What is Compassionate Anarchy?
Compassionate anarchy is a newly emerging revolutionary tendency, and a mode of relating that goes back to the dawn of humanity. Compassionate anarchy is a practice that can be incredibly hard to learn and keep, while at the same time, some of the most enjoyable moments of our lives have been when we have practiced it.
Compassion is what keeps anarchy from degenerating into violent chaos and individual autonomy from resulting in disrespect and disregard for others. Anarchy is what keeps our compassion from becoming a hollow shell of the real thing – it’s what keeps our love for others from becoming a commodity that is sold back to us or a ploy to make us acquiescent to the dictates of authority. Compassionate anarchy is about finding and appreciating the genuine soul in human beings and keeping it free from all authority, submission, moralism, and static roles.
This approach holds that there exist real-life processes and actions that can be taken to create more compassion and anarchy in our lives in the here-and-now. “Compassion” and “anarchy” are not just vague feel-good poetic phrases or proscriptions/descriptions of a future society – they are interactive relationships that human beings everywhere can and do take part in.
This approach eschews lifestylism and strives for far-reaching anarchist social revolution. However, unlike many anarchist approaches to revolution, compassionate anarchy seeks to avoid dehumanization, polarization, and projecting enemy images onto others. The anarchist social revolution is seen as the immense application and proliferation of anarchist ways of relating. This approach is akin to Gustav Landauer’s sentiment when he said: “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.”
Compassionate anarchy draws a lot of inspiration from the famous anarchist theorist Peter Kropotkin and his concept of “mutual aid” – the notion that people supporting each other and helping one another out is a natural part of being human. To this end, direct action relationships of sharing and cooperation, in both the material and non-material realms, are greatly encouraged.
Mutual aid is in turn seen as best taking place when it is done so out of what the author Marshall Rosenberg calls “natural giving”, which is action done not out of any sense of fear, anger, duty, obligation or hope of reward, but instead out of a genuine desire to contribute to the well-being of others. To best facilitate action done out of natural giving, compassionate anarchy draws from the understandings and practices that generally go under the label of “Nonviolent Communication”, or “NVC” for short. Nonviolent Communication is not viewed as a rule-book or dogma to follow, but is instead used for the tools that it offers to help us more honestly and directly connect with the humanity in both ourselves and others.
Some of the defining characteristics of compassionate anarchy are not proscriptions for behavior or pictures of utopic future societies, but instead the series of questions that it encourages us to ask. Some of these questions are: “What exactly am I wanting to see done?”, “What motivation do I want to see this done out of?”, “What fundamental needs/values are behind this action?”, “How can I best contribute to life in a way that is enjoyable?” Asking deep and honest questions is far more likely to foster true understanding and connection than proclamations over what we “should” be doing.
Although much can be written about compassionate anarchy, it is fundamentally a human EXPERIENCE and not another theory to be argued over. Compassion, peaceful cooperation and deep respect do happen, they are experiences that we have in our lives already – this approach seeks to encourage and foster these experiences. While a lot of important information can be conveyed through writing and lectures, compassionate anarchy can not really be personally understood unless one draws from one’s own experience.
Empathy is a key component of compassionate anarchy. Empathy is seen as a glue that helps society stay together and not degenerate into a war of all-against-all; and empathy is seen as being revolutionary tool that aids in revolutionary organizing. Beyond notions of “working class solidarity”, “community organizing” and “solidarity of the oppressed” lies empathy – the practice of people deeply listening to and understanding one another in a very real and fundamental way. Without empathy, the connections between people that need to be made in order to effectively challenge the alienation and atomization inherent in capitalism and institutional authority will not happen.
Compassionate anarchy is not about “nonviolence” or “violence”, green anarchy or class struggle anarchy. It draws from these what it can, but ultimately tries to learn from what is BEHIND all of these. For example, with “nonviolence” compassionate anarchy asks what dynamics and processes comprise and make up “violence”, and what effect it has on us. With approaches supportive of “violence”, compassionate anarchy strives to find the most full, effective and sustainable forms of protection and safety possible. With green anarchy compassionate anarchy strives to find how to rid ourselves of our own domestication, with class struggle anarchy the question is on what is behind class unity and solidarity. Behind every belief and approach to life is a genuine desire to meet needs and live values, and with this being the case, compassionate anarchy seeks to dialogue with and learn from others rather than be trapped in debate and dehumanization of others because of differences in opinion or approach.
This was a broad and brief introduction to compassionate anarchy – it is hoped that the other texts here can result in more of a full understanding of the whole thing. And beyond that, it is hoped that this can serve as inspiration to be more aware of one’s own behaviors and motivations and to try to practice compassionate anarchy within one’s own life!
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