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+5 votes
Since I've began learning about and identifying with anarchism I've become obsessed with considering how my daily decisions contribute to capitalism.  I work a Union job that provides me with a typical suburban life for me and my family. We live in a house, bank owned at the time, shop at chain grocery stores, drive cars, etc. etc. I live paycheck to paycheck like most wage slaves but I do realize that I'm better off than many many people. I often feel guilty about this. It seems that my life epitomizes the typical statist/capitalist American. As I said I feel bad about this but what are my other options, give all of my possessions away and live in a campground with my family?

How do you make daily decisions as an anarchist? When you're forced to make a purchase like food do you try to stay away from places like Walmart? Do you shop at a store where they employ union workers? Does it even matter if the workers are unionized or not?
by (210 points)
great question. and the type of question i entertain almost daily.
same here. i hope to give a little more thought and write up an (my) answer.

2 Answers

+3 votes

the bottom line, for me, is to be very aware of what my desires, motivations/intentions, and priorities are for my life. and to let go of the illusions i grew up with. many years ago i got clear on what some of those were, and i made some dramatic changes to my life in order to start realizing them. none of what i did to change my life is going to do anything to change "the world", end capitalism, destroy the state, or whatever. it merely has reduced (pretty dramatically) the extent to which i must interact with the institutions i despise, and therefore it has reduced their impact on my life. and i am much happier as a result.

but then i personally like (and strive for) simplicity in my life. most people seem to crave complexity, or at least that is what their behavior leads me to believe (despite, in many cases, words to the contrary).

if it is important to you to support union workers, then by all means, shop only at union stores. (i'm not sure how that really supports them in any way other than "moral" support or some abstract sense of solidarity, but no matter). if you hate walmart, don't shop there (again, how much this really matters to them or their success, is probably negligible). the point here is, do what you want to do because it is what you want to do (because it meets your own needs/desires); don't have illusions about how it is going to change anything other than that moment. voting with one's dollars can be personally satisfying, but i don't see it changing anything about capitalism. eg; green capitalism is still capitalism.

my suggestion would be to take serious stock of your life, and do your best to identify what your true (authentic?) needs and desires are - not those that have been sold to you/shoved down your throat by the institutions that run civilization (capital, the state, culture/society, academia, science(tm), public relations, etc). then, decide what you can do to (realistically) to bring your life more in line with what you really want (and need).  

self-sufficiency is a huge factor in my own detachment from civilized institutions. everything i can do on my own to meet my own needs/desires, provides me greater freedom from that which i hate. i have no illusions that i will ever be 100% self-sufficient, but i continue to try to get ever closer to that pipe dream, within my own constraints.

if you limit the scope of your pursuits to your own life (and the lives of those you choose to share yours with), you can avoid a huge amount of pain, guilt, disappointment, disillusionment, etc. some call that selfish; i call it practical.

now i'm rambling...

by (12.4k points)
some pretty enjoyable and thoughtful rambling, i say. :)
indeed. really enjoyable and reflective. so many of us began with big ideas only to become frustrated and miserable. i certainly have at times in my life. perhaps this is partly why (social?) anarch-ism rarely lasts into older age for so many.

Thank you for your thoughts! It seems like your sentiments are shared by a lot of anarchists. I think what you're saying here is that I may want to consider changing MY life in ways that support my idea(s) of anarchism instead of trying to get the capitalist world, which I have absolutely no control over, to come around? Basically, if it feels good for me do it?

I do try to vote with dollars but it's difficult to justify spending 25% more each week on food for my family to make a pro union, typical mainstream union at that, statement. After all we need to survive.
just to clarify Nogov, people on this site tend to share a certain amount of affinity, but if you visit other sites and ask this question (or just read people's posts) you will get VERY different ideas.

and probably this site reflects a fairly small contingent of anarchists.

also, "if it feels good, do it" sounds too close to something a fratboy would say, but your preceding sentence does get at the idea.

also, welcome (back) to the site.
Dot, thanks for welcoming me back. I got a chuckle out of The frat boy comparison. I suppose it does sound frat boyish, lol. However, I must let it be known that I am definitely not a frat boy or what I like to refer to as a "terminal preppie."
@nogov: "Basically, if it feels good for me do it?"

:-)  always!   (yes, dot knows i'm a frat boy!)

but seriously, i would say that is only part of the equation. motivation, intent, impacts, ... these are all things i want to assess, in addition to any visceral/gut sense(s) i might have ("i can't articulate why, that just feels right in this situation...").

and yes, you hit that nail right on the head here: "I may want to consider changing MY life in ways that support my idea(s) of anarchism instead of trying to get the capitalist world, which I have absolutely no control over, to come around".  

you said it:  we all need to survive, and having to pay substantially more for kind/green/organic/fair trade/labor-friendly/whatever necessities does not work for most of us. it is easy to just go to safeway or walmart, and say "fuck it, i can't beat capitalism, so let me stretch my puny dollar as far as it will go..." it isn't quite so easy to create living situations where those are not our only choices (eg, growing our own food instead of buying it). that's a good example of where one's priorities come into play.

as dot mentioned, don't assume that most/many anarchists feel the same way i do, even though clearly several of us on this site share a certain sprinkling of anarchistic tendencies. infoshop and libcom would probably average out towards a fairly different sprinkling of tendencies (though it has been some time since i've been to either).

baa & af: thanks!
I wish that more people voted with their dollars.  I believe there could be real power in boycotts if enough people would get onboard with the idea--that is if thousands of or even millions of working people realized that they needed to make a stand.  Let's say Walmart doesn't treat/pay/give benefits to its employees like it should.  Well, if enough people--like all the working people in the US and Canada--would boycott the store for let's say a week, Walmart would listen.  Does this sound crazy?  I don't think so.  If working people would unite in this way, I think a lot could change.  But as individuals we don't have a chance.  Anyway, the "voting with dollars" idea I think is a good one if we could get enough people on board.
There are two things wrong with "voting with dollars": 1. voting, and 2. dollars.

The idea that one's purchasing power is somehow connected to morality is a liberal conceit. It is based on the Liberal (as in 19th century Anglophone Liberalism as epitomized by the likes of John Locke) notion of the self-interested enlightened consumer. For any anarchist worth their salt, this is transparent bullshit, just like boycotting certain companies while purchasing similar commodities from others. Capitalism as a system remains intact and unchallenged by the whims of moralists; all capitalists care about is profit and market share. The trend toward "organic" and "sustainable" food items is a clear indication that if there's money to be made by contributing to the relief of big guilt among progressive consumers, then there will be capitalists to create expensive commodities for them to profit from.

One thing about "voting with dollars" though -- it's a good way to explain the American electoral system...
What you write is true lawrence, but do you have another idea, a better idea to help those workers which are taken advantage of by companies like Walmart?  I like the idea of anarchist communities, but we have a way to go to get there.  Although we may all be trapped in a capitalistic society, not all, let's say, supermarkets treat their employees like dirt.  So shouldn't we reward those who treat their employees descent and punish those who don't in some way.  What are we suppose to do?
stillaslave, why do you say that not all supermarkets treat their employees like dirt? this just seems like a crazy statement to me...

I hear what you're saying. Capitalism is Capatilism. The money and power still ends up in the hands of oppressors, yes? Doesn't really matter who collects it from me. I've also taken the approach of trying to limit consumption. This seems like a more realistic and effective tactic to me. I mean what does it say if I consume an absurd amount of a product just because I bought it from a store that employs union workers? I'm then suppose to feel much "better" about my consumerism?

@lawrence: One thing about "voting with dollars" though -- it's a good way to explain the American electoral system...

indeed! that sounds like a good flyer to me.


stillaslave: "... do you have another idea, a better idea to help those workers which are taken advantage of by companies like Walmart?" "What are we suppose to do?"

i hate to play the "dunk the liberal" game, but you do realize that your are repeating mainstream liberal/progressive rhetoric, don't you?

as i said earlier, if you personally feel good voting with your dollars, by all means go for it. just don't delude yourself about what impact that has on the exploitation of workers, or the strength of capitalism in general. and for sure don't mistake it for anything "anarchist".

@nogov: "I mean what does it say if I consume an absurd amount of a product just because I bought it from a store that employs union workers? I'm then suppose to feel much "better" about my consumerism?"


you do realize that your are repeating mainstream liberal/progressive rhetoric, don't you?

stillaslave: for clarification, there are questions on this site that discuss the difference between liberals and anarchists - just search for "liberal."

and for a familiar but more fleshed-out "voting/dollar" response, there's this thread


As is commented on below about union workers, sure they're usually treated better.  Not more than five blocks from each other in my town is a Walmart and a Scholari's,  Walmart treats its employees like dirt and the ones who work at Scholari's are treated descent.  That's what I mean, Asker.
Lawrence and Dot, well my question was what to do about combating corporations which take advantage of their employees.  I know the system is corrupt.  I wasn't asking if it was anarchist or liberal; I was asking if somebody had a better idea in the world in which we live.  I did read the thread dot posted and I do agree with the arguement/points posted on that thread.

Wondering where this is going: so are we to just demand a new system or non-system--while we refuse to vote with our dollars?

I was just saying: I'm sure boycotts would work if enough people would get on board with the idea--anarchist or liberal or not.
Funkyanarchy, there is a polular proverb, "If you label me you negate me."  Now, are you proud of labeling yourself and anarchist? No?  You judge weather or not an idea is anarchist or not?  With a label?  It's not what you believe; it's not what you say or write; it's what you do that matters!  Now, my question is, "Have you got a better idea?"
hey SAS, i think the issue is that your question -- how can corporations be better (i understand that's a paraphrase)-- is very practical but isn't getting at more fundamental issues.

it's also more practical to vote for better politicians.

and there are anarchists who think that both those things are worth doing, but they don't tend to hang out on this site.

mostly the people here want to get away from working within the system (which a boycott does, for example), want to get away from the system entirely (or as much as possible).

and F@ has been talking about their better idea, which is in the answer they posted in this thread. right?
stillaslave -- I feel worried about the way you're posing this -- as if a difference of a few dollars an hour or this or that benefit indicated that there was a significant difference in the relation of power between boss and employee. even the most advantageous, interesting, high paying job monopolizes your time and energy w/o necessarily directing the labor towards anything that benefits you. that's why to me it's actually not practical at all to "demand" (as if we had the power to demand anything) a better setup in relation to work.

@sas:  "I'm sure boycotts would work if enough people would get on board with the idea"

of course they would (for anyone whose needs are actually being met by the boycott). anything would work if "enough people would get on board with the idea". but i'm not into proselytizing or mass movement building. 

Dot, It's not how corporations can be better, but how can we help the employees barely surviving as they are trapped in the system.

And I do appreciate F@ solution above to bring our own life into line with @ way of life, but it seems to me, that this is kind've isolationist--that is, further, isolating us from those who are trapped in the system--while we/you/he do our own thing.
Asker, you're right, we do not have the power unless we unite.  But if enough people can come together, people have the power to change things.  

This is so cliche, but I can't think of any other way to say it: "We've got to start somewhere."  So, if not, where do we start?  Just doing the F@ thing?

F@, "i'm not into proselytizing or mass movement building."

OK, but me thinks some of your ideas might be worth throwing out there.

It takes mass movements to change anything when we are discussing entrenched policies.  Anyway, it doesn't cost anything to throw it out there.

"Asker, you're right, we do not have the power unless we unite.  But if enough people can come together, people have the power to change things.  "

This isn't what I said at all... there's no change to the relationship between worker and boss (or customer and store) that would be desirable or worth working at.

"This isn't what I said at all"  I know/knew that.  I was trying to get back to the boycott thing which I know, now, is unacceptable to most here.  

I know that we strengthen the system as we participate in it, but for most people I know, I do not see a way of avoiding the trap they/we are in.  The system/capitalism is about control, and by and large, control is accomplished by keeping the masses in debt--forcing them to work, most of the time long hours for little as compared to the amount they need to be debt free.

It seems to me, in one way, we are saying the same thing: that is we try not to participate with the system however we can.  I would try and advocate large organized movements of non participation in order to slap the power holders in the face (although it will not change the relationship of worker and boss); others here, as I understand, try to limit their participation as much as possible as individuals.


I did just order: The Great Anarchists: Ideas and Teachings of Seven Major Thinkers by Eltzbacher.  Maybe that will be little better introduction, as I continue to read the threads here also.

@sas: a couple thoughts:

1. you seem to feel somehow "responsible" for helping "the workers" in their cruddy situation with jobs and debt. if your objective is not to make corporations "better", then what do you ultimately think some mass movement can accomplish (that is not some typical reform [which clearly change very little if anything], eg a minimum wage increase)? if you think you can appeal to institutional power to eradicate itself, you are as delusional as the commies that think the state will simply wither away.

2. you seem to think my ideas are worth "throwing out there". and you seem to think a mass movement is necessary to bring about meaningful change.  how about this: an unorganized mass movement of individuals detaching/isolating from the institutions of power and control (rather than appealing to them to be nicer) and taking direct control of their own time, sustenance, relationships and pleasure?  and for those who so desire, acting in ways to destroy those institutions more directly (though with enough people(tm) detached, would there even be such a need?). that is the only kind of movement, other than a good bowel movement, that i can get with.

i am only mostly joking.

from a bob black interview on @news:

"There is nothing more divisive than an insistence on unity."

'you seem to feel somehow "responsible" for helping "the workers" in their cruddy situation with jobs and debt.'  This is true.  I'm not sure why.  I guess I just don't think that the those with the power should just keep getting away with fn people.

"how about this: an unorganized mass movement of individuals detaching/isolating from the institutions of power and control (rather than appealing to them to be nicer). . ."  Now, that is a good idea!  Of course that would mean for the mass movement to stop buying from them--right?  Otherwise it (the institutions of power would just keep going on and we would not really be isolated from them (LOL).

No, but I did not think of it that way--the way you propose--an anarchist movement of self-reliant communities?  I think that such a movement is possible.  And it is a good point.

+1 vote
There's no style of being an employee or consumer that you could adopt that would make you less imbricated in capitalism. (I'm answering first in these terms since that's how you posed the question, even though there could be other types of daily decisions).

There might well be styles of consuming that, for example, make one feel more ethical, but this is obviously an aspect of marketing. An "ethical commodity" is worth more b/c you feel good about purchasing it.

In just war theory there's often been the idea that your actions in war have their most serious/important effects on you yourself. Your moral character, your eternal soul, etc., suffers when you commit an atrocity (never mind how many people die). It strikes me that this is terribly relevant to any question of a possible ethical consumption, since no matter what products you buy, the deaths still pile up.

That's why, for me, it's unacceptable to engage in any form of work or consumption that appears to justify itself. It would be morally dangerous to console yourself, or to imagine your decisions in this context have some ameliorating effect. Better to go on feeling guilty, than to assuage the guilt via a different type of (equally pernicious) buying.

Here's my idea, in relation to the activities you bring up (working + shopping) but also more generally, as a tactic for living in a world of permanent war, and keeping yourself together, whole, perceptive:

1.Cultivate irony. Shield yourself a little from the things that are asked of you and don't invest yourself in them fully but keep your distance. By keeping your distance you create room within yourself to think and feel.

Equally, you should practice this kind of ironic shielding in relation to proposed "solutions," and political programs, and to reaction and criticism in general. An incomplete critique is worse than no critique, and is usually shallower and less interesting.

2.As the world contracts, open your eyes wider. Social control becomes tighter and more absolute, but as it does so it can never make the whole world boring and gray.  Even in the most intensely policed metropolis there is so much to see and think about and understand, so do that. It's a legitimate pleasure and maybe the last one left.

(if this sounds like advice, please bear in mind that it's intended more for myself than for an unwilling audience)
by (7.9k points)
edited by
Dot, “neither moral nor immoral”

I think in order for anyone to be happy there must be a degree of freedom to do what ever one wants without having to answer to anyone. But neither should anyone be a nuisance to others without good reason.

“criminal” on this web-site was/is, I guess, a poor choice of words. When I wrote criminal I meant actions which would be considered a nuisance to most in society.

'"moral" and "morality" to refer to something that is imposed from without'

I understand completely. Participating on atheists web-sites as well in the past, I understand the whole concept of morality as something created by “others.” That is why I wrote above that morality is something subjective and it is not. That is, it is subjective to one's historical position in their particular society, but for one to be moral, to me, they must care about justice in their community. But as I wrote above, it is alright for people to be amoral (neither moral or a nuisance) as their right to be free.
if you are really interested in anarchy, you may want to expand your readings to anarchist (and other) writers who are critical of progressivism, liberalism and leftism. that is where things got really interesting for me (a former leftist/progressive who broke free maybe 15 years ago). if you cling to progressivism, you will find a great deal of contention on this site. which can be one of the best ways to add meaningfully to your pool of ideas. if you are open-minded, that is. most progressives that have passed through here are (or seem, based on interactions) completely closed-minded and rigidly dogmatic.

i suggest some exploration at theanarchistlibrary.org. you could browse topics like "post-left", "progress", "liberalism", etc.

edited to add: moving away from leftism/progressivism does NOT mean, in an anarchist context, moving to "the right". the whole left/right (false) dichotomy is one of the things many anarchists try to get away from. the term "post-left" is applicable (more so than, say, post-right) only because of the historical ties (which many progressives seem to want to perpetuate) between anarchy and the left.
fa, I will continue to read.  Gotta finish what I'm reading now though.
stillaslave, I think you might be interested in Nietzsche's book, The Genealogy of Morals, as a way of thinking about the ideas you're alluding to w/ your commentary about Red Cloud. (The book has to do with the idea that there are 'fashions' in morality, that change for various reasons without finding a firm foundation ever. It's kind of like what you were saying, but I think might help you develop this line of thought more)

Asker, Nietzsche

I have read Nietzsche in the past, but it has been a long time--at least 30 years ago.  Since it is a copout to look to someone else for morality, and to some, morality is just an idea which has been made up, it is subjective in that sense, but I think the idea of being moral, being true to what is right, good and beautiful to one's self and her/his community is important.  I will get around to the suggested reads.