The Right To Be Left Alone

Theory & Analysis

15th June 2022

An anarchist treatise on when larger society may interact with the individual in a post-revolutionary society.

In my experience, the right to be left alone is the primary desire of most people. To live their lives free of the harassment of banks, bosses and bigots. Truly it is the goal we should aspire to, to live in a world where each is free to live their lives in accordance with their own personal dreams. A dream not possible under our current economic system but one genuinely within the reach of humanity.

I am not the person to dictate the method of how we reach an anarchy for each instance will likely require it’s own specialised method but I offer this a suggestion for a post revolutionary society.

There are only two occasions to which I see the disruption of this right to be necessary:

  1. When someone needs something
  2. When someone is causing harm to others

Let us start in numerical order. “When someone needs something” is a simple yet incredibly broad concept and can be split into two meanings: when the individual in question needs something and when an individual in their community needs something.

Starting with the first and the obvious. A person throughout their life will need many things:  food, water, shelter, healthcare, etc. All should be provided to them as is a society’s responsibility to their fellows. These things, so cruelly denied to many, are the right of all peoples and to deny them is of the cruellest and most common transgressions of our world.

The idea is not without complications however, especially when talking about the main idea of this piece, the right to be left alone. Some do not want help even when they truly need it. This can be for many reasons. Some examples such as pride or stubbornness, however infuriating it may be for an outside observer, must be respected for it is not our place to interfere (of course if it qualifies for the second item and their actions harm others it is a different story). What is more complex is when someone is not capable of forming the appropriate mental state to make such decisions.

Obviously this should be something that is incredibly rare and certainly rarer than it is now, as actions like drug use, self-harm and suicide can be legitimate expressions of bodily autonomy. Any actions that take away a persons right to be left alone for the purposes of health should not be the decision of either an individual or a small group and furthermore should be as narrowly restricted to the issues as possible and terminable at anytime. There must be a system in place to help those who are unable to help themselves without contributing to the history of ableism we are familiar with.

The second part of this first point is concerned with how we produce the things people will need. With the destruction of capitalism and the state bringing an end to consumerism, overproduction and bureaucracy, the amount of work taking place in society will thankfully decrease. However we are not currently yet in a position to implement complete automation so some work will have to be done to fulfil the right of each to the necessities of life. The motivation to do this work should not come from the threat of force nor the coercion of currency but from communal obligation. You do the work that needs to be done because your fellows require it and because they do the same for you. This will be dependent on, and illustrates the importance of, community building before, during and after the revolution. We must help people internalise the ideas of mutual aid if we are to rid ourselves of coercive authority.

“When someone is causing harm to others” is a similarly broad concept which I will divide into three segments: physical harm, mental harm, and deprivation.

Physical harm is the simplest and an already well understood concept so requires now further explanation.

Mental harm is an umbrella term for things such as verbal abuse, harassment, manipulation, etc. basically any action that would cause one’s mental health to suffer.

The third and final is deprivation which I define as either the hoarding or simple withholding or chattel of which you have more than you require and is needed by someone else. Take for example the billionaires of today, having more money that they could ever need and as such deprive the poor of access to the things they need. If we are to throw off the bonds of capital and state we must also shed the greed and competition of the systems that blight us. We must be willing to give up our extra for our fellows for, as was said above, they would do the same for us and for us all to succeed we must cooperate.

For the second part of this second point we come to the question of scale and at what threshold larger society may interfere. Smaller transgressions should be handled as locally as possible both for more efficient practice and for increasing communal cohesion. For example, neighbours could help explain how an individual’s actions are harming them or they may convince someone suffering to get help of their own accord. All steps should be taken to help maintain the health and happiness of your fellows without violating the right to be left alone if possible. It has been said that one of the best ways to convince someone is to first show how a proposal would benefit them and although I have spent the bulk of this essay on situations where it may not apply, I feel like the right to be left alone is an appealing prospect that could help open people’s eyes to what anarchism can do for them and hopefully soon after, what they can do for the cause.

East Anglia Anarchist Federation (EAAF)

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