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Justice in Anarchy - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Sep. 20th, 2004

10:12 pm - Justice in Anarchy

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My response to this comment by boannan was too long for a comment so I'm making it a post.

There's of course no single "right" answer to how policing would happen in an anarchist society but there's a few ways that I've imagined it (all with their drawbacks...but as you pointed out the current system has drawbacks too...I think any system that presupposes bad humans will have drawbacks because bad humans can always work for the good guys...the trick is to keep the bad guys from being able to do too much damage.)

In The Dispossessed, LeGuin describes the anarchist version of jail. If you imagine a society where people can get what they need with less effort than it takes to steal on a regular basis...you can imagine that the only kinds of crimes are the kinds that are committed by the mentally ill. Psychotic crimes. Predator crimes. In an unorganized chaotic society these people would probably be shunned to live in the wilderness or if that proved impossible they would be killed.

In LeGuin's Anarres there is a sanctuary where they can go. They check in voluntarily and as long as they are there they are assured that they will be protected from the wrath of those seeking vengence against them, they will be provided education and psychological care. Those who choose not to enter this sanctuary face whatever happens to them. They may be denied resources by those whose help they need. They may be physically harmed. This is not a threat, it is simply a human reality.

Ostracizing doesn't have to be carried out by "every single person". If some people think that the person hasn't done anything wrong and want to provide services and resources to that person then so be it. Maybe that person really didn't do anything wrong. They retain the right to live with those who will cooperate with them and if they violate the trust of those people they'll have to move on or move out to exile or find sanctuary. It's sort of like everybody is on the jury and the jury can have multiple verdicts.

Various anarchist visions imagine a police force that can be called upon by the Community to protect the weak from the strong. Kind of like a peacekeeper force. Everyone takes a turn on the police force. No one is allowed to serve on the police force for more than a certain length of time. There is a recognition that weilding that kind of power is inherrently corrupting and must be limitted and monitored.

And how do we prevent brutality? How do we prevent people from using the threat of physical violence as a "punishment" for even the slightest annoyance? Well probably the most important thing about an anarchist society is pacifist education. A culture of peace has to be nurtured, celebrated, and maintained. The psyche of our society is fundamentally shaped by the brutality of capitalism, racism, classism, consumerism, fear, and the hoarding of property by force. The fight against capitalism and heirarchy is also the fight for a new way of viewing the world and one's place in it.

The UC-IMC, an organization that is ostensibly Anarchist in structure has a Mediation Policy which is very similar to the court system. Mediators instead of judges and advocates instead of lawyers. The system is wholely voluntary and does not itself have any power but it helps people who have grievances figure out how to communicate and get action taken on their grievances.

Anarchists don't want to throw the whole system out. Just to question it, to strip out the bits that exist to serve the rich and powerful, to strip out the bits that exist to protect the strong and few from the weak and many.

Perhaps all these utopian visions I've provided are naive and incomplete. Perhaps taken to their logical extreme, and left unwatched, these systems would devolve directly into the system that we currently have. But then...they're theoretical ideas about a theoretical future. They're the ideas of one person. The reality is that any true anarchist society would grow organically, would solve problems as they needed to be solved, and would involve the ideas of the entire community. Different communities would solve their problems in different ways. They might learn from each other's successes and failures.

The important thing for me in OUR current situation is the process of questioning power. Questioning the extra-judicial murder of suspects by overzealous, racist cops. Questioning the state-sanctioned murder of convicts who received unfair trials with improper representation. Questioning the use of the court system to intimidate and financially overwhelm those who can not afford to participate. Questioning the criminalization of victimless crimes and the overwhelming bias towards punishing the poor and racial minorities with these laws. Questioning the disenfranchisement of millions.

Something is deeply deeply broken about our justice system. Something has got to change.

Comments:

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From:benchilada
Date:September 21st, 2004 06:55 am (UTC)
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I want to agree so very much. And I like many points of all of your anarchist descriptions. But as much as I, too, feel our "Justice" system is broken, I can't help but feel that this "ostracizing" system would just end up with all of the offenders grouping together on their own.

Insert panic and havoc here.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 21st, 2004 07:19 am (UTC)
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Well the system isn't defined by "ostracizing". That's just one (nearly last ditch) tool that the community could use for an irredeemable offender.

This fear of yours is all the more reason for concerned members of the community to figure out ways to prevent problems from occuring in the first place. I mean if the root causes of crime are need and psychological problems, it seems like a proactive society should be able to prevent most crime simply by treating everyone right.

Anyway if a bunch of anti-social types want to run off and form their own little anti-social colony in the wilderness then they're welcome to it. I'd be glad to see them find _somewhere_ that community works for them. Either they can figure out how to get along with others or they can't and they'll be shunned even from their own group.


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From:benchilada
Date:September 21st, 2004 07:22 am (UTC)
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Fair enough. I would certainly worry about what might happen if TOO many people ended up together "out there."

But, yeah, psychology would have a lot to do with it, especially community child-rearing, for lack of a better way to put it.

I could rant for ages about that, but I won't. At least, not on so little sleep. Perhaps later...
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From:blakes_7
Date:September 21st, 2004 03:27 pm (UTC)
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The movie Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is about an Inuit tribe and how they deal with murder and other crimes. (If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.) Anyway, they don't have a policing force either and rely upon a council of elders and ostricism to deal with pathological behaviors.

This is a gross oversimplification of the film, but it is an example of how so-called primitive groups of people live in a system very close to the anarchist society that you describe.

I wonder, though, how the systems you outline here would scale to large groups of people. A place the size of Urbana would pose a challenge in maintaining a peaceful society let alone someplace the size of Chicago, Boston, or NYC...
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From:jrstraus
Date:September 21st, 2004 06:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm wondering about the scale issue too. This system may work in a place like The Village, but what happens when you apply it world- or even country-wide? I don't think you can dismiss that issue of scale because the world is a big place, getting bigger every day, and I don't know many people who are willing to give up access to the rest of the world.... In any case, what happens to the sex offenders who, like those catholic priests, prey on the weak silently and move to the next community? With the victim's silence and humiliation others will suffer. Also, you haven't really addressed crimes of passion, which account for a huge part of the violent crimes in our world? Does a husband who in a rage kills his wife get let off? Do the people around him, because there's no policing or judicial system to find out what happened, believe his story and become victims themselves?
I wonder that it seems as though in a way you're condoning a system of violence, inadvertently. You suggest that violent criminals check themselves into hospitals, on the basis of other people ostracising them. Do you really see that happening? Especially with the really sick people? Could you see the parents of John Wayne Gacy's dozens of victims, in the face of that system, asking the man nicely to seek help? I don't. I think there would be wholesale revenge and a multiplication of violence.

I understand the desire for a system like this. I just don't think that it's as possible as you percieve it to be. And I guess I don't have that much pessimism for our current system that I don't believe consciensious citizens couldn't make it better.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 21st, 2004 06:23 pm (UTC)
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These issues are a concern to me as well. This is why I'm a "moderate anarchist". I don't want to get too far into theoreticals. As I've said many times, I seriously do not envision our society just kind of becoming this anarchist vision in any near future. Every utopian vision will neccessarily have major flaws. Most of your questions about scale and justice and fairness could be asked of an idealistic account of our current system. I trust that it'll largely work out if the culture is right. The culture will adapt to the reality and the real problems that crop up. An active community that takes responsibility for it's own well being will deal with these things. I am also certain that no real society will ever be _perfectly_ anarchist. Our society is not perfectly democratic or perfectly capitalist, Soviet Russia was not perfectly communist. Social structures are organic and they make compromises when they have to.

I'm looking for a sea change in attitude and values. I'm looking for people to cease placing value on accumulation, greed, power, and consumption. I'm looking for people to place value on community and cooperation. Maybe our existing court and police system would be just fine. The new society will be built in the shell of the old. There will be no violent revolution (if we are to be successful there needs to be no violent revolutin). The old structures will fail and the new structures will take their place.

These issues of how to make it work are being dealt with and learned about in anarchist communes all over the world. When the time comes, the solutions will be ready. Chiapas is the best modern day example of large scale anarchism in action. Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War is a good historical example of Anarchism on a very Urban scale.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 21st, 2004 06:24 pm (UTC)
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check out my response below.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 21st, 2004 06:24 pm (UTC)
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or um...above.
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From:mrscake
Date:September 21st, 2004 08:29 pm (UTC)
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Ursula LeGuin has written some great stuff. I have a few concerns about the actual feasibility of anarchy; it reminds of me of Marxism in that it sounds good in theory but might have some problems in practice. For example, let's look at this idea of a sanctuary for people who violate social norms. So if they don't go, they're subject to whatever retribution others see fit to inflict? Sounds like there's a lot of potential for escalating violence there, not unlike gang warfare. Also, I think that ostracism would only work in certain situations. For example, if the people in Darfur decided to refuse to interact with the Janjaweed, would that make much of a dent? I'm inclined to doubt it.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 21st, 2004 08:44 pm (UTC)
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The situation in Darfur is absolutely caused by the heirarchies that grow out of a situation of resource scarcity caused by the brutality of capitalism and imperialism. I really don't believe that such large groups of people could be moved to such violence in an anarchist society. And if they were EITHER it'd be absolutely incumbent upon those not involved to directly involve themselves as mediators, peacekeepers. This doesn't require force it just requires numbers.

You are absolutely right about theory versus practice. The important thing to remember is that Marx's analysis of capitalism still changed the world. His theoretical model was never practiced in purity anywhere. The impure forms that cropped up in Stalinist and Maoist countries failed. But the impure forms practices in Scandanavian countries (particularly Sweden) have succeeded quite well. Even Britain and to a lesser extent the US have threads of influence from Marx in their social structures.

And that is what I argue for. An incorporation of and broadening of Anarchist thought (question heirarchy, decentralize power, seek non-violent solutions) into our social structure.

I think the sanctuary model solves _some_ problems, creates others, and doesn't effect others. Ostracizing is something to be avoided as much as possible, it's just sort of the default "primitive" choice that is left over if no other structures exist to mediate and resolve a conflict.

Violence can't be avoided as a matter of policy or constitution. Violence is avoided by a cultural rejection of violence. That's the most important thing that I'm calling for, a culture of non-heirarchy and non-violence. Heirarchy is only maintained through the threat of violence. All heirarchy is violence and if we want to see an end to violence we must question, diminish, reform, and where possible reject heirarchy. We have to teach ourselves and our children how to be non-violent and how to be cooperative. It isn't easy and no "revolution" is going to do it for us overnight.

I think LeGuin is _completely_ aware of the very problems you mention. Really her books on these subjects are about those problems. She raises those questions. There aren't good dogmatic answers to them.

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From:boannan
Date:September 22nd, 2004 01:06 am (UTC)
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this is fun!

I totally agree that any ideological system is vulnerable to arguments about its flaws and that the existence of flaws doesn't by any means prove that the ideological system is invalid. I think what you're calling for culturally is awesome in terms of a diminishment of all forms of violence.

The thing I trip up on is where hierarchy is equated with violence. I definitely think that's right to some degree (after all I was a Women's Studies major) but I also think that hierarchy is really ingrained in the human character. I think my best example is my experience with consensus based decision-making. I haven't had nearly as much experience with this as you have -- in fact pretty much my primary experience was living at the co-op and making group decisions about roommates and food and chores. I think that the dynamic in a small consensus based decision-making situation might be a good model for how an anarchist society would operate on a macro scale. And my experience was that people subconsciously rank themselves into a hierarchy in almost every situation, so consensus based decisions always end up being influenced by who the "top dog" was in the room whether or not it was explicitly made clear who that top dog was. I think people are wired to choose and nominate other people as leaders and to invest them with power. And that's what makes me nervous about an anarchist system -- it seems to push subconscious hierarchy underground by stating that everyone's contributions are equal. I just think you're going to run up against the "human hierarchy" impulse anyway.

And I'm not sure that explicit hierarchy is necessarily a bad thing. I'd rather have my hierarchy out where I can see it and fight it than have it be underground. Or at least where I can see it and challenge it if it's bad or accept it if it's accomplishing good things.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:September 22nd, 2004 07:28 pm (UTC)
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I think that subconscious heirarchy is pretty fluid though. In a functional community, it is based on an ever repeated evaluation of each person's competence and trustworthyness in decision making. That people defer to others because they trust their ability to evaluate certain kinds of things isn't neccessarily heirarchy.

That sometimes people take advantage of the trust that people place in them and use it to manipulate members of the community for their own selfish or egotistical needs is often a problem. There needs to be a constant awareness of and willingness to fight against "heirarchy creep" in any community.

That "human heirarchy" impulse may always be there. It won't be any picnic living in an anarchist society. There has to be constant vigilance about how decisions are made. But I prefer that vigilance over a blind assumption that once a leader is chosen the responsibility for choices falls away from the community members. It seems like in our society there is NOT a tendency to fight explicit heirarchy but to just roll over and accept it. There's a feeling that leaders shouldn't be questioned, that there may be consequences if they are questioned.

Anarchist groups appoint coordinators and facilitators and moderators all the time. Everyone knows that certain things need a central brain to get things organized. The job is temporary and limitted in scope and the facilitator must be open to the concerns of all involved community members of they will find themselves no longer facilitating.

I think heiarchies are MORE out in the open and fightable when the dominant social value is to identify and question heirarchies. When heirarchy is entrenched in our social fabric we're much more likely to just live with it, even when it is anti-social and harmful.

When I equate hierarchy and violence, it is because I believe hierarchies are maintained by violence. In your coop house if one person was making all the decisions and people didn't agree with that, it would not be hard to "overthrow" that person because that person would not resort to violence to maintain "power" (or maybe they would...maybe they'd get psychologically manipulative and play you all against one another and try to hurt your feelings in various ways...then they would be maintaining hierarchy by violence and it wouldn't be anarchy or cooperative anymore).

Even a hierarchy that operates in the interests of "the majority" maintains itself by violence. When a strong minority attempts to get its concerns addressed it is generally met with violence (xref civil rights movement, which although ultimately vindicated by the courts saw an awfully lot of state-sanctioned violence, and continues to this day to see an awful lot of state-sanctioned violence). For all our talk of minority rights, in this society minority concerns are dismissed (first they ignore you), psychologically opposed (then they laugh at you), or violently opposed (then they fight you). Only in a culture that values consensus will true minority rights flourish (then you win).
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