A single term can be used in so many incompatible ways. This leads to the problem of words and meanings becoming detached. Talk becomes a way of confusing and clouding rather than informing and illuminating. Speech loses its grip on meaning. Words and ideas become malleable.
This may seem to be a mere academic problem, but it is, in fact, a central human problem, a problem whose effects, if they could be counted in human deaths, would number in the millions. This is my introductory article as a political columnist, and the two points which follow provide the central framework for all of my coming columns.
The first point is very simple. Only by decoding the system of imposed language can we even begin to really question power. Only by paying close attention to the relation between words and meanings can we stop the imposition of “Newspeak.” It is via controls over our discourse that our language is destroyed, that our thoughts are kept within safe, non-challenging bounds.
Second, anarchism is the natural, sensible view towards systems of power, which is at the root of all of our conceptions of fairness. Also, the only reason that people reject anarchism — clinging to the idea that the term means “no government” — is because of the manipulation of language which is possible via powerful groups’ control over discourse. “Anarchism” did not originally mean “no government,” and most of its adherents would not have made eliminating government a goal.
Then why do people define the term so? What changed the meaning? Well, some groups have much more influence over what information is prevalent, and there is no better way to defeat the detractors of your power than create a campaign against them in which you convince the population that what they believe is something other than what it is –– something crazy and disagreeable.
Powerful groups successfully utilize this tactic against anarchism.
One important note here is that I’m not advocating any sort of conspiratorial view. There is no conspiracy in which the elite class met under a volcano and decided to corrupt the use of the term “anarchism” or language in general.
It is crucial to my argument that the elite groups in the society somehow do this, though, and it is argued very thoroughly for in literature on the subject, most famously in “Manufacturing Consent” from Chomsky/Herman. Basically, groups naturally do what is in their power interests.
In highly complex industrial economies, institutions evolve extremely sophisticated mechanisms for upholding their power. Branches of corporations work on tasks independently, and the firm becomes an organism, operating as a whole in ways that none of the members themselves intend to or realize. If certain information causes a firm to lose power, the firm has an interest in suppressing it, and firms do just that.
Since nearly all of the information that we get is filtered through this system, the effect that centers of power have over our thought is immense. Our thoughts are deeply poisoned by systems of power. The best we can ever hope to do is decode our language enough to think clearly about how to restructure these systems so that their ideological poisoning can be eliminated.
Finally, what is anarchism, and why was that idea so dangerous to systems of power that they had to effectively delete it from the political discourse? Anarchism is a simple, common-sense view of power. When people have power over other people, they misuse it. When we create systems of human organization in which there are hierarchies, the system will represent the interests at the top of the hierarchy.
Since human beings care about fairness and equal representation, we do not favor hierarchies. Hierarchies are antithetical to the political virtues inherent in human beings. Hence the prefix “an” attached to the suffix “archy.” An (as in “no”) archy (as in “power”).
No power: that is anarchy.
It is general skepticism toward all authority, toward any hierarchy, toward any information that is the product of power or systems of power. That is a dangerous idea to powerful institutions. That is why systems of power naturally propagated straw man versions of anarchism –– in order to neutralize it.
Anarchism is where all political analysis starts. What do we mean, and how might this meaning have been affected by power groups? This question must arise at every step of inquiry if we are to ever be liberated.
BRIAN MOEN is so anarchist, he pronounces it “an-are-chee.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.