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What do you think of voluntarism?

+1 vote
Does self determination cover someone selling themselves to slavery? What about someone who would actually sign a social contract if it was put in front of them? The side question I guess is should anarchists intervene when we feel like someone is being oppressed should we always intervene or intervene at all if it doesn't affect you? This causes problems because people have different definitions for oppression and whether certain things do or don't affect them. More specifically but a little different, I heard someone complain about how taxpayers of Toronto had to pay for the public property destruction caused by the blac bloc(s). I justify this by thinking, you shouldn't have to pay for your oppressors cop car, but this is probably one of those people that would literally sign the social contract.
asked Jun 5, 2014 by anonymous

2 Answers

0 votes
I don't know if this is going to end up an answer so much as a comment, but I am going to take a stab and will switch it if I need to.

I think one of the things your question misses is the difference between a social contract and a legal contract. I see a social contract as being more about the unspoken consensus that gives some people the power to govern over (and by extension boss, police and legislate for) others. Someone signing papers that commit them to indentured servitude (in the historical sense) would be a legal contract. As an anarchist I don't respect a legal contract, it is nothing but some words on paper. That said, it isn't my place to liberate someone from a situation they choose to be in.

Most people don't choose to enter in to relations submission and servitude (I am setting aside whatever bdsm fetishes nay-saying folks might want to bring up) when they have other (for lack of a better term) "free-er" options. There are economic factors, gender roles, cultural dynamics, histories of cultural subjugation, racism, and a whole lot more that could lead someone to think that their slavery was the best choice they had.

That doesn't mean I wouldn't intervene, but the intervention might look different if we are talking about actual slavery and forced (like, by force, as opposed to coerced by the threat of deprivation) relations as opposed to interventions with people who view themselves as having freely chosen their path, or who are willing participants. The difference would be that as opposed to outright attack, I might rather choose to ask questions and open a dialogue. telling someone they are being oppressed when they see their position as beneficial or freely chosen is almost never worthwhile, but asking questions that plumb the depths of their motivation are sometimes more so.

This also doesn't mean that whoever is in a position of dominance isn't a worthwhile target of attack just for being who and what they are. Sometimes that is reason enough to not worry about what the voluntary participants in their schema think.

(edited b/c I forgot to write something)
answered Jun 6, 2014 by ingrate (22,130 points)
edited Jun 7, 2014 by ingrate
I want to comment that it took all my will power to not sarcastically use the term "sheeple" in this answer.
such self control!!!!
I also didn't really touch on that social contracts lead to legal contracts (in the manner I am using those terms above, which is imperfect, to say the least). Probably that is obvious to other anarchists, but since this is 101, I wanted to be more explicit. An obvious example would be that socially there is a taboo and unofficial sanctions against punching your neighbor in the face unprovoked. Legally there is a law explicitly forbidding "assault".

I really have no idea if this comment helps or merely throws more words at this (as I am apt to do) but there it is.
0 votes
i like ingrate's answer, and i wanted to take a stab myself.

perhaps my interpretation of the question is overly simplistic, but as i understand the term "voluntarism", it essentially means "acting without coercion of any sort". seems pretty anarchistic to me. although, as ingrate pointed out, coercion comes in many flavors and levels of obfuscation.

in the explanation, several questions are raised that point to the voluntarism of others. if someone chooses to put/keep themselves in a situation where they are being oppressed, i would surely - assuming that person or situation had some relevance to my own life - at least try to understand why they have chosen to do so. maybe they don't see that situation as oppressive, although i do; i would probably try to talk to them and see why our perspectives are so divergent. maybe they see the situation as somewhat oppressive, but less so than whatever they see as their other options; i would try to understand what their other options are (maybe they are right).

in any case; if they choose to be in that situation, even after i have satisfied myself that they understand all of their options, i would not likely intervene.

2 very common (unfortunately) types of situation like this are: folks in abusive relationships, and folks in oppressive "work" situations. i'm sure we've all seen this up close. most often, i hear the explanation that "i have no viable alternatives that are better". while i may see some pretty obvious alternatives, they don't see it that way. if we have the opportunity to discuss the situations and alternatives at length, maybe they will see something they previously didn't, or maybe they won't. in almost every case, i will defer to their own desires. this world creates/enables some pretty fucked up shit, but i can't "save" anybody. that is their choice.

however, i must confess that when i was a late teen, i came precariously close to killing someone that was being violently abusive to a female friend that i had a major crush on. even though we had talked about it at length, she made it clear that she would not leave the guy ("the good outweighs the bad"), and did not want any interference. i chose to confront him on it anyway (growing up on the inner city streets of nyc - back in the 70s - definitely infused me with a bit of the machismo that was so prevalent in the newyorican culture that i was immersed in), first verbally and then physically. when he stopped coming around the neighborhood - coincidentally at the same time that he suffered some major injuries - she swore she would never forgive me. she eventually did, but ironically not until her mother was killed by he drunken boyfriend, several years later.
answered Jun 7, 2014 by funkyanarchy (12,210 points)
That's voluntary action, not voluntarism as used in philosophy -- especially the metaphysical type, which holds that Will trumps intellect, emotion, and material conditions. That meaning of voluntarism is a general purpose swear word used by Marxists against any non-Marxist radical because Marxism is allegedly based on the objective analysis of material conditions, generally positing a linear/progressive view of History as the unfolding of the productive forces or something...
thanks for the clarification on the term "voluntarism". i have never studied philosophy, and when i looked it (voluntarism) up some time ago i saw two different definitions, the first being voluntarism related to action, the second being related to metaphysics/philosophy. i did not spend much time reading the latter. from the question's explanation i assumed the former, but if the intent was the latter, i stand corrected. i think?

if my answer should be a comment, i'm fine with that.
when i read the question i looked it up and wikipedia (the font of all accuracy, of course ;) ) listed several possibilities. i wasn't clear on how the questioner intended it, so until that is explicit, all definitions can be in play.