Anarchism for Civilians

This is a 4-part series introducing aspects of anarchism for those new to the idea.

  1. What Unitarians Taught Me About Anarchism
  2. What Bonobos Taught Me About Anarchism
  3. What Midwives Taught Me About Anarchism
  4. What Pirates Taught Me About Anarchism

This series is not a complete introduction to anarchism. Instead, my hope is to debunk some of the myths that we have been taught about anarchism and about civilization, among them the myth that anarchy is social chaos and hyper-individualism and the myth that civilization is healthier, happier, and more peaceful.

One of the defining characteristics of civilization is the domestication of human beings—both physically and psychologically. In order to accomplish the psychological domestication of people, civilization constructs a mythos to justify its existence. People come to accept their bondage because they believe there is no real alternative. I hope that I have helped open some cracks in that mythos for my readers.

Many of the examples I’ve used to illustrate my points aren’t actually of anarchists. Neither Unitarians nor midwives, and not even pirates, were necessarily anarchists. (Not the bonobos either.) But each of these groups embody certain anarchist values. And learning about them challenged some of my assumptions about civilization. 

Unitarians taught me about small-scale democracy. Bonobos taught me about the naturalness of taking care of others. Midwives taught me about the availability of alternatives to the state and capitalist order. And pirates, those violent criminals from our bedtime stories, taught me about the violence of civilization itself. 

Current Affairs writer, Nathan Robinson, suggests that the motto for anarchists should be, “Actually, Both of Those Things Are Bad.” Whenever we are presented with two things and told one is good and one is bad—like civilization versus Mad Max, capitalism versus tyranny, competition versus poverty, police versus riots, or hospitals versus death in childbirth—the anarchist invites us to question whether there is a false dichotomy and shows us how the one often creates the conditions of the other. Often, the dichotomy conceals a third (and maybe a fourth and fifth) option. These other options, if they are even acknowledged, are usually rejected out of hand as “unrealistic” or “utopian”. And it is the job of the anarchist to ask, “Why?”

“Freedom doesn’t mean choosing between options, but formulating the questions.”

To Change Everything: an anarchist appeal

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post,, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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