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A Few Words on Anarchy and America

By Jon Sussman

Section: Arts

September 26, 2008

A spectre is haunting America – the spectre of the unreconstructed individual. He cannot, and will never be, a cog in the machine of other’s grand designs. The current electoral season, reported as a clash of worldviews, obscures the incredible consensus achieved by the ruling oligarchy: that the individual has no place outside of the system, no value unless validated by a popular ideology. Implicit in the nature of politics is the subjection of all that is unique and vibrant to an abstract, unaccountable, and utterly soulless machine.

This matrix of oppression is inimical to liberty, and therefore to life itself. The true individual, then, must stand against this, but her stance must be simultaneously outside of the simplistic and ultimately artificial categories that this system perpetuates. To choose one side or the other of a list of predetermined binaries is the illusion of choice; it presents no critical challenge to the prevailing order, and thus commits the double sin of inaction and intellectual sloth. The person who refuses either side of the coin is no partisan, nor an apathetic conformist, but is the true revolutionary.

If this is what I stand against – the endless navel-gazing and insufferable power-grabbing that defines government – than what do I stand for? This question is daunting at first, but upon reflection answers itself. In the truly anarchic environment, the individual is then – and only then – free to blossom into a fully-developed person, one who unfolds and matures along paths both of their own choosing and those dictated by chance, but never at the prescription of a Washington bureaucrat.

This spirit is at the heart of the American experience. Truly, American life is suffused with anarchism. And by anarchism I do not solely mean the wanton destruction of Seattle in 1999, or the ramblings of a college professor, or the doodling of a middle-school metalhead – I mean all of these and more, a burgeoning cornucopia of anarchisms. The peaceful exchange at a farmer’s market, the meeting of minds on a city street, and a contemplative sojourn through Appalachian forest – these are anarchisms as well, actualized boldly, free of the odious bonds of coercion. Some would consider this curiously rustic, but therein lies the charm and brilliance of American anarchism, in the heady combination of the radical and the reactionary – for how can one strike at the root without first clearing away the underbrush of accumulated assumptions? And how can one hope to undo the damage of arrogant, immoral institutions without first grasping at the heart of what it means to be human?

No one can seriously contend that those who vie for power can be trusted to curb themselves. Our leaders cry out for service, for money, for war; that is, they insist on our obedience, our labor, and our very lives. Submission, out of a sense of duty or out of fear, is the lowest form of cowardice. Active resistance is the only moral option. I beg of you: resist taxation! Refuse military enlistment! Smoke marijuana! Only in this way can we ward off the encroachments of elected tyrants. What is at stake is our freedom – and for that alone, no honest man gives up but with life itself.

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