Digital Press-Gang
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Apr 2021  Prison or Freedom   Written and recorded By Dionysia Anarqxista      Broadcast by TOR Radio
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Anarchism is the belief that it is up to people, uncoerced, to decide things for
themselves. Doesn't that sound like a good idea?

The answer, if some of the replies I got to that tweet are to be believed, is that, no,
that’s very much not a good idea.

It seems, then, that there are people who are scared of freedom for everyone. Some,
on the one hand, seem to want to be protected by people with weapons and power
from people they call "bad" whilst others, on the other hand, think someone must
"take responsibility" for the rest. In fact, I even know of some people who think it is
an incredibly privileged position to take to say that people should decide things for
themselves because not everyone is equally able to do that. Such people voice the
fear, totally put into them by the way society is right now, I might add, that in a "land
of do as you please", as Alan Moore calls anarchy in his comic book V for Vendetta,
the minorities and the less able would be left behind by the majority of people.

But we need to step back a moment and take time to think about the implications of
my original question for, it seems to me, in some of the answers I received, it was
right now that was assumed as the context and not an imaginative future in which
freedom has replaced control. So, if and when we imagine this future, we start to
have some questions come naturally to mind. For example, don't bad people
ALREADY exist? Aren't some of them even the very people tasked with the
"protection" or "responsibility" that some people say we need to live in a safe or
stable society? Hasn't our putting them in reified positions of power only INCREASED
their ability to do harm? What, then, about giving some people power over the rest of
us has made society a better, safer, more stable place in general?

Such questions lead us into a conversation I had with some other anarchists who
parodied the status quo of governments, states, police, prisons, etc. We might call
this as a complex of ideas and practices "the authoritarian state". This, in the minds
of those horrified by the idea of freedom for all, is what is keeping us from disaster
and hellscape. But, as I was satirically informed by anarchist colleagues, some
people do bad things so wouldn't it be better if we got a small group of people
systematically incentivised to do even more bad things and let them decide things
for us? Maybe, I added, playing along, we could offer them some money as an
incentive? Or send "the boys" round to "convince" the majority of people this was a
good idea? My friends agreed, adding that there should definitely be a monetary
incentive to them making choices bad for the rest of us. But, of course, they should
be the only ones allowed to "send the boys round", and anyone not in this small
group should just do what they, the authorities, say as a result. Warming to the theme
of the conversation now, I finished this line of thinking by suggesting that perhaps we
could arrange all these people in families and send them to schools where they are
taught to "obey authority" and never to question anything. Perhaps, as some MPs in
England like to suggest, we should have them hoisting a flag and singing the
National Anthem every morning? These practices would have the advantage of also
stopping the people thinking for themselves which, I’m sure we can all agree, would
only complicate matters.

Such, of course, is only a satire on the place we now find ourselves, a place of
authoritarianism, force, power and coercion. I am thinking these thoughts on St
George’s Day in England, England’s national day, but such a fact only serves to
remind me that St George, historically speaking, was a Middle Eastern man from
southern Turkey or northern Syria and that if such a person deemed it necessary to
suddenly appear on the shores of Merry England today then the Home Secretary, Priti
Patel, would no doubt have him flung, without ceremony, into the apparently
wretched Napier Barracks prison camp in Kent rather than having him hoisted on the
welcoming shoulders of English patriots. Such are the double standards and warped
thinking that decades of othering and foreigner-hating media have produced in some
of England’s green and pleasant land. Present media discourse which, under the
guiding hand of a few self-serving billionaires, has now seemingly been going on
forever, serves to narrow rather than broaden the mind, restricting the vision and
disabling the thinking of those who sit there, open-mouthed, gobbling up what said
billionaires are prepared to shovel down their gullets.

So it is not today surprising that so many can apparently not even imagine freedom
anymore but only various kinds of prison where, depending on who you are, your kind
of person is in charge. Yet, earlier, I asked the question of whether or not it was the
case that some of the people charged with "protection" or "responsibility" for society
at large weren’t, in fact, also to be numbered amongst the "bad people" that those
aghast at the idea of freedom for all were so concerned about. I take it as assumed
that even the most partisan of authoritarians would have to agree that this is the
case - and even where they might then go on to justify this by arguing that the values
of said people were, somehow in their own logic, for the good of everyone. So, even
though your police department might contain a Derek Chauvin, the murderer of
George Floyd, we still need police because police are the public servants who will
protect us from the bad people among us. At least, such thinking tell us this.

But this thinking reminds us of another earlier question I asked. Does giving people
like this power make society better for all of us across the board? Does it lead to the
peace, security and stability we presumably seek? Is the proposed cure worse than
the imagined disease? Consider the following by way of analogy: Imagine you are in
a prison and the prison has guards and orderlies who watch over and take care of
everything. You are locked in the prison but outside there are no guards or orderlies.
Outside the prison its just freedom and do as you please. The question is: Do you
prefer the prison or freedom? Now, as you think about this personally focused
question, however, you need to have a mind to more than yourself. Everyone else is
locked up with you too. But in this place of guards and orderlies, of powers and
authorities, rape still happens. And virtually no one is ever caught and brought to
justice for it. Murder still happens - and sometimes people get caught and
sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the murderers are cops or governments, either by
neglect or even on purpose. Stealing and corruption still happen - and there are
numerous cases where this is done by either rich people operating outside the law or
by the very authorities charged with being "responsible" for the rest of us. Has being
in this controlled environment, this prison captivity, kept you safe? Has it kept us
safe? Are some more safe than others?

I’ll let you ponder that for a moment and go on to discuss the idea that the problem
with freedom is people. A common answer [from those who bothered to reply] to my
original question about uncoerced freedom being a good idea was “Have you seen
people lately?” The inference here is that people are terrible and are, really, the last
things you should trust with something like uncoerced freedom. We need to be
protected from people rather than letting them wander about doing as they please,
so this thinking goes. But it is my argument, as one consciously continuing in an
anarchist tradition, that this is false. My point, educated by anarchist thinking, is to
be that it is precisely uncoerced freedom for everybody that is your best protection
from everybody [if you want to frame the argument in such terms and I don’t] rather
than handing power and control to a reified group of individuals. This latter approach
creates a mafia of those who have all the power and control whilst you have none. It
gives them the ability to control what you do, what you can say, even what you can
think. In England right now as I write this we have a government who wants to
control what you can protest about whilst enabling its cops to break the law in
chasing after those it has decided are undesirables. Similar things seem to be
happening Stateside too. It is even said of such UK cops that they will even be
empowered to rape and murder if they, but not anyone else, deems it justifiable.

This situation, which is truthful, current, but only scratching the surface, must be
contrasted with the idea of uncoerced freedom which is not contaminated by the
problems of today. As the black anarchist Lucy Parsons stated many decades ago,
anarchists know very well that if we want to create a better society it will take a lot of
education of people in general to get us there. There is no naive assumption among
anarchists that people are “inherently good” as some try to suggest. In fact, it seems
to be a much more pragmatic approach that anarchists take. Even if we assume, as
some replying to me have, that people are terrible [and we shouldn’t uncritically do
that] then the anarchist asks if giving some of them almost complete authority over
most of the rest of them is really that smart of an idea. That is what we have done
and is the world a utopia of peace, freedom and liberty as a result? No, of course it
isn't! Instead, we’ve created a place where governments give millions of pounds away
to their friends unchallenged, a world where cops shoot children and walk away
without sanction, a world where the rich strongarm the poor who they keep in their
controlling debt, a world where health depends on wealth, a world that has become a
hierarchy. It turns out that handing over power to some puts others in desperate
straits whilst people then insist that its this that is actually better than uncoerced
freedom for all.

So why are we told that we need these people, that governments and states and
police are inevitable and absolutely necessary for "our" well-being? It is because, I
think, that these things are absolutely necessary if you happen to be rich, or have
power, already. If you’re a billionaire newspaper or TV station owner its absolutely in
your interest to have cops and governments who run prisons because this is how you
control the huge mass of people who might become upset at the fact that such
people seem to have become billionaires from exploiting others whilst they are sat at
home as the ones who are being exploited and manipulated. People with power and
wealth absolutely need a captive audience - with the emphasis there on the captivity.
How would such people be able to exploit and manipulate the rest if they were free
and uncoerced? They wouldn’t! So what we need to see here is that we are locked,
right now, in a capitalist-authoritarian prison. This serves the purposes of the bosses
and, in fact, is required by them to operate as they do. They try to convince us being
in captivity this way is in OUR interest but all they finally mean is its in THEIRS. They
try to convince us of this by pointing out how different all the people around us are.
They are not like us. Perhaps, so they urge us, they will overwhelm us, change our
ways. They sow division and try to get us arguing amongst ourselves inside the
prison walls with, it must be said, some considerable success.

But, of course, then our eye is off the ball. We are now focusing on the deliberately
engineered argument between people who happen to be the same but different,
perhaps culturally, racially, sexually, etc., but our eye is now not on the fact that we
are all still trapped in captivity by the rich and powerful whose only real interest is
keeping us where they can control and exploit us. Remember what uncoerced
freedom would mean for them: a total loss of their power over us and their control of
us. But for the rest of us would uncoerced freedom really be that different to now?
Are peace and freedom really only guaranteed by police and laws and prisons, by
jobs, debt and banks, things which for most of human existence didn’t even exist? It
is time to put down the tabloid, turn off the cable news channel and start opening
your mind to new narratives, new possibilities and a wider vision on reality and what
it can be. It is time to stop listening to the self-interested lies of billionaires who want
you under their thumb. It is time to realise that you were born free and that, as
someone born free, you can work together with other people, just from your own free
will because you want to, to make your own life for yourself in tandem with such
others as you freely choose to associate with.

This, in fact, is all society, any society, actually is: people, who are all different, and
many of which you would surely hate or choose not to associate with, cooperating in
something bigger than all of them to provide for the needs of many. In the current
iteration of this various gangs control various aspects of this big picture but it need
not be that way even though people will insist it must be. So we need to scrutinize
the arguments of those who would tell us "people are terrible" as if this, all by itself,
were an unanswerable argument in favour of coercion, exploitation and control
because, actually, its not. What kind of person would think "people are terrible" but
then go on to think that it was, therefore, a great idea to give some of them almost
complete power over the rest of us? The idea "people are terrible" is, in fact, not a
motive for hierarchies of control and ideas of "know your place" but the biggest
motivation we could possibly have for engaging in ways of socially organising
ourselves to mitigate those who would be terrible rather than handing them power.
But neither is it the case that people are uniformly terrible anyway. Right now, in the
world you actually live in, people cooperate in a thousand ways a day to their mutual
benefit. Imagine how much better it would be if they could do what they already do
but without a boot on their necks.

You see NOTHING about anarchist praxis exists in a vacuum. Anarchism is NOT "a
thought experiment". There are literally THOUSANDS of documented anarchist
practices from indigenous tribes to urban communes to community projects that
have been and continue to be taking place in the world at any one time. Even well
meaning Christians and others can come together to provide a vast and sadly
growing network of food banks in the UK which are feeding millions of the hungriest
in the nation. Voluntarily. Because they see the good in standing in solidarity with
other people. In fact, one of my correspondents on this had this to say in relation to
the general idea that people are terrible and cannot be trusted:

"I have seen ‘people’ recently. A lot of people. The 2020 protests. Kenosha, Portland,
Minnesota, Chicago, LA. They far FAR surpass the crowd of bigots. They surpassed
any protest movement in US history. You are hopeless if you cannot see ‘people’ on
your own side."

I think this is right and it points to the blinkered vision that those with power and
money both want to project 24/7 and so want to be the only thought you are capable
of having. It is they who want you to think that everyone is terrible, that people would
never choose to help each other out if it was left up to them and that a world of
freedom would be a place of miserable vulnerability. They want you to think this
because the system we have now, the status quo, is what maintains their position in
society and the world. It keeps them in a dominating and exploitative power that
freedom would dissipate in an instant. Your freedom is directly threatening to their
hegemony and the constructed hierarchy in which they lord it over you. Of course
they want as many of us to feel invested in such a system as well. But its like the
prison governor insisting to you that staying in prison is really in your best interests
because having the guards tell you what to do is better for you than being free of the
prison and deciding for yourself. The prison governor wants you to feel grateful that
he provides you with food and shelter. But he does so only at the cost of controlling
your every movement and perhaps punishing you with solitary confinement for
having the wrong ideas or trying to be free. He will use fear of losing those things,
and of having to rely on others in the outside world, against you. But we are already
doing that and all the anarchist concept of freedom is adding to it is the idea that
freedom involves removing the boot of authority and coercion from your neck as
well.

In this talk I have presented the choice as prison, which I think is a perfect metaphor
for the world of capitalist authoritarianism, or freedom, which is the anarchist
concept of an uncoerced ability to decide things for yourself. In doing so I hope I
have not suggested that either choice is a utopia or free of problems. The fact is that,
whichever you choose, it will always take at least two to tango. Neither option
removes the possibility, or the fact, that some people will always choose to be
assholes. But those ways treat this fact very differently. One way suggests
potentially giving such people power over us, power as cops, as ministers in
governments, as company bosses, whereas the other way believes in mitigating such
outcomes by taking power away from people, decentralising things, only letting
those things happen which people can agree on uncoerced and to common benefit.
In this second way of doing things things happen because of cooperation and
solidarity, things we can all practice and demonstrate right now but which, in such a
situation, would be the entire basis of human living. A European Super League
dreamt up by millionaire and billionaire owners has recently been defeated because
people of all kinds stood up and said, "No!".

So I do not believe that all people are terrible and neither do I believe that even the
terrible people have to be terrible but that, with time and education, they can learn
new habits and come to exist in new ways. A terrible person, if we must put it like
this, is not born but made. And what is made can be remade. And so, in the end, we
have to face the facts of our common existence and to do so in ethical ways. Ethics
simply means that we see consequences to things and prefer some to others. But
the question is which consequences do we prefer? I have noticed, in this respect,
that a lot of people who instinctively react against the notion of uncoerced anarchist
freedom do so, so it seems to me, because they want the world as it is now but, if
possible, without the bad bits, which they admit exist, but which seem to carry on
anyway. But there’s a problem:

YOU CAN'T HAVE THAT.

Exploitation, oppression and coercion made this world and they are what has made it
exactly how it is with all the things it contains and the possibilities it offers from
mobile phones to doorbell cameras that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos sells the footage
of to police departments, creating a techno-fascist network of people spying on their
own kind. You see, you can’t have freedom AND be in the prison. You are either free
or you are a captive.

So the only question you then have to answer, to bring all of this to a close, is do you
want this world at the cost of exploitation, oppression and coercion, your own and
others’ - from which it is inseparable - OR do you want to completely get rid of these
things and build a world without them in its place, one that, to be sure, will require a
change in mentality for some, maybe even many, but which is, in fact, our only
chance to escape the exploitation, oppression and coercion upon which our current
world is entirely based?

ITS YOUR CHOICE. ITS UP TO YOU.
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      Written and recorded By   Dionysia_Anarqxista       For broadcast by   TOR Radio   2021.
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