Saturday, November 29, 2014

Free Press Article about the next Philosopher's Cafe Meeting

I just submitted this article to the Dunnville Free Press. For those without access to that publication, here is the full text.


Title: Anarchy to be debated at the Wainfleet Library’s Philosopher’s Cafe Meeting in December.

By John Taylor, 29 November, 2014

This month's discussion topic for the Wainfleet Philosopher's Cafe is "Anarchism." Let me outline some of the ramifications of this topic here. If you have something to add or you oppose what I say, do come out to our next meeting, on the second Thursday of December, the 11th, at 6:30 PM. We want to hear what you have to say!
Anarchism is the belief that we do not need government. It comes from the Greek roots, "an" for not, and "archy," meaning rule, or more precisely, a public office or position. This idea is attractive because, on first blush it seems to express tolerance. An anarchist has faith in his fellow man, who he deems smart enough to rule himself without resort to bothersome outside laws and rules. This idea showed its face at our last Cafe meeting. I wanted to follow through on it in our next encounter.

As animator of our small but outspoken and opinionated discussion group for the last decade, I have gained expertise in anarchic rule. I am now a Laissez Faire anarchist in that, usually, I refrain from steering or even interfering in the discussion. I just sit back and watch as the participants go from order, each taking his or her turn expressing a moderate opinion, to disorder, breaking up into two or three separate, simultaneous, heated debates. Such anarchy, I find, rapidly burns up energy. One-on-one clashes of opinion flash out brilliantly but soon burn themselves out. After a few minutes of this, I find that exhausted members are happy to reunify into a common dialogue again. Rarely do they break up like this more than once.

That is not to say, though, that Philosopher's Cafe participants always cling to a single topic throughout the meeting. In fact, we do not always remember the given subject of discussion in the beginning. Even when we do, in the heat of debate it is soon forgotten. The real topic is what bothers the next speaker the most. As a result, our subject is up for grabs, minute-by-minute. Even if we remember what we are supposed to be talking about, it will change and transform with each new contribution. Everybody has to get a shot at redefining the question.

A more authoritarian mind than mine would feel nothing but consternation at such confused dialectic. For me, though, this is a good thing. It is a sign that things are as they should be. The real issue cannot be static. It is the speaker decides it is. If you cannot change the subject of debate, it is not really a debate, it is a circuitous lecture. How can you define the real issue beforehand? Without the ability to change the topic, what is the point of inviting everybody to speak? In that sense, I am very much an anarchist.

That is not to say that I approve of anarchism as a political philosophy. Like all "isms," anarchism is really a kind of idolatry. It is based on an unproven, in fact, an often-disproven assumption that if we leave things alone, everything will work out for the best. That may happen, but chances are, they will work out for the worst. Anarchism is a false faith that only continues as an option because it is useful to potentates seeking to divide and rule. Experience with anarchic rule shows that it leads only to disaster at worst, and weakness and violence at best. Generally speaking, those nations with strong governments, unafraid to intervene when needed, end up as the most just, prosperous and influential.

Thus, another word for anarchy is "power vacuum." As with a physical vacuum in the atmosphere, as soon as it is set up nature decrees tremendous, insidious pressure to break into and occupy it. Instead of rule by solid, fair, open and comprehensible laws and principles, anarchic leadership is immediately, explosively, invaded by the first windbag or thug close enough to break into the void. That is why the word "anarchy" is used so often as a synonym for self-destructive violence.

That said, it is always a mistake to assume that intelligent people will hold onto stupid, demonstrably false beliefs. No modern anarchist, surely, would hold onto an untenable position like what I just described. Perhaps they understand anarchy as a sort of autopilot for human governance. That is, just as automation has taken over most menial jobs in manufacture, eventually automatic processes will spread into management. Then, like the pilots who fly us around the globe, your boss or your prime minister will have an "autopilot switch" to run the government while they go off to the bathroom, or leave the controls for any other reason.

Actually, there is surely a switch for leaders already. How else could heads of state take time off from their work to chase every flood, hurricane, politically sensitive crime, or other disaster, in order to assuage our fears by expressing sympathy or "solidarity" with the victims? To me, though, that is crazy. If their job is important, how can they just drop it like that? How would you feel if your doctor suspended her practice to aid in disaster relief, or the teachers in your children's schools ran off to help out with every problem that hits the headlines? That would be anarchy indeed.


An anarchic government, then, would be one where computers and robots do most or all of the work of public office while humans relax, have fun and, when we feel do feel ambitious, take on less important and potentially dangerous tasks. It would be rule of the machines. If only science fiction writers had something to say about that, eh? Anyway, would you entrust your government to an automated leader? Are you an anarchist in this sense?