Chaos in the Streets of Mumbai

The streets of Mumbai became a vision of chaos on Wednesday (July 13), when, as reported by CNN, “a series of explosions … rocked congested areas of [the] financial capital.” The Indian state’s expected response came without delay, Home Minister P. Chidambaram urging citizens to remain calm coincident with his frantic announcement that “[t]he entire city of Mumbai has been placed on high alert.”

BBC News similarly reports that a “commando team,” on the ready at “high alert,” is prepared to descend upon a number of India’s largest cities should the appropriate tip find them. Frequently a target for attacks over the course of the past decade, Mumbai saw 17 killed and 81 injured in the most recent bombing, which has again implicated the long-running tension between India and Pakistan.

Since the British Empire divided its territories in the region into what are today India and Pakistan, the relationship between the two has been defined by acrimony and has witnessed periodic outbreaks of violence — especially over the Kashmir border areas. Today, India asserts sovereignty over the entire region, though Pakistan disputes the claim and remains the de facto government in a large part of the territory.

Following the most recent attack, Pakistan released a swift denial that groups from within its borders — particularly anti-India group Lashkar-e-Taiba — were responsible. Still, the attacks could put a strain on the recently recommenced peace talks between the neighboring countries.

Whether or not Lashkar-e-Taiba is responsible for the bombings, strikes that targeted innocent civilians, it is clear that politics suffuses every aspect of the violence. Born out of the frustration that comes with arbitrary boundaries imposed by a withering empire, the India-Pakistan conflict is a prime example of the problems created by and inherent in political borders.

The function of coercive borderlines imposed on populations from on high is to disrupt the natural interaction between free people and communities. Through their absolute claims of sovereignty over particular areas, states necessarily lay the groundwork for border disputes that are grounded not in any legitimate right of ownership (of the kind that a conscientious libertarian might recognize), but in bare caprice.

When Britain’s Indian territories were to be dismantled, religion became a convenient if clumsy rift across which to divide the domain into two separate governing bodies. But the divide has proved far messier, less susceptible to a bright line, than the British anticipated. Philosophers have often used clouds to illustrate the difficulty of pinning down certain concepts, pointing out the problem of trying to determine where a cloud begins and ends.

The same is true of populations of diverse human beings whose differences and similarities are nuanced — with subtle areas of overlap — rather than clear-cut and straightforward. Attempts to subject complex individuals to the unilateral control of a single, overarching mechanism of aggression can lead only to the kind of chaos Mumbai just suffered.

Market anarchism is both a means and an end. It represents the order that arises out of peaceful trade and organization as well as the moral superiority of nonviolence over the unprovoked aggression of the state.

“Anarchy,” wrote Benjamin Tucker, “does not mean a sudden overturning of the existing order of things, a compulsory substitution of chaos for injustice, a whirlwind of mad disorder.” Genuine free markets, economies made up of no more than the mutually beneficial exchanges of free people, are the height of the kind of anarchy Tucker envisioned.

This kind he described as “a slow growth of the principles of liberty and justice,” replacing the principle of “equal liberty” with that of “compulsion from without.” Until and unless we begin to follow Tucker’s prescription, the hellish scenes of Mumbai will continue to dominate human life. Given the actual chaos of the state, perhaps it’s time to give the supposed “chaos” of market anarchism a try.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory