TOTW: Principles vs. Outcomes
Are anarchists too hung up on defining, elaborating, and enforcing anarchist principles, rather than focusing on what successfully accomplishes the outcomes they hope to achieve?
Consider an example that occurred during the heydey of Occupy, in which a working group emerged that proposed electing two delegates from each state state in the continental U.S. to send to Philadelphia on the fourth of July for the "National Convergence", with the expressed goal of publicly petitioning for a redress of grievances. That constitutional convention is a process outlined in the U.S. constitution that provides an opportunity to counter-hijack the system, to use its own merits to destroy it.
But the central Occupy group opposed it.
They released a statement the following day: “However, the group’s plan to select delegates representing each Congressional District to ratify a petition to present to the U.S. government while threatening to run candidates for positions in this corrupted system runs counter to OWS’ commitment to direct democracy, grassroots people power, and building a better society from the bottom up.”
Livestream provided a window into general assemblies at this time that dissipated into bickering over identity politics and broke off into insular groups in order to bypass the agreed-upon collective decision-making process. Is this a cost of a commitment to principles over outcomes?
Occupy had great momentum. People could have hijacked the political process in a way relatable to the public and provided working rapid protypes of the better world that was possible. It wasn’t about living in the park. It wasn’t about twinkling fingers as a form of decision making. It was about ending corruption, about sticking it in the craw of Wall Street. What happened instead was bickering over chosen tools and ideological purity.
In the last few TOTWs on this website, many words have been exchanged regarding what anarchism is (or isn't), what every anarchist should (or mustn't) do, about which perspectives and priorities are most important (and which are morally repulsive.
Even critical perspectives focus on the principles 'every anarchist needs to have' rather than the process or criteria by which we might evaluate whether those principles are any good. As suggested in one thoughtful post, 'The answer to covert intellectual leadership is for everyone to develop the ability to think critically and formulate their own ideas... Every anarchist needs to be able to suspend judgement and consider whether the facts fit several possible narratives... to interpret and understand other points of view on a deep level... to be able to conceptualise and process sensory information *from multiple points of view at once*... to perfect the art of thinking structurally - instead of morally - about social problems and their causes (e.g. radical criminology)... to tell the difference between a latent common sense belief they haven't questioned, and an idpol or other politician telling them what their "real motives" or "real significance" is."
But is thinking critically enough? By what criteria should we evaluate whether our ideas are any good? How do we measure success? How can we tell whether what we're doing is furthering our goals versus enforcing narratives about what anarchism means, about what it is and it isn't, about who is or is not worthy of the title?