Democracy Is Already Direct: A Response To Jon Bigger

The debate around democracy continues with this response to a response (original article is here, Jon Bigger’s response is here.)

As I was on my way home from vacation I noticed a response article continuing dialogue that I opened with my most recent article, which was a very basic critique of democracy from an anarchist perspective. I am sad to hear the author of this response was confused by my critique, but alas it is understandable as the position I hold is as popular as SKA. Like ska however, individualist anarchism never died and I’m glad this platform exist as a way to continue dialog from centuries before between individualist and social anarchist.

In the response Jon laid out the definition of democracy, historical actualization in Greek times, and what it means to them as an anarchist. They may not have engaged every point I made, but here is my attempt to engage theirs.

First, our conceptions of democracy differ. As they stated, the word democracy comes from the Greek words demos and kratos, which means “people” and “power.” The problem with depending on these definitions is it is so open on what “people” and “power” actually means. Who are the people and what power do they have? Is it a select group or everyone? Is it specific power or power over everything? To rely on open definitions is to solely rely on merit of the position presented. Being the individualist I am, I cannot fault that as it’s my general position on everything. Definitions are meaningless for justification, as they prove nothing but intent, and as anarchist we don’t care about intent but actuality. We hate cops don’t we?

The Greek actualization proves this, as their actualization and conceptualization of democracy was the embodiment of every disagreement I have WITH democracy. Their assemblies were not even done on mass, but on a level of social capital. Those who were in positions of power were in attendance, while the women, slaves, soldiers were not even allowed to participate. To place this organizational method of human interaction into a spotlight reflects the weakness of pro-democracy positions; It’s dependant on historical anecdotes rather than individual desire and want. It’s dependant on experimentation and possible failure, rather than fluxuating and ever changing desire. It’s a system, not anarchy.

It must also be stated Athenian democracy emerged out of the necessity to coordinate a community of fragmented (literal) patriarchs governing small or big land holdings. Participation, by virtue of citizenship, wasn’t because of abstract appeals to humanism but because citizenship was derived from co-“ownership” of the polis in the form of holding land. As such, the common exclusion of women and slaves (far outnumbering those participating in democracy) was derived directly from their relationship to the constitutional basis of democracy: the attempted smoothening of conflicts between land-owning male family-heads. Democracy could only function in Greek antiquity because its participants shared a common social position. The ‘pie in the sky’ extension of this position, as in “Greek democracy had its limits but was well-meant, if only they…”, would have spelled the direct end of the democratic apparatus itself.
The modern debates on democracy are not solely based upon Greek versus roman conceptualization (thank god!), but rather I see them as debates between the individual and the social. Popular forms of anarchism do often retreat to the Greek conceptualization of democracy as a juxtaposition to justify their feelings, but again this debate goes deeper than democracy, but the view on social and individual itself. I am not making a case against democracy alone, but social order itself and any organizational method that places community over the individual. That my friends, is my main argument against democracy. To summerize my position stated in my opinion piece; democracy forces the individual to conform, as democracy itself is an apparatus of power. Democracy is the will of the majority against the minority, or the will of the minority against the majority. Democracy is the organizational method of power. Simply put, it’s the economics of rule.

The argument of “self-governance” is also based on faulty lines. It reminds me of the “anarcho”-capitalist argument of self ownership. In both ideas, the individual is rooted as an object pertaining to system, either being the system itself or a direct node linking others to this system. An example of being a direct node would be through the federalist notion of “delegates” in a council, representing a collective. The idea of self-governance translates to self-ownership, it essentially means the same thing. Coming from an individualist anarchist perspective, neither are desirable. I do not want to govern myself according to morals and rules of community or society, nor do I wish to own myself as an economic relation. I simply wish to BE myself, and exist as myself.

I will say I am refreshed to hear Jon does not believe anarchist should offer alternatives to the current social order, but sadly that is what their argument devolves into. The idea of anarchism being an “experiment” is offering an alternative to status quo. If one sees anarchism as a system, then it is an alternative, simple. This is, yet again, where we differ on opinion. My anarchism is not an experiment but an actualization of my individual desire; Free from all order. Free from the committee that aims to suppress me, free from the community tat aims to repress me, and free from the workplace that aims to enslave me. Any notion of a different organizational method for collective, no matter the size, is an offering of alternative, which brings me to another point. WHY direct democracy?

Jon makes the claim anarchist see freedom as something that should be an absolute. This positions confuses me as how can freedom be absolute when it is neither defined, nor existent? The notion of freedom is a completely subjective position pertaining to an individuals ego. From this perspective, freedom cannot, and should not be an absolute. Freedom is an abstract sense of value pertaining to social and material relationships. It is how we gauge wether we are happy and confident to act on our own as our own. It is not an absolute status one can have, but an ever flowing tension between individual and social. A fluxuating feeling that is context specific. The notion of democracy is in direct (pun not intended) conflict with the idea of freedom, as I stated in the original article, because the people decide freedom, not the individual. An individual must be free to decide their own freedom, and what it means to them. It must be an abstract nothingness, rather than an absolute gauge.
This leads me into the question of hierarchies, and Jon’s response. They stated that the only way to combat hierarchies forming from direct democracy, was more direct democracy. That is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on the fire that is burning down your house, or giving cops better guns to stop cops from killing people. They state that it is illogical to avoid direct democracy for this reason, as direct democracy is based upon the same foundation of mutual aid, IE opposing hierarchy because it is universally better than allowing it to exist, by actualizing alleged “anarchist principles.”

The fault with this argument is that it assumes anarchist principles are even a thing, let alone an objective universal concept known by all anarchist, and every participant in said “direct democracy experiment.” for one, how are we going to decide what these “anarchist principles” are? If we follow Jon’s assertion, direct democracy. The very affirmation of what these alleged anarchist principles are depends on them already being in place to stop those gaining more power than others. I for one, based on my experience within anarchist organizations, do not trust this assertion by any means, and those who have participated as tumblr_static_4w2tz4auu2gww0gw8o044go8owell know why. In far too many situations have I seen individuals gaining power, and using this power for their own benefit. Just look at the current IWW drama concerning Mike Koz from the Chicago IWW, or Tomas from the Portland IWW. Many more examples of real life anarchist gaining power through direct democracy, and using it to protect themselves. Neither have been kicked out of the IWW, and if one wishes to know what I am talking about, a simple google search will help.

To continue with their assertion, we would hypothetically use direct democracy to equalize power, under “anarchist principles.” Logically, the individuals with the power would be excluded from the meeting, or just would not know about it. Sadly, they have friends, as does EVERYONE with power. Would their friends be allowed to join? If they are, how would one stop those very friends from shielding the individual (which is what we always see in accountability processes)? The conclusions of Jon’s assertion reach the destination of a vicious cycle, one where power is common place, and when it is attempted to be solved those with power always win. Power against that without will always dominate, which is why we must remove the position of power being possible to obtain. Wether this is even possible is a whole different ball game (spoiler alert, I don’t see it as possible).

Finally, this brings us to the last argument made; that of the individual. This is where our real, concrete disagreements diverge. They are obviously arguing from a social anarchist viewpoint, so here is my rebuttal on the claim that we can not allow anything to go; yes, we must.

The state considers its actions as justice, while that of the individual crime. By advocating this specific notion of direct democracy, in which Jon states, and I quote: “Direct democracy can be extended to decisions of justice and I would argue that it needs to. As a community we can’t just say ‘anything goes’ but neither can we allow an over-arching system of government to be re-erected once it has been got rid of.”

To be honest, this position terrifies me, as it is what the state levels against anarchist currently when we attack and negate social order, through our various actions. We already employ direct democracy within the justice system, through the means of “juries.” Juries, those who decide wether the defendant/”criminal”, will be charged or not, must reach tat decision through consensus. I feel as if you cannot invoke direct democracy as an organizational method when you have never experienced this, nor can you claim yourself an anarchist when you preach the exact same system in an alleged anarchist society. After we directly democratically decide wether the individual is guilty or not, how are we going to enforce that? Any enforcement by a community on an individual through means of a system of order (social order), is either a state or the beginning of one.

To Jon, their anarchism asserts tat government as it stands is undesirable because they have no direct participation. This is in direct conflict with my anarchism, as government isn’t desirable at all. The arguments presented by Jon are exactly what worry me about direct democracy. Where do we draw the line between community and society, and who gets to define these anarchist principles for which we conduct ourselves under? The anarchism of Jon is an advocation of order and forced participation based upon faulty universal principles decided by power, rather than individual. This form of anarchism is soft utilitarianism, in the sense it treats the will of the majority more important than the will of the minority, which is an argument Jon sadly did not refute (maybe next time hopefully). One where the individual can still commit crime, as a legal system still exist and acts according to these principles, and the only solution is through this process of legal stratification. Jon’s anarchism is like the Labor party, or the Green party in America. Looks nicer, talks nicer, but the same thing for which I am against.

Finally, this allows me to delve into alternatives from my point of view. Simple put, nothing is my alternative. This may confuse some, or garner applause from others. For those uninitiated in the super low key egoist club known as “My facebook friend’s list,” let me explain. By nothing, I do not mean allowing things to remain as they currently are, but rather destroying them with nothing to replace them. Devoid of all systems of which to organize how we do things, how we conduct ourselves, and how we treat others. Nothing as an alternative to the current situation we find ourselves in, as it allows us literally anything and nothing, is what I preach with my anarchism.

Max Stirner

Max Stirner

This idea of nothing first arose from Max Stirner, a young hegelian philosopher who is famous for his conceptualization of “egoism,” other wise known as individual actualization. To summerize Max Stirner would be a feat requiring a whole different essay, however pertaining to the context of direct democracy and if it is desirable, Stirner does offer the alternative idea, rather he named it. This is known as a “Union of Egoist.” There are no specifics of what this means, as it is an aspect of egoist thought, so do not expect specific arrangement of hypotheticals. Simply put, a union of egoist is a small band of individuals who all share affinity and wish to continue association for however long they wish. Within in this union, no decision making exist as the union itself, but individual based between those that are effected by ones actions, but not even necessarily that as it may not even be needed. This is the idea of doing instead of asking, but without stepping over the limits of ones self, because of the affinity you share.

I would have no desire hurting my friend, so why would I? With them being a close friend, I would know what their boundaries are and are not. If an individual no loner wishes to be apart of this union, then that is the end of it. They are no longer apart of the union of egoist. With their withdrawal, the question must be asked “what happens if they attempt to harm others?” Simple, protect your neck. Power is how you attain things, protect things, and affirm things. To allow someone with power is suicide, so why would anyone grant an individual power? With a union of egoist, power cannot be gained, not because there is no incentive, but because of the closeness it literally cannot become and gain traction. Groups of friends can easily, and do, keep each other in check. Sometimes with violence, most of the time with words. We have all had disagreements with friends, and we have all solved most, if not all these disagreements. The notion of a system is not needed, unless of course you have a society.

I do not desire a society however, as look where it has brought us? Society is the death of the individual, and the emergence of the homogenous mass. One that affirms a moral code amongst its participants, and binds them to it, wether or not they accept. Participation is forced, as well as continuation. Work to feed others, follow the rules to keep others doing so, and continue the death machine tat is “progress” and “principle” into inevitable tension between those for and against. Any notion of society is repetition of a vicious cycle of system after system trying and failing. Feudalism failed, so now we have capitalism. Capitalism is failing, so what is next? Others opt for a new system, I opt for nothing.

My position against democracy is but a smaller piece of the grander argument that I hold. I am against society, and everything that aims to control my self.

I do hope Jon, or others offer a rebuttal to this essay, as this debate is something needed to further develop anarchist praxis, ideas, and theories into something better, something more desirable.

As usual, if you have any comments, arguments of your own, or just something to share with me you can email me at [email protected]

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Armeanio Lewis

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Armenio Lewis has been a proud advocate of anarchy since the age of 14. High school dropout, Elder god of insurrection."Leader of the gang known as black bloc"- Portland police chief Mike Reese