The Accidental Anarchist | Carne Ross | TEDxSkoll



[Applause] I'm going to try to convince you of something today which I think will be difficult I shall probably fail in that endeavor not least because I think often we need some kind of crisis to make ourselves think differently about the world to look at it afresh and throw away our preconceptions and I say that because I had a crisis myself to go through that process in my favor is the fact that I think we may be in a period of crisis right now certainly an environmental crisis an economic crisis of a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and of course a political crisis which is all too evident in the rise of populism nationalism society divided against itself my own crisis happened 15 years ago I used to believe in the Western model I used to believe that free markets lightly regulated were the best way to bring wealth and flourish allow everybody to flourish I used to believe that small groups of people representing the whole so-called representative democracy was the best way to govern the best way to bring peace stability to our society I was once a member of that small group I was a British diplomat I worked on many things I ended up working on Iraq and its chemical biological and nuclear weapons my crisis came to a head when I realized my government had been telling lies about the things that I had worked on I ended up testifying in secret to an official inquiry into the war and after great personal torment and anguish I decided to resign from the British Foreign Office but my crisis had been building for some time before that as a diplomat I had been writing speeches for my ambassadors and for my foreign secretary telling the world how we had it under control how government could manage the world the problems in front of us we could fix them but when I looked out of my window I saw something different I saw inequality rising I saw the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere increasing rapidly I saw particular after 9/11 which I witnessed I saw growing instability and what seems to be now perpetual war so that summer of 2003 I sat back a little lost and I tried to figure it out in government we had a tendency to place patterns upon the world and seek the evidence to justify those patterns the opposite if you like of scientific method worse people believed us in a sense we were making it up so what I tried to do was go out to the world and look at it afresh what was actually going on and start from that and try to derive an economics and politics from those observations what do we see in the world we see billions of actors in a constant process of action and reaction and counter reaction it is not it is not order it is not chaos it is something in between this is the definition of a complex system of complexity I read and read one night I was sitting with my little daughter at about 3:00 in the morning she was awake we were watching pay TV on our sofa and there was an advert for a course in complexity theory and I looked at the the advert and I thought that looks interesting I bought the bought the course complexity theory tells us a number of things about the world first of all it's impossible to understand the complex system from the top down it's constantly dynamic there are far too many moving pieces if you take a snapshot of it at one moment it's already changed this means it's very difficult to understand that system none of us can truly understand it let alone a government looking from the top trying to manage that system it makes it very very difficult if not impossible to manage this means for one thing that change is unpredictable in that system if you pull a lever at one end of the system as a government might with a policy you can't predict the outcome at the other end of that system of what that policy might produce it's unpredictable but by contrast also in such a system change can come from an individual agent or a small group of agents in fact they may they may be the most effective motor of change rather than a great big government we're used to thinking we have to be big but in fact we can be very small a single agent in a complex system can trigger change when that complex system is primed for change so called criticality it can trick a single agent agent contributor if you think of Mohammed Aziz for example the young man in Tunisia whose singular act of setting fire to himself brought revolution in Tunisia and across the Arab world the Arab Spring but also counter-reaction repression in Egypt and of course mass murder by the Assad regime in Syria this is a different model of change in complex systems it is impossible to create stability from the top-down in fact if you try to control that system to create order you are as likely to create disorder at the end but in a complex system order is plausible it is feasible through the actions of individual agents us individuals cooperating together collaborating to create things to organize ourselves to organize our society it's a deeper more endemic inherent order I would suggest more resilient when I realize this about complexity in the world I suddenly realized that what it means of course that changes up to us we can no longer look to others authority to do things for us when I realize this I found it profoundly upsetting it turned my model of politics literally on its head I was very angry shhhht by this revelation and the more I read the more I realized that in fact others had come to these conclusions earlier in the 19th century and this philosophy had a name and I realized that by deduction rather than by conviction I had actually come to believe almost by accident in anarchism Emma Goldman the likes of pyotr Kropotkin in russia 19th century anarchist believed that you could only have government for the people when it was by the people they rejected communism and I think if they were around today they would argue that anarchism is more relevant than ever and I would suggest to you that it is in fact essential if we're going to solve the problems in front of us but what is anarchism I hear you cry or maybe not well first of all anarchism doesn't tell us that things will be able all right in the end both communism and capitalism have in common this idea that it's all going to be okay if we keep doing it we go through the pain now eventually it's going to be good for everybody anarchism doesn't pretend that it doesn't offer a blueprint for a utopian society which by the way is inherently fascistic anarchism is a process it is action it is collaboration with people without power without people having power over one another collaboration as equals everybody included in decision-making it is work unlike voting though I would I'm sure you agree that our current political system with politicians trading simplistic vulgar slogans about what to do about the world and electoral politics and partisanship that seems to be more successfully dividing us than uniting us the political system that we have today is more part of the problem than the solution anarchists propose instead direct democracy this means everybody involved in the decisions that affect them this was democracy as practiced in ancient Greece where citizens took it in turns to take the decisions for the city but more recently direct democracy has been practiced by tens of thousands of people in a large city in Brazil called porto alegre where thousands of people took part in debates to decide the priorities for the city budget after 10 years of this the World Bank of all people did a study of the results and the results were extraordinary though perhaps predictable if you think about it if you include rich and poor alike in decision-making the outcomes of those decisions are going to be more equitable and sure enough when the World Book Bank looked at Porto Alegre they found the things like sanitation health care and education will were much more fairly distributed than they had been before this experiment in participate Rhee democracy began they also found interestingly that both politics the ugly form partisanship and corruption all dramatically declined which again makes sense because if politicians are not allowed secretly to carve up a budget and pay off their cronies why do you need political parties at all you just decide anyway it works this is a system that has been proven it's not a wild idea anak ISM isn't chaos people think oh it's just means you know everything a free-for-all is not that at all at all but you can't have a fair politics when power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few the wealthy those already with wealth and power will always get access to the decision-makers they will always be able to reach those policymakers more easily than the rest of us you have to create a fairer economy anarchists do not propose state ownership as the answer they propose instead that everybody who contributes to an enterprise should be a beneficiary of that enterprise they should be an owner of that enterprise they should have a say in the future of their enterprise this is of course the co-operative model and again it works Spain's 10 10th largest company is a conglomerate a cooperative called Mondragon in Britain it's longest-lasting retail store was founded when the family owner of a collection of stores realized that his family was worth more and was earning more than all of the company's employees put together disgusted he turned the company John Lewis into a co-operative this happened when he was lying in bed injured after a horse riding accident his own kind of rupture I've seen these models work in small villages in neighborhoods of New York City in cities big cities also in a remarkable region of eastern Syria called rojava where after the collapse of the Assad regime they have implemented self-government from the bottom up including all ethnicities races where women are always given leadership roles chair every meeting where decisions are made at the lowest level possible where even in decisions of justice and wrongdoing they do not look to authority to make the decisions to punish they look to the group society to decide what is best what is the best way to deal with their problems together this produces something extraordinary this produces society that is fairer that is better where there is more cooperation less division more harmony more love but this won't happen on its own no politician will legislate for this kind of society to arise it will have to be built and tended to constantly it's not something that we can just expect to happen through the dialectic of history and indeed the dialectic of history tells us that things change nothing can be taken for granted it's pretty clear that the current dispensation that left is very comfortable in the late 20th century of representative democracy and a kind of capitalism that dispensation is coming to an end and the question is what will replace it and it's pretty clear what will replace it right now and it's not pretty and unless we act that will continue to be our future there's something deeper here to the conception of the human in current contemporary Orthodox economics and politics is of somebody who can't be trusted you need governments to set down rules to coerce them to punish them if they do wrong it posits the human as individual consumer materialist somebody who protects their own rather than protects their own against the threats from outside i profoundly believe that this is a grotesquerie it's a travesty of what we are if you ask the dying soldiers what they will tell you is that they live for other people they will sacrifice their lives for other people in a sense they only exist in other people so for me anarchism has become much more than a merely political or economic philosophy it's become a guide to how to live and with that I'll sit down and turn the rest of you [Applause] you




Comments
  1. He speaks only of one school of anarchism, which is close to mutalism or syndicalism. Agorism or Anarchocapitalism are more logically sound branches, and closer to pure anarchism while mutalism or syndicalism are more prone to devolve into communism

  2. Dont get me wrong, i am anarchist but i am anarchocapitalist. People act and make choice, this is real free will and the best way to complex systems. Try to read ludwig von mises, murray n rothbard and hans hermann hoppe

  3. man, so many questions so few answers..
    -how on earth is direct democracy compatible with anarchy? is it not a form of government? what if the majority decides to kill all jews? who will stop them? what will guarantee personal freedom and security?
    -if there is no state or constitution, who will prevent a group of people from forming a fascist state within the wider anarchist society?
    -if you are so concerned about the environment, who will enforce protective measures? or do we expect that in an anarchic society no individual or group would ever abuse natural resources?
    -when you refer to capitalism, do you mean free trade? are you against free markets? free investment? maybe even property rights? what if free markets generate inequality? who will punish the winners and subsidise the losers, like in every other left-wing solution? or how else do you expect to get rid of inequality?
    -there is no wage labour you say? who will stop me from offering somebody a job? who will stop me from accepting an offer? who´s going to crack down on voluntary contracts between consenting adults?
    -if workers´ collectives are so efficient, why are they not dominating the current markets? or if they are not superior to capital-based privately owned enterprises, merely "more humane", who stops me from seceding from your anarchist society and establish my own capital-based society, which will outcompete yours every time?
    -which aspect of this imaginary society is less utopistic than socialism or communism?

    until someone answeres me these questions, i will consider left-wing anarchism the most ridiculous of all ideologies

  4. When are we going to lynch this guy?
    I looked him up, he's CEO of a company and probably raking in hundreds of thousands.
    I mean that's normal for communist figureheads, stealing from the people and living life like a god, but he's not really important enough to let it slide, he's not like my brah Stalin boiiiiiiiii

  5. Some Ted Talks are sorely disappointing; this is a good one. I wish Anarchism was better known around the world, as there's an awful lot of disinformation about it, and this disinformation is wanted, planned and even well funded…

  6. Anarchism is literally the next step to human evolution, in some distant future we will look upon this current system and ask ourselves how could we live in such twisted modern day slavery

  7. Anarchism is just unregulated capitalism applied to the entire society instead of the economy. Government has to be done in moderation. There are already way too many radical libertarians in america.

  8. Here's humanity's progress in a nutshell:

    Kill or be killed

    Then tribes

    Then monarchy

    Then democracy

    Then Democracy 3.5

    Then Democracy 95

    Then Democracy 98

    Then Democracy XP

    Then Democracy 7

    Then Democracy 8

    Then Democracy 10

    You get the drift. We can upgrade from democracy. Don't tell me humanity will forever be changing one version of democracy for another. It's boring. In fact democracy sucks. Tell me how much more time do we need til we can vote into office the right set of politicians? On the contrary our politicians are getting worse and worse as the years go by.

    Democracy should be abandoned. Let's find a better system. One such option is a decentralized trustless society. Order by specification and smart contracts.

  9. I'm skeptical that a non-hierarchical society could ever work, but I'm open to the possibility. One things for sure, what we have now is not sustainable and we will need to be radically overhauled if human civilization is going to survive.

  10. So in a city in Brazil they have direct democracy, therefor that's anarchy? Bro.. Definitions.

  11. Anarchism is, theoretically-speaking, one of the noblest ideologies, and certainly the most natural, least oppresive to human nature, but on a practical level it's not only unworkable but it also guarantees violence, chaos, and the reimposition of government by the worst predators among us, or the rebirth of government to protect against those predators. True, prosperous and peaceful anarchism can only emerge from a humanity that has greatly raised its consciousness on a collective level and has learned perfect love and respect for all others.

    In other words, it's impossible! (*sigh*)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *