As someone who has typically placed themselves on the left of the anarchist movement, a common trend I have noticed emerging among my so-called “comrades” is that much of the left’s philosophy is becoming indistinguishable from the socially conservative movements that most anarchists have traditionally opposed.
Ironically, instead of being based upon infiltration by jingoistic traditionalism of the Neo-Conservative variety, anarchism’s descent into social conservatism is born of a preoccupation with social justice, and idealistic desires to eliminate anything and everything that is deemed to be “harmful”, “oppressive” or “anti-social” and could potentially interfere with the typical anarchist goal of a utopian society.
Totalitarian humanism is now the left’s equivalent of Neoconservatism.
The motives may indeed be different and the methods employed can often vary but the conclusions and consequences of this philosophical outlook can often be no different to those of Neoconservatism or any other conservative pro-state movement in terms of its ideas regarding how to approach controversial social issues such as pornography, prostitution, hard drugs and so forth. If put into practice, then the outcome would ultimately be the same: The imposition of moral values upon people who do not agree with them and have no desire to conform to a rigid ideal about how humans should behave.
These are the conclusions of what I would term “Anarchism+” which can be thought of as either “Anarchism Plus Social Justice” (or, perhaps more appropriately, “Anarchism Plus Insanity”).
I believe that this kind of warped moralism has been creeping into anarchism over the last few decades from the liberal and social-democratic movements and is not a force for good within anarchism regardless of whatever “good intentions” might lie behind it. Of course, many new arrivals to anarchist began their involvement with politics in mainstream political groups and it would seem that this is one potential source for the conservative moralism of anarchism+.
Lets look at a couple of examples of this kind of “totalitarian humanism” regarding issues it often seems to be concerned with and also some examples of where I believe it has originated:
1 . Porn.
Porn is quite often a target of the feminist movement many of which are anarchists. It has become something of a cause celebre for anarchist feminists. These (mostly left-wing) anti-porn campaigners nevertheless display an attitude very similar to the fundamentalist Neoconservatives who seek out every opportunity to ban pornography. The difference being that, for supporters of anarchism+, organized opposition to pornography is instigated at the grassroots level instead of at state level.
The general attitude towards porn displayed by anarchists of this sort is that porn is oppressive to women, synonymous with the economic exploitation of women that occurs under the current status-quo and therefore must be somehow stamped out because it intrudes upon some idealist notion about what human society should be and how humans should behave.
As examples for the kind of sources I would single out for this sexually conservative variety of Anarchism+, then I would point the finger firmly at the likes of Chomsky, Dworkin, and the other self-identified “anarchists” who otherwise spend a lot of time behaving like regular old liberals and conservatives.
The MacKinnon and Dworkin case is a prime example of this. In 1983, Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin (darlings of the American feminist movement) were enlisted by Minneapolis city government to help draft legislation redefining porn as “a civil rights violation against women”.
As Mackinnon herself wrote:
Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed a law against pornography that defines it as graphic sexually explicit materials that subordinate women through pictures or words. This definition includes the harm of what pornography says — its function as defamation or hate speech — but defines it and it alone in terms of what it does — its role as subordination, as sex discrimination
So, according to Dworkin and MacKinnon, pornography is necessarily an oppressive weight around women’s necks, is no different to “hate speech” and serves only to further sexual discrimination. It is also viewed as a womens rights violation and an institution that exists for the sake of subordinating women.
Now it may be a cliche to use Andrea Dworkin as the example of the stereotypical feminist campaigner and it is also very easy for anarchists to no-true-scotsman Dworkin as a liberal and thus deem her irrelevant to the anarchist and feminist movements. However, lets not forget that Dworkin considered herself an anarchist in the 1960’s and went so far as to even marry another male anarchist, Cornelius Dirk de Bruin (before their messy separation). We also cannot underestimate the fact that many anarchists, as mentioned earlier, begin their political involvement in the liberal, state-socialist and social democratic movements where the ideas of hardline 2nd wave feminists like Dworkin are still readily accepted.
Noam Chomsky is also another example of an anarchist helping to bring socially conservative sexual moralism into the anarchist movement.
In The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality & Relationships, Noam Chomsky gives an interview describing how he came to give an interview with Hustler and outlines his views on pornography. In one section, he outlines his views on pornography:
“Pornography is the humiliation and degradation of women, its a disgraceful activity. I don’t want to be associated with it. just take a look at the pictures. I mean, Women are degraded as vulgar sex objects thats not what human beings are. I mean i don’t see anything to discuss.
Interviewer: Didn’t poor performers choose to do the job and get paid?
The fact that people agree to it and are paid is about as convincing as the fact that we should be in favour of sweat shops in china where women are locked into a factory and work 15 hours a day and then the factory burns down and they all die. Yeah, they paid and they consented but it doesn’t make me in favour of it so that argument we can’t even talk about. As to the fact that its some peoples erotica, well you know, that’s their problem. Doesn’t mean I have to contribute to it. If they get enjoyment out of humiliation of women, they have a problem but its nothing I want to contribute to.
Interviewer: How should we improve the production conditions of pornography?
By eliminating the degradation of women that would improve it. Just like child abuse. You don’t want to make a better child abuse, you want to stop child abuse. Suppose there’s a child in the slums and you say well I’ll give you food if you’ll let me abuse you. There happen to be laws against child abuse fortunately, but suppose someone were to give you argument, well you know after all that child is starving otherwise, so you’re taking away his chance to get some food if you ban abuse. I mean, is that an argument? The answer to that is to stop the condition in which the child is starving and the same is true here. Eliminate the conditions in which women can’t get decent jobs. Not prevent abusive and
This in itself is telling.
Not only does Chomsky consider that pornography is equivalent to sweatshops and child abuse, but he also considers that women are essentially victims of it and, given better opportunities by society, that they would not seek to participate in it and thus porn would effectively cease to exist.
Both of these examples outline a remarkable lack of faith in women on the part of self-described anarchist feminists. Do such activists really consider that women are so lacking in agency and independent thinking capacity that they are incapable of making their own rational choices regarding porn? I consider this perspective to be a variety of neo-sexism in and of itself because it assumes that women are so mindless that the only reason they would become involved in pornography is because of “outside influence” or some form of systematic coercion against them (such as that we all experience under the state).
This mentality is really no different to that of the neoconservative moralists such as Rick Santorum who think that women are essentially unwitting victims of pornography and that the porn industry is somehow responsible for corrupting the populace. Fundamentally, there is very little difference between the ideas of Santorum and Chomsky on this issue other than their proposed solutions.
Of course, this socially conservative mentality also overlooks many real world examples of women and men alike creating pornography for no material reward purely because they get enjoyment and sexual gratification from doing so. Leaving aside the debate about the commercial pornography industry for a moment, then the underground and amateur porn scene is a prime example of this. Indeed, a quick search for “amateur porn” or “Porn 2.0” on the internet will reveal hundreds of websites where people willingly participate in the creation of porn for the enjoyment of the public and do not make money from doing so. This shows that men and women alike do enjoy creating pornography and will do so even when there is no financial incentive or coercion present.
As a matter of fact, I would argue that it would make much more sense for those who oppose the commercial pornography industry to support underground pornography and the “Porn 2.0 movement” as a free and grassroots alternative to the “questionable” commercial pornography industry if they really want to destroy it.
I would be inclined to agree that Porn 2.0 effectively destroying commercial porn via efficient competition would be a net positive for pornography in itself since it would take power away from businesses and hand it back to individuals. Of course, such thoughts have likely never crossed grasroots social justice warriors minds because they limit their analysis of porn to simply a sexually exploitative institution that exists in the private sector business arena. It would mean abandoning the idea that porn can be effectively abolished and would also challenge their narrative that paints pornography as effectively a womens rights issue which only exists due to socioeconomic coercion.
Anarchists seeking the total abolition of porn necessarily set themselves up against these basic facts of life and align itself with the intentions of conservative pro-state movements which seek the wholesale abolition of porn out of fear of its impact on society. It used to be that the anarchist movement as a whole believed that the sexuality of consenting adults was nobodies business but their own and personally speaking, as an anarchist, I do not care what sexual activities people engage in as long as they are not forcing those choices upon other people. Moreover, the basic idea of sexual liberation is to support peoples freedom to indulge their natural sexual desires without fear of persecution at the hands of fundamentalist sexual conservatives. Now, this principle seems like it could be up for question due to, ironically enough, the influx of mainstream social justice campaigners and their respective ideas into the anarchist movement.
2 . Drugs
The Zapatista movement seems to have inspired many anarchists to take essentially conservative positions on hard drugs. For those not familiar with this group, then the Zapatista (or EZLN) is a leftist movement based out of a small rural society in Mexico which operate their communities on the basis of direct democracy.
Despite the EZLN’s disavowal of claims that they are an explicitly anarchist movement, they have been of great interest to anarchists in the western world due to the way in which their communities are organized.
Interestingly, because the EZLN ban drugs and alcohol within their communities (supposedly as a way to beat traffickers and cartels), many left-wing anarchists are now taking a similar position on drugs. The general idea being that because drugs are addictive and are currently linked to drug traffickers, cartels and so forth, that the community should democratically organize to prohibit the supply and use of drugs due to their “anti-social influence” upon communities.
This conclusion of community enforced prohibition is something I find utterly bizarre. Especially as many anarchists oppose prohibition when enacted by the state. In practice, how is an anarchist community which seeks to control the availability of what individuals choose to put into their own bodies enacting anything different from the sort of state sanctioned prohibition which is espoused by conservative political groupings?
It seems to be quite common for leftists to fail to grasp the idea that democratic determination does not somehow lend validity to the determinations in and of themselves if they are ultimately oppressive and a violation of an individuals own freedom to do what they wish with their own body. Whether or not we consider this an example of de-facto statism, the idea of a community enforcing prohibition regarding what people put into their own bodies is hardly in tune with libertarian or anarchist ideas and, even if it was, then it would by no means be desirable. Is some bizarre kind of anarcho-sharia-law really what anarchists consider a viable alternative to statism? After all, the idea of community enforced prohibition is nothing new, and is highly reminiscent of more theocratic periods in history where the community has agreed to ban things, individual wants and needs are deemed irrelevant and then dedicated task forces work to expel those elements from the community.
Moreover, by arguing for community enforced prohibition as a facet of anarchism, supporters of anarchism+ necessarily align themselves with the current grassroots supporters of prohibition most of which are fundamentally conservative and support the current status-quo.
As with pro-state supporters of prohibition, these kind of anarchists fail to grasp that the problems of drug trafficking, cartels and so forth are reducible to the current status-quo and, more often than not, are results of prohibition in and of itself. Any kind of prohibition of drugs will likely just give rise to a black market in drugs which is where the cartels and traffickers come in. The way to beat the traffickers and cartels is to end prohibition and make drugs available without having to go through black market middlemen. Not to simply exchange state-level prohibition for community-level prohibition.
These two examples are the main issues where I have noticed Anarchism+ garnering most of its support and focusing most of its attention. Despite the motivation being a desire for more social justice, the means by which the ideals are pursued are producing a fundamentally conservative strain of neo-anarchism which merely seeks to move societal oppression from the state over to the community. As an individual, it personally makes no difference to me whether my oppression is a result of the state or the result of a hysterical social order of conservative moralists and the trappings of direct democracy do not legitimize any such oppression. Moreover, I would argue that Anarchism+ by actively accepting mainstream conservatism’s analysis of issues such as pornography do more to legitimize mainstream conservatism than to fight it and this fact alone is enough to make me consider that we should question and reject the social justice hysteria of Anarchism+.