Our maps, their territories

When people find out I’m an anarchist, some of the first things they inevitably ask me are:

…but who would take out the garbage? …but what would we do without police? …but how would we manage the roads and energy provision and sewage systems? …but what about lazy people?

Us anarchists have always been good at coming up with answers to these kinds of questions and so when people pose them to me, whether disingenuously or not, I’m usually quick to respond:

We’d all take out our garbage as we each have an interest in being a part of a thriving, healthy community. We’d look after each other using the principles of restorative justice and communal self-defence if there were no police. We’d use all sorts of decentralized models like federalism and consensus to coordinate our social affairs on whatever scales we decided to organise and collaborate on. We’d have less lazy people in a society that was premised upon empowering and supporting every person to explore their unique individual becomings without judgment, and we wouldn’t persecute poets and dreamers for ‘wasting’ time that could be spent pursuing more ‘valuable’ or ‘responsible’ ends.

Lately however, I’ve been asking another question in return:

What would our lives look like if we all got to come up with answers to these questions together?

Because in the world we currently live in, the simple truth is that most of us don’t get to have a say. We don’t get to propose alternatives or share our answers, however profound, in any kind of meaningful way beyond idle fantasizing and speculation – coffeeshop chatter and internet debate. We have deferred our power and responsibility – or had it taken from us in ways both forceful and insidious – to a set of abstractions that we have reified and which now serve to rearrange every part of our lives in their own codified, hierarchical image, alienating us both from each other and from ourselves – from our collective capacity to determine our own trajectories.

In the face of all this, the real question we should be asking each other is not how would your ideal world work, but rather, how can we take power back so that we can decide together?