Creating a new "Natural Order"
I've been reading about various streams of modern anarchism for some time now.   While there has been much about them that attracted me, there were also many ideas that repelled me.  Chief among the ideas I rejected was the notion of using violence as an agent of change - the "propaganda of the deed" championed by Mikhail Bakunin in the 1800's.  That idea was the tar-brush that brought the very word "anarchy" into disrepute, shifting its meaning from the simple recognition that order is possible without rulers (it comes from the Greek "an-" meaning "no-"  and "archon" meaning "ruler") to a pejorative implying chaos, disorder and mindless violence.  My position has eventually converged on a slightly mutant offspring of two of those streams: eco-anarchism and anarcho-primitivism.

In this article I present an interpretation of how civilization wound up in its current social and ecological mess, and what I think we as self-empowered, autonomous representatives of a great species might do to improve things.   In the interest of using re-languaging to achieve more positive outcomes, rather than use the semantically damaged word "anarchy" I prefer to call this vision of a better world "Natural Order".

I think that the modern crisis of civilization had its origins in three interconnected events.  The first was the development of agriculture and food storage - described by Jared Diamond as "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" and brought into public consciousness by Daniel Quinn in his novel "Ishmael".  Then there was the development of technology in general as a means for expanding our manipulation of the world - the alienation and domination that result from the use of modern technology have been explored by John Zerzan and notoriously described by Ted Kaczynski in his Manifesto.  The third event was the development of money, which is an abstraction of the value of human activity and lets us disconnect the very idea of value from the activities that actually create or embody it.  Together these three developments - of agriculture, technology and money - made civilization possible.

Underlying these three pillars of civilization, forming the ground on which they stand, is one more fundamental, but rather abstract concept.  It is our sense of Separation.  When we gained self-awareness thanks to the evolutionary development of our neocortex, this new perception automatically split the universe into two categories: "me" and "not-me".  That inescapable duality permeates the entire human experience, and makes possible all the manipulation, domination and exploitation of which we are capable.  Of course our self-awareness is also what makes us human and enables our truly great achievements, so in a real sense it is both our greatest glory and our tragic flaw.

By 3,000 BCE  the foundation was complete - on the base of self/other separation we had erected the tripod of agriculture, technology and money.  Once that structure was in place, the rest of our civilization was pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Populations urbanized into villages, towns and cities; hierarchies developed as people began to see that power could be consolidated through money and protected by technology; laws were codified to enshrine and protect the privileges of power; those who objected were brought under the law to be reformed or extinguished as the situation demanded.  Eventually, in a monstrous transgenic experiment, a portion of our humanity - our very personhood - was carved out by legal surgeons and implanted into hierarchic, money-based hives called corporations.  The rest, as they say, is history.

So what do we do about this sad state of affairs: seven billion alienated beings, removed from our evolutionary physical and social habitat, working in hierarchies as indentured servants in service to a concept of "progress" that none of us had any say in defining?

Well, one thing we can't do is go back to the past.  Bells can't be un-rung, and our activities have irrevocably altered the situation and closed off the possibility of returning to some halcyon past.  We can't erase our knowledge of agriculture, technology or money.  Those pillars of civilization can be reworked to be less harmful, through such ideas as permaculture, the use of "green" technologies, legal limits on the manipulation of money and political action against the excesses of hierarchies - but they can't be eliminated at this point.

The most effective action we can take, in my opinion, comes from examining the ground on which that tripod is erected - our sense of separation.  If I was able to truly understand that there is a deep connection between you and me, between animals, plants and me, between me and every aspect of the world, if I was able to see that there is actually no difference between you and me - that we are the same and anything I do to you I am doing to myself - that understanding would change all my actions.

This is why I champion the development of individual consciousness.  I see it as the most effective action one person can take against the system.  With the clarity of perception that such development brings I can understand what's going on around me, and see opportunities for change in my own circumstances.  Interestingly, non-dualist philosophies such as Taoism and Buddhism  contain strong streams of anarchism.  There is a good historical foundation for this approach to social change.

How might such consciousness-raising change my behaviour?  Well, it could prompt a very wide variety of new actions.  My new course might involve political action, or it might not.  It might involve direct action against the systems of oppression, or I might choose to remove myself from them.  It could involve the building of new, more human-scale communities that bring some positive qualities of tribal life back into the modern world.  It will probably involve refusal of one sort or another - the refusal of material values, of competition, of hierarchic subservience, of imposed fear, of being yet another sheep.  It will insist on the autonomy that springs from my sense of self-worth, and will require me to give selflessly to the others-that-are-now-me so that we all might prosper.

This approach has a lot in common with the Buddhist "Noble Eightfold Path".  Specifically, the concepts of Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood all apply directly to the steps required to embody this "Natural Order".  If we add the last three elements of the Path: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, it becomes clear that a response to social and ecological problems through anarchism not just a political, social and ecological journey.  It is at its core a spiritual quest with the liberation of all life as its aim.

Such a course of action might not result in the immediate removal of hierarchies or the other sources of alienation from the social landscape, but it will inevitably advance the cause of human liberation in some degree.  If you wish to topple kings, the surest way is to remove the ground they are standing on.  "We are One" is the essential revolutionary awareness that can accomplish that task.

Paul Chefurka
May 18, 2011

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