just drew.

human generated rambling

Science of the last 20 years has completely upended what we thought we knew about reality and the human experience. It’s time for politics to catch up.

The struggle isn’t left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, capitalism vs. socialism, or even order vs. chaos. It’s centralized vs. decentralized power.

Ask just about anyone to conjure an image of an anarchist in their mind and I’m willing to bet they come up with a 20-something punk kid dressed in black with a red bandana who likes to smash windows and rail against “the Man.”

Yeah something like this is.

Personally, I’m quite endeared to that image and the absolute drip of the black/red aesthetic, but for most people, it’s off-putting, naive, even dangerous. Is it at all accurate though?

Largely framed as a swing to the “chaos” side of the order/chaos scale, anarchism in the 20th century was…problematic. It was violent. It got tied up in flawed Marxist thought regarding property. It sought wholesale dramatic and immediate systemic change. In short, it failed, and would have failed even if the powerful status quo had not brought its own violence down upon it.

However, in the 21st century we now have the benefit of hindsight. Anarchism can better be thought of as the struggle between centralized systems, and the incredible concentration of power that comes with them (like, extinction threatening power), and decentralized systems, which distribute power more equitably among a larger number of stakeholders. This framing borrows heavily from computer networking concepts, and is a much more applicable way of thinking about power in political systems beyond the overly simplistic (and honestly childish) binaries we’ve been spoon fed since birth. So, what does anarchism, or decentralized governance, look like in today’s world?

It Starts With Self-Ownership

I am fond of saying that if there were a group of Americans I most strongly identify with, it would be the Abolitionists. If you don’t know why that’s a spicy take, start here and here, but at its core Abolitionist thought is centered on the idea of self-ownership: you own yourself and no one has a right to force you to do anything you don’t want. The justness of self-ownership is clear in the science. The primary indicator of happiness in any individual’s life is the degree to which they feel in command of their own destiny. Of note, self-ownership is related to the non-aggression principle, which some on the anarcho-capitalist side of the spectrum may be familiar with. It’s also where anarcho-syndicalists, who believe property is a form of tyranny, go wrong. If no one owns anything, the powerful end up owning everything. Including you.

Put simply, if we do not start with self-ownership, then no matter what political system is grafted over the top of it, it will eventually lead to oppression. This is true even if it’s oppression of your own “choosing,” as is the case with democracy. Eventually, any human system that allows for one person to force another to do things against their will, will end in tyranny and oppression. It’s really as simple as that. It may take years, decades, or centuries, but there is only one direction it can possibly go if the unique, inalienable right of every human to govern themselves is not recognized, enshrined, codified, and defended. The individual human is the most decentralized entity in the political system, and as such, deserves the most power.

I understand that for a sizeable chunk of American society, this idea may be untenable because, to them, God owns you. However the principle of self-ownership is not at all incompatible with this belief because we are dealing in the material world, not the spiritual one. Here, on Earth, you own you. While you are free to guide and mentor people toward God in their spiritual lives, what they do with their physical selves is, ultimately, out of your control.

Find Your Tribe

Now, some may take self-ownership to mean “I can do whatever I want with no consequences.” That is a tragically flawed, simplistic, and naive view of the human existence that negates our very evolution. It doesn’t matter if you agree with evolution or not, because the same can be said when God is the beginning point too.

The cold facts are, contrary to prevailing 20th century thought, humans are not, by default, primarily selfish, ruggedly individualistic barbarous savages in the state of nature. You can see this both in early human behavior and “primitive” human cultures, as well as that of our closest cousin the chimpanzee. Our default state of nature is domineering and violent, yes, as the (mostly male, mostly white) researchers of the 20th century found. But it’s also compassionate, caring, empathetic, and collaborative, something they completely neglected to report at the time, either because of preexisting bias or for the simple fact they didn’t look. In fact our entire existence as the lone representative of hominids left on Earth, once thought to be a result of conflict and eradication, turns out to be because we Sapiens simply interbred Neanderthals and Denisovans (and just about anything else that walked on two legs) out of existence. Turns out, we’re equally lovers as much as we are fighters. This is only recently coming to light, and is not nearly as ingrained in the collective consciousness as the domineering, winner-take-all narrative.

It is true that we are selfish, and make choices based primarily on what benefits us, but the idea of “benefit” is much, much broader than we have previously understood. Chimpanzees, for instance, have complex hierarchies and even form political alliances in which individuals act against their short term goals. Humans surpass even chimps for altruism. In fact, humans are uniquely altruistic, to the point the trait can be mapped in the brain. Both chimp, but especially early human research, is notable in that they left no one behind. Not the sick. Not the weak. Not the old. Not the hungry. No one. Everyone does better when everyone does better. Humans are hard-wired for this type of community. Cooperative social interaction is a core need.

As soon as barriers, exceptions, and prohibitions go up, so too does centralization and the inherent risks of consolidated power.

You may argue that this doesn’t really look like anarchism because there is still a clear hierarchy that emerges, and on that you’d be right. I consider it a flaw in previous anarchist thought. I urge you to think instead of decentralization. A hierarchy, even a powerful one, can emerge in decentralization. So long as there are alternative hierarchies and the cost to jump between them is sufficiently low enough, then the larger network remains free from the risks of centralization. As soon as barriers, exceptions, and prohibitions go up, so too does centralization and the inherent risks of consolidated power.

Decentralization: A Different Story

A core fact about the human mind is that, despite the insistence of many, it is not easily swayed by facts and logic. It is much more easily persuaded through emotional stories that weave those facts and logic into a cohesive alternative narrative. So, instead of the privileged kid in black flinging molotovs, an intentionally frightening narrative of chaos the current centralized status quo very much likes to peddle, I want to present an alternative picture of anarchism and decentralization: the small, local life.

Since we have established that the cornerstone of a decentralized society is self-ownership, and that humans are inherently compassionate, social creatures, it stands to reason that the immediate social network of any individual human is the sphere both of primary concern, and in which any given human can actually impact change. I like to characterize this by saying the barista at your local coffee shop or server at your local bar or restaurant has infinitely more influence over your life and happiness than the President does. That’s the power of a local life.

The curse of centralization

The current state of our human networks are marked by isolation, centralization, and exploitation. By all measures, individuals are more isolated than ever despite the constant electronic connection they have available to them. Neighbors have never been less neighborly, nor neighborhoods more sterile. A third of Americans have never talked to any of their immediate neighbors, and the number of people reporting having no close friends rose 4x over the pandemic. The number of people reporting fewer friendships than they optimally desire rose dramatically as well. Childhood is stretching into the early 20s, but kids have the worst mental health of any generation since we’ve started recording.

Our local small business and charitable organizations, the lifeblood of any local community – literally the “workers owning the means of production” that Marxism touts so highly – have been utterly decimated by centralization. While the speed with which a dollar leaves our poorest communities has been disputed, there can be no question that the number of times any given dollar circulates within our poorest communities is drastically lower than in our richest. Essentially, as soon as a dollar enters a local system, it vanishes up the chain into the pocket of an oligarch in an ivory tower who will gleefully send your kids off to war when their interests are threatened halfway across the world, but will balk if you demand a share of the enormous prosperity we all helped build.

If you go to any downtown or business district in any small town in America, you will see this at work. Gone are the small, inefficient but vital, locally owned businesses, the ones that sponsor little league teams and community clean up days, all replaced by a handful of brands owned by the same half-dozen megacorps and the oligarchs who own them, and by extension, us. By all accounts, both the individual and the community are barren, hollow shells, simply going through the motions of what a life is supposed to look like.

When you look at it this way, it becomes crystal clear that the only struggle is between those who have and those that don’t. If you’re reading this, you don’t. Any animosity you feel towards other people, who also don’t have sh*t, is a lie, a manipulation, a false narrative, a mind hack, planted in you by the powerful, who very much want to keep you distracted from this true division of power, because there are way more of us than there are of them and they absolutely do not want us to figure out their game. That is what truly scares them.

A better way

The easiest way to fight centralization and strike a blow to the current unjust, cleptocratic status quo is by keeping your dollars, influence, time, and energy, local. By that, I don’t just mean affecting local politics either (or at least not only). Politics is part of the game, an illusion of participation. I mean actually sacrificing money and time to build, nurture, and invest in local alternative systems. What do I mean?

Bail on the Banks

Let’s start with banking, because the biggest tool in the centralization tool kit is fake paper money. Many of you likely have accounts at Bank of America or Chase, and if not those, one of countless regional banks that are, in reality, owned by these or the other few Big Banks. These banks don’t care about your community, take your money and gamble it in the stock market and a million different derivatives, and when their bad, possibly criminal bets, go bad, you go broke and have to bail them out. It’s happened countless times before, and it’s about to happen again.

By contrast, right now in your town, no matter where you live, there is a local bank that stewards your money well and keeps profits local. Granted, it’s still part of the rigged central banking system (which is an entirely different rant) but it’s world’s better than any of the Big Banks.

The problem? These small banks are usually left holding the empty bag when the music stops and the shell game of fake paper money comes crashing down. They can fail, and they (and you) won’t be bailed out. Why? That’s the way the rules are written frens, and that tells you all you need to know.

Get to Know a Farmer

What about food? Well, here on the prairie in Illinois lots of folks like to say we feed the world. But do we? And more importantly, do we want to? It’s true we grow a lot of corn and soybeans, but its all made into high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil, two primary drivers of poor health over the past 40 years. It’s hardly food fit for human consumption. Really, it’s all raw material inputs into the global supply chain of the industrial food system. This system literally extracts the precious value of our rich native local soils and farmlands, exporting it straight into the pockets of far-away oligarchs and away from enriching our local communities.

If you trace the supply chain when you go to the store to buy groceries, the entire store is supplied by just a handful of parent brands. Those brands are owned in large part by about three entities. It is centralization distilled to its purest form and peddled to us as the illusion of choice.

By contrast, if you grow your own food or raise your own livestock, or deal with local farmers who do, then you keep all those dollars local, spread across multiple small suppliers. You send kids to school. You support local businesses. In short, you keep your community from being exploited by the centralized machine and develop real, decentralized, generational wealth. It does take effort, and it’s possibly (but not necessarily) more expensive, but it’s not as hard as most think once they know what to look for. The hardest part is even knowing you should be looking for a different way.

Question Authority

And what about those schools? The school system is a supremely centralized organization, rife with outmoded ideology and systemic discrimination, not just against students of color, but against students who just don’t think or behave the way the system wants them to. In 2023, that’s a lot of kids.

It has removed choices from students, parents, and teachers and placed them in the hands of a bloated administrative class in a federal department. It’s no wonder so many parents are choosing to homeschool, yet, solid majorities of people blast and shame homeschooling families as crackpot weirdos (which, as one of those families, fair point). But, it’s not all religious zealots who choose to educate their own children. It’s anarchists and decentralization advocates like me too. Lumping everything you don’t like into some “other” category is playing exactly in to the hands of the oligarchy. Y’all being played.

Start Something

Finally, perhaps the most impactful thing any of us can do is just build something new and better. Be it a business or a charitable organization or something else entirely, all of it is direct action to develop local communities at the ground level. In today’s world, there’s no shortage of ways to cast off the chains of the wage driven rat race, and even if you can’t do that, you can likely find a local company already doing good work that you can ditch your corporate job to join.

As for the nonprofit arena, despite consuming an enormous amount of resources, governments at every level are somehow operating on a shoestring budget with little room to spare. Sure, they could all cut the bloat and spend less. But they won’t. It’s going to take good people rising up and offering competing services or filling the gaps before they will take any notice. Starting something is much easier than almost anyone assumes it to be, and can generally be done for a few dollars and a good idea. It just takes the right people to raise their hands.

These are just a few examples. There are many more. At the end of the day though this battle hinges on two things: recognizing the real battle, and thinking about ways to decentralize. If we can start to do that, we can hope again that tomorrow will be brighter for future generations. Because right now, the future is bleak.