Most people scoff at the virtues of anarchy. We have no problem shouting to the heavens about the importance of freedom. But complete freedom is the complete absence of control after all, and that can turn to chaos, horror like the final scene in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” (or the movie “The Purge” if the classics aren’t your thing). Few of us want that, and it certainly isn’t the way to a civil society.
Like all political extremes, way too far and everyone loses. Take Socialism: A measured amount gives us weekends, child labor laws, unemployment insurance, Social Security; too much and we get limited production, unmotivated workers, endless strikes and ultimately…tyranny. What about Capitalism: a certain amount gives us easy access to capital to expand business, entrepreneurship, class mobility, opportunity for personal wealth; a lot gives us the robber barons of the 19th Century, low wages, severe income inequality, class warfare, and of course…tyranny.
Anarchy is not Synonymous with Chaos
So why has anarchy become such a loaded word? Let’s go back to the original meaning of the political idea and not the misunderstood concept that it is today. The word itself comes from the ancient Greek word, anarchia, which loosely translates to “without leaders.” In the mid-19th Century, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon codified the word into the political and philosophical concept of Anarchism, a leaderless state, or more simply, one without government. The idealized version of Anarchism is simply that the individual is free to do whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t interfere in another’s right to do the same.
But it’s not so simple. Unfortunately, a society without government, rules, property or laws likely devolves into chaos, as we’ve seen so many times around the world. And anarchy at its extreme becomes synonymous with chaos, horror and ultimately…tyranny. But what happens if we introduce a bit of anarchy into our lives? Let’s call it personal anarchy.
Let’s say you quit that shitty job, start your own business, home school your kids, throw away your smart phone, grow some lettuce on the windowsill, write those memoirs in the dead of night or just get a nose ring? Personal change and expression occur and perhaps if you’re lucky, comes with a little spark of happiness.
This is an ancient idea, one which many people have discovered on their own. For the creative spirit, society’s rules suck and its narrow vision of what’s right for the individual sucks too. So many have decided to do things slightly, or completely different. Where do you think art comes from? Certainly not from robot-like abeyance to the rules. Nature teaches us that life is change, exploration and curiosity the norm; that stability and predictability bring about stagnation and death.
We call it many things, personal exploration, introspection, individual liberty, creative expression, but all of this is really letting go of just a little personal control and introducing a bit of uncertainty into our ordered lives. A little bit of the unknown, like fairy dust shakes things up. I call it personal anarchy; you can call it anything you like. But the goal is the same, personal growth, and hopefully, a moment or two of freedom, even happiness.