OP-ED: We Are All Anarchists at Heart

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John Lash

“Anarchy is all around us. Without it, our world would fall apart. All progress is due to it. All order extends from it. All blessed things that rise above the state of nature are owned to it. The human race thrives only because of the lack of control, not because of it. I’m saying that we need ever more absence of control to make the world a more beautiful place. It is a paradox that we must forever explain.” — Jeffrey Tucker

John LashA recent video posted on All Things Harlem shows New York City police officers questioning kids as they exit the train in a subway station on 135th Street. Four or five cops meet the kids and take down information on clipboards. One kid is standing against the wall. It’s all pretty low key, and one officer says that after giving the information the kids are free to go on to school.

In the text beneath the video the author wonders if the practice makes the kids late, or if it  might even lead to them skipping school. He also asks what the NYPD does with the information after it is collected. However, his most interesting and disturbing observation is how normal it all seems.

These kids don’t think twice about a police checkpoint or demands for personal information. In their world incidents like this are common, yet as citizens we should be concerned anytime authority is used in this way. The writer urges us to use #schooltoprisonpipeline as a way to spread the word about what is happening in Harlem and around the country, rightly drawing a connection between police checkpoints for students and incarceration.

We’re used to things like this, but we don’t really like them. I believe most of us are anarchists at heart. As humans we simply don’t enjoy being told what to do. As Edward Abbey pointed out, “Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.”

The kind of authoritarian approach demonstrated in the video simply doesn’t work. What today we call the School to Prison Pipeline is the result of decades of thinking that government can save us. The truth is that it can’t. Laws, courts, social services, schools and prisons will never be able to change society as effectively as the people acting for themselves, armed with the expertise we each bring to our own lives.

I recently posted a question online asking my friends if they thought they needed an outside force to control their behavior. Not one of them said yes, though a few opined that a subset of other people needed to be controlled. From these beliefs about others spring laws of all sorts, control, violence and the abuses that always accompany power. It’s only in the space outside of control that we collectively advance.

This space, where we are able to connect human to human, lies outside of roles and authority. That doesn’t mean that people in authority aren’t part of the process. Indeed, they are vital to its success. The key is not to mix up the people in authority with the government or the “system.” Systems are only made up of people, and within them are always those that know things need to change.

The changes that last will come when people start to take responsibility for themselves and their communities. They’ll happen when we find other ways to address our conflicts besides calling the police. They’ll happen when we actually get to know those around us and deal with them as autonomous people with the same fundamental needs as we have, not as a “them” who need to be controlled.

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