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Can police or some form of community protection exist in your ideal anarchist society? What about jails?

+3 votes
There's no blueprint for an anarchist society—that's part of the beauty of it. Each one of us may or may not have a vision of how they perceive an anarchist society would work out. Does anybody see a use for police, neighborhood watch, etc for a society with no laws? As pointed out in other questions here, no laws doesn't necessarily mean no rules. If someone is driving drunk through a community, what are some ideas as to how the community should stop the danger, and possibly enforce that the person doesn't drive drunk in the community again? Should the community even enforce it? Jails deny freedom to individuals, but do you think it's acceptable to imprison someone such as a serial killer or rapist or someone else considered a "danger" to the community?
asked Jan 29, 2012 by Vindico Vaco (1,360 points)
many people use the word "community" like a magic sword: it binds some wounds, and causes others.
if you have to use the word at all (could be more helpful not to for a while, see if it sharpens conversations) a community is a group of people who have some ties to each other.
in an anarchist society, where you would not be punished for looking out for yourself (and in fact were expected to do so), how would you and your neighbors and friends address someone who was (or seemed) dangerous? how would it change if you were friends with the person? or were friends with the family of the person?


by the time the conversation is about words like "police", "serial rapist", and yes, "community", usually the interesting parts of the question/conversation have been bypassed or taken for granted.

4 Answers

+4 votes
Since you ask about "your" ideal anarchist society, I'll answer this question personally, with the understanding that no one assumes this to be a standard or majority anarchist answer.

Hopefully all anarchists would agree that there would be no police or jails (although no doubt there are some who do not). To get more specific, I would prefer to leave the ruins of a couple jails so anyone can wander through them, peer into the few remaining cells, and shiver at the brutality of a society that forced people to live inside them.

I agree with dot that the term "community" needs to be problematized. I do not think that any of us currently have communities, and contemporary forms of responding to harm based on "community accountability" strike me as, at best, an optimistic euphemism, and at worst, a total sham and power play.

In the future community I imagine, in which people are socially and materially interdependent but also as mobile as they choose, the community would sure as shortcake defend itself. We would have the recent, shared memory of banding together to overthrow the government and defeat the very worst psychopaths imaginable (cops, politicians, landlords, etc.) We would still have our guns and our determination to never be ruled again, and I seriously doubt we would be vulnerable, even with the absence of any specialized protection service.

Forms of harm that arise within this community would be dealt with chaotically, by different people in different ways, some offering support, some trying to mediate, some criticizing and pressuring those they see as wrong to change their ways, some breaking connections, and some taking revenge. This is what anthropologists refer to as "diffuse sanctions." The question as to whether this "works" cannot be taken seriously, as it is the most common method in human history. The question for anarchists would be, is this what we want?

As for the truly gruesome acts that are today punished as major crimes, I think it should be said that it is a much healthier dynamic if someone reacts from the gut and kills the other person as an act of vengeance, triggering more conflict in the community as to whether or not that was really okay, than to force everyone to agree on one sanction for the offender, and hide behind a curtain of social legitimacy, excusing in advance as "justice" whatever brutal punishment is agreed upon. The practice of justice is much more oppressive than the outrages committed by people taking things into their own hands.

And no, societies lacking a centralized mechanism of deciding on and dispensing justice did not fall apart in internecine warfare and feuding, so please avoid that Hobbesian fantasy.
answered Feb 2, 2012 by Petar Mandzhukov (1,370 points)
+1 vote
Also personal reflections:

I also find that it is very important to actually ask the question: in what way can police help today?

Due to the nature of "crime", that it is an act, happening "now", the police will always be a bit late. What they usually do is hunt down a perpetrator after a "crime" has been commited. This to hand out the "socially accepted" type of retribution. They do not keep us safe, they keep us "content" and "calm".

I am where I am, where it happends so to speak, and with todays laws my hands are virtuallly tied. Sure I can claim "self defence", but that will in no way be guaranteed to hold in court. And what if the perpetrator is a group of people and "I" is another group of people?

Anyways, personally I can not se any organized type of police besides me and my friends. I can definately not see prisons.

When it comes to preventing stupid and irresponsible behaviour I kind of like the ideas of Jaque Fresco. When it comes to drunk driving: how come cars actually run when the driver is clearly drunk? How come we put responsibility of these things on the person? We all agree we should not drive drunk? Then let's make cars that won't. And if we don't all agree that it's a bad idea to drive when drunk, well then I guess we will have to come to terms with the fact that some people can affect our lives in negative ways, and that there is no real protection against irresponsibility and stupidity.
answered Jun 4, 2012 by utopiaunited (360 points)
+3 votes
not sure exactly how relevant this is, but...

i live in a very rural area with very sparse human population, but within 30 miles of a town. there are a number of people in this area that are not anarchists, but are very autonomous and largely anti-state. this area has a reputation for having lots of "outlaws". law enforcement (county, state, fed) almost NEVER comes out here, even 911 won't come all the way (there are no official 911 addresses out here anyway). i have never seen a cop out here in 11 years. nobody out here (at least none of the autonomous folks) has ever called the cops to my knowledge.

people here do not consider themselves part of a "community". we are individuals who sometimes hang out with other individuals. i know who has my back, and whose back i have. when there have been issues - and that is not uncommon - we deal with them directly, ourselves.  sometimes alone, sometimes with others.  it totally depends on the specific situation.

when someone i know was robbed by a known troublemaker, the troublemaker was physically removed from the area, to several hundred miles away, and told NEVER to come back.

when a guy showed up at an abandoned homestead nearby, he was not bothered. but when it was discovered that he was cooking meth, he was escorted out of the area by 3 locals at gunpoint.

recently there was a triple shooting here; 1 dead and 2 injured. they all knew each other, and many others knew them as well. a few potential rural gentrifiers called the local radio station to complain that the cops weren't investigating or doing anything about it. so the county sent a couple cops to try to talk to people (of course they didn't come all the way here). NOBODY told the cops anything. of course the winers didn't know shit, but many others did, and they very specifically told the cops zilch. the person that many suspect did the shooting... is gone from the area.

so, long story short, police and jails are completely authoritarian and would never be in my anarchist world. "community protection", neighborhood watch, etc, are just less formalized versions of the same thing, imo. to me, personal safety is the responsibility of the person, and hopefully they have some trusted friends who can help when that is necessary. same if someone is physically (or otherwise) incapable of protecting themselves; their friends will hopefully help out when necessary.

anarchy is, among other things, a way of relating to others. we can choose to relate in authoritarian ways (as most do, including ALL institutions), and we can choose to relate in non-authoritarian ways. the latter is much more difficult, or so it seems.
answered Mar 19, 2013 by funkyanarchy (12,210 points)
let me also add:  the very concept of "policing" seems antithetical to my anarchy. seems to me that how we relate to others, both those we trust and those we don't, would necessarily include dealing with situations that involve risk, fear, threat, danger, etc. it is up to me as an autonomous individual to decide how i will deal with a situation when it arises. to have some pre-determined group or policy that dictates how such situations are dealt with, cannot possibly allow me the freedom to decide how to handle a situation based on its full context.

yeah, i guess you can tell i lean towards and individualist perspective on anarchy.
Not to be rude, and, I'd like to expand on this question later, but it's like asking in a community of vegans, where to put the abattoir...
Okay, back. @funky anarchy: your statement clearly resonates with me. I'm also very rural and here in my county, I've heard several stories of people in the area calling the local sheriff and and being asked if they had a gun and then told to take care of it. You're almost required to have a gun. Several years back on extremely rural land near me, there was a confrontation between two parties in which a car was left on private property. The owner of the car showed up one day to retrieve the car. And you would look at that as doing the owner of the property a favor.  The owner of the property comes out brandishing a .45  and calls the sheriff. Once the sheriff arrives, he's infuriated to be called out this far (about 100mi from the seat) for something so completely stupid. and he basically threatens that if he has to come out here again and no one is bleeding or shot, he will arrest everyone involved.

It's a poor county but that has a big advantage, there is no county prison, only a small holding cell. Anyone they must send to jail goes to the county prison in the county east of here and they're not looking for another mouth to feed either.

These days there's a new sheriff in town and although I'm not a fan of any solution within government whatever, It's good to know that he's an oath keeper and believes that his job is to protect the people from tyrannical government. I like to think of myself as an oath breaker.
Largely off topic, but where do you/did you live? it sounds wonderful. That places sounds pretty much like my definition of Anarchy, except I suppose that those piggy's occasionally turn up.
I'm confused- the person responsible for the triple shooting is gone from the area, but doesn't that just make them someone else's problem? That person could easily go on to kill others somewhere else, be pushed out of that area, and so on. That person could eventually be killed themself in retribution or an act of self-defense, but then again they might not be. Is there any sense of "I don't want to be responsible for allowing this person to go on killing," and if so, how is that dealt with?
"I don't want to be responsible for allowing this person to go on killing,"

for starters, i reject the kind of thinking that implies that another's actions are in ANY way my responsibility (or the responsibility of anyone other than that person). not that everyone doesn't have influences. but my responsibility starts and ends with my own behavior.  when someone else's behavior impacts me (or someone i care about), i will choose how to respond, based on the context of the situation.


yes, that shooter is now elsewhere. does that make them "someone else's problem"? only once they (the shooter) behave in ways that are problematic for those around them. in this world that happens everywhere, all the time, to varying degrees. in my mind, it should be up to those impacted to decide what behavior is problematic and what to do about it.

some obvious choices in the scenario you are referring to were:

1. ignore the fucker
2. kill the fucker
3. call the authorities
4. make the fucker gone from the area

where i live, #3 is not an option, and #2 is generally shied away from, at least initially. many choose #1, but those impacted will usually try #4 first. if that doesn't work longer-term, #2 is always an option. legend has it there are many undiscovered bodies buried around this area. just legend. heh heh.

to live without law is to think differently than the ways we have been indoctrinated to think.

another example from around here. there is one neighbor that nobody around here likes (and some fear). most would like to see him gone. and some folks have good reason to want him gone. i personally have never had a problem with this individual. if someone else got rid of him (however they did it), i would completely understand. but i have no compulsion to get rid of him, because he has given me no reason to, and he does not impose on my life. we are not friendly, but i also don't consider him an enemy (as some do). if i felt any kind of threat from him, i might be more interested in getting rid of him. but after 6 years, he has never given me reason to consider him a threat. some folks don't understand that, since it is known that he has done very uncool stuff to others.  yet i am fortunate enough to be able to discern the context of our relationship, as distinct from whatever other relationships he has.  so he is a complete non-issue in my life. if he ends up killing me in my sleep someday... oh well, maybe i misread the context. :-)  i'm ok with that; at least it was my own choice based on my own experience.

nobody is responsible for the actions of another. people are influenced by many things (including other people), and often those influences impact one's behaviors - but one's actions are still completely their own responsibility. having trusted friends around is extraordinarily useful when one's desired actions require more than one person (eg, protecting one's homestead), but it is still nobody's responsibility but their own. at least until they all agree on other responsibilities.

just having coffee, i hope this rant makes sense.
+1 vote
Vigilance will of course always have an important role, but to me policing involves a mentality of profile-predict-prevent-punish that I wish to move as far as possible away from. There's a difference between people having bells on their dwellings to signal for help (with a social norm of people helping their neighbors) on the one hand, and a select enforcer class proactively imposing a particular paradigm of order onto populations through a territorial monopoly on force.

If "justice" is a useful term, there's distributive, restorative, transformative, and punitive forms, and all of those can have versions with value for an anti-authoritarian, face-to-face community ethos. Distributive might involve in your first example of the drunken driver examining why roads near residences don't have obstructions, bumps, traffic circles that make them safer against accidents overall. Restorative might entail the driver attempting to make amends to the people who they endangered in the ways that they can mutually agree to as workable and reasonable. Transformative might involve examining intoxication dependency and transportation needs in the community and why this person did this behavior and how to create new behavioral expectations and norms or create rehabilitation programs for addicts, or discussing why no one took their keys when they were obviously drunk and going to drive. Punitive might involve taking their keys, wrecking their vehicle, shaming them in public, refusing to suppor them, banishment, beating them up, or other possible options I can see happening if they, for example, ran over a kid. These would all of course arise from the context and norms developed over time by the general body of people who live in an area more than abstract written codes made by authorities. And of course they can all work in tandem to certain degrees, enacted by diverse parties around the same event.

I don't support incarceration. I also think that no one has an obligation to support abusers, and that a lot of places would have strict responses to violently anti-social and exploitative instances of psychopathic, sociopathic, and supremacist behavior, in addition to cultivating means in which those people never gain positions of power. Different communities will develop different means of determining "evidence" and "guilt" to identify people like serial killers and serial rapists. I think that it's preferable for survivors or community general assemblies to kill those people instead of create what I see in prisons as a system of slavery, torture, sensory deprivation, and a class of authoritarian managers outside the public eye. I would think we'd have a lot of social energy put into making sure we don't have to get to the point of tracking those types of people though, I think they're a genetic extreme rarity and that abusive socialization is the primary issue, and issue which we also see as part of anarchist struggle.
answered Mar 20, 2013 by AutumnLeavesCascade (10,510 points)
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