‘A vibrant and connected life is only possible when we step away from dominance, not least because openness to the other is how we find ourselves. Freedom is relational, not possessive.’
- Clarissa Honeywell ‘Anarchism’
The dark reality of our dystopia in these 2020’s point to a society decayed from the inside. It would be more accurate to say the problems today are inherent. The part of the world known as the West (North America, Western Europe) has significantly changed from an economic perspective. From around the 1800s western Europe has enjoyed an incredible rise in living standards. But that is changing. With dwindling material comforts the stark realities of our political system become so obvious to many in the US. The past years have seen a rise in sea levels, inequality and nazis. Unable to properly address these crises, the failures of liberal democracy are leaving us under water, literally.
A liberal democratic system, defined by either republicanism in nations like the US and France, or representative theocracies like Britain and Canada, have to be held accountable for the massive failure that is the modern world. Out of the scientific revolution Britain and France defined systems of governance, reshaping politics away from ‘divine rights’ and into representative democracies. Starting with the English Civil War, Britain managed a liberal system that wrested power mainly in parliament, but with a monarchy. France some years later would introduce republicanism onto the continent, first during the French Revolution, and later again in the next century. On these pillars colonialism spread these forms of democracy worldwide. After the fall of the USSR it seemed liberal democracy had won out. Francis Fukuyama, an American political theorist famously called the victory of liberal democracy, the ‘end of history’ a statement he has since walked back. After walking back Fukuyama and others saw the breakdown of identity as the fault line at the failures in liberal democracies. A major issue with liberal democracy is that they require a unitary nation state to survive. Brttanica describes the nation state as:
“nation-state, a territorially bounded sovereign polity—i.e., a state—that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who identify themselves as a nation. The legitimacy of a nation-state’s rule over a territory and over the population inhabiting it stems from the right of a core national group within the state (which may include all or only some of its citizens) to self-determination.”
Put simply the nation state requires cultural and ethnic homogeneity. The kind made over several centuries in places like France and Britian, through different wars, genocides and alliances. Enter America. The United States has never been a unitary nation state. Its founding is as an alliance of different nations, not to mention its large groups of MesoAmericans and African peoples. Those differing identites make a uniformed nation hard. Ditto for Canada, New Zealand, most of Africa, and Asia. It’s why charismatic despots can hold onto power by pitting sides. The flaw in liberal democracy is how it treats minorities. A different form of democracy is always possible, one that redefines the identity issue Fukuyama sees. Anarchism as a political philosophy embraces ‘unity in diversity’. First put forth by philosopher Fredrich Hegel, and reworked by anarchist Murray Bookchin, unity in diversity takes the biological concept that differences create a unitary strength. This can be applied to crop yields as much as it can cultures. Through diversity, a bottom up governance and ecological respect, anarchism has the tools to bring democracy into the 21st century, where global threats like facism and global warming lay waiting.
Clarrisa Honeywell, political theorist and author of Anarchism, subsumes multiple libertarian practices into the anarchist interrelationship view of freedom. This political idea holds that our freedoms are tied to our relationships between humans, non humans and the earth. Acts like environmentalism, animal liberation and plant based eating are all efforts to reorganize human relationships with the rest of the world. Anarchism as a political project seeks to decentralize hierarchical control by putting political power in the hands of everyday people. Not just a bunch of kids wrecking buildings and spray painting everywhere, anarchism has a history as long as any other political project. One of the first anarchist theorists, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, described anarchism as such:
“An egalitarian and libertarian ideal against private property, legal government and compulsory authority.”
Proudhon himself found it abhorrent to make income without putting in the work, as large landowners do from rent. So did Adam Smith, granddaddy of capitalism. Anti-hierarchical anarchism also sees our forms of government as top down, meaning orders are given from a select few to the masses. The compulsory nature of government, according to Proudhon, “stunts individuals and breaks communal ties.” Two things anarchism sees as important to building political, economic and ecological systems that provide for human dignity and mutual respect.
Anarchism, currently, is practised in bits everywhere. When my mother reuses plastic bags, when I buy my coffee from a cooperative, when you buy leather from a used clothing store. Each method challenges the prevailing system, in one way or another. Taken separately, these acts make for somewhat significant but insufficient change. By embracing anarchism as a political system human civilization can overcome the overwhelming environmental problems facing us.
Few practices embody the power and possibilities of anarchism like veganism/vegetarianism. There are multiple reasons to switch to a more plant based diet: health, cost, ethics etc. Veganism and vegetarianism are both philosophies that seek to disengage ourselves from systems of animal domination like factory farming. According to EcoWatch, factory farming is a type of farming in which animals are raised and crowded together in close quarters. The animals are referred to as livestock and the farms are also called ‘concentrated animal feeding operations’. The conditions animals live in have been described as the worst crime in history. Whether in zoos, or factories or anywhere else, the ways in which humans treat animals are hierarchical. Anarchists view animal domination as the guide plan that leads to human domination. It is our ideas of supremacy over other living things that allows human systems to operate so cruelly to other creatures. As Honeywell puts it:
“The belief that non-human animals exist to serve the needs of humans or that their suffering doesn’t matter is the foundation of other human abuse of and disconnection from animals and also the foundation of the pernicious interpenetrating structures of justification upon which human domination over other humans is built.”
The dehumanisation of chattel slavery, the holocaust, Aboriginal genocide etc, all these legal government systems were set up to treat humans like animals. The same system exists today. If you are considered less than human, then you are treated like an animal. Anarchism challenges our food production system by putting ethical treatment of all living things as tantamount. To that end, veganism works to further this political project.
Environmentally, cutting meat from our diets has multiple effects. Studies estimate that even a 50% reduction in meat consumption would reduce per capita greenhouse emissions by 20% to 30%. Ending factory farming would also have impacts on soil acidification, water quality and carbon sequestration. Without the need for meat or dairy studies claims farmland could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined . They claim avoiding meat or dairy products is the single greatest way to reduce your impact on environmental impact.
It is unlikely every human on earth will go vegan. What anarchism does is implement vegan ideals through a system of harm reduction. Harm reduction, as Honeywell explains, means doing what good is possible within a harmful social context. That could include switching to a plant-based diet, or instituting fair farming practices for animal life, given the incredulity of factory farming. Other examples of harm reduction include Prevent Point, an organization dedicated to providing drug users with safe needles, as a means to stop the spread of AIDS. Prevent Point could not radically change the public health sphere, but provide activist linked practices like safe needles.
Harm reduction strategies may have micro affects to the macro challenges facing us, yet anarchist methodology asks us to think of them in terms of prefiguration. Prefiguration explains that no future is certain, and even embryonic forms of change, like safe needles or personal veganism, can lay groundwork for larger systematic changes in our systems. Dealing with the AIDS epidemic, Prevent Point realised the health benefits of providing clean needles. Against the backdrop of the government’s refusal to adopt such practices, Prevent Point decentralized and distributed needles, to wonderful success. Today clean injection clinics are becoming more common and reducing deaths and infections.
Embracing anarchist principles like harm reduction gets us closer to our goals, because the personal is political, making every vegan an anarchist. Instilling principles of mutual aid, bottom up structures and unity in diversity, we will finally be able to rise up to the challenges of this century.