Tag Archives: peace

Three Arguments for Anarchism by Richard D. Fuerle


_/\_ Anjali! We recently have been focusing on Buddhism or the places where Anarchism and Buddhism are directly connected. This is great but I hope we can look at other things and see how the dharma comes into play. Today I bring you “Three Arguments for Anarchism” by Richard D. Fuerle from Anarchism.net I have posted it in its entirety unedited the original can be found at https://anarchism.net/anarchism_threeargumentsforanarchism.htm

Three Arguments for Anarchism

SOME CLAIM there would be no roads, hospitals, schools, or pollution control. All these activities, as well as production of food, is sometimes claimed to be a result of government. But what is the government? There are only people–individuals–acting everywhere, thus the government or the state is simply made up by the yielding subjects–and the people acting as officers. What gave them this right of deciding what other people can and cannot do? And what came first: man or the state?

It seems to me that, from birth, a person’s thought develops in stages. First, we learn the names of things–mommy, drink, sister, and so on. Then we learn the properties of things–the stove is hot, the floor is hard, the teddy bear is soft. In the third stage we learn relationships–if we’re bad, mommy spanks, if we heat water, it boils, etc. Since most of the people I meet confine their conversation to people and things, that may be as far as they get or want to get. The last stage, at least the last stage of what I am aware, is ideas–can morality be objective? Can there be bread without freedom? Is free will consistent with an omniscient God? For me, ideas are the most interesting subjects for conversation and I assume this is true for most (if not all) intelligent or educated people.
In this essay I present three arguments in defense of a hated and despised yet very powerful and liberating idea: anarchy. Those arguments will proceed from the simple to the more convoluted. Being an anarchist, at least according to my definition of the word, I believe that all three are valid. If you take ideas and arguments seriously I believe you will be anarchist too after reading this essay. Realistically, however, since I have never been able to convince a single person to become anarchist, the most I can hope for is to force you to think of flaws in my arguments.
First, let me define anarchy. The word literally means “no government.” That it also means “chaos” is to me the greatest propaganda success ever, since there is no greater chaos than war, and all wars of any magnitude of which I am aware were carried out by governments. Even the economic chaos of depressions, inflation, shortages, massive waste, etc. are clearly the result of the actions of government people, not of the actions of people who are not in the government. Indeed, only a great natural disaster could exceed the chaos inflicted on us by government people. Not only do government people cause chaos, but the assumption that there can be no order without government is simply false–all sorts of order arise spontaneously without government.
Cities, social customs, business customs, roads, law, money, all arise spontaneously without government because, as Axelrod and others have shown, people benefit most in the long run if they cooperate with other people, and cooperation requires order and rules. We may say, that anarchy means “no ruler” or “no rules.” That is, that under anarchy no one is permitted to openly rule over another person, though people will still create rules for the use of their property by others. By that definition alone, I would think that every decent person would be an anarchist. After all, would a decent person endorse one person forcibly bending another to his will, would he say that people are only “things” so that if they say “no” that “no” need not be respected? No, he would say that people are ends in themselves, not means to the ends of another, that all force must be defensive, not offensive, that one must not aggress against the person or property of another, and that anything that is peaceful or consensual should be permitted.
Remember, too, that to rule over another person means to use force against him. How much force? Well, whatever force is needed to make him yield. If you are not willing to apply enough force–then you no longer rule. This means that if you endorse anything but anarchy you must endorse the killing of hose subjects who will not yield to any force but deadly force. Are you willing to kill people, if necessary, to get things done by government instead of getting them done privately? If not, then perhaps you should consider becoming an anarchist.
That may sound like an argument, but let’s call it a “passing remark” and proceed to the real first argument. This first argument, by the way, is the argument that convinced me to give up statism and become an anarchist.

First Argument
When I was much younger, and presumably, but not necessarily, less wise than I am today, I fancied myself to be a logical, intelligent political conservative. Of course, I believe, there was a proper role for government, but government today was too big, too powerful, too wasteful, too destructive. The “proper role” included all the “essential” functions–course, police, national defense–as well as providing a decent and civilized environment–roads, schools, pollution control, and elimination of drug sales and prostitution. The “proper role” did not include taking from one person to give to another, preventing people from contracting on mutually acceptable terms, or controlling a man’s business or occupation. This was a position I eagerly defended against all comers, confident in the correctness of my positions.
One day I found myself in a political argument with an intelligent, but more liberal, and thoroughly obnoxious person, and darn if he didn’t catch me in a contradiction. I don’t even remember what it was any more, but there was no doubt that I was trapped and that something had to give way.
“No problem,” I informed him, “I’ll re-think my principles so that they are internally consistent, then get back to you.” Of course, I expected that I would have to change some position–there was no alternative given the contradiction I was caught in, but I figured some minor patchwork would take care of it.
So I began by trying to describe what I thought the permissible relationships between two ordinary people ought to be. This was relatively easy, and took me all of ten minutes. Everyone was simply required to respect the right of others to their persons and property; i.e., don’t alter the people’s bodies or property without their permission; don’t aggress; don’t initiate force–use force only defensively. Of course, how the principle should be applied to particular situations could still generate a lot of arguments, but there was no denying that the principle itself was clear, elegant, and had the ring of truth about it. But what about the state? There would have to be exceptions to the principle so that some people could tax, regulate, prohibit drug sales and prostitution, etc. Surely, there was a second simple principle that would define the role of those people who acted for the state. All I had to do was find it. Several problems arose immediately. Who could act for the state and who could not? What rule would define the selection of those people? What if everyone or no one wanted to act for the state? I worried that since a person acting for the state could seize the property of another person as his tax, this would be a highly desirable job for a lot of unscrupulous people. Would a simple rule ensure that only the virtuous got the job? What simple rules would define the limits to what “state people” could do to the rest of us?
Even more basic, how was the “state” to be defined–by the people who voluntarily joined it, so that a state was an organization of Mr. Jones, Mrs. Smith, etc.? Or should it be defined geographically, by mountains, rivers, and oceans; linguistically, by the area where particular languages are spoken; democratically, by the area in which some or all of the people want the government? Would the state have land boundaries and, if so, would they shift as rivers moved, languages changed, or most of the people voted for a different state?
Who should decide the policies of the state–the majority of its members, its victims, or both? Or should policy be decided as it is in the United States–by who can pay Congressmen the largest bribes? Who would be subject to the state and who would not? Should people be free to join or secede at will?
Then I pondered another problem: A person acting for the state would be wearing that hat only part of the time–the rest of the time he would be an ordinary person. How was one to know what he was? Suppose you thought he was ordinary, but he turned out to be acting for the state–what should the consequences be? How could the two jobs be kept separate so they did not intermix or contaminate each other?
Another question: Suppose a citizen of one state got in trouble with another state. What rules would tell what could happen to him? What of people who were citizens of more than one state or of no state?
Consider the problem from a different angle. If you argue that too much government (i.e., totalitarianism, fascism, or communism) is bad and that too little government (i.e., anarchy) is also bad. Then you must take the position that there is an optimal amount of government, which can be defined by upper and lower limits. But how can non-arbitrary, defendable limits be set? And, since all government involves the use of offensive force against some individual, a lower limit can be justified only on the ground that the injuries suffered by the victims of government force are outweighed by the benefits to the beneficiaries of that force. But again, how can non-arbitrary, defendable rules on permissible injuries to achieve particular benefits be set when one cannot even measure the sufferings of the victims or the pleasures of the beneficiaries?
It was easy to think of questions like this, and the more questions that occurred to me, the more obvious it became that there were no simple rules that would define the state and its role in our lives. Try as I could, and I tried for many weeks, I could find no simple natural rules for the state. This was puzzling because one simple rule did define relationships between ordinary people–don’t aggress. Why, if the state was such a natural thing for mankind, was it so hard to find simple rules for it?
In the end I was faced with an alternative: Either spell out thousands of arbitrary and completely undefendable rules about the state or get rid of the state. This came down to a very basic ontological question for me: Is there an underlying order to the world? That is, is the world of politics like the world of the natural sciences? Natural phenomena are extremely complex, but there is no doubt that they are governed by simple laws. Is the rest of the world–psychology, economics, politics, even art–like that, too, or is it just a mish-mash, a jumble of faddish pretty principles that arise for a few moments, then disappear?
It took a leap of faith to answer that question, but, with my background in science, I did not hesitate–the world does make sense, it does operate according to simple, beautiful, elegant principles. It is not a randomized soup of momentary no-no’s. How could I think otherwise when Einstein and other physicists even used that as a test for the validity of a theory–he new Relativity had to be correct because it was elegant, simple, and beautiful. And, since the existence of the state was inconsistent with such a world view, the state had to go.
That is probably the most eccentric reason anyone has ever given for becoming an anarchist, but it was mine. As the implications of this reasoning dawned upon me, I felt as though a door had opened and I had been permitted to see a truth that others were not privy to. It was almost a religious experience, closely reminiscent of the day, as a teenager, when I concluded that there was no God. It even stirred the same anxiety I had felt then–then, that I would be ostracized and persecuted by Christians, and now, that I would be followed and harassed by the FBI. So I became a reluctant anarchist. I did not want to be an anarchist–the state was such a convenient way to get things done–but I could not honestly say that this argument, and the other we will soon come to, were wrong.
The implications of this position seemed outrageously impractical–how would we get police, national defense, roads, schools, etc. without taxes? What would happen to the poor, to pollution, to prostitution? It took several years before I had read enough libertarian literature to satisfy myself that these problems could and would be handled spontaneously and privately, and handled better than they were handled by state people.
One final note on this argument: Ideas have value only if the world operates according to underlying principles that can be expressed as ideas. If you believe in the value of ideas, you must believe that there is such an underlying order. But the state is not consistent with an underlying order. Therefore, you must, it seems to me, either dis-value ideas where the state is concerned and leave a blind spot in your philosophies, or you must do as I did, and get rid of the state.

Second Argument
Now my second argument also has a very powerful premise–that everyone is equal. Equality is a drawing card that pulls us all together. It dissolves racial, religious, and ethnic differences. You are no batter than I, and I am no better than you–we are both human beings, we are both equal.
Very few people would argue with that as a premise, yet very few people are anarchists. But, I claim that if you accept equality, you must be an anarchist. Why? Well, when we say that all people are equal, in what respect are they equal? Surely not in ability, talent, beauty, strength, wealth, health, or any other attribute. We mean that all people are equal in rights. No one should have special rights that others do not have. No one should have a license to kill or a license to steal. If you have the right to kill me, then I have the right to kill you. If you have the right to take my property, then I have the right to take your property. If you have the right to tell me what I can eat, smoke, drink, grow, say, who I can hire, what I can pay them, and so on, then I have the right to control you in the same way.
This second argument really has a second premise–that only people have rights, or at least that the state does not have rights. If the state has rights, then someone can say that it is not he who takes your property, but the state–hew is acting only as an agent for the state. And, of course, the state would have superior rights to any individual. To defeat the argument that a state can have rights, I will argue that rights are not something that can be arbitrarily given out to any object or idea that one wishes. Rather, rights arise naturally from the nature of the right-holder.
This may be somewhat complicated, but I will proceed slowly in steps. First, I contend that only beings having free will have rights. Free will, to me, is not a vague notion, but has a precise meaning, which I will now explain.
An event is a change in the physical world. If one event causes another event according to physical law, there is a chain of causation. “Free will” is the ability that certain beings have to initiate a chain of causation. I believe that such beings must necessarily be conscious since the initiation of a chain of causation by a being having free will is necessarily purposeful. The purpose is to change the physical world, or preserve it from change, in order to achieve a desired, and imagined, future satisfaction, which I will call a “value.” Consciousness is required to “visualize” the future state that one believes may result if one acts and the future state that one believes may result if one does not act and choose between them. If a being having free will has a valid claim to the value he or she seeks to achieve from changing or preserving from change a bit of the physical world it is his or her “right.” A right is a valid claim to a value achieved in the physical world through changing it or preserving it from change.
Thus, since states are organizations of people and are not conscious and do not have free will, they cannot have values or rights. If someone claims that it is not he who has rights superior to yours, but the state for which he acts as its agent, he is lying. Since the state is not a being with a conscious mind it cannot authorize anyone to act as its agent. Moreover, even if it did have a conscious mind, and rights, it would still have the burden of proving that its rights were superior to yours. No, if anyone rules over you, he does so because he arrogantly and wrongly believes that he has rights that are superior to yours, and that we cannot tolerate if we believe in equality. Thus, equality means equal rights, and rights can be equal only if there is no ruler, which means anarchy.
A similar argument can be based on truth, rather than equality, as a noble goal for humans to strive for. I further contend that if you value truth then you must be an anarchist. Why? Because the values that we try to achieve by our acts of free will are not physical things, but thoughts–ideas. By the use of force or threat of force to prevent a person from acting, a ruler suppresses the idea his victim was trying to actualize. If you believe that truth is not given by God to the ruling class but must be discovered through a free expression of ideas, you must oppose the suppression of ideas inherent in any form of government, and be an anarchist.

Third Argument
My last argument is based on the premise that man has free will. It is a complicated argument that may be difficult to understand, so I will go slowly and hop that you will bear with me. The argument takes the form that if A leads to B and A also leads to C, then B cannot contradict C. If B does contradict C then either B is wrong or C is wrong. The “A” in the argument is free will, the “B” is a distribution of rights, and the “C” is a personally-selected morality.
I have already explained what I mean by “free will.” Now let us see how a distribution of rights can be deduced from free will. If a value from a bit of the physical world is not claimed by anyone and a first valuer changes or preserves it to serve his value, he makes a claim of ownership or right to that value. In the absence of any later valuers making contrary claims, the claims of first valuers would automatically and naturally result in an assignment of ownership in all bits of the physical world that serve values, which I will call “property.”
If a later value changes the property, or prevents its change by the first valuer, in a way that prevents the first valuer from achieving his value, the later valuer is not only also asserting a claim of right to the property, but is impliedly asserting that his claim is superior to the claim of the first valuer. Because he is claiming a superior right, the act of the later valuer implies that he has weighed the importance of the value he hopes to achieve versus the importance of the value achieved by the first valuer, and has found the former to be the more important value. To compare the importance of the two values, however, he must measure the importance of his value to him and measure the importance of the first valuer’s value to the first valuer. This is not possible because values are subjective and therefore there can be no unit by which the importance of values can e measured. As a result, the later valuer’s claim to a superior right must fail and we can conclude that no later valuer can ever make any valid argument that he has a superior right to the dimension of the physical thing serving the first valuer’s value. This means that the first valuer’s claim of right cannot be challenged, and the assignment of rights in accord with the claims of first valuers must be left standing An assignment of ownership or rights is therefore deduced from the premise of free will.
Now let us explicitly deal with personally-selected morality. First, I will argue that free will is in the sine qua non of morality. If there is no free will, there is no morality, for it is only free will that creates morality. If there is no free will, then choices are determined by prior physical facts and there is no good or evil, only the inexorable march of physical law. It is only when one is metaphysically free to choose the questions of right or wrong, good or bad, arise.
Second, and many persons find this assertion more tenuous, no one in his own mind chooses evil. That is, one defines what is “good” by the choices one makes. This does not mean that what is good to you is necessarily what someone else chooses, only that what is good to him is what he chooses. Nor does it mean that he will later agree that what he chose was good. It means only that at the moment of action, he believed his action was morally justified. Even if he commits murder, he says to himself at the moment of action that it is justified because of the wrong done to him, because of his uncontrollable anger, because his goal was so noble and unselfish, or because eggs must be broken to make an omelet. If one takes the position that “good” can be defined other than by an act of free will, then one necessarily asserts that morality is exogenous to free will. But morality cannot be exogenous to free will if one agrees that it is the act of free will itself, and only that act, that creates morality. Thus, one’s acts define one’s code of morality.
Thus, out of free will arose an assignment of rights and out of free will also arose an individual’s chosen code of morality. Suppose that the chosen code of morality contradicts the assignment of rights. Is that possible without something being amiss? No, I maintain that if B is deduced from A and C is deduced from A, then B cannot contradict C. If it does, then either B or C must be wrong. And, of course, I maintain that the assignment of rights, being general, is not wrong. Therefore, the conclusion is that any moral code that contradicts the assignments of rights cannot be correct moral code. Furthermore, it follows readily that only anarchy is consistent with that assignment of rights, and therefore that only anarchy can be morally consistent with rights.
Note carefully that the conclusion contains no ought statement; no “ought” was deduced from an “is.” Yet if one accepts the premise of free will, the other premises used, and the logic of the arguments, one is left with an anarchist morality. Which concludes my three arguments for anarchy.

by Richard D. Fuerle

Reflections on a Buddhist Anarchism


_/\_ Anjali
On this, the 10th Anniversary of the Happenings of September 11, I bring you a plan for a better tomorrow and hope for the future. While I do not agree with everything  Mr. Mayes says here I agree with most of it. How do you feel? Please respond in the comments. ☸

When one has the feeling of dislike for evil, when one feels tranquil, one finds pleasure in listening to good teachings; when one has these feelings and appreciates them, one is free of fear. ~ Gotama Buddha

I suppose that all of this basically comes down to a deep dissatisfaction with life and the world that we live in. After years of grappling with this, trying on different approaches, lifestyles, ideologies, drugs, traveling, I now have come to see this world and my life in it in a particular way. My well-being, and the well-being of everyone in the world, basically comes down to our own choices that we make. Our choices have consequences. We can be happier, healthier, and live more fulfilling lives if we learn how to make wiser more skillful choices. This is what I call Buddhist anarchism.

What’s in a name Writing all of this I have a concern that I am merely contributing another label, another –ism, another ideology to a world that is already saturated with these. I do not want to add another set of words and ideas to fight over, but rather I want to tie together some historical streams of thought and practice that I believe can be quite beneficial and mutually reinforcing.

When I say “anarchism” what I’m referring to is a social philosophy based on an understanding that leads away from domination, top-down hierarchy and coercion, as exemplified by institutions such as capitalism and the state, and towards greater social freedom, voluntary cooperation and sharing of resources. Two slogans best summarize this worldview: “No gods, no masters” and “liberty, equality, fraternity”.

Buddhism to me is a philosophy of the mind based on an understanding that leads away from delusional thinking, attachment or trying to hide, and instead leads towards greater ethical conduct, control over one’s mind, and experiential insight. The phrase that best summarizes this worldview is: “Discern what helps; refrain from harm; purify your mind.”

Both of these philosophies emphasize a profound sense of freedom, community with others and with life in general, and a sincere goodwill being the motivating force behind people supporting each-other. I believe that both of these approaches are necessary in order for us to have real, meaningful and lasting change in this world.

The Buddha once said “even ignorant people look for a pathway to reality. But, searching for it, they often misunderstand what they encounter. They pursue names and categories instead of going beyond the name to that which is real.” My goal in writing all of this is to hopefully provide a few more useful guide-posts in the ongoing search for that which is really real in our world.

No separation from the personal and the politicalAnarchists have long said that the “personal is political”, that dynamics of authority and domination manifest themselves within interpersonal relationships and mindsets as well as in the larger institutions of our society. As a result, the choices and actions carried out within one’s life in relationship with others has been viewed by anarchists as being just as important an area to focus one’s attention on as capitalism and the state at large. As the German anarchist Gustav Landauer put it, “the state is a relationship between human beings, a way by which people relate to one another. One destroys it by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently”.

Buddhist belief holds that there is no real separation between an individual person and other people, and the rest of life, around them. The idea is that our very nature is so inextricably tied together, so bound by various processes of cause and effect occurring between us, that there is no meaningful way to draw a boundary from where a person begins and ends. To quote the famous anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, “Man becomes conscious of himself and his humanity only in society and only by the collective action of the whole society”.

This is one of the core ideas behind Buddhism, the concept of “no self”, or “anatta”. One is to have compassion and kindness towards all sentient beings because, to use an anarcho-syndicalist phrase, “an injury to one is an injury to all”.

Coming out of this understanding of “no self”, there is the Mahāyāna Buddhist ideal of the “Boddhisattva”. This ideal is such that the individual who chooses to go down this path does not achieve Enlightenment until all sentient beings achieve it first. A similar sentiment was expressed by Mikhail Bakunin when he said “I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free.”

Accepting the PathThe end goal for all of this is Enlightenment and a utopian society. Enlightenment would be when one is fully aware, at peace and free from all suffering. The utopian society in question would be where the world has no more relationships of hierarchy and domination, and all human activity is carried out freely, as equals, and all collective decisions and resources are shared together in common. Both ideals can seem distant and unattainable, but the path towards attaining these goals is in itself fulfilling, in both regards.

The Buddhist path is comprised of three aspects: ethical behavior, control of one’s mind, and experiential insight. Ethical behavior includes things like refraining from telling lies, stealing, killing, taking intoxicants, sexual misconduct, or in any other way harming people. This is not to be viewed as a kind of moralistic list of “do’s and don’ts” to use to judge people, but rather as a kind of guiding framework that one can choose to adopt for one’s life to aid in creating more personal stability and grounding from which to work from.

Controlling one’s mind comes about as a result of a regular ongoing practice of meditation. Ordinarily our own mind is scattershot, fragmented, jumping around from topic to topic, and in many cases it is actively working against us. Very often we do not even know our own mind, let alone control what it does and where it goes. Various forms of meditation practice exist in the world, and simply by choosing one or a few of them and sticking with them as a regular ongoing personal practice, eventually one’s mind will find greater clarity, coherence and sensibility.

Experiential insight comes about when one knows something not merely in an intellectual or abstract way, but because one has had direct personal experience with it. Through your experience, insight occurs. This is not merely a mental occurrence of conjuring up a memory of something, but a kind of bodily-felt experience where that which you know is felt and understood directly. This kind of thing can never be told from one person to another, each person has to come to it themself. Words that are spoken about this can at best be a guide towards personally coming to this kind of experiential insight. Unfortunately words can often be a distraction away from this as well.

The anarchist path towards social revolution could also be characterized as having three aspects: direct action, self-organization, and prefigurative politics. Direct action means doing something without asking for permission or waiting for an official stamp of approval. This is related to the goal of coming out of authority-based ruler/subject relationships, and instead finding one’s own personal power to take action directly one’s self without being told what to do.

Self-organization means that groups of people who do something together also have the role of organizing that activity together as well. Instead of having one group of people doing an activity, and another group of people doing the organizing work and decision-making for that activity, everything is all carried out by the same group of people. Where direct action can be viewed as people finding their own personal power, self-organization can be viewed as groups of people finding their own power together as a group.

Prefigurative politics means that the activities carried out and the ways of organizing and relating within them all reflect the kind of society that one wants to live in. This is in effect eliminating the separation of “means” and “ends”, or as Gandhi put it, to “be the change which you want to see in the world”. In practice this would mean establishing and spreading various social systems and structures to meet people’s needs within our current society. Whether these needs are for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, sanitation, medical care, child care, education or skill-building, all of people’s needs can be met through social means that are cooperative, voluntary, egalitarian and free.

The point with all of this is to not get tripped up by focusing too much on the end goals – personal Enlightenment and a utopian society. The goals are wonderful, but we are living our lives in the here-and-now. Therefore more focus should be placed on walking the path to these goals, because that is where we are now, taking one step at a time. When done right, each step on the path towards these goals are fulfilling in and of themselves, regardless of when and if we get there. This is all about improving our lives, personally and socially, and the process in itself is worth the effort.

Taking ResponsibilityIn common with both Buddhism and anarchism is the whole notion that one ought to take responsibility for one’s own life. With anarchism, there is a change of social structures and relationships towards recognizing and respecting each person’s ability to make their own choices for their own life. With Buddhism there is a kind of investigative search towards locating one’s core sense of choice, and from there consciously deciding upon one’s own actions, words spoken, and even the thoughts that are held in mind. The psychologist Victor Frankl expressed the later sentiment well when he said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

In a way, these two approaches towards looking at individuals taking responsibility for their own lives are two sides of the same coin. The anarchist approach is “from the outside-in”, meaning that it focuses on how the community, the social structures and the relationships that a person is surrounded with can best acknowledge and support the individual in taking responsibility. The Buddhist approach is “from the inside-out” in that it focuses on the sense of choice coming from within an individual and extending outwards towards one’s thoughts, onto one’s words, and finally expressing itself in one’s actions.

To have a Buddhist anarchist approach would be to acknowledge and support each-other in making our own choices and decisions, to make decisions collectively and cooperatively when they pertain to group or community matters, and to always keep in mind that we can and should continue to develop greater wisdom, maturity and skill in the choices that we make.

Developing good qualities“Abstain from all unwholesome deeds,
perform wholesome ones,
purify your mind –
this is the teaching of the Buddhas.” – from the Dhammapada

At various points over the years that I have considered myself to be an “anarchist” I have felt discouraged, disillusioned and disappointed with the words and actions coming from different people who also consider themselves to be “anarchists”. These behaviors have ranged from very hurtful things that are written or spoken to one-another, to petty theft, lifestyles emphasizing intoxication, sexual assault, and other forms of violence. I have been astounded by this behavior, and at times have wondered if I really belong to the “anarchist community”, given that these kinds of behavior are not what I associate with anarchist values or the kind of utopian society that I want to live in. In other words, this is not what I signed up for.

Then I think about my own life, and how I myself have done various things that I regret and am not proud of. I remember how within my own mind when I was carrying out those actions, I felt quite agitated, confused, and in turmoil. My mind was not clear, composed and at peace with itself when I did those things. I recall the Buddha’s exhortations to “purify your mind”, and I think – what a remarkable difference that would have made in terms of providing the foundation for different, more beneficial actions to take place.

What strikes me about Buddhism is how seamlessly integrated the whole process is. The ethical framework that is provided is directly related to the mastery of one’s own mind, which is also related to developing one’s ability for concentration. Seen from this perspective, it is not surprising that such behaviors are found in the anarchist community, or other communities of people, because the perspective of the whole person is missing, as is the explicit commitment to positively developing one’s capacities.

A commitment to personal growthI believe that the more one is genuinely committed to improving one’s self, developing inner strength and mastering one’s own mind, the more one is in a better position to contribute towards meaningful social change. The Sufi writer Idries Shah put it well when he said:

“The individual, and groupings of people, have to learn that they cannot reform society in reality, nor deal with others as reasonable people, unless the individual has learned to locate and allow for the various patterns of coercive institutions, formal and also informal, which rule him. No matter what his reason says, he will always relapse into obedience to the coercive agency while its pattern is with him.”

In other words, we often produce and reproduce relationships of domination, authority and submission without even realizing that that is what we are doing. We are so accustomed and conditioned to these ways of being that we often are not even aware that they are happening. Cultivating greater self-awareness in the present moment can aid us in noticing this taking place. Buddhism provides various tools to assist in this. A real personal commitment to doing the ongoing necessary inner work of developing in these areas has to be present; otherwise “anarchy” would end up being the kind of nightmare situation that people usually associate with that term.

Intoxication and seeing clearlyWithin countless anarchist circles I have come across there are problems that exist with drugs and alcohol. A lot of the time the using of drugs or alcohol is one of the factors contributing to instances of sexual assault and other forms of violence, as well as unnecessary run-ins with law enforcement. Overall the time, energy and money spent on the procurement, consumption and dealing with the after-effects of intoxication within the anarchist scene seems to me to be something that could be more productively put in other places.

From the Buddhist perspective of developing greater self-control, mastery of one’s mind and concentration, the act of getting intoxicated pretty much defeats the purpose. One of the goals with Buddhism is to see reality as it is, without delusions and confusion. The adding of the element of intoxication is contributing one more unnecessary barrier to achieving this desired clarity.

Part of seeing reality clearly also involves facing directly the reality that exists inside of you. This means not hiding from that which is unpleasant, and not craving that which is pleasant. Intoxication is a way to induce pleasant experiences, and to escape unpleasant ones. The more time that one spends with one’s self, directly and unobstructed, the more one eventually finds personal acceptance and comfort with one’s true nature.

Related to the anarchist punk rock scene there is “straight edge” (or “sXe” for short), a movement of people who abstain from drugs and alcohol. These folks have already elaborated on the draw-backs to intoxication, particularly as it relates to the effective carrying out of social change work. Many straight edge people tie their abstinence to their religious or spiritual beliefs, the most notable of which being Christianity and Hare Krishna. I would say that Buddhist anarchism would also have ties to straight edge (as well as “posi-core”, given the focus on positive values).

Selfless serviceTurning the focus now from one’s self towards others (to the extent that there is a distinction between the two), I will say that one of the important aspects within Buddhism that has most struck a chord with me is what has been referred to as “dhamma service”, or “dharma service”. This is the voluntary giving of service for the benefit of others without expecting anything in return. This is to be done out of a spirit of love, compassion and generosity, with a sincere wish for the peace and happiness of those you’re serving. I have found this to be a very personally rewarding experience, which is ironic given that this activity is done out of a spirit of focusing on serving others, not yourself. That this kind of experience would be personally fulfilling makes the “giving” in fact be a kind of “receiving”. (To me this is an example that high-lights the principle of “anatta” or “no self”)

In the world of activism, the profession of those who want to change the world, I have been struck by the amount of anger that exists towards other people. I believe that this stems from a mindset of wanting to change other people. I do not see that perspective as going anywhere. Because when it comes down to it, each person is responsible for changing themselves, for determining their own future through their own actions. The mindset that I instead would like to use when approaching matters of social change is not the “activist” mentality, but rather that of selflessly serving others – dharma service.

The simplicity of givingAnother aspect of Buddhism, related to dharma service, is something called dāna. This is generosity and giving without any strings attached. It is giving simply to give, for the benefit of others. In societies that have an old history of institutionalized Buddhism, this virtue has enabled the profession of Buddhist monks and nuns to exist and be sustained over centuries. Because of people regularly giving to monks and nuns, they end up living more simple and austere lives themselves, in addition to the monks and nuns who live with very little material things to begin with. This results in a more simple life all around.

Within the anarchist sub-culture I have noticed a similar dynamic taking place. Anarchists regularly give and offer what little resources they do have to others, to comrades in need, projects worthy of support, and people who are in legal trouble. A culture of selfless giving is often the case within anarchist circles, and this often goes unacknowledged. I find this to be a very beautiful thing and something worthy of praise.

The delusion of ownershipRelated to this notion of giving, I would like to propose another idea – that nobody really owns anything to begin with. In contrast to this, I would say that things exist, they move around and change, and eventually they go away. That’s the extent of it. The moment that the identification with a material object takes place, that the concept of “mine” enters the picture; the stage is then set for suffering to occur (and for systems of institutionalized domination, such as capitalism, to eventually come about).

From the Buddhist perspective, suffering comes about from craving things, from trying to avoid things, and from delusional thinking. To me, the concept of ownership has the seeds for all three within it. The craving part seems obvious – “I want what belongs to me”. The avoidance is evident in that there are certain thoughts and feelings that one is trying to escape confronting. In other words, what exactly will be there when you have “nothing” to hide behind? What are you left with when you do not have your stuff?

The delusion of ownership is evident in that the material objects that one considers to be their “property” inevitably breaks, get lost, or stolen. These material things are usually not physically attached to one’s body, so in a way they have a life of their own and wind up wherever. To consider material objects “yours” does not match reality, because they will go wherever they go, irrespective of your wishes. To think otherwise is to invite suffering.

The delusion of controlling othersSimilar and related to the idea of controlling material objects is the idea of controlling other people. People will do whatever it is that they do, and to think otherwise is to invite suffering. Offering of suggestions, advice and support can be made to people, that is different from attempting to control. However it must always be kept in mind that in the end it is up to each individual to take it upon themselves to change in a more positive direction, if that is what they want.

To try to control people is to set one’s self up for disappointment – by the other people not following through, not fulfilling the vision that was anticipated,by resisting or rebelling, or by holding a resentment that will show itself as retaliation in some future time. Real peace of mind is neither present in the person in the position of being the controller nor in the person being controlled. To find peace of mind one needs to create social harmony, which means establishing cooperation between people as equals; always with an understanding that everything is impermanent, that change is a constant.

Practicing NonviolenceAs I see it, a common goal that both anarchism and Buddhism have is fostering social harmony. To foster social harmony there has to be nonviolence. This means actively making the choice to not harm others, even in the face of injustice and aggression. Instead of retaliation and harm, one seeks to support understanding, empathy and love. In order to maintain an active nonviolence, it is important that one remain clear about one’s values, authenticity, and to openly expresses these.

There are traditions within both Buddhism and anarchism of nonviolence; although nonviolence is not exclusively practiced within either one. To have a Buddhist anarchism, I believe that nonviolence needs to be a unifying principle – given that nonviolence emphasizes that a goal in common to all of this is real peace. Both personally and socially speaking, peace is what we seek. It is important that we remain as consistently in integrity with these values as possible, every step of the way.

Extending the LoveCommon to both anarchism and Buddhism is vegetarianism (although this is not always the case). This is usually done for the same reason for both – an ethical conviction that it is wrong to kill animals for our own consumption. When striving to extend our compassion and care to others, no line is drawn between humans and animals. Animals can feel both joy and pain, hence they are seen as worthy of our concern and consideration when deciding on the kind of lifestyle we want to live and the kind of world that we seek to create. For this reason, Buddhist anarchism would include having a vegan, plant-based diet.

Nonviolence within Buddhism, and dharma service and dāna/generosity in general, all come out of a particular state of mind (or rather, a quality of heart). This is called “metta”, which means “loving-kindness”. This is a real opening of the heart, a loving no matter what, a sincere wishing of the best of everyone. The ideal is to have this quality be the motivating force behind all of the actions that one does in the world. Various meditative practices exist within Buddhism to help with developing metta. Having the ability to bring about sincere loving-kindness throughout one’s activities of daily life is tied together with cultivating personal happiness in life.

Compassionate communicationComing out of a sense of both nonviolence and loving-kindness is a related practice that does not necessarily originate from either anarchism or Buddhism per se, but which I believe is essential for a real living Buddhist anarchism nonetheless. I am referring here to compassionate communication, also known as “Nonviolent Communication” or “NVC”. Briefly put, this is a system of tools to help people to communicate with more empathy, personal authenticity and caring, as well as translating judgements of people into a deep understanding of what is actually taking place. Compassionate communication is practicing in listening, with expressing, and also in terms of one’s own thinking. It is a tool to be used when addressing conflict situations, as well as a kind of “talking meditation” that can be used in the interactions of daily life.

I see compassionate communication as being a great tool to help one in practicing what in Buddhism is called “Right Speech”, which is a part of the “Noble Eightfold Path” towards the liberation from suffering. Within anarchist circles, I have seen countless projects, relationships and gatherings of people break down because of communication difficulties and how conflict is dealt with. This is an area where I believe some real skill-building is needed. Learning compassionate communication is one way to pursue building these skills.

Small is beautifulWithin Buddhism the goal is for one to live a life characterized by the renunciation of material things, making a living through ethical means, being moderate in one’s eating, and having patience, hard work and equanimity. Within the anarchist ideal of a utopian society, production and consumption would take place in a decentralized way through local small-scale face-to-face communities of people. The goal is to have everybody being nourished by local organically-grown food where everyone knows the people who grew it and the land that it was grown on.

These two goals to me seem to fit together like hand-in-glove. Taken altogether, one would live a simple small-scale life, hard-working and modest, living together with others whom you know, make decisions and share with. This is a goal which one does not need to wait for a distant future to achieve; this is attainable in our lives right now.

New kinds of social organizationWithin the community of Buddhist practitioners, particularly the monks and nuns, the Buddha gave specific suggestions for how the organization of this community could best be carried out. The term for the community of practitioners is “sangha”, and here are two quotes that are particularly relevant when considering a Buddhist anarchism. These come from the book “An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World” by Pankaj Mishra:

“The Buddha was confident that ‘as long as the monks hold frequent and full assemblies the sangha will prosper, and not decline’. He did not think of himself as leading the sangha. Nor did he encourage any of his disciples to assume the burden after his death. He saw consensus as of the utmost importance to the life of the sangha. The Buddha also stressed the need for each local sangha to remain united. He allowed for differences of opinion, but he did not wish them to undermine the structural unity of a sangha and vitiate the experience of everyday life. Controversy, whenever it arose, could be settled by the method of the dissenting individuals removing themselves and forming a new group.”

This reflects a number of anarchist values, namely, that of including everyone’s voice and allowing for each person to have their own opinion, prioritizing a group consensus process, and ultimately making room for group self-determination and free association.

Mishra then goes on:

“The Buddha encouraged individual monks to become exemplars for the society of laymen; he may even have wished the organization of the sangha to become a model of a higher politics and morality. With its rules and its respect for consensus and tradition, the sangha does seem a prototype for the close-knit political organization – something that could conceivably serve as an alternative to the unmanageably large states in which two new human categories were coming into being; the rulers and the ruled.”

This then brings up an intriguing question – what could a Buddhist anarchist sangha look like? In our current era of digital technologies, globalization, and ecological crises, where the social categories of rulers and ruled have existed for quite some time now, how can we create an anarchist sangha that realistically addresses the needs of people where they are at? I feel that both the traditions of anarchism and Buddhism have a lot to offer in terms of beginning to answer these questions. However, in the end it is up to us and our own ingenuity and effort to come up with some answers.

Step by stepBoth anarchism and Buddhism offer unique ways to look at the world to dispel all of the illusions that are cast around it – to see life as it really is. The reality is that we are all deeply enmeshed in different kinds of power relationships. This results in some people being placed on top of a social pyramid as a privileged ruling class, while most people are simply following the orders and expectations that are handed down to them from above. These relationships are created and reproduced by the choices and actions that we take, both internally and externally. We are ultimately responsible for our own suffering, both personally and socially. This suffering is ultimately unnecessary. We can find liberation from all of this.

To find true liberation, we need to face the reality that is before us without any illusions. We need to take full responsibility for our own lives. If we see and acknowledge that we are inextricably connected with one-another, and determine that we want to work together to create different kinds of relationships for a radically different kind of world, then we must learn how to communicate, share, and love without any reservations. Doing all of this takes practice. This is an ongoing process of development, and luckily the various tools that can aid us on our way are already before us. As a famous monk once said:

“Liberation is the inevitable fruit of the path and is bound to blossom forth when there is steady and persistent practice. The only requirements for reaching the final goal are two: to start and to continue.”

Further resourcesThere are various websites, people and organizations who are out in the world doing things of a Buddhist anarchist nature. Here are few:

Buddhist punks

Against the Stream Meditation Society: http://www.againstthestream.org/
Hardcore Zen: http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/
Dharma Punx: http://www.dharmapunx.com/

Buddhist social change stuff

Buddhist Peace Fellowship: http://www.bpf.org/
International Network of Engaged Buddhists: http://www.inebnetwork.org/
Zen Peacemakers: http://www.zenpeacemakers.org/

Learning Buddhism

D.I.Y. Dharma: http://diydharma.org/
Vipassana Meditation: http://www.dhamma.org/

Secular Buddhists

The Secular Buddhist: http://www.thesecularbuddhist.com/
Confession of a Buddhist Atheist: http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/book-confession.html

Compassionate Communication

The Center for Nonviolent Communication: http://www.cnvc.org/
Consciousness Transformation Community: http://ctc.learnnvc.org

Reflections on a Buddhist Anarchism

By: Ian Mayes
View original post