As I was reading through my normal news feeds tonight, I came across this story from Boing Boing: “Fences as primitive phone networks” and all of a sudden I was 8 years old again, looking at the remnants of one of these myself. And then 8 year old me and 30-something me had a conversation about anarchy as a practical application, and here I am.
When I was a kid I grew up in a rural town of around 9000 people, the largest town in a 300 mile radius. While my parents and I lived in town, my parents best friends lived on a ranch 25 miles outside of town. I spent a good portion of my childhood on the ranch doing ranch type stuff. Not a lot of people can claim to have actually been on a cattle drive, built fences at a cattle camp, helped birth horses and calves, etc. And the more I think about who I am now, the suburban dissident dad stuck in a dead end office job, the more grateful I am for those early experiences. Because more than anyone else I’ve met in real life, these ranchers LIVED anarchy.
It’s easy to talk about theory, legal and economic systems in a post-revolution anarchic society, and all the other ideology that gets thrown around. A little harder is dealing with the interpersonal politics that we see pop up in things like Occupy, protests, general assemblies and all of that.
But the hardest part of anarchy, the part that we as radicals have to take a real hard look at is LIVING. It’s the communities that we want to live in, it’s the people we want to have in our lives. It’s putting food on the table and helping your neighbour put food on theirs. It’s dealing with disputes that arise simply because we are obstinate, opinionated, shitty human beings and no amount of ideology will change that. And it’s doing this for the rest of our lives, long term. Not in the context of a protest or a temporary commune. Not in the context of an occupation, or talking to people on twitter. Not even in the context of solidarity in the face of thugs with badges and batons. I’m talking about introducing anarchic ideas into our every day lives.
What that Boing Boing post reminded me of is that there are communities of people who are a hell of a lot further down the road to anarchy then the rest of us are, and they aren’t even aware of it. Were these rancher communities idyllic? Hell no. There were deeply ingrained problems with sexism, racism, and traditionalism that were (and are) problematic to the extreme. There were conflicts between ranchers and native peoples (though often much less than the conflicts between the townies and the natives). Like any society on earth, they were filled with things that needed addressing and were, often as not, swept under the rug. And above all don’t think I’ve forgotten the violence that settled these white ranchers on native lands in the first place.
But they were also resilient. These were men and women who valued community over themselves. They loved the land they lived on, and while many of them didn’t give a shit about environmentalists talking about sustainability of ecosystems, they PRACTISED that sustainability every single day, through generation after generation of family ranches. They were independent and individualistic, and at the same time knew how that individualism best fit as a part of a larger community. Though they’d call you a pinko bastard and run you off their property if you called them a socialist, they practised a form of community that was closer to actual anarchic socialism than anyone I’ve ever met.
None of this dismisses the problems that they did have, problems that were like poison at times. But in small doses: opening a field for your neighbour to graze their cattle on because theirs was destroyed by a brush fire; working out disputes over land use without ever bothering to call a city land planner (because what the hell did he know about their lives?); in the simple idea that as a community, you knew you could rely on your neighbours in the same way that they relied on you… they lived and breathed a level of anarchy that transcends ideology.
My experience with these people has really effected how I look at community. Living in the suburbs, where we go from front door to car to office to car to front door and at most throw a nod at our neighbours, it’s something I miss.
Like everything else in society, corporations have largely destroyed a lot of these communities. Free range, family owned ranches were replaced with factory cattle ‘production facilities’ (the kind that make my vegan and vegetarian friends violently angry, and rightly so). But the spirit that lead to these communities in the first place is what we as anarchists have to tap into. In every aspect of our lives, corporate-government entities do what they can to divorce us from them.
Because it scares the shit out of them.
Whether it’s urban communities policing themselves because the police are nothing but thugs who prey on them anyway, native communities taking back their traditions and culture, or the ranchers I grew up with figuring out how to make their communities work without worrying about whether they are ‘within regulations’, it’s these practical applications of individuals working within communities that are where anarchy truly lies.
And I guarantee you that if everything collapsed tomorrow, they’d probably be the only communities that could still function, because ‘mutual-aid’ and ‘self-reliance’, etc are so woven into their lives that they don’t even need those words to describe them: it’s just ‘the way’.