Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Anarchy

In my few decades in this world, I have seen a few kinds of would-be Anarchs, some less tiresome, some more. Here are some of them.

1. The simplest kind is the kind that covers its ears and yells loudly that it doesn't care and you can't change its mind. It is self-defeating sort, since it thinks to elude the rule of law by imposing an even sterner law on itself. So be it, then.

2. Another kind claims to be anti-establishment and pro-people. This political animal dresses in the robes of vendetta and the mask of anonymity; unfortunately, it overuses the former and abuses the latter. It really wants to bully or coerce, but retain moral high ground by presuming that individuals do indeed want to form anonymous mobs to take down social institutions, and that they will be led by such an animal.

3. A true anarch, such as Thanos the Mad, courts destruction of all things. This is the only philosophically self-consistent view. However, it is (to me) far better that this is combined with 1 above, in which case I will remain but the anarch will self-destruct, thus achieving mutually satisfying goals.

I first encountered Alexander Pope's Dunciad when I was very small; I think I was about ten years old at the time, maybe older. My aunt had lots of her old literature texts lying around, and I used to hide in her house and read when I thought I had nothing better to do after school. Almost forty years later, I recall these lines and find them an apt description of one perspective on our modern world:
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heaped o'er her head!
Philosophy, that leaned on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private , dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine !
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries All.

Law is a good thing. It is a facile (cheap, shallow, easy) argument to say that all law is repressive or oppressive. In a sense, it is, since it limits action (actual, potential, desired or desirable) by threat. But so too does awareness of the natural sciences. You know that ingesting chromic acid will kill you, that gravity and time are not your friends. This doesn't make you attempt to undermine them.

Yes, I admit that's an extreme position; after all, human law is not like nature. Well, humans do make laws for the governance of larger groups. A good body of law allows for law to be changed reasonably, whether this is onerous or not (there are arguments that seek to establish how onerous this should be — too easy and we get frivolity, too hard and we get draconism). Humans always get to where they're going, for good or bad, but there should be some degree of predictability. It gives a sense of security and mental well-being to know that you can carry on without the fabric of reality warping unpredictably around you.

So I am all for civil disobedience, but against uncivil and personal attacks. I am for the rule of law, but as a living thing with the bare minimum of stone pylons, tablets and other unyielding principles (or principalities and powers). I am not an anarchist, but I am not an overarchist. And there we leave it.

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