excerpted from “To Change Everything: an anarchist appeal”
“Your rights end where another’s rights begin.” According to that logic, the more people there are, the less freedom.
But freedom is not a tiny bubble of personal rights. We cannot be distinguished from each other so easily. Yawning and laughter are contagious; so are enthusiasm and despair. I am composed of the clichés that roll off my tongue, the songs that catch in my head, the moods I contract from my companions. When I drive a car, it releases pollution into the atmosphere you breathe; when you use pharmaceuticals, they filter into the water everyone drinks. The system everyone else accepts is the one you have to live under—but when other people challenge it, you get a chance to renegotiate your reality as well. Your freedom begins where mine begins, and ends where mine ends.
We are not discrete individuals. Our bodies are comprised of thousands of different species living in symbiosis: rather than closed fortresses, they are ongoing processes through which nutrients and microbes ceaselessly pass. We live in symbiosis with thousands more species, cornfields inhaling what we exhale. A swarming pack of wolves or an evening murmuring with frogs is as individual, as unitary, as any one of our bodies. We do not act in a vacuum, self-propelled by reason; the tides of the cosmos surge through us.
Language serves to communicate only because we hold it in common. The same goes for ideas and desires: we can communicate them because they are greater than us. Each of us is composed of a chaos of contrary forces, all of which extend beyond us through time and space. In choosing which of these to cultivate, we determine what we will foster in everyone we encounter.
Freedom is not a possession or a property; it is a relation. It is not a matter of being protected from the outside world, but of intersecting in a way that maximizes the possibilities. That doesn’t mean we have to seek consensus for its own sake; both conflict and consensus can expand and ennoble us, so long as no centralized power is able to compel agreement or transform conflict into winner-takes-all competition. But rather than breaking the world into tiny fiefdoms, let’s make the most of our interconnection.