Peace on Earth and goodwill toward all — in a world of conflict, ’tis the season of peace.
Sadly, this holiday season the United Nations released a study indicating that 2014 is among the worst years on record for the world’s children. Chronicled in the report is another disturbing history of war and state violence.
An estimated 230 million children currently live in political territories subjected to violent conflict. The executive director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, as reported by the New York Times, states: “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds … They have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves.”
As we reflect on this year of violence, imagine alternatives and act for social change perhaps we may revisit an age-old political ideology as liberating, co-operative and peaceful as it is misunderstood. The rich political tradition to which I refer is anarchism.
In popular circles the word anarchism has come to mean complete disorder or chaos — a state of perpetual violence. This is unfortunate as liberty rejects violent coercion. Anarchic practitioners advocate highly ordered societies rooted in the principles of free association, mutual aid and cooperative labor.
This libertarian idea is deeply ingrained in the human spirit. Labor organizer Rudolph Rocker describes anarchism as “a definite trend in the historic development of mankind” which, “strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life.”
This is my favorite description of anarchism. Liberty is not a doctrine, but rather a praxis innate to human thought and action — the underlying principle being that one should always challenge authority and dismantle unjustifiable concentrations of power. The result is a more libertarian relationship between people and their institutions. Anarchism is thus a human phenomenon.
When feminist movements organize for women’s agency over their own bodies and life without fear of violence, we see anarchism.
We see anarchism in Mexico as the population seeks liberation from violent drug cartels, complacent government and oppressive state policies.
We see anarchism in prisons as inmates band together in these dehumanizing institutions to demand living conditions free of violence and sexual battery.
We see anarchism in war-torn regions of the world where individuals risk their lives to save innocent victims of the drone strikes and barrel bombs of oppressive regimes.
We see anarchism in towns and neighborhoods challenging the monopoly of violence held by the police.
We see anarchism in movements that seek the protection of wilderness areas and native lands from the clutches of extractive industries and the iron fist of capital.
We find anarchism in the new technology and falling communications costs that allow all of us to craft markets and labor together free of regulatory restriction.
We see anarchism in our everyday social interactions — telling our family and friends we love them and being kind to strangers.
These are but a few examples. Anarchism is everywhere.
Human action counters systems of power and domination. We have witnessed movements rise against all the bad that has happened this year at the whims of the powerful. This is our age-old tale: History is a race between state power and social power.
So, in the spirit of the season, let us decide to embrace liberty. Let us no longer follow the whims of those who wish to command and control society. Instead, let us labor to coordinate and cultivate the free societies and communities we wish to live.
It is in anarchic order that we see everything humanity can be. Peace on Earth and goodwill toward all are not mutually exclusive — peace IS goodwill. It is our inclined labor that reminds us we can and will build a peace that makes life on Earth worth living — a peace for every child of humanity. When that’s accomplished we will know freedom; such grandeur is only attainable in liberty.