One of my upcoming posts will deal with the question “Is anarchy compatible with…?” In those, I will introduce a variety of ethical and religious philosophies and try to determine if they are compatible with anarchy. Granted, those posts will go into greater detail and have a bit more finesse about them, but it is appropriate and necessary for us here to generally answer that question. Specifically, there is really only one question for us to answer in regards to these various philosophies – Are they voluntary?
Voluntaryism, or voluntarism, (I’ve heard it spelled both ways, for the record) is the idea that all human interactions should be voluntary. This may seem like a basic, or common knowledge issue to many, but in fact, there are more people who probably disagree with this concept than you first may realize. In today’s world, many people believe things like affirmative action – the concept that requires “historically underprivileged groups” the opportunity to enjoy certain things before others simply because they are being recognized as a minority of some kind - are good, for instance. This may mean that colleges or jobs may look to fill racial quotas, diversity becomes a necessary good (as in, it is inherently good on a racial or minority level), and a merit based system becomes generally frowned upon. Many universities commonly employ some combination of merit based and affirmative action systems. Another way it manifests itself is in the law. Specifically, discrimination based laws. In America, and most western countries, discrimination is illegal, and culturally taboo. A business is not allowed to discriminate against potential customers for any reason whatsoever, or cannot choose to reject a potential applicant based on their race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, country of origin, or religion.
So what do these issues have to do with voluntarism? And does voluntarism support or deny these things? This question requires a proper understanding of what voluntarism is and is not.
What voluntarism is: Voluntarism simply believes are human interactions should be voluntary, or made on a voluntary basis. And while Anarchists are generally against bigotry of any kind, to enact laws that outlaw discrimination would be to say that voluntary interactions are illegal. Not to mention, it completely tramples on property rights.
Think of it like this – In Little Rock, Arkansas in 2012, a young boy was banned from attending Little Rock Christian Academy – not because of his race, or the fact that he was bi-racial. But because his family was Mormon, the same faith to which I subscribe (albeit, I am very unorthodox and currently inactive within the church system itself). As a Mormon who lives in the United States, I should be outraged, right? I should demand admittance on the premise that this is religious discrimination and bigotry of the highest caliber! Or should I? No. I shouldn’t. And I wasn’t perturbed in the least. Granted, I wasn’t a member of this family, but my blasé attitude stems less from being in the middle of the situation than it does from understanding the philosophical implications of using the law to force the school, and its students and faculty, from associating with somebody they did not want to. Those implications and understanding being that it is not right to force people to affiliate with those whom they do not wish to affiliate with. And besides, why would I want to put myself into a situation that will practically invite an uncomfortable atmosphere at best, or threats of and physical harm at worst? Yet this is exactly what anti-discrimination laws do. This forces people, without the power of a voluntary education, to be placed in situation they do not want, associating with people they do not like, all because government said it was good for us. I don’t know about anybody else, but I grew up with the lesson “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Look at America in 2016, for instance. Anti-discrimination law and policy permeates virtually every aspect of American life, and are we a “trans-racial” society? Does bigotry still exist? Yes, and many believe Americans are divided in many more ways than ever before. This is because anti-discrimination laws create involuntary associations that foster spite, hatred, and allow a system of ignorance to remain in place. Heck, these kinds of involuntary laws fortify it, and work to create more tensions and unease. Voluntarism says that this is silly. Let people believe and think the way that they will, and don’t force others to acquiesce.
What voluntarism isn’t: Voluntarism isn’t an excuse for bigoted behavior. Quite the opposite, actually. In reality, voluntarism in an anarchistic society comes with an obligation – an obligation to learn, to come to an understanding, and to work to prevent hatred, or physical harm to others. It places the role of responsible person in our own court, and demands the highest amount of integrity and personal accountability. This is because not everyone in an anarchistic society will agree on things, disputes will arise, and tempers flare…It then becomes imperative that people educate themselves, seek to find commonalities, similarities, and foster a sense of care, despite disagreement. Anti-discrimination laws don’t require this at all. In fact, they provide the justification for shutting off the rational parts of our mind, and act as a crutch to true understanding between peoples. Voluntarism, and anarchy generally, require something more of us.
In this sense, a voluntary-anarchist is one who has decided to take responsibility for his actions, his inactions, his knowledge, and his ignorance.