In a recent article published on Strike the Root, I discuss another inconsistency in the anarchist movement. The issue discussed is, at least from a greater philosophical or political point of view, neither important nor big – it is about how anarchist web forums are managed. And the problem I discuss is that they are, in fact, managed.
Of course, it may not be a problem to moderate or censor or even require personal information when you have a forum. As I mention in the article, one reason such “managerial” behavior can be legitimized is, for example, if the anarchist believes in property. It is also, I guess, possible to claim the forum is in the “owner’s” possession and thus certain restrictions on what other people can do with it are justified.
However, the point I wish to make with this article is that if you are strictly against control, against property, against censorship and thus pro free speech, yet moderate your forum, then you are a hypocrite.
Despite this fact, and the point being pretty clear (at least, I would like to think so), there has been some criticism toward the article. I agree that it is probably not one of my better articles, it is absolutely not the best, but the point I try to make should be very clear. Also, it should be read in a context – I explicitly link to another article on a certain kind of “anarchist statism” – that many anarchists have a rather statist mindset, at least with regard to certain issues, and generally engage in what I prefer to call blueprintism.
The point I make is not that all forums aren’t the way I would like them. It also isn’t a disguised way of advertising my own very open anarchist forum on the Anarchism.net web site. I personally don’t care what people do with their web sites, but I do care about ideas and principles. As a single issue it might not be a big deal that an anarchist forum is moderated, censored, and only open to registered users. But from the point of view of principle it sure is.
Are these anarchists moderating and censoring the forum the same people who demand freedom to express themselves, to choose for themselves, and even “freedom” from private property? In many cases they are, yet they treat their web sites – especially the forums – exactly the way as they accuse capitalists of treating their property: controlling, excluding, and as a means to make a profit. Is this consistent? Hardly. Is it legitimate? From a principle point of view – absolutely not.
I doubt that many anarchists would agree on these three points. My guess is they can somehow rationalize the fact that they are using what they identify as property the same way as their “enemies” use their property. Perhaps they “must” moderate their forums in order to protect them from the state? Perhaps the capitalist system and the culture it feeds makes it impossible to have an open forum without it being destroyed by “capitalist lackeys”? But some anarchists, I believe, would still agree on some of the points – or maybe even all three.
Of course, most anarchists would not agree on the latter point even if they do agree with the first two. The reason for this is no doubt the use of the word “profit” rather than the real meaning of “making a profit.” As any economist knows, profit is not only a monetary concept; it means to be better off. It doesn’t matter in what way – even if it is but an illusion, you are still better off and thus you have made a profitable choice. It is a matter of utility.
To make a profit does therefore not necessarily mean that you make dollars, pounds sterling, or rubles. It could also mean you do something that gives you satisfaction to some degree – and the reason you do it is simply that it gives you more satisfaction than any other alternative use of your time and energy that you can think of. To moderate a forum no doubt has benefits for the person doing it: you get to be a central figure, a needed person, and you might even become a celebrity in a limited circle of users. And in the forum you have the power.
This is definitely a driver for many of the people having and running forums on the web. And it is certainly a driver for many of the people who run anarchist forums too. They are driven by the profit motive, and it is because of the possible profit they observed or identified they are doing what they are doing.
This should be hard to swallow for many an anarchist, and I would believe it is. This, in turn, sets very human protection mechanisms in motion and thus we will (I presume) hear a number of arguments why this is not true (there is no profit motive), but most such arguments will be but rationalizations of the choices already made. It is difficult to accept that you have acted in the exact opposite way you preach people should act.
Let me add that this should be even more difficult for an anarchist, since statists often find themselves in situations where there is nothing they can do but choose one alternative of many that contradicts everything they have said, written, and believe. The state is itself a contradiction of human life and liberty, which calls for contradictions also in the lives and thoughts of statists.
But the problem here is not the state – it is the dogmatic use of words. There is nothing inherently wrong in the word “profit.” It is only wrong in a certain context and used in certain connotations. Profit is a bad thing for many anarchists not because it means someone is being better off (even though there are some who seem to believe this is the case) – profit is bad because it is the result of acts of exploitation carried out in a system based on enforced privilege. The problem of profit is not what it is, but what it implies.
This is why so many anarchists (and others as well) tend to direct their energy to fight the wrong things. If capitalism is truly a system of privilege making a certain class able to make enormous profits through their “right” to exploit the masses, then it can only be a system existent in a state framework. Which means capitalism, in this form, is necessarily dependent on the state and a symptom of the state. If we were intelligent we would cure the disease, not work to remove the symptoms. The former could make real change, whereas the latter simply makes sure there is an eternal, never-ending struggle.
Actually, you might even claim that it would be dishonest or even hypocritical to try to remove the symptoms without trying to find a cure to the real problem. Painting over the stains does not remove the causes of the problem, just like putting another guy in office doesn’t remove the problems of statism. This equally true with the state and capitalism as well as with saying you are an anarchist while not acting like an anarchist.
Consistency is very, very important. It is not only important for the cause or movement, but – more importantly – it is important for your belief in self and your values. Your self esteem is based on you honoring your principles. I need not say a principled mind is superior to the mind based on contradiction and conflict. A principled position is a strong position – a moral position – even if you are alone against the world.
Also, dishonesty and inconsistency is a problem for the movement. If anarchists aren’t principled in both thought and actions they will try to rationalize their imperfections and the contradictions they discover. Such rationalizations make you vulnerable, and this may very well lead to dogmatism and factionism. And this is what we are seeing in the anarchist movement – people seem more interested in denouncing fellow anarchists who don’t agree to 100% with the views put forth than fighting the common enemy.
In this sense, it is extremely important to do away with “anarchist forum statism.” This may only be a small issue, perhaps even unimportant in itself, but it is a symptom of inconsistency and unwillingness to live by one’s principles. And the result of such inconsistency is an anarchist movement in constant war between factions rather than a strong, united movement that can actually make a change.