The conundrum of conformity

Posted: 3rd February 2014 by The ImModerator in anarchist thought

Ok. So you want to make a big statement. You are an anarchist and that means you are an individual. You may be a radical rebel anarchist, an armchair anarchist, an apathetic anarchist, a philanthropist to anarchist causes or just wildly disinterested in mainstream but at some stage you are going to face a conundrum. The conundrum of conformity.

the conundrum of conformity

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How much participation is “conformity”?

Government is bad, right? Government is wasteful, oppressive, cruel, dangerous, ineffective and prone to the gyrations of public whims and demagogue fancy. Governments alone can impose the death penalty, enforce gridlocked education standards, and force a large part of the population to go to war for reasons they won’t understand to kill people they don’t know and don’t dislike, who have done them no personal harm whatsoever. Yet it is government that provides the basic infrastructure that makes a modern society function. In return for that infrastructure and the promise to provide something vaguely defined as national security, the government asks that you conform to the processes and procedures by which society is run. And that’s the grist of this note.

Conformity is uncool for the young, the artistic, the dispossessed and the elite. For the anarchist though, conformity is the slippery slope to the death of an ideology. The anarchist feels constrained by the lane marks painted on a highway, by speed limits, no access signs, inane job functions and blind acceptance of authority. So an anarchist takes every measure of acceptance of social norms as an insult – a shackle built to tie the masses in a group big enough and faceless enough to be comfortably oppressed by a small group of key-holders.

What would be the ideal? Everybody’s list would differ. How about:

  • No tax file numbers
  • No public records of individuals
  • No driver’s licences
  • No car registration
  • Telephones that were completely untraceable?

Anyone trying to instigate an outcome like this would find life very difficult in a modern society. “Big Brother” was the term used in the classic novel 1984, and some of the ideas in the book are eerily reflected in todays’ society. The book envisages a world where recording devices can track your every word but the book could not even begin to envisage the situation today, where not just audio but video as well are recorded from millions of CCTV devices across major cities.

In a globe of constrained financial resources, where paying a cop to patrol a city street is a waste of money because she/he isn’t actually “doing anything”, the logical next-step is to leverage the people you do have available to be able to patrol tens or hundreds of streets simultaneously. Enter the world of CCTV. In the Australian state of Victoria, teachers are asking for CCTV cameras to be installed to record instances of violence, while north of that state, CCTV cameras have located a missing person. It’s a tumultuous time to be thinking about how society enforces the laws it promulgates.

The conundrum of a government that may actually “care”…

If government is bad, how does an anarchist society deal with crime? The big guy will quite naturally dominate the meek guy (insert suitable gender stereotypes if you see a need to make this testicular statement feel more comfortable). Theory has it that this will all be dealt with via community coercion and communication. Hands up anyone who has seen the local school/sport/club/business/political bully successfully dealt with by a committee…?

Hence the conundrum. An Anarchist argues that government is bad. And it quite often is. Yet what viable, inclusive, moderating, non-repressive template is offered as an alternative?

Anarchists face a conundrum in mixing with a society they inherently disagree with

How do you clarify an absolute conundrum?

The Apathetic Anarchist radiates empathy for the Anarchist cause – but assesses any claims for ‘a better way’ through objective, prudent, inclusive and historically back-tested criteria that more often than not finds a robust claim wanting. If society actually helps to provide an environment in which you are free to pursue your Anarchist bent, to what extent do you participate in that society?

If you have an Anarchist leaning, how do you deal with this conundrum?




In a post-modern modern world, the political system of choice for developed nations is democracy – but has democracy in action evolved into a something altogether un-democratic?

Which majority?


Sitting still for a moment, what concepts fall into mind when considering “democracy”?

For most of us, it’s the idea of government by the majority. But that would be a mistake because it is rare that a democratically elected government holds the votes of the majority of a population. It may be true that they hold the majority of votes but NOT that they have the majority of the population behind them. Consider the case of the upcoming Greek elections…

If we look some recent polling then we can gain a better picture of this issue of “democracy” and “majority”. Here’s a graphic from Spiegel Online


Greek 2012 elections poll results

Is the majority party liked by the majority?

If we do our own maths, we can look at these figures slightly differently. Firstly, in true Anarchist style, we should acknowledge those who are not given a voice in this poll…

Greek Election 2012 Poll Results

Giving the democratically dispossessed a voice

 Greece, like Italy, is currently a country “in administration”. That is, it is being governed by administrators appointed by its creditors. However, creditors being the benign forms of dictator that their PR people like to present their clients as being, can sometimes be obliging enough as to allow the Great Unwashed Debtors a chance at saying who they would most like to be dominated by. These are colloquially known as “democratic elections”.

There currently is one of those democratic elections underway in Greece right now, and the idea is that various local parties are going to campaign so that their particular representatives can lead the country by stamping their particular party’s ideological footprint over the faces of the incredibly grateful populace.

So let’s look at what happens when there is a “grand coalition” of the two least disliked parties, who unite to form a caring and sharing government…

In a democracy, which majority governs?

If this were a Pacman game, you know who gets to eat who...

 Tyranny of the Masses 


Wait a moment… isn’t “tyranny of the majority” supposed to relate to the ability of the larger group to impose its every will on the under-priveliged and under-represented minority?

Yet here we have a position whereby any one party who wins will have at most, only a quarter of the population as their adoring voters. Let’s leave the theorising and counter-theorising to the academics, and simply look at the circumstances under which this particular election is operating – in other words, let’s look at the election in the context of the people who are holding themselves up as being electing-worthy…

Leader of conservative New Democracy party Samaras leaves a podium as Finance Minister Venizelos raises his hand during a parliament session in Athens

Heroes or Rogues? Are these people the best Greece has to offer?

So, let’s say these esteemed Gentlemen put aside their individual lust for power, and combine in a heroic mandate to restore the Glory of Greece, and implement the will of the people… What then? Well, it don’t look too good, folks. These are the same hoary fools who managed to put the Greek economy and political future on the see-saw of Fate in the first place. Read the full Spiegel article for an insight into just how ridiculous the Greek political alternatives are for the long-suffering average Greek voter. Those with a weak stomach may want to take an antacid tablet or two before submitting themselves to the gut-wrench.

Bring back Ostracism


As the acknowledged home of democracy, why don’t the Greeks reinstitute an old relic of democratic days gone by – Ostracism.

Bring back ostracism into democratic elections!

Bring back ostracism into democratic elections!

How about giving voters a choice of people or parties they’d like to see expelled from the political arena for a decade or so?

Anarchy for Greece?


Can a more to Anarchic government be any worse for Greece than the gaping chasm waiting beyond its current democratic election precipice?

Well… can it?



Reuters image of V for Vendetta masks used in protests

A symbol does not have to be fully understood in order to be effective

The article, from Rosie Waites for the BBC News Magazine offers an interesting perspective for all those Apathetic Anarchists interested in political dynamics. Why is this symbolic image being used in countries that have no affiliation with Guy Fawkes? Is it simply the international reach of Hollywood movies that allows a parochial figure to morph into a global phenomenon? Will the mask and its use be interpreted through the eyes of the central character of the movie, and his violent reaction to an oppressive regime or will it be through the non-violent final chapter of the movie, where thousands of masked citizens front soldiers and police in a vivid show of people-power?

Che Guevara was a human being, with all of the conflicted and illogical traits such a label entails. As well as representing the tortured rebel, seeking to overthrow tyranny and injustice, he was also just as aggressive against individuals or groups that disagreed with his other perspectives on social rights and wrongs. Seeing his famous visage on the tee-shirts of gay people illustrates the ways in which the idea behind such images can be greater than the facts (Che Guevara is accused of being staunchly homophobic, and including gays amongst those sent to internment camps – look it up on Google). So we have an image that is elevated beyond its factual presence and into the realm of mythology.

Is the Guy Fawkes mask about to make that same leap?