemy.
As we moved into the Information Age, we started to see new ‘cool’ companies, companies who ‘got’ the hippy thing, who ‘got’ the punk thing – people who had been brought up smoking weed, maybe talking about the potential of computers while on acid; people who Did It Themselves, who were definitely ‘cool’ – we had been waiting a long time for them to come through, and now here they were, they said they were not ‘Evil’ – and we believed them. They offered us Convenience without Responsibility and because we knew they were ‘cool’, we trusted them. We trusted them with our data, with our personal information, with our whole life stories, with our Privacy.
Now we discover that we were betrayed. They gave all that data to The Man. The elder sibling who was helping us do all this cool stuff (and probably having a crafty smoke in the back yard as well) had now become Big Brother, or at least Big Brother’s Little Helper, dutifully passing on all our private data to The Bad Guys, the uncool ones, the NSA, the government – in short those people we would NEVER have trusted in a million years with our most intimate data.
So here we are – and the solution to our predicament appears to be that most reviled and rejected word ‘Responsibility’. We have to grow up, just like those parents in the 50s demanded of their Rebel-Without-A-Cause sons and daughters. We need to Take Responsibility, Stand On Our Own Two Feet, and all those horrible slogans we have been running from for at least the last 60 years.
We have to realise that we willingly gave Big Brother all our stuff, and we have to do what we can to take it back, and make sure that this doesn’t happen again. But the solution is not a collective one, at its heart. We each, as individuals, need to accept that we are responsible for our stories, our data, our lives as they exist in the public or private domains, and take back our privacy, and with it our power. We will then be on the road to a writing a death sentence for Big Brother, just as one was written for his predecessor, God.
The beauty of this approach, as we start with our online lives and then go onto applying the principles in our lives in general, is that we do not need to wait for anyone else to do anything for us. Sure, we necessarily lead interdependent lives with those around us, and I am certainly not advocating that ‘taking personal responsibility’ is equal to buying a shotgun and going to live in a cabin in the woods, there to wait, stewing in our own paranoia, for The Man to show up and smoke us out, Waco-style.
If a lot of people start taking responsibility for their own data, and as an extension, their own lives, this may start to look like some kind of Movement. But in reality that is the last thing it needs to become. For me, Movements tend to move us to where someone else wants us to be – for example, if you join a political party, then you must consign any belief that doesn’t fit in with their ideology to a kind of mental limbo, like the ideological version of the drawer full of cables and other odds and ends we all have at home.
But before we go any further, what am I talking about when I say ‘take responsibility for our data’? I simply mean that we do not trust big corporations or governments any more, no matter their protestations of not being evil, or their bland reassurances. They have had our trust, and they have betrayed it, big time. Anyone who thinks that view is cynical, that it was just ‘a few bad apples’ getting the upper hand in any given situation needs to wake up and smell the rotting fruit – the whole barrel has clearly gone bad, and the exception now would be finding anyone with any integrity in a position of any significant power in public or corporate life. The reasons why this has happened are, I would suggest, mainly to do with the erosion of proper checks and balances on power, starting with the dismantling of any sort of truly free press in most countries, and the current war on real journalism we see unfolding at the moment – but that is really a subject for another day.
So we may have to say ‘goodbye’ to Google, ‘farewell’ to Facebook, ‘adieu’ to Apple, and ‘mind how you go’ to Microsoft. We will have to trust other, smaller companies, although if we are fairly tech-savvy we can actually replace a lot of our dependence on big corporations by taking measures such as hosting our own dropbox-style service using Owncloud, running our own web server on an old machine at home, and so on. If we are not so technically minded we can still spread the risk by hosting our email with one of the many privacy-conscious providers – growing day by day since the NSA spying revelations, do our web searches using startpage.com or duckduckgo.com, and generally build up an ecology of smaller tools to help us carry out the same tasks we do today using the monolithic services provided by big corporations. Yes, we will have to be vigilant with each of these services, to see that we can still trust them; and yes, it will be somewhat less convenient. That, however is kind of the point of this article: in today’s world, taking responsibility is going to mean sacrificing some degree of convenience.
The word ‘vigilance’ is also key here; we must constantly monitor the services we use as much as possible; choosing those which offer the greatest level of transparency and making sure they stay committed to protecting their users from those (we now know for sure) are out there trying to get their hands on our personal data for whatever reason. We know that in the current Information Age, our data is like gold, and we should not willingly hand it over to anyone we do not trust implicitly.
Of course, we will always have the choice. I do not believe that most people really care that their personal communications are being spied on; that their data is being mined for the profit of others. This is fine, that is their choice up to the point where the last doorway out of the corporate system closes and the lobbyists realize their dearest dream of getting us to be legally required to use the services of a monolithic provider… then there will no longer be a (legal) choice – and if people say that is the present writer being paranoid, that is exactly what they would have said to someone ten years ago who claimed that in ten years’ time, completely private communications between people would be almost a thing of the past. The fact is, that ‘almost’ is notable – it is not quite a thing of the past yet – with a bit of knowledge and vigilance, and of course taking the dreaded Responsibility, we can widen those doorways leading out of the locked down, spied-on system, and help others to come out too.
No one, however, is going to do it for you. You, and I, will have to judge how we are best going to protect ourselves from being spied on. There will be no-one to blame if it goes wrong, and in all probability, no-one will praise us if things go well, as they will probably not know much about our escape from Big Brother – this is not going to be a thing you will want to publicise very much, online or off.
Having achieved some measure of freedom regarding our data and our online lives, we may wish to broaden that into the wider, offline world. As I mentioned in the previous article, this may involve ‘being the change we want to see in the world’, (and I apologise here, as I did there, for using this by now rather worn out rallying cry), and taking back our power online was the first step in an ongoing process which eventually encompasses all of our life.
I am reminded of an anecdote told by the British comedian Robert Newman who was, via his interest in the environmental movement, starting to do some research into anarchism, and had indeed met a few people who claimed to be anarchists. They were talking and someone came up with what to Newman appeared to be a good idea in the field of direct action. ‘Someone should do that’, he offered. ‘No mate, it doesn’t work like that’ – and he realised that the ‘someone’ who should do that would have to be himself. This was his moment of illumination as to what anarchism means – everybody takes Responsibility for themselves. A true anarchist sees waiting for someone else to do something for them as an intolerably weak position to be in – hence the distrust of governments and hierarchical structures.
Just to digress a moment: when I speak of people taking Responsibility for themselves, I don’t mean it in the fundamentalist Republican, Tea Party style: ‘people are poor because they are lazy, and to help them would condone their laziness and make them dependent’. Thus that little child must be allowed to starve or die of a curable disease to teach her parents a lesson. This is borderline insane in my opinion, amply illustrated by the current shutdown of the entire US Government apparently just so these Ayn Rand worshippers don’t have to lose an argument.
Of course taking responsibility includes helping others, even those who might be classified as lazy or undeserving. I am currently reading Dr. Gabor Maté’s excellent book ‘In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts’, about his work with hardcore drug addicts in Vancouver’s downtown East Side – he explains how he is often forced to deal with political conservatives reducing or removing funding from harm reduction programmes such as a local safe needle exchange project, simply on the ideological grounds that if drug users do not suffer sufficiently, it might encourage other people to start making the ‘bad life choices’ that would lead to them becoming heroin, meth or crack addicts. He makes the very good point that if that were true we should also refuse hospital treatment to alcohol or nicotine addicts, or even to stressed businessmen who have heart attacks, because they could, in theory, have made other choices with their lives and not put themselves in the position of being ‘a burden on society’.
The truly free person surely looks on those suffering under the yoke of addiction with compassion, whether it be addiction to heroin, nicotine, religious dogma, or the crap they churn out on Fox News. Everyone is surely doing the best they can, even if that ‘best’ does not match up to how other people chose to define it.
So what would a society look like where each individual took Responsibility for themselves? A vision I like is ‘Floating Anarchy’, originally propagated by the original hippy punk band, Planet Gong, ‘led’ (in a non-hierarchical sense of course) by Daevid Allen.
As I understand it, this means everyone taking Responsibility for their own actions, precluding the need for governments, laws or police. The ‘Floating’ part would be underlining the non-violent and spiritual slant on Anarchy, as opposed to the version commonly presented in mainstream culture where Anarchy is assumed to be synonymous with chaos and violence. Of course, the media have an agenda to promote and any kind of realistic examination of what ‘anarchy’ means might jeopardise that.
‘Here and Now Is Floating Anarchy NOW you know the only way to be Turn your head up to the morning Sun yeah And your life will just have begun Armies, police force….’ You know that violence is caused by governments
So everyone acts in harmony with The Moment, with their own deepest motivation, which is assumed to be in accord with the Will of the Universe, which is of course nothing other than our own deepest Will. It is really a question of living in a frequency of consciousness above that of Reason; in the state of Reason, rules have to be made, recorded and written down. These rules assume the future will be like the past, or they would not work. Of course they do work for a while, in most cases, although never in all cases, gradually becoming obsolete, unjust and tyrannical, then are replaced by new rules. There is a kind of entropy to this though, as laws are made much more easily than they are repealed and eventually we find ourselves tied up in the detritus of old laws, bound by our past good intentions into a State of total inertia. This entropy is reaching an endgame in several areas of life, I believe, especially where taxation and copyright are concerned.
With Floating Anarchy, the moment to moment understanding of what is right sustains all, is understood by all, and is lived by all. How do we know we are living in this state? We are free from unhappiness. If we become emotional or unhappy then we know we have left this state, have left the moment and have gone into a slower world of cause and effect, blame and gain. Barry Long has spoken about this state at length, especially in his ‘Only Fear Dies: A Book of Liberation‘ – what it means to take responsibility for our actions as individuals, and as how one acts while knowing oneself as not separate from the Whole:
AT THE BEGINNING
At the beginning of time the individual man or woman was the ruling authority on earth. There was no emotion in this authority: no past, no likes and dislikes, no unhappiness, no self-interest. Each individual was responsible for himself or herself in a way that is unimaginable today.
There was no concept of the masses. There was no notion of what would be good or not good for others, society and the world or even for oneself. There was only one good.
No good is seen in the future.
The good, the only good, was seen, realised or known now, in the individual. And it was known by the absence of unhappiness in himself or herself. So it was not ‘a good’ as we think of good today. It could not be given to another or shared with someone who did not have it. That would have been to create another or secondary ‘good’, a notional (not-existent-now) good.
Everyone was responsible for their own good. It was an utterly individual and just authority. One simply took responsibility now for the good – the absence of unhappiness in oneself. And all that followed was naturally right or good.
As anyone or everyone could do it, and did it, no excuse existed for not doing it. Consequently, notions of mass good, social or family good, or even of social equality, had no meaning. If all are equal in the timeless good within, all are equal in the unfoldment in time of the good without. What happens is then right, and known to be right, leaving no place for doubt or unhappiness.
I believe this is as good a definition of Floating Anarchy as we are going to get.
Is this an impossibly utopian state of affairs to wish for? In one sense yes, as it is clearly not going to happen any time soon for any great number of people – however this way of seeing things inherently invalidates itself. If I want Floating Anarchy to come to Earth, I simply have to live it right now. I don’t wait for anyone else to join me; that would imply time and unhappiness. By my example, that might encourage people to do likewise but that is ultimately none of my concern.
Another facet of the question ‘Is this an impossibly utopian state of affairs to wish for?’, is that, as I have examined here, proposed utopias always rely on the future for their creation, and more often than not an overarching philosophy of ‘the end justifies the means’. In other words, they need the promise of the future to exist; they are chimeras, mirages which always recede away into the horizon the closer one comes to them. All politicians can, and do, promise ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ – it is the hope that this time things will work out, that this time we have chosen the Man Upstairs who will fix all our problems. Change is easy to promise because that is all there is in this world. It’s like promising there will be salt water in the oceans tomorrow. I’m sure I am not alone in hoping we ‘Don’t Get Fooled Again’, but we are such Hope fiends I wouldn’t bet on it. The promise of tomorrow’s utopia always allows us to think that someone else is going to take care of it and we can just sit back and avoid that terrible, awful thing: Responsibility.
What happens though if we don’t avoid it? What happens if we grasp Responsibility with both hands – and in doing so realise that what seemed to be its persistent, nagging whisper is but the first sparks crackling of a fire which will eventually become a furnace burning our old lives away, compromised and enslaved as they were – and creating the space we need to grow into, as truly free beings.