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+9 votes
Is the idea that, "no one should be oppressed" or "no one should oppress anyone" a moral? Is there a difference between the two statements? Is this the principle behind anti moralist forms of anarchism like @-nihilism and post leftism? What is moral nihilism. How does this relate to anarchists criticizing liberal activists for their "activist moralism" and what is that?
you asked quite a few questions here...but to partially answer your headline question....

no. i don't see anarchism as inherently moralistic. i think of it as a desire to live free from oppression, hierarchy, and coercion, the thoughts and actions that embody and work toward that desire, and collaborating (giving and receiving, fighting, creating) with others who feel and think this way.

the phrase beginning "no one should...." doesn't come to mind when i think of anarchy, even though i've never met anyone who has told me they like or want to live under oppression or with coercion.


2 Answers

+2 votes
it's hard to argue with nietzsche.

anarchism can be moralistic. probably most anarchists are moralists. (even  people who reject moralism find it challenging to avoid.)
some people reject anarchISM for that reason... (that it is ideological, ie prescriptive). i find a useful tension there, precisely because it is hard to talk about things-that-people-have-talked-about-acted-on-and-understood-to-be-anarchy/anarchist-related... without using something like the word anarchism, which then does tend to reify the ideas...
but i wouldn't say that anarchist thinking necessarily is moralist.
i have long held that a central tension in anarchist thinking is the idea that we know how things should be and also want people to decide for themselves.

re: your first sentence, i would put it differently. i would say that people who use words like "oppression" are participating in a conversation that is almost always moralist (in my experience).

as for the rest of your question, i look forward to other people's thoughts.  (oh, and moral nihilism is entirely confusing to me. where did that come from? how could someone put those words together? wtf?)
by (53.1k points)
dot, you raise some interesting points, some I've given some thought toward.

Perhaps one major reason for the difficulty of of speaking about anarchy, or really anything at all, in our language is that our language has become so abstract. I don't think this level of abstraction, even in everyday conditions, has always been the case. Old English, for example, was far more conditional than the English of today. Part of this is Religion. Part Philosophy. Part Science. And all techno-Western Civ at this juncture. (for kindling to get the fires of passionate thought going about this very topic I'd recommend 'Don't Sleep, There are Snakes' by Daniel Everett).

Without delving too much into philosophical quicksand, anarchy for me anyway may be analogous, in many ways, to Heidegger's descriptions of 'truth' or 'aletheia,' which he described as more a place, a clearing in the forest, one approaches, than as any 'essence,' or 'substance' that can be seen only from THE correct-view-from-nowhere; you know, that 'real deal' which always lies hidden from 'mere appearance' that's continually vexed the Western mind for centuries. (  Actually, I tend to think Heidegger's description of 'truth' is only an elaboration of Nietzsche's, but fruitfully illustrative nonetheless)

As such, I see 'anarchy' as a process, an opening of possibilities, some of those possibilities may become *norms* which evolve over time with others. I differentiate norms from morality very simply: norms are emergent (and largely unspoken) modes of sociability un-detachable from the conditions of everyday living-with-others. A deep paradox arises here: a fluidity which may, to the eyes of our brief lives, express a movement and change so slow as to be imperceptible as 'a peoples'' conditions change.

Morals, on the other hand, are abstractions, detachable and conceptually solidified rules requiring a constant belief in their 'universality' (even within a particular society: Rome, the US, UN) which, in turn, requires a body of enforcement, itself detachable (as a 'class') from the rest of its own society (ie; governing body). A deep contradiction arises here: what is held as universally applicable, may be broken at any moment given morality's basis in the arbitrariness of power.

Lawrence's short answer here comes to mind:

Edit for clarity.
lawrence can be quite pithy on this topic.
AF i just wanted to acknowledge that i'm putting the last two titles you've recommended on my "to read" list. fwtw. :)
Right on! Glad some of it resonated with you. You may enjoy Dan Everett as a speaker. Here he hits some of the topics in his book:
dot: "i have long held that a central tension in anarchist thinking is the idea that we know how things should be and also want people to decide for themselves."

perhaps many anarchists think that way. i don't have much to go on since i haven't met many people who call themselves anarchists, and i've only used the word recently myself. but at a very young age, i hated people telling me what to do, especially when backed by threats of violence or punishment. those feelings have intensified in my later years. i don't know that i ever thought things "should be" different for everyone. i remember my sister seemingly gladly going along with things i resented (my father's dictates, going to school and church, etc), and i never felt the need to tell her she "should" desire freedom from coercion too. i just knew i wanted it, and if she didn't want to join me in fighting back or escaping authority, i'd strike out on my own.

i think the tension you mentioned arises from the brainwashing by authority that tells us "things should be this way, this is right and this is wrong", and that desire i had as a child (and still have) to live free from those imposed thoughts. i guess i wouldn't say that tension comes from anarchist thinking, but rather from the conflict between anarchist desires and the conditioning of coercive thought.
I put moral nihilism because it popped up as a tag when I typed moral, what would be an amoral definition of anarchy then? Because I've always heard it defined simply as, absense of institutionalized coercion and oppression or absolute freedom. I suppose it would simply be the latter with a definition of freedom more complex than freedom from restraint? Or something else entirely ofcourse.
Donnie: " what would be an amoral definition of anarchy then?"

i define it as a desire for (and/or condition of) freedom from coercion.

freedom from restraint means something entirely different to me - that sounds more like government, corporations, etc.
so baa, you don't mind racism, sexism, homophobia, etc etc (to name the painfully obvious) as long as they don't apply to you? i haven't heard you say anything like that up til now...

regardless, wanting people to treat each other well, to not fuck up the planet, etc etc... do not seem like a result of "brainwashing by authority" to me, although of course *how* we define those and what we want to do about it could be different.

dd--without more explanation, your distinction between "freedom from coercion" and "freedom from restraint" is entirely unclear (and perhaps you're just informing us about your own personal jargon? which could be useful for us to know when talking to you). :)
dot, no i didn't mean that at all.

yes, i mind all those things (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc), and yes i'd like people to treat each other, the planet, and animals with kindness and respect.

but that doesn't mean morality ("things should be..." )to me. does it to you?

to me, it means i want or don't want certain things (like anarchic relationships), and that i will join with others who feel and think the same way toward those ends.

edited to add:

i don't know where those anarchic thoughts and feelings stem from for me, and i rarely question it. it seems like i had them as early as i can remember....i stifled them for a while...and now i mostly don't...but i don't describe my desires in terms of "right and wrong" or "how things should be" or "morality".
dot, i also want to clear up what i meant by "brainwashing by authority". i meant the notions of right and wrong and morality. as far as i can see, authoritarian thinking hasn't treated people well, and it certainly hasn't tried to prevent "fucking up the planet".

i'd like to understand how you interpreted my comments in such a different way than i intended them.
i am being terse, which is my wont.
my point is that there are things you take for granted (like, there is a good way to treat people--ie, not be racist, etc) and that is somehow distinct from morality (or, in this thread, saying what people ought to do).
i am attempting to muddy the water that you find so clear.

i like mud. :)
i like mud too, but mostly the kind i can squish through my fingers and toes.

i don't "take for granted there is a good way to treat people". i simply know how i want to treat people and how i would like others to treat me (and one another). any creeping sensation i might get to make it into more than that (morals, shoulds, etc.), i figure comes from authoritarian thinking that has gotten passed down to me through the years....and i prefer to stay out of that mud. i often find it difficult, but the distinction still seems clear.

edited to add: btw dot, i really like your habit of not capitalizing any words, and i realize i slowly started writing this way without thinking about it. now, i do it consciously. how did you come to write that way?
I don't think that thoughts such as "people should not be racist" necessarily come from authoritarian thinking. The history of society in the last 500 years shows that racism is very much tied to mass killings (i.e. genocide) as well as the misery of present-day life (disenfranchisement of people of color in Western societies).

I don't like those things, and can see that racism is very much linked together with them. It seems like racism will always promote some form of anti-social violence and authoritarian behavior, in addition to causing psychological trauma and inferiority complexes. More things I don't like!
i think i use no caps as a way to distinguish formal vs less/unformal writing.
no special thought put into it for me.

my point about using racism etc is that it's easy to label things as bad when they're abstract. morality on this site is a bad thing, for example. but those on this site also do have things that we do consider General Good things, like being against racism, etc (i picked these isms for the exact reason that they are unequivocal bads in the minds of pretty much anyone i want to talk to).
those generalities are exactly where morality lies, i think.
to put it another way, it is not a clear line between things we accept (sexism is bad), and things we reject (morality).

now i'm done with trying to explain this/these point(s). if it's still not clear, someone else will have to take this up.
we either don't understand each other, or we don't agree. i don't know for sure which (or both). the end.
By freedom from restraint I mean not having rules and punishment so you are not restrained from doing things, I suppose that would go under the categorie of coercion.
dot wrote: "those generalities are exactly where morality lies, i think.
to put it another way, it is not a clear line between things we accept (sexism is bad), and things we reject (morality). "

Since you brought up Nietzsche: "For if language, here as elsewhere, does not cast off its clumsiness and continues to speak about opposites, where there are only degrees and many subtleties of gradation, and similarly if inveterate Tartufferie [hypocrisy] in morality, which nowadays belongs to our invincible “flesh and blood,” turns the words even of us knowledgeable people around in our mouths,"*

One of those opposites, and a primary ground of morality is that of 'in/out' or 'inclusive/exclusive.' To me this **is** clumsy. It's part of what has allowed submission to domestication to grow into everyday self-policing and thrive. You're in or you're out. This denies so many other possibilities which have and may arise within our living engagements.

We have to remember the conditions we refer to interactions we label retrospectively as 'racism' and 'sexism.' Christianity, for us, has taught remain on the hunt (downtown, of course. Xtianity has always been a civilized religion/worldview) for intentions; these also abstracted from a host of interwoven drives, motivations, etc. But, must these labels retain their meaning as we leave the city and walk, run, skip, and/or dance toward the wilds? Where there is no (or far less and by degrees) dichotomy between in and out?

flip, i didn't mean anything specific about racism (dot brought that into the conversation).

the phrase "people should be...." seems moral (or absolute) to me, regardless of what follows.
BAA, I think the problem with what you're saying is related to the fact you are sayin this: "... i remember my sister seemingly gladly going along with things i resented (my father's dictates, going to school and church, etc), and i never felt the need to tell her she "should" desire freedom from coercion too. i just knew i wanted it, and if she didn't want to join me in fighting back or escaping authority, i'd strike out on my own."

All people on some level hate having other people tell them what to do...there are plenty of times i've rebelled against and rejected authority but there are plenty of time i've also shown a blind submission to other people and ideas, and the reasons people do these things are complicated. There's really no such thing as a "true anarchist", except people who never lived under an authoritarian brainwashing to begin with.
rick, i agree with everything in your second paragraph.

but i don't see "the problem with what i'm saying", nor how it relates to your second paragraph.

i don't think people get my meaning on this thread, and i don't plan on explaining it any more at this point. thanks for the effort. :)
+1 vote
Hey everyone, so I've been thinking about this question now because it's a good one, and I feel my answer was very poor, so I've erased the whole thing and made a new one:

We become moralists when we are convinced that we have supreme knowledge and other people must understand this knowledge for the world to become a better place (think evangelists). As anarchists, our goal is to dispel this notion, but since anarchism is an ideological position, then often we become like the evangelists themselves. The truth is that anarchists do not have superior knowledge and are not "better people" than the rest of society. You can't make the world a better place by making people "get it".

Anarchism is useful in the sense that it criticizes the roots of our culture. However, anarchists are also strongly influenced by the things the try to criticize (capitalism, the state, morality, ect.) In "Hello, a greeting from nowhere", it points out how Christianity has deeply influenced our thinking in the United States, and Christianity is a heavily moralistic ideology, so not being a moralist is very difficult. In order to avoid being moralists, I feel that we must dispel the idea that we are superior because of our points of view.
edited by anonymous
"Understanding of life as it is"
People shouldn't have to pay rent or mortgage to occupy space>> I am an anarchist because of this
I dislike the work rent cycle>>I intend to fight it>> this general attitude makes me An anarchist.
Is this representative of the distinguish ment you were trying to make?
I'm uncertain 'moralism' and 'anti-moralism' makes for a binary worth one's (or more accurately, *my*)  time. Perhaps there may be other possibilities, already lived possibilities, in living as un-moralistically as possible. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Not really.
Excellent answer.