My journey toward being an anarchist started in front of 23 third graders. I was working as a student teacher, and the children constantly peppered me with questions. Despite my supposed status as an authoritative source of knowledge, most of the time I had no idea what the answer was. I fudged it by hastily grabbing a book on the topic and saying, “Why don’t you read this and find out?”
To say that teaching is flying by the seat of your pants while almost two dozen people seek your guidance undersells the amazing work that teachers do. But something was bugging me about the arrangement. I knew that I was barely holding it together, yet I’d been trusted with the power and authority to shape these children in profound ways. It didn’t seem to make sense.
I left teaching during the pandemic for a safer, less stressful virtual desk job. I had plenty of time to read about and watch the completely ineffectual response of the federal government to Covid. I poured over congressional testimony, writings from experts, and podcasts from talking heads. Most of them seemed to be saying the same thing: the federal government had to do more. But because the man at the top of the pyramid denied the seriousness of the situation, the federal response was almost nonexistent. One person could paralyze the whole nation. Again, it just didn’t seem to make sense.
Maybe I was a bad teacher, and President Trump was a bad president. While we’re both out of our positions of authority, the fact remains that someone like us could walk into the exact same structure and inflict the exact same kind of damage. The concentration of power into the top of hierarchies is as much a problem as the person wielding the power.
I started looking for systems that made sense to me. After actual months of reading and studying, I finally landed on anarchism. My issue, with teaching and government, was the pyramid-like structure of power. The top of the pyramid can’t stand without the bottom, so why does the person at the top deserve more power, recognition and money than everyone else?
More importantly, it seemed like these unequal power structures were supported through coercion and force. The state literally has security forces which report to the top of the pyramid, not the bottom. Schools enforce order through an assortment of coercive means, from detention to expulsion. For most of my life I accepted the premise that sometimes, you have to force people to do things they don’t want to. Anarchism was the first thing I studied that said, “Actually, you don’t. People can choose what they want and voluntarily assemble.”
Sounds like a libertarian fantasy, right? But with the evidence of what hierarchies could do playing out all around me in the pandemic, I started taking the idea much more seriously.
First, let me start with what I don’t believe. I don’t believe in violence or the overthrow of governments by force. In fact, my rejection of violence is what led me toward anarchism in the first place. I’m very skeptical of anyone who must make their point or enforce their worldview with violent coercion. That includes both states and so-called revolutionaries.
I also don’t believe that anarchism means that there is no law or order. Anarchism is trying to organize society into a shape other than a pyramid. There are still rules and expectations, but those rules are agreed upon by everyone and all people are held equally accountable. We see examples all the time of how people closer to the top of the pyramid have a different set of rules than the rest of us.
What I believe is that people should be free to live their lives how they choose, where they wish to and with whomever they choose. I believe that work, government and education are collaborative, and require non-coerced buy-in from the people these institutions are supposed to benefit. I believe that the concentration of military and police power and surveillance abilities in the hands of a very few people is a major problem. The devolution of hierarchies is a potential answer to these issues.
I know that anarchy is not a perfect system. To paraphrase Charles Krauthammer’s statement on libertarianism, anarchy may be a critique of governance, not an actual governing philosophy itself. But I think it’s a critique more of us need to levy. More power and money are being concentrated at the top of these hierarchical pyramids every day. At the very least, we need to think about why some people have so much, and others so little.
Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.