This morning, as Olga worked on plastering her kitchen walls I was reading aloud to her from Dmitry Orlov's most recent book, The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivor's Toolkit.
I'm scheduled to interview Dmitry for the C-Realm Podcast on Tuesday, and I am reading his book in preparation for that interview. As I often do when reading books by authors I expect to interview, I'm reading portions of it aloud to Olga so that we can discuss the topic and help me prepare to direct the conversation once the meter is running, so to speak.
This morning I was reading to her from a section of the chapter on political collapse called "Anarchism's Charms." Dmitry defines anarchy simply as "without hierarchy." I learned from David Graeber's new book that anarchy and democracy used to be used interchangeably to describe a situation of rule by the people, a situation that our "Founding Fathers" wanted to avoid at all costs. They endeavored to enshrine a version of "liberty" in which only a select few people directed the actions of government. Their nightmare scenario which they resolved to avoid was a universal political franchise in which everyone got a vote and the majority would immediately vote to cancel debts and re-distribute real estate, thus dismantling the complexity of a socio-economic state held, at terrific expense, far from the equilibrium of anarchic human self-organization.
Today, the word "democracy" is riding high. The particular form of the US Federal Government, a construction deliberately designed to prevent the advent of democracy, is now trumpeted as the archetypal example of democracy. Democracy is now something so noble and esteemed that we justify military adventures with the magical incantation of "spreading democracy."
The word "anarchy" has not fared so well. Its etymology describes a social arrangement that is "without rulers," and so our rulers would prefer that we equate such a situation with mob violence, burning cities, and a Hobbesian "war of all against all," when a less ideologically constrained view of human history, pre-history, and the few remaining pre-literate cultures left to compare ourselves to shows that co-operation and coordination of effort for the satisfaction of human needs in the absence of any compulsion or direction from on high is the basic human modus operandi
. It's what we do. As Dmitry put it:
The striking success of the human species has everything to do with our superior abilities to communicate, cooperate, organize spontaneously and act creatively in concert. In turn, the equally glaring, horrific, monstrous failures of our species have everything to do with our unwelcome ability to submit to authority, tolerate class distinctions and blindly follow orders and rigid systems of rules.When I paused in my reading, Olga pointed out that, in English language conversation, at least in the United States, the word "anarchy" is very likely to occur as a part of the phrase "descent into anarchy." The unspoken assumption being that up is good and down is bad. We build up. We strive to climb higher, to continue the work of the great men who came before us and raise the edifice of our civilization ever higher. A movement in the opposite direction represents a loss of hard-won human achievement, a slide in the direction of the Hobbesian hell of our nightmarish origins. A descent is a fall; perhaps even a re-enactment of The Fall.
But when you are standing on a rickety, teetering scaffold that you built by bolting one kludge
onto another onto another, until you are precariously perched atop a teetering structure of Rube Goldberg complexity, swaying in the wind, a move in the direction of the steady ground of anarchy might be just the thing. When the ossified and hyper-complex structure of class division, codified inequality and technological dependence starts to shake and list, and collapse seems likely, a deliberate descent sooner beats an obligatory fall later. How much later? Hard to tell. Why risk it by lingering? For the commanding view? Is it really better than anarchy?
And lest you imagine that I invoked the concept of collapse as a scare tactic, I am using the word as Joseph Tainter does in his classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies
. According to Tainter's conception of collapse, a civilization that responds to challenges by increasing the complexity of its civic arrangements simultaneously increases the fragility and vulnerability of the system. Consider this excerpt from Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform by Ross Jackson:
While most people automatically think of collapse as a catastrophe, Tainter's theory is not that simple. Collapse should rather be seen as an "economizing process" that occurs when it becomes necessary to restore a positive marginal return on organizational investment. Collapse is simply a better economic alternative than continuing the old ways. Indeed, it is the most rational, most appropriate response to the crisis. For the population involved, it may well be experienced as a positive change to a simpler existence with both economic and administrative gains.Or as Joseph Tainter himself put it, "Collapse is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity."
Okay, that's 864 words. I'm aiming for a blog post of 1,200 words, so what suggestions does anyone have for a conclusion? Of course, I would be much obliged to anyone who points out typos, factually-challenged assertions, grammar gone to seed, and tortured paragraphs in need of an "economizing process." But mostly I'm just looking to steal your ideas and present them as my own brilliance (my own personal modus operandi
, in case you hadn't noticed.)
When it's complete and sufficiently groomed, I will post this to my blog
and then it will be available for subscribers to enjoy on their Amazon Kindle devices.
Edit (5 June 2013)
I just posted the official version to Blogger. http://c-realm.blogspot.com/2013/06/descent-in-anarchy.html