Second Wave feminism had a motto: “the personal is political.” This motto makes sense if one defines politics as the means and methods by which power is negotiated in a society. Power to take actions, power over other people, the distribution of material resources, are all political questions that have been wrestled with and renegotiated over the years. Today is a national holiday for the United States of America. The word holiday came from the term “holy day,” a sacred and certainly religious observance. So I guess the celebration of Independence Day is an indication of how it is possible to make a religion out of patriotism. (Some other time, I’ll write an essay called “On Religion” that will explore how people frequently divorce the concepts of religion and spirituality from the concept of God. As a spiritual atheist, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.)
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a patriot. I do not derive any part of my conscious identity from my country. I derive some part of it from the geographical region I have been tied to, referring to myself as a Midwesterner (or prairie blossom if I’m feeling eloquent), but the way I see it, on a fundamental level what I’ve gotten from the USA as one of its citizens is laws to govern my conduct. The fact that something has been done to me, doesn’t change who I am (unless I let it).
You see, my political philosophy could probably best be termed “anarchosyndicalism lite.” This means I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government, and if you got that Monty Python reference, this image is for you:
I call it anarchosyndicalism lite as an acknowledgment of the fact that I haven’t done a lot of homework on my position and despite the obscurity of what I did learn about it, I’m not invested enough to do any more research on the topic. I found out about anarchosyndicalism through my reading of Noam Chomsky. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, Chomsky is a brilliant linguistic theorist and political intellectual based out of MIT. I read a book of his called What We Say Goes and while I was a little miffed at his lack of citations (as a friend of mine pointed out to me later, “When you’re Noam Chomsky, you don’t cite the source, you ARE the source!”) I was amazed at how everything he was saying gave factual credence to the way I’d suspected the world worked all along but had never bothered to put into complete thought. Then I started reading Hegemony or Survival, in which Chomsky does cite sources, and it still felt like someone had finally found evidence for what I’d suspected in my heart for as long as I’d had independent thought. So I looked up information on Chomsky online and found out he’s an anarchosyndicalist. I read the definition of the philosophy provided by Wikipedia and when I read it, it completely made sense to me, but I had trouble keeping it stuck in my mind. The terminology was easy to forget.
I have a libertarian friend. To maintain a friendship with him, we have agreed to disagree on many points of political philosophy. But of all the people I know, he would be the one best able to correctly identify and label fringe political positions. So I turned to him one day and said, “I think I may be an anarchosyndicalist. Can you help me figure out if I’m right?”
He asked me, “In your ideal world, what would government look like?”
I thought about it for awhile. I knew that what came out wasn’t going to be substantial or eloquent. “Two things come to mind,” I replied.
- When I was a child, I read a lesser-known novel by Piers Anthony called Triple Detente. The world governments in that book are governed by a principle of child psychology: if you have a slice of cake that needs to be divided between two children, for optimal results an adult does not cut the cake. The children will resent the adult for somehow dividing it unfairly. Instead, the adult gives one of the children the knife and says “You get to cut, but the other child gets to choose.” What will result are the two most mathematically equal slices of cake those children will ever see.
- The other concept that governs my political philosophy is decision-making by consensus. Democratic and even republican systems can produce a “tyranny of the majority”, in which the rights and needs of smaller minority voices get trampled on. In decision-making by consensus, the process is an active negotiation and compromise in which no one has to give away the farm but everyone recognizes that they’re not going to get everything that they want. Decision-making by consensus is a painstaking process and it falls apart in large groups, so I’d say I wouldn’t want any unit of governance to have direct control of more than a tribe of about 300 people.
My friend looked at me evenly. “I’d say you’re right. You just summed up the philosophy of anarchosyndaclism pretty well.”
Viewing my society and life through anarchosyndicalist eyes isn’t always easy. In fact, most of the time, it’s pretty frustrating. This post from The Onion sums up much of my internal monologue when I try to relax, and not be so serious all the time. Life out here on the fringe can get pretty lonely. For a while, when I was living in the city and my thinking was more muddled and my loneliness more desperate, I flirted with joining a Trotskyist activist group. Thanks for the memories, but no thanks, guys. I’m just a writer.
I hope this post has shed some light on my reticence to participate in 4th of July festivities. If I show up at a fireworks party, it’s only because I want to see the other people there. I’m not endorsing my country.