Murray Bookchin's The Modern Crisis
by: rob korobkin
Murray Bookchin was one of the great twentieth century American anarchist thinkers and activists. From his birth on January 14, 1921 to his death last year on July 30, 2006, his life impacted many, both politically as a leader of the anti-nuclear movement and the Green party and intellectually through his theories of “social ecology” and “libertarian municipalism.” His largest influence on the radical intellectual theoretical canon came primarily in his introducing concepts of “ecology” and emphasizing the role of the natural world to movements that had previously been entirely social in orientation. His book of essays, The Modern Crisis offers four essays that explore many of these key ideas.
One theme that permeates this work is the connection between the way in which people think about the natural world and the way in which they interact with it. Bookchin argues that unlike many indigenous societies in the Americas or in Africa that celebrated the natural world, western civilizations have historically regarded “nature” as a wild realm of darkness and danger that man must dominate in order to achieve society and civilization. Such a mindset draws a clear dichotomy between civilization and nature, the wild and the tame, people and animals etc. and thereby enables people to feel that they are entitled to dominate, subdue and reap the natural world for their own personal gain. This mindset tells people that they are not part of the natural world but are instead part of a separate and higher realm of civilization that is superior to the natural world and entitled therefore to control it and exploit or exterminate the more “primitive” people who inhabit it.
Bookchin argues for a new orientation toward nature that he calls “social ecology.” In this orientation, people see themselves as being an integral part of the natural world, not part of something separate and superior. The well-being of people therefore becomes inseparable from the well-being and health of our environment. Seen in this light, the success of humanity becomes intrinsically linked to our ability to use the natural world in a sustainable and respectful way. Bookchin argues that this is, in fact, much closer to the way that nature actually functions. He says that there are very few instances in nature of pure domination and hierarchy, arguing instead that most ecosystems are based on symbiotic interactions in which life-forms gain from each other in complex food-webs and cyclical relationships. He argues that attempts to see ecosystems as linear hierarchies (for example that lions are “kings of the beasts”) actually stems from a false projection of human social mores (and human kings) not real ecological observation.
Bookchin argues that these two different ways of approaching nature give rise to different kinds of society, including capitalism and anarchism (or what he calls libertarian municipalism). Capitalism grows out of the idea that individual people are competing against each other to control and acquire the surrounding environment for personal gain. In this model economic activity is seen as happening on the atomistic scale of the individual. Just like the Darwinist species that must compete better than rival species just to exist in the natural world, capitalist firms must compete against each other to remain in the market and spread their consumer base. The kind of consumer activity that this model gives rise to is equally atomistic: people shop by themselves and social relationships with providers become increasingly insignificant or simply absent (automatic checkout lines etc.). Bookchin argues that this antisocial system is not only disempowering, it is also boring and profoundly unfulfilling.
In the social model that he advocates for, people work together as groups instead of competing against each other as individuals. Just like an ecosystem in which the success of each species depends on the successes of the other species that they depend on, people in a community should be mutually reinforcing each other both socially and economically. Bookchin believes that an economic system like this, in which close social relationships among providers and consumers provided the framework for economic activity, would be more just and sustainable than the current system, which strives to minimize those relationships. He argues that such a system would also take advantage of people’s ability to cooperate and coordinate with each other and could potentially make hierarchical and centralized authority unnecessary and unwanted.
Based on Bookchin’s ideas, I have come up with some ways to use netlogo to model the differences between capitalism and anarchism:
A capitalist turtle only keeps track of his own condition.
If the turtle needs resources, he looks around; and, if he finds what he’s looking for, he simply takes it.
He does not evaluate the future availability of that resource in deciding whether or not to take it.
If an area is high in a resource that the turtle wants, he will seek to control it and will violently dominate other turtles to secure his control. He will not interact cooperatively with other turtles.
An anarchist turtle, on the other hand, not only monitors his own condition, but also the condition of the environment and the surrounding turtles and sees the vitality of his surroundings and those around him as being as important as his own vitality.
In procuring resources, the turtle will evaluate whether the method is sustainable or not by running a prediction function that looks into the future to ascertain the future availability of that resource and will refrain from using non-sustainable methods.
This turtle will not violently control access to resources and will not dominate other turtles. Instead, she will seek to work cooperatively with the other turtles in a symbiotic way and will try to build networked cooperatives.