(The following essay will explore the role of relationships within the Holistic Anarchist framework, as well as the intersection between Holistic and Relational Anarchism or Relationalism. For an in-depth look at Holistic Activism and Anarchism, please see part 1.)
In part one of this series we defined Holistic Activism as a method of applying the philosophy of Holism to activism and life in general. Holism is defined as “a study or method of treatment that is concerned with wholes or with complete systems”. In this view a Holistic study of a subject is concerned with whole systems as opposed to “analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.” Thus, the goal of a Holistic Activist is to move beyond focusing on the individual battles we face and taking a look at the bigger picture with a holistic lens. This means rather than simply identifying the problems in the world, we move towards an understanding of how our individual actions and habits are contributing to the crises we see. By holding ourselves accountable we can make strides in aligning our thoughts and words with our actions.
When it comes to Anarchism, the Holistic perspective means recognizing that each human being is best equipped to rule their lives and order their affairs and acknowledging that the end of statism and authoritarianism will not come by examination of political and economic theory alone. The Holistic Anarchist thinking is similar to what writer and psychology student Sterlin Luxan calls Relational Anarchism or Relationalism. According to Luxan, “Relational Anarchism is a standalone vector or field of thought under the umbrella of anarchism. In this perspective, relationships determine levels of human freedom. The process of human interaction is more important than content.” Luxan’s writing on Relationalism focuses on integrating the therapeutic findings of psychotherapy with an anarchist political philosophy.
Relational Anarchism posits that the way people communicate is equally important to creating a world free of government and authoritarian rulers. Relational Anarchists promote the absence of of rulers via relationships and social healing. Indeed, Luxan has come to the same conclusion as Holistic Anarchists: “Humans must first grapple with their emotional worlds” and learn to heal in order for Anarchism and self-governance to flourish. He sees the Relational Anarchist as a “social healer that creates communities and nurtures love.” Where other anarchists seek to angrily berate others or condemn them as imbeciles, Luxan believes relational, spiritual, holistic, soft, compassionate anarchists want to “bring more people together and bridge economic divides”.
Luxan makes an effort to draw a distinction between Relationalism and reckless abandonment of all logical thought in favor of strictly emotional responses. In Anarchy and Emotion: A Heart-Based Philosophy for Transforming Society he writes:
“In addition, Relationalism is not an appeal to emotion from a logically fallacious sense, nor a suggestion that people get carried away with their emotion and forget higher brain functioning. It is only to say that focus of anarchistic interactions should be hinged on dialogue and rapport. It is literally the idea that we can exercise rational faculties but also stay in sync with our emotions and attachment to our fellow humans.”
Luxan states that although relational anarchism “contains a lot of theory and speculation”, the philosophy is based on evidence from counseling psychology and attachment theory. Luxan elaborates:
“In counseling psychology, evidenced-based practice suggests people are more likely to heal not as a result of some strategy or rhetorical intervention the counselor uses, but because of the bond developed by counselor and client.”
Laurie Meyers, writing for Counseling Today, confirmed the importance of the therapeutic alliance or “counseling relationship”:
In 2001, a comprehensive research summary published in the journal Psychotherapy found that a strong therapeutic alliance was more closely correlated with positive client outcomes than any specific treatment interventions.”
Luxan also looks to attachment theory as evidence of the value of the relational approach. Essentially, attachment theory teaches that humans thrive when their bonds with other humans are strong. “Not only do they thrive, but they learn how to connect with others and work through problems,” Luxan writes. If we encourage loving, harmonious relationships we are supporting the effort to create more secure and balanced adults. These efforts could see society restructure itself around principles and values which actually empower and uplift individuals through social healing.
The Holistic and Relational Anarchism Dynamic
The Relational and Holistic Anarchist schools have much common ground and it’s worth taking the time to understand how they might be of value for those seeking a more compassionate and emotionally aware approach to empowering individuals and ridding the world of authoritarianism.
First, both Relational and Holistic Anarchism encourage individuals to move beyond the narrow focus of argumentation and economic theory in their attempts to spread the Anarchist gospel. As we mentioned in part 1, Luxan notes that most Anarchists are “hyper focused on the LEM Axis. That is, they are geared toward solving Logical, Economic, and Moral problems of society and government.” Holistic Anarchism is also about moving beyond the hyperfocus on the LEM Axis and instead opting to engage in self-reflection and personal responsibility. Holistic Anarchists believe that by acknowledging the ways we are contributing to systems of oppression and statism we can begin the process of vacating the systems that are not consistent with our values and principles as anarchists.
Relational and Holistic Anarchism not only discourage the focus on the LEM axis, but both schools of thought are also focused on giving the individual tools to achieve liberation. This type of Anarchist thinking places a heavy emphasis on self awareness, or mindfulness. This could come in the form of a therapy session with a counselor or friend, time in nature, meditation exercises (in solitude or with a group), an MDMA or psilocybin trip with a close friend or partner, or simply taking time to tune in to your own thoughts. Each of these practices take time to implement and become a habitual part of an individual’s life, but I would argue the effort is worth the outcome. Despite the focus on individual strategies for achieving liberation, these schools do not ignore the potential for creating mutual aid groups (freedom cells, therapeutic alliances) which help establish communities full of compassionate anarchists.
Another tool promoted by both Holistic and Relational anarchists is the concept of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a conflict resolution technique that was promoted by activist and psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. The premise of NVC is simple: instead of arguing about who is right or wrong, and who must win or lose, people should strive to have win-win interactions by focusing on ensuring that the needs of each person are met.The goal is to find solutions to problems by addressing the unmet needs of everyone in the equation. Again, from a holistic or relational anarchist perspective the way we communicate with other free people is equally important to making sure our arguments are sound. It’s extremely difficult to have a rational discussion when both parties feel their concerns are not being heard. Such a battle of insecurities is not likely to lead to a better understanding of one another.
If there can be said to be any “differences” between the goals of Holistic and Relational Anarchism, it may be that HolAn is focused on a bigger picture than perhaps Luxan and his Relational Anarchism propose. Holistic Anarchism includes a focus on relationships, but also looks at how an individual spends their money (as well as the type of money), the source of and type of food being ingested, the source of education, the source of energy and power, and all the institutions that benefit from these choices. One could argue that all of these are choices about what relationships one wishes to have and with whom so they fit in the Relational Anarchist framework. I won’t dispute the point, but will emphasize that the Holistic approach involves looking at every area of our lives and trying to root out statism, authoritarianism, and generally, support for oppressive and destructive institutions which are not in line with our principles or our goals.
One other minor area of difference deals with choice of terminology. Sterlin Luxan (a friend of mine) still fights for and champions the cause of “capitalism”. Without getting too deep into semantic debates on the actual meaning of capitalism (which I have written about in Manifesto of the Free Humans), I will say that I do not equate the freed market with capitalism and do not have any desire to expend energy fighting to save the term.
Healthy Relationships as a Gateway to Freedom
Relational and Holistic Anarchists recognize that until each individual is focused on building and maintaining a healthy relationship with themselves they will struggle to have truly healthy and balanced relationships with others. It is because of this that Luxan has said being an Anarchist is actually making a statement about the types of relationships one wants to be involved in, namely voluntary, consensual relationships free of coercion. In “The Relational Anarchist Primer” Luxan writes:
“According to relational anarchists, the better humans connect with each other, the more peace and understanding that will exist between them. The greater the strength of the relationships, the less likely rulers will become necessary or begin to emerge.
Anarchism means “without rulers.” And besides being a political assertion, this is a psychological and relational preference. It is apolitical, based on preferred relationship standards. Instead of dispensing violence, these anarchists dispense compassion.
The definition “Without rulers” is a state of human interaction. It is how most people prefer to make contact with people, and how human connection unfolds when certain skill sets and forms of communication are employed. Most people do not want to be ruled. Yet they oftentimes end up in a ruler-serf dynamic as a result of cultural modes of interaction and attachment, which are generally anti-empathetic and detached.”
What we recognize is that by implementing NVC techniques, becoming mindful of our own hearts and minds, and taking time to empathize with those we disagree with, we lay the foundation for a healthy discussion and sense of acceptance among our peers. It is on this foundation, in this environment of acceptance, that we will make the biggest strides towards a world without centralized authority and rulers. “So in lieu of an infinite struggle of deciding on the best economic idea for society,” Luxan writes. “The relational anarchist asks everyone to come to the table and figure out how to cooperatively coexist in a State of anarchy. Indeed, the partial reason governments have maintained their power is because of the ongoing battle between ‘left’ and ‘right.’”
We ought to strive for common ground because the other option is endless conflict. If we cannot compassionately debate differences of opinion we are doomed to repeat our violent past. Authoritarians of all stripes buy into the illusion that they can force the world to conform to their particular worldview and values, but this is not only immoral, it never works. Individuals do not change their habits and dead end philosophies because of violence or berating. In addition, our goal should not be to simply have our ideas and desires heard, but to make time to listen and understand the ideas and desires of those around us. So then, how do we go about achieving this state of mutual respect and healthy conflict resolution?
Nonviolent communication and the therapeutic alliance offer a great starting point for communication and dispute resolution. The mere suggestion that we might be able to coexist and possibly co-habitat with those who view the world completely different than us might be enough to cause some readers to assume the author has lost his mind. However, history is full of examples of people of different religions and political beliefs coexisting. Of course, history (in the United States and elsewhere) is also rife with examples of violence and conflict. But perhaps these examples are explained, in part, by a lack of emotional maturity, proper communication skills, a scarcity mindset, and primal survival instinct? What would the world look like if we attempted to implement these holistic and relational strategies in our everyday lives?
Holistic and Relational Anarchism in Action
In Manifesto of the Free Humans, John Vibes and I write about the work of Josiah Warren – America’s first individualist anarchist – and the anarchist-minded intentional community he founded known as Modern Times, New York. Modern Times lasted several years with thousands of residents without maintaining a police force or court system. Modern Times was also unique in that it did not end in failure as many homesteads did, but instead was swallowed up by the growing United States. Warren espoused a philosophy based on what he called The Sovereignty of the Individual, a principle which recognized the value in individualism and stressed the need for mutual respect of other free individuals’ right to be free from coercion. He stressed that individuals living in a complex society have interlocking interests and as such, there will be conflicts and there will have to be compromises. Warren was adamant that free people should not impose their will on others and instead allow diversity to reign. According to Warren,“Liberty, then, is the sovereignty of the individual, and never shall man know liberty until each and every individual is acknowledged to be the only legitimate sovereign of his or her person, time, and property, each living and acting at his own cost; and not until we live in a society where each can exercise his right of sovereignty at all times without clashing with or violating that of others.”
Modern Times succeeded for so long because the individuals who moved to the community understood that they need not agree with the lifestyle choices of those around them in order to live near them. I imagine a community of individuals who start with the basic acceptance of the Sovereignty of each individual combined with an understanding of Holistic Anarchism would have a chance at surviving and thriving without killing each other. I believe this type of community is the best chance at showing anarchism in action.
It’s important to reiterate the need for spontaneous order and discretion based on mutual respect. In a truly free society without imposed central authority there is no way to force or coerce every single person to live according to the property norms of your choosing. The vast human experience guarantees that we are not always going to agree on complex moral issues, and with that being the case, it is best to find a way to handle these issues without hurting people or throwing them in cages. Of course, there will be rare occasions where violent and unreasonable people will need to be subdued or isolated, but that would be the exception to the rule in a world where people are attempting to avoid the use of oppressive tactics seen throughout history.
We imagine a world where some communities implement private property norms and others have property arrangements that resemble unowned or community ownership. How will each and every conflict playout with such a patchwork of norms? Only the individuals involved in each particular situation can decide. Unless the parties involved are prepared to wield the force of the state to ensure their specific property views are the new monopoly, we better get used to mutual respect and compromise. A one size fits all solution is already a part of the problem we face today. It is up to each of us to hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive to always respect the sovereignty of other individuals and use our best discretion in each case of conflict. Even if the whole of society is forced to accept one specific dogma there will always be dissenters and the only way to stop the dissent is to enact totalitarian control. We can either have freedom to disagree and peacefully resolve conflicts, or we can continue the cycle of violence and coercion.
It has been said that ideas which are worthy do not require force or violence to implement. If one stands by their beliefs wholeheartedly they should be able to respectfully debate the merits and potential failures without resorting to violence. The Relational and Holistic Anarchist schools are the most conducive to creating a world free of violence and aggression. By applying these principles one can help contribute to the evolution of hearts and minds, and grow the movement of Anarchists who practice a more compassionate aesthetic.
Forward we go, towards a Holistic and Relational future!