Anarchy is Progress!

A friend of mine pointed me at this email, where a reader of Gizmodo criticizes them for having the temerity to insult the Queen of England. In particular, he says:

Some institutions in the world, like the church, must stay intact or it causes a breakdown in civilization. There must be a counterbalance that allows some sort of order; if not you get chaos and anarchy. With this comes another “dark ages”.

This got me thinking. Why is it that so many people treat the concept of anarchy as an undeniable evil? As if there could be no discussion that anarchy is an unmitigated bad. Perhaps it is because such people can not conceive of a society where they are not told what to do, operating at level four of Kohlberg’s moral order. They can only conceive of a society where morality operates via laws, as opposed to the higher Kohlberg levels where universal moral principles supercede laws. So they equate anarchy with evil because no laws means no morals.

My friend pointed out another interesting correlation, that the emailer in question linked anarchy and chaos to the dark ages. Ironically, the dark ages were close to the exact opposite of anarchy and chaos. Not that my friend and I are medieval history experts or anything, but based on our understanding, the dark ages were characterized by a total domination of thought and ideas by the church, and by the rigidly strict social order of feudalism. If anything, the dark ages were characterized by total order and structure, not anarchy and chaos. It was only when mercantilism broke the back of feudalism and the entire social order was overthrown that we came out of stasis and started advancing again.

I think I could make a decent case that the Dark Ages were dark precisely because they were too ordered. There was no place for creativity to thrive, because creativity is always about changing the current order. Creativity thrives in the interstices, in the borders between different systems. A diverse environment, where no one influence dominates, may appear to be chaotic and anarchic, but it’s also where different influences can combine with each other and evolve via some form of natural selection.

So, in some sense, a state of anarchy, a free-for-all where everything is up for grabs, is essential to progress. Order is the enemy of creativity. Order promotes stagnation, anarchy promotes progress. Not that order is an unmitigated evil either. Both order and anarchy have their place. To use Pirsig’s vocabulary, Dynamic Quality (aka anarchy) is how we advance, and Static Quality (aka order) is what ratchets things into place to keep us from backsliding. Once a new influence has been hatched in the nursery of anarchy, and demonstrated its superiority to other ideas, it can be absorbed into the collective order.

Okay, I think I’ve mixed enough metaphors for the evening. Time to call it a night.

P.S. To be fair, I’m biased in that I’ve had a longtime interest in anarchy, and treat it as a state to which to aspire, rather than a situation to be feared; hence my strong reaction to the comment I linked to.

P.P.S. I heard recently that they’re turning V for Vendetta, a graphic novel that is one of my favorite depictions of anarchy, into a movie. I was initially horrified because I didn’t see how they could do it justice, but after checking out IMDB, and finding out that the Wachowski brothers (the Matrix dudes) are producing, and Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving are starring, I’m actually kind of excited. It could be really interesting.

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