I will admit that I have been a passive proponent of anarchy for a while now. I don’t advocate my beliefs or try to get others to “join the cause.” I don’t hand out buttons on the street or send yearly donations to the National Anarchy Society. I’m hesitant to even call myself an anarchist. While part of this is due to the negative connotations of the name itself, it’s also because I’m barely on that side of the fence. I really do believe that people have the ability to govern themselves individually, but I have no scientific, philosophical, or psychological backing to support this. And my experience supports the converse.
I participated in a mosh pit for the first time last night, which pretty much destroyed my fragile hope at anarchy. It was everything I expected it to be—except that I was in it. I was at a Social Distortion concert in the “standing room only” section. I guess my first clue should have been that it was a punk-rock band I was seeing, but for some reason I had it in my head that they were an indie band, mainly because I actually like them in a way that isn’t based on intimidation. The liberal serving of alcohol and lingering aroma of marijuana should have been my second clue. Still, for some reason I expected everyone to stand in one spot, calmly listening to the music and respecting each other’s personal space.
As soon as the band walked out on stage, I felt a hard shove push me forward. And then another. And then a shove backward. People pushing and shoving from all different directions. I started to push back, but, being a person of small stature, I quickly got sucked into the heart of it. People were stepping on my feet, a cup of beer was dumped onto my head, a drunk man in his forties elbowed me in the temple, and I think I lost a lost a lock of hair in someone’s sweaty palm.
I moved back, trying to get away from this mayhem, as a body was passed over my head. I found myself standing on the circumference of a ring formed around two guys whaling on each other. I looked away to where two men were being held back from their wives to keep them from doing the same, and I caught a hard blow to my shoulder that sent me into the chest of the person next to me. When I looked back at the ring, one of the guys had lost his shirt and found a new playmate. All around me people were still being knocked around. A mother dragged her daughter past me, saying ‘excuse me’ as they moved closer to the front. A few minutes later, they were back in the direction they had come, tears in the daughter’s eyes and a look of urgency on her mother’s face. “I can’t believe these people,” she muttered as she passed me.
The ring had disassembled, but one guy was standing in the middle of where it used to be, furiously shoving people off their feet to get them out of the way. He grabbed something off the floor and proudly held it in the air. I didn’t realize what it was until I saw the shirtless guy again, with a gap in his mouth. I didn’t have much time to feel sorry for him, for he was already grabbing someone from the crowd to be his next partner. He tried to get out of the circle, but everyone just pushed him back into the shirtless man.
In front of me, another group of people had grabbed a young, skinny kid and were lifting him, offering him to the crowd. He tried to fight them off, protesting in panic, but it was no use. He was overpowered and at the hands of the crowd. I wanted to help him out, to try to pull people off him, but my strength was nothing, and I was afraid I might be next.
Things like this continued throughout the course of the concert, giving me little time to actually appreciate the music. Any time I let my guard down, I’d be knocked off my feet and pawing the air for someone to grab on to for support. My biggest fear was falling to the ground because I was sure I’d be stomped to death. When the band left and the lights came on, everyone gradually calmed down made their way toward the exits, a few people shoving, but those elicited rude glares from everyone else. In other words, everyone went back to acting like decent human beings.
I know this is just part of the “fun” of going to a concert, at least for cool people, but the whole time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what anarchy would really be like. With the lights out, hidden in the middle of a crowd far from the reaches of security, you can get away with anything, and they clearly took advantage of this. It makes me wonder if, without strict regulation keeping us in line, we would revert back to animalistic behaviors. Everyone fends for himself or herself, and the strong naturally overpower the weak in simplest form of Darwinism. If we can’t control ourselves for a two-hour concert, how can we expect to make progress living in anarchy for a lifetime?
Maybe I’m being unfair. This is likely just a case of seeing the worst at their worst. Most people were clearly drunk, high, or a combination of the two, and the music could have been seen as provoking. Still, we can’t exactly get rid of factors that trigger this sort of behavior, making it an exception to the rule of “no rules.” In pure anarchy, we are going to have alcohol and drugs. We are going to have weapons that security won’t check for at the door. I see this being one of the major obstacles in practicing anarchy. People may be able to conduct themselves properly when they are in their optimum state of mind, but everything changes when thinking is inhibited by legal and unregulated substances.
This is nothing more than speculation, however. I’m sure many people expected this to happen, since this is the norm at rock concerts. Of course, there is the notion that as soon as something is allowed, we feel the need to do it just for that freedom. If we’re on a stretch of road where we know we can get away with speeding, we do it. If and when the day comes that marijuana becomes legal, there will be a rush of people running out to try it, at first, including me. The rush will die down eventually, and so it will with anarchy, if the cause of this behavior is simply the novelty of it. And then there comes an idea introduced by Errico Malatesta. We feel the need for government just because we’ve never known a life without it.
If then we add to the natural effect of habit the education given to him by his master, the parson, the teacher, etc., who are all interested in teaching that the employer and the government are necessary, if we add the judge and the policeman to force those who think differently — and might try to propagate their opinion — to keep silence, we shall understand how the prejudice as to the utility and necessity of masters and governments has become established. Suppose a doctor brought forward a complete theory, with a thousand ably invented illustrations, to persuade the man with bound limbs that, if his limbs were freed, he could not walk, or even live. The man would defend his bands furiously and consider anyone his enemy who tried to tear them off.*
I find this to be a compelling idea. All of our ideas are formed based on life experience and what we’re taught, particularly at a young age. I’m not sure if this applies to my mosh pit theory, but it’s definitely possible. With extensive security at the doors and guards lining the parameters, armed with gloves and an intensive stare, perhaps we’re inclined to give them a reason to be there. Perhaps for the crowd, this is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Malatesta concludes that “if it is believed that government is necessary, and that without government there must be disorder and confusion, it is natural and logical to suppose that anarchy, which signifies the absence of government, must also mean absence of order.”*
I’m not going to completely discard my hopes for anarchy just yet, but this has helped me to clearly acknowledge some obstacles that will have to be overcome in its beginning stages. More extensive studies will undoubtedly have to be done, and of course, believing that it ever will happen is a long shot. I’m definitely convinced that if society will be anything like that concert, I’ll stick with corrupt, single-minded politicians and money-grabbing Wall Street bankers calling the shots. However, if there’s even a gleam of something better, I’m down for it.
*Malatesta, Errico. “Anarchy: A Pamphlet.” Freedom (1891): n. pag. Anarchy Archives. Pitzer.edu. Web. 28 June 2013.