Introducing an Experiment: ‘Ask an Anarchist’

Sunni's picture

It has come to my attention that our coily little corner of the web gets regular visitors who are not fully anti-state. Having heard from a number of these individuals over the past week, those who've de-lurked to me are highly skeptical of much of the state's functions and stated purposes, but are also skeptical of anarchy as a viable solution. Which is fair enough, for a variety of reasons. (Hell, reading some of the anarchist-oriented stuff I have leads me to be skeptical at times too.)

These individuals, to a one, report feeling a bit intimidated about asking questions of us conspirators. The majority sentiment expressed was one of not being an insider or regular. I thought I'd been clear about this, but it appears not, so I'm willing to make it a bit more visible.

A big part of why I started blogging is to explore ideas. That's also why I wanted it to be a group venture from the very first. I find that I learn best, including about myself, when someone asks me a question I'd not thought to examine. A respectful exchange between individuals who aren't devoted to trying to persuade the other, or to proving "I'm right and you're wrong", is hard to beat. I think I can speak for all the conspirators when I say that none of us is primarily interested in Making Conversions to the Great and Glorious Cause. We do want to maximize our freedom, though; and part of that involves sharing ideas with those who are interested.

With that as context, I'd like to try an experiment -- "Ask an Anarchist". If you're genuinely interested in the ideas explored here, and have questions, please ask them. If you have a broad question or two, put them in a comment on this entry. Or, if a post stirs up a question, comment there. Indicate on other posts, please, that you'd like the question to be considered as part of this experiment, say, by prefacing your comment with "AAA". That flag will alert all conspirators that you're requesting consideration from us. Conspirators, you're welcome to answer any and all questions you wish to; and I encourage you to include either in the subject or first paragraph that your entry is part of the Ask an Anarchist experiment. Non-conspirators are welcome to chime in in the comments too, of course, keeping in the spirit of respectful exploration of the freedom philosophy.

I don't want to place constraints on the scope of questions, but will say that those that appear to be designed to foster argument rather than understanding probably won't be well-received. For example, asking about how a country might transition from public property (roads are a well-worn subject) to fully private property is so broad and unanswerable, in part because there are too many possible scenarios to consider them all, as to be a fairly worthless question in my opinion. But another conspirator might think differently.

Commenters can [no longer] be anonymous; but you can email questions to me and request anonymity when I post the item.

Make sense? If the experiment proves popular, we can put up "open question" posts like this one from time to time.

sh(A)ne says:

Well, this isn't really a question about anarchy, but a question for a (specific) anarchist nonetheless:

>>A respectful exchange between individuals who aren't devoted to trying to persuade the hard to beat.<<

I'm curious: What is it that you see as negative about "persuasion"? I've always thought of it as no different than "education", though the latter connotes an absence of bias, which I think is kind-of unrealistic. I'm often engaged in what I’d call "persuasion", though I'm always simultaneously open to being persuaded myself. I sometimes think I'd rather be proven wrong, because that means I will have learned something new.

So, persuade me. :)


sh(A)ne says:

P.S., I love the AAA idea, btw.

jeffrey smith says:

Not Sunni, but I've have enough experience on Internet forums.

It's a zen thing. If you explain it well, you will persuade; but beginning with the aim of persuading tends to get in the way of explaining; plus when it fails to persuade, leaves a bitter tang. ("Why doesn't that person agree with me? I set it all out so only a fool wouldn't understand it. Well, maybe that means he's a fool!) And trying to persuade means you tend to miss what the other person is trying to tell you. You are so focuses on getting your message across that you don't notice the message that's being sent to you.

And only by paying attention to the other person's arguments can you critique it, and listen to their critique of your argument.

And the AAA site is a good one, and deserves its own page. If enough questions add up, you can publish a primer.

Ian Scott says:

Great idea, Sunni. I've had questions myself about some things, which I didn't quite know how to think about, and Jorge has been most helpful to me.

We all might have some questions about particular circumstances, even us anarchists,that we know there is an answer for but are unable to articulate or solve on our own.

Jorge says:

Glad to hear I have been helpful.

This is a good idea. I look forward to some interesting questions and exchange of ideas.

Farider says:

Hi Sunni,

This is a AAA question.
Do the proponents of anarchy have a clearly stated morality of behavior, an understanding of how to make a moral arguement for anarchy?

Shaun says:

Hi Sunni,

I'll try to answer the first Q above regarding persuasion: persuasion per se need not be negative, but when it becomes propaganda, the ball park changes. The following might help -

· persuasion: discourse which illuminates the issue at hand
- argument
- debate
- discussion
- or a well-argued speech

· propaganda: suggestion or influence through the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of the individual

- first documented use in 1622 by Pope Gregory 15th, who realised that establishing faith by force of arms in holy wars was not particularly successful, and thus established the papal propaganda office to bring people to “voluntarily” accept church doctrines.
- First widespread use of persuasion tactics during WW1 when it was specifically defined and recognised as the dissemination of biased ideas and opinions, often through use of lies and deception.
- Has since evolved to mean mass “suggestion” or “influence” through the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of the individual. We can see then its use in shaping culture specifically and citizens’ expectations and understanding of political and other events generally.

Still a subjective distinction, of course, but the main thrust is the reliance on manipulation of the recipient of the message. I apologise if this explanation is too formal or long! An excellent reference (and which provided the above material) is: 'Age of Propaganda' by Pratkanis & Aronson, W.H. Freeman and Company.