My path to anarchism began in front of 23 third graders. I worked as a student teacher and the children constantly threw questions at me. Despite my supposed status as an authoritative source of knowledge, most of the time I had no idea what the answer was. I faked it by hastily grabbing a book on the subject and saying, “Why don’t you read this and find out?”
To say that teaching flies by the seat of your pants when nearly two dozen people are looking for your advice understates the incredible work that teachers do. But something bothered me about the arrangement. I knew I was barely holding on, yet I had been entrusted with the power and authority to profoundly shape these children. It didn’t seem logical.
I left teaching during the pandemic for a safer, less stressful virtual office job. I had plenty of time to read and watch the Federal Government’s totally ineffective response to Covid. I pored over congressional testimony, expert writings, and talking-head podcasts. Most of them seemed to be saying the same thing: the federal government needed to do more. But because the man at the top of the pyramid denied the seriousness of the situation, the federal response was almost non-existent. One person could paralyze the whole nation. Again, it just didn’t seem logical.
Maybe I was a bad teacher and President Trump was a bad president. Although we are both out of our positions of authority, the fact remains that someone like us could walk into the same structure and inflict the exact same type of damage. The concentration of power at the top of hierarchies is as much of a problem as who wields the power.
I started looking for systems that made sense to me. After real months of reading and studying, I finally landed on anarchism. My problem with education and government was the pyramid structure of power. The top of the pyramid cannot exist without the bottom, so why does the person at the top deserve more power, recognition and money than everyone else?
More importantly, it seemed that these unequal power structures were supported by coercion and force. The state literally has security forces that 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’ve accepted the idea 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 come together voluntarily.
Sounds like a libertarian fantasy, doesn’t it? But with proof of what the hierarchies could do around me during the pandemic, I started to take the idea a lot more seriously.
First, let me start with what I don’t believe. I do not believe in violence or the overthrow of governments by force. In fact, my rejection of violence is what led me to anarchism in the first place. I’m very skeptical of anyone having to make their point or enforce their worldview through violent coercion. This includes both states and so-called revolutionaries.
Nor do I believe that anarchism means there is no law and order. Anarchism tries to organize society in a form other than a pyramid. There are still rules and expectations, but those rules are accepted by all and all 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 want, where they want and with whom they want. I believe that work, government and education are collaborative and require unconstrained buy-in from the people these institutions are meant to benefit. I believe that the concentration of military and police power and surveillance capabilities in the hands of a very small number of people is a major problem. The deconcentration of hierarchies is a potential answer to these questions.
I know anarchy is not a perfect system. To paraphrase Charles Krauthammer’s statement on libertarianism, anarchy may be a critique of governance, not an actual philosophy of governance itself. But I think that’s a criticism that more of us need to make. More and more power and money are concentrated every day at the top of these hierarchical pyramids. At the very least, we need to think about why some people have so much and others have so little.
Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writings at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.
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