‘Love Life’ is Bella’s Agony Aunt column… because the personal is political and the ‘state we’re in’ is complicated. See here for more background.

Dear Jamie,

Do you think that anarchy can really work? I mean, it’s a beautiful idea in theory, but when I look at the people around me, I fear that it would all go horribly wrong. What do you think an anarchist Scotland would look like? How would it work?

Tired and cynical in Tiree

Dear Tired,

It’s less that I think anarchy can work and more that I know it does work. I’ve experienced it on numerous occasions and it is wonderful. Literally, full of wonders imagined to be impossible when feeling tired, cynical. I can relate. It happens to me, too. And then, somehow, I break out of the mindset that tries to convince me that others are incapable, that I am incapable. You might say I have a faith in anarchy, but it is not a blind faith. I test it, again and again, against my own experiences of being alive, of being part of life.  I’m less interested in anarchism as political doctrine and more inspired by anarchism as one possible name by which we might refer to the awareness the hierarchy, domination and obedience are not the truth of life. There is something more fundamental, something peaceful and profoundly liberating.

Colin Ward, recently deceased, wrote beautifully and extensively about learning to notice the anarchy of everyday life. Life organises itself and human beings are no exception. Notice how people working in rigid systems bend the rules to create the flexibility needed for things to happen. Notice how people help each other out, not because they want something in return, but simply out of the joy of giving. Sure, selfishness happens, too. Regulation happens. Something we might call the State keeps happening. But it’s not the only thing that happens, or perhaps even the most important.

This reminds me, too, of the feminist geographer duo, J.K. Gibson-Graham, who wrote critically about ‘capitalocentrism’. When people talk about ‘the economy’, what do they mean? Is there only one? Or when people talk about living ‘under capitalism’, what do they mean? Over many years of research, J.K. Gibson-Graham noted the tremendous diversity of economies, the many ways in which people produce, consume, earn, distribute, share. What we might call capitalism is only part of the diverse relationships happening in Scotland and beyond. It is not the truth of economics.

In response to your second question, I’ve read many beautiful utopian anarchist visions. I love Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home, Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing, and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. I’m deeply grateful for PM’s and the New Alchemy Institute’s visions for eco-cities. The Land and Permaculture Magazine  are both incredible resources showing what is possible in the countryside.

These are wonderful. They might point the way toward what might an anarchist Scotland of the future might look like. To come full circle we might ask, what does an anarchist Scotland already look like? Do you see instances of people treating each other as equals? Or of people having a deep respect for the land of which we are a part? Do you notice examples of mutual aid, of people helping each other not for profit, but out of a recognition that ultimately we all depend on each other? Have you ever seen someone let go of their attachment to authority because they’d really rather connect with someone in a meaningful way? And have you ever known someone who refused to be looked down upon? Have you known people to sort out disagreements themselves, or prevent violence themselves, without relying on the police?

It seems clear to me that anarchy is alive and well in Scotland and beyond. Rather than wondering what might happen if or when the Scottish Parliament becomes a museum, like Edinburgh Castle, and banks become community centres, we might instead ask, what can each of us do to nourish those alternatives which always already exist? How might we support each other to live a little bit more freely, equally, convivially? What connections might we make among different groups also value these things, but maybe have different strategies, different names? How might we get to know our neighbours that bit better? What skills do we have to offer each other? What might we like to learn together?

I know that people can feel tired, cynical. My own experience is this happens when I’m not awake to the wonders of simply being alive. In addition to looking outward for inspiration, how might we give ourselves the time and space to look inward, to rest, to get in touch with our own vitality?

These long, dark nights are perhaps the perfect time for just that.