Anarchist Dogma

February 21, 2007

From my experience, one of the things that gives the state its power is the pull of dogma. Dogma gives people the comfort that they are right, that everyone else is wrong and excuses them from having to actually think. They merely join the herd and once in the herd, they are easily herded.

My friend Ian Scott warned me about this kind of thing in his post welcoming me to the world of anarchism and libertarianism. At first I thought he was merely giving me friendly advice, but I never thought that was a problem in anarchism.

Until I read this – ‘Kropotkin over Darwin‘ .

Essentially ‘venividicogniti‘ argues that Darwinian evolution was wrong because it seemed to conflict with Kropotkin’s writings on Mutual Aid. I was dumbfounded. I could not have found a better example of dogmatic, one-dimensional thinking if I had been reading a Creationist site.

Firstly, the author clearly does not know what evolution by natural selection is. He or she says:

“If evolution were to be driven by survival of the fittest then we would expect to see fierce rivalry and competition. In Mauritius[3], not surprisingly for adherents of Kropotkins scientific approach to natural history, we see the evolution of the dodo[4]. A docile, three metre high flightless bird.”

Evolution is not “survival of the fitest” but rather survival of those organism and genes best able to adapt to changes in the environment. Thus any trait, skill or strategy that allows an organism to successfully reproduce or pass their genes on to the next generation provides an evolutionary advantage. There has been a great deal of research that indicates that cooperation and altruism are, in fact, better strategies for survival of one’s genes than hard fought competition and “survival of the fittest.”

In a nutshell, it is like this:

If I cooperate with my neighbours and my kin, I am far more likely to have food, shelter safety and opportunities to reproduce than if I wantonly kill and aggressively steal from them. Even if I do not myself reproduce, but even give my own life to protect my kin (or village or close knit social group), I am still ensuring that some of my genes survive to the next generation, where they may survive again through reproduction.

That’s not to say aggressive behaviour does not have its place in evolution. It certainly does. But cooperation and altruism, in the long run, are the better strategy. Indeed, there is an argument to be made that groups with the proper balance between the two is what makes groups successfully able to reproduce and perpetuate their genes into the future.

That is evolutionary advantage.

So, venividicogniti contrived example can actually be used to show Darwinian evolution, which in turn supports Kropotkin’s ideas of Mutual Aid. Further, he uses the dodo, which, in the face of a changed environment (the introduction of humans to the island), did not have the aggressive tendencies needed to defend themselves, and went extinct. Surely using the Dodo is not a good way to prove evolution is ‘wrong’ and Kropokin ‘right’ – there is just too much irony there.

It was the evolutionary basis of cooperation that helped lead me to individualist anarchism and to agree with mutualism and libertarianism. It is the knowledge that most people are good and can live and work together.

That post should serve as a warning to us. Dogma is not just the pervue of authoritarian statists, Nazis and religious fundamentalists. It can affect anyone who refuses to use critical thought and refuses to acknowledge others because they conflict, or only seem to conflict, with our favourite writer, hero or our deeply help beliefs. This kind of dogma leads people to make value judgments on who is wrong and right, who is true and false. As soon as one does that, it is a short step to trying to force them to do right. And thus the state is born again.

In my opinion, part of being an anarchist and libertarian is not just free thinking, but critical thinking. ‘Question even the existence of God,’ said Thomas Jefferson. I say question even Prodhon, Kropotkin, Rothbard, Von Mises, and Goldman. If they are right, their arguments can stand up to questioning easily and indeed the arguments will be the stronger for it.

You are not free if you refuse to think.

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5 Responses to “Anarchist Dogma”

  1. Matt Jenny Says:

    venividicogniti’s view of Spencer is clearly distorted. See this piece for clarification.

  2. theconverted Says:

    Thanks Matt, that’s a good article.

    My main concern with venividicogniti is the mode of thinking than the specific of this article. He seems to demand such fealty to Prodhon’s writing that anything that even seems to disagree is deviant, blasphemous and contrary to orthodoxy.

    It is the same dogmatic thinking that the Soviet Marxists did, ironically, with regard to Darwin. Since Darwin did not agree with Marxian interpretations of things, they choose to believe in Lamarkian evolution. The result was the millions starved because the once prosperous Ukraine wheat fields grew nothing (because they choose to use those ideas rather than real science when it came to planting, growing and creating strands of wheat).

    Worse, he completely misunderstands Prodhon.

  3. theconverted Says:

    Sorry Kropotkin not Prodhon in the above…need coffee….


  4. Outstanding. I agree.


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