According to neoliberal ideology it is a “dog-eat-dog” world. But where and when do you see dog eating dog? Unless they are starving (due to unnatural conditions), badly socialised (a problem of conditioning) or on a leash (the perfect metaphor for the dysfunctional nature of authoritarianism), you are much more likely to see dog-sniff-dog, dog-play-with-dog scenarios.
Neoliberalism’s focus on competition reveals that, at its heart, it relies on divide and rule. Economist Friedrich Hayek, grandpappy of the selfish, anally-retentive death cult which literally threatens life as we know it, openly admitted that, left to our own devices, human beings naturally organise into autonomous, self-governing, self-supporting, happy and content communities. But where’s the profit in that?
Neoliberalism has created a breakdown in relationships (with each other, other communities, other species, and ultimately with our planet) which has led directly to a pandemic of isolation, anxiety, stress, addiction and depression. Not only do these anti-social diseases make us less capable of organising against exploitation, they have also made us perfect consumers, hungry for little dopamine hits to distract us from the fundamental unsatisfactoriness of life. Shopping isn’t therapy, it’s a symptom. Happy people don’t keep buying crap.
The neoliberal global economy is so antisocial that building/rebuilding relationships has become a radical act. And anarchism is all about relationships. The grandpappy of mutualism Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said (in the patriarchal parlance of his day): ”The freest man is the one who has the most relations with his fellow men.”
In her invaluable book Anarchism, Carissa Honeywell examines Proudon’s statement and its modern relevance:
“For anarchists, freedom depends on relationships of care and interdependence. On one level, this is because these relationships support material survival; our strong dependence on each other means that it is impossible to be free alone (even when this dependence is hidden from us by conventions of exchange, such as money, which mask interdependence).
“For the poor or the marginalised, freedom requires us to create relationships of greater material equality because freedom without access to the resources necessary for survival and other needs is meaningless. In fact, everyone needs help from others. It is hard to think of any challenge we face that does not require human and non-human assistance. ‘It is unselfconscious privilege,’ writes anthropology professor Anna Tsing, ‘that allows us to fantasise — counter-factually — that we survive alone.’”
So a collectivist approach to economics is not only preferable in an ethical sense, it is in fact the daily reality hidden behind the mythology of neoliberalism. But in the 20th century State Communism proved an authoritarian approach to collectivism was as exploitative and dehumanising as the private ownership model. Only anarchism offers collectivism and a healthy respect for individual liberty. Honeywell goes on:
“… those very experiences or senses of ourselves that we understand as freedom — individuality, uniqueness, creativity, expression or selfhood — are the result of deeply relational needs (psychological, physiological, social and spiritual) being met in connection with and in reaction to other beings.
“Human individuality depends on the collaboration of other beings through relationships with them. Intense experiences of ‘selfness’ are the product of the communities and networks of relationship that support and nurture, antagonise and challenge, develop and create us. In this tradition, freedom and individuality are the result of mutually sustaining connections with others, we are ‘we’ before we are ‘I’.
Anarchism is nothing if it is not practically applied. The job in hand is to (re)connect with our communities and with each other (leave puritanism and infighting to authoritarians). One of the most important things we can do as anarchists is to create spaces where interpersonal, community and international relationships can thrive.
At our little South Yorkshire experiment in practical anarchy, Doncaster’s Bentley Urban Farm we are building a “Commensality Kitchen” to provide pay-as-you-feel meals in warm spaces so that people know they can get both without the addition of stigma, judgment or victimhood. Not as charity, but as comrades together in good company.
Commensality (a word which I learned from Anarchism) is the act of eating together, a simple practice which creates bonds and deepens relationships.
Forget dog-eat-dog, better to just eat together if you want to change the world.
~ Warren Draper
Pic: Bentley Urban Farm, pic by Unbound Light/CC
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022/23 edition of Freedom journal, available at our online shop for the cost of postage.