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What do anarchists mean by "equality"?

+2 votes
Usually when I hear people utter this term or see it on banners I understand it to mean equality of legal rights. This struggle is reformist by anarchist standards, as we oppose the states laws, equal or not. Also, is this what the Circle E symbol is supposed to mean?
asked Oct 6, 2010 by enkidu (6,110 points)
I think the following terms should be excised from anarchist discourse:
the masses;
That's my short list. I'm sure others have opinions about this too.

edited to make a comment ( :( ) (this also added "edited" to all the comments on it)
Circle fucking A, Lawrence! I couldn't agree more.
I'd also like to have a bibliography of critical fails. That means that anyone who cites them positively automatically has to repeat Anarchy 101 while wearing a dunce cap.

Provisional list:
The Tyranny of Structurelessness
Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism
anything by Derrick Jensen
Hey Lawrence, what's your beef with Jensen's writings (notice I said writings, not personality)? Does it have to do mainly with his descriptive analysis (civilization is not sustainable or desirable) or his prescriptive analysis (bring it down), or both, or something else? I'm interested in your perspective if you have time.
The allegedly prescriptive analysis; this constant yammering about doing it but writing about it instead. I'm tired of it. He's a one-trick pony and the show isn't interesting any more. He is in desperate need of an unsentimental editor to keep him from repeating himself constantly -- some might even say obsessively. His writing is no more inspiring today than it was a decade ago, nor have his politics moved in any particular direction from his militant Sierra Club posturing. He is a petit bourgeois with his own cottage industry: himself. He will never be anything more than a professional writer, because he doesn't want to be anything else. More conversation if you email me: lawrence@anarchymag.org
While I agree that everything on your list (and then some) should be removed from, or at least defined within, anarchist discussion, this "answer" does not actually answer the question at hand, and therefore should be a comment. Just sayin'.

4 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer
There are two broadly divergent tendencies in anarchist understandings of equality. In the first perspective associated with class struggle anarchism, equality is the utopian fantasy end-state that results from the glorious revolution. Without equality, revolution has no utopian dream to pursue, no raison d'etre. When the state and capital are banished to history all people will magically be equal in the absence of political and economic hierarchies and oppressions. We will thrive on the fantastic bounty that utopian dreams bestow upon us.

For other anarchists the insistence on equality is a deplorable adherence to the belief in the weakness of humans. Equality is the drive to level everything and everyone to protect us from ourselves and the world, to hedge against risk. It is an abstraction (a mythical situation) that will occupy the vacant seat of the state, ensuring freedom from harms. It is an abandonment and a betrayal of our greatest abilities and dreams. It is settling for safety and repetition in the place of our passions, our greatness, our indomitable spirits, and a real and dangerous world. Equality is the exaltation of the herd where everyone stands on the same ground and where no one strays far from a dull and unexceptional pack. Where striving for exceptional heights is anathema. The dream of an equal world seems to be saying "we are all together in this banal, pathetic grouping. We are safe here. No one dares to dream of great heights. We just organize ourselves into collectives and procure our necessities together." If it doesn't say this in word it is largely how the practices look.
answered Jul 7, 2012 by nothing resonates (900 points)
selected Jul 26, 2015 by dot
+3 votes
yes, the circle e is for equality (there is also a circle e that stands for ecology - but that's probably archaic at this point).
i tend to agree that the use of the word "equality" is a warning sign. there are times when i'm feeling like giving people the benefit of the doubt, and then i interpret it as "equality of option", but equality is definitely another one of those loaded words, carrying the baggage of democracy and liberalism and an inherent sense that the goal is for people to be the same, rather than allowing for our real and important diversity.
answered Oct 12, 2010 by dot (52,040 points)
+1 vote
it´s a trap!!!!

equality is a trap, i mean my mind when i hear the word equality inmediatelly summons a bunch of people all of them equal like in the army or something like that, i mean we are all equivalent not equal... when i hear equivalence my mind summons a kilo of hay and a kilo of stone and it inmediatelly understands that there are many differences between them they are not equal but both of them have just the same weight
answered Sep 2, 2014 by anon42 (140 points)
But do they have the same mass(es)? Sorry, couldn't resist.
+3 votes
One distinction to keep in mind is the difference between equality of means, and equality of products (what one makes, or can make of one's means).

Enforcing the latter is the false friend of liberal democracy, reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator, and absorbing them into a herd so gigantic that they lose the power to influence anything, for the benefit of the few elites who run the milk factory.

On the other hand, inequality of means is how the whole postmodern stealth oligarchy is able to retain a tremendously powerful social caste system while increasingly destroying all of its formal signs, which are more vulnerable to criticism and inspiring revolt (e.g. racism? discrimination against gay and trans people? Nah, look at Obama! Look, gay marriage! Never mind all those imprisoned, homeless, enslaved, constantly fearful and structurally murdered people that make up a much larger segment of the population). Instead, we have statistical systems that ensure most people of a given group never escape massive exploitation, while a few do so that they can be used to control the others and fondle the middle class with their myth of heroic progress.

Equality of means just means that everyone starts out with fairly equal access to resources and time, as much as possible, and some naturally do more with them than others, and that's fine, so long as they aren't oppressing the others, and everyone joins hands to make sure they don't if they try it, hopefully! (combining with the anarchist anti-hierarchical idea). Something like this really is necessary to prevent a stealth hierarchy. You can't just give one person good food, lots of free time, a family with free time, a safe neighborhood, and lots of books, and then give another person no free time, malnutrition from lack of enough food, few books that can help, two jobs on top of schoolwork, a terrible, mandatory 'educating' system, and constant presence of police and other violent thugs who are there because of gov. policy, and expect the two people to have an equal chance. Ending that system is a radical demand.

Of course, the legal equality people are either building treadmills for others or running on them themselves. The existence of a hierarchical state precludes by definition any idea of actual equality, even under the law, since, ya know, some people run that thing, and some other people don't. Hmm. I wonder who made that thing and why, way back when. Funny little contraption, it is. People still believe that court building claptrap their whole lives though, even if it doesn't make sense on closer observation.
answered Dec 12, 2014 by Ellagabalus (180 points)