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The Growing CHAZm in Seattle
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The Growing CHAZm in Seattle

Anarchists take over a neighborhood and … build a border wall?

Dear Reader (Including those of you who are being repressed for seeing the violence inherent within the system),

As Grizzly Adams told some concerned Native Americans visiting from out of town, “Bear with me.”

I love CHAZ. That’s the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, a six-square block Wokeistan in the middle of Seattle, though I fear that they’ll change the name to something more euphoniously transgressive any minute now. And, while I feel bad for the businesses and homeowners in the area who are watching their property values plummet like one of those applause-o-meter dials at a focus group for Sean Spicer’s new one-man song-and-dance show at Branson, CHAZ is just too perfect not to talk about.  

For starters, we’ve been hearing for years that borders are terrible. Some wokevolk talk about borders the way you talk to a dog that craps on your new white rug: “Bad borders! Bad!”

But what’s the first thing the Chaztopians establish? Borders, baby. The chief of police explained that, in a generous act of appeasement, she ordered the removal of police barricades at the request of protesters who said they wanted to march “because we really wanted to establish trust. Instead of marching, the protesters … established their own barricades. So the streets we wanted to be clear are now no longer clear.”

Once they erected their own politically correct barricades, as Item One of Infrastructure Week in their Polizeifrei podunk, they posted a sign that reads, “You are now leaving the USA.”

And note, it’s not just an abstract border. They built a frick’n border wall! I swear I’ve heard people talking about border walls like they’re the concentrated evil in the microwave in Time Bandits

Of course, the war on borders isn’t the hot new thing anymore. The latest protests are about the evils of the police. As I’ve said countless times, I think the protesters have some valid points, though not as many as they think they have. But that’s irrelevant for the moment. What did these Communards of the Pacific Northwest do after establishing borders? Create a police force. Well, not a force per se. They have no training or legal authority, but something marginally more elevated than Brute Squad. Whatever the right label, nothing stopped Raz Simone’s crew from declaring, “We are the police now.” Simone, the “warlord” of the wastelands, is walking around with an AK-47 and a sidearm. It’s almost like he thinks he needs a gun—or two—to impose order. Who’da thunk?

Once the basic rudiments of sovereignty were created, they got busy working on quality of life issues. Among the first priorities: Designated smoking sections.

Compared to what?

You get the point. Or maybe you don’t. So let me clarify. One of my greatest pet peeves is when someone taps the extended version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” on their glass eye with their No. 2 pencil while I’m trying to take the SAT. But that’s not important right now. Another major peeve of mine is when someone tries to suggest that America is uniquely backward or evil because “In America we do X”—when X equals something plenty of other countries do. Sometimes those countries—countries the speaker imagines are way more enlightened—are even more extreme practitioners of X. For example, just going by the number (or share) of immigrants we take in, America is the most welcoming country in the world. More than one in 10 Americans are foreign born and one in four children have at least one foreign-born parent. And yet, we constantly hear how we’re, like, super anti-immigrant here in America.

Similarly, we hear a lot these days about how racist America is. And compared to our own highest ideals, that’s a defensible thing to complain about. But what about other countries? You know, places that actually exist? Well, America isn’t perfect. But we are among the least racist countries in the world.

But I’m going down a rabbit hole here. Normally, when people who do this annoying “In America we do X” thing, they tacitly acknowledge a really basic point. I mean really basic: that we’re a country.  

Some of the folks talking about abolishing the police these days make it sound like there’s some alternative model to being, well, a country. They don’t say it explicitly, but it lurks in the background like something literary that lurks in the background of something else. All countries need some form of police. It’s one thing to complain “In America the police do X.” It is a whole other level of crazy talk to complain, “In America, we have police.” Similarly, it’s one thing to say, “In America, our immigration policies are X.” It’s another to say, “In America, we have immigration policies.”

So does everyone else! 

(Yes, I know there was a time in America when we really didn’t have much by way of immigration policies. If you showed up here, you could become an American. Put aside the sophistic response that this, too, was a policy. We now have an elaborate and unaffordable welfare state that makes having immigration policies necessary. If you want to get rid of that, I guess I’m open to discussing abolishing all immigration policies, though I’m probably not persuadable.)  

That’s why—or at least, that’s one of the reasons why—I love CHAZ. It took activists less than 24 hours to discover that even their make-believe Duchy of Grand Fenwoke relies on the basic building blocks of any polity. If Seattle’s supine and sausage-spined political leadership allows this experiment to continue, pretty soon you can expect the emergence of currency, taxes, even some kind of charter or constitution. It wouldn’t shock me if they ended up creating rudimentary courts or even a jail. Also, it wouldn’t shock me if they end up with some kind of civil war. 

This is what anarchy looks like.

One of the more amusing aspects of this great moronic moment we are in is that neither the Seattle separatists nor its most prominent critics, including the president, seem to know what anarchy is. 

I understand that the popular understanding of anarchy is total chaos, conjuring images of cats and dogs living together, escaped cocaine-study monkeys running with scissors, meteorites of frozen blue sewage raining down from airplanes, accountants in loincloths tearing off mattress tags with abandon, Donald Trump left alone with his Twitter on a rainy day with OANN blaring, etc. And yes, I am well aware that at the beginning of the 20th century, self-described anarchists were in fact terrorists (probably including Sacco and Vanzetti!). 

But anarchy enters the language as the word for the absence of a state in the 1500s.   

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon turned it into a political philosophy that championed voluntary associations that regulated themselves. That’s what the Chazarchists claim to be doing. They just don’t know what to call it. And neither does the mayor of Seattle, who says this is what “patriotism” looks like. Forgive me, but this makes my eye twitch. Whenever conservatives talk about federalism or the 10th Amendment, it’s considered dangerous secession talk. But when a bunch of patchouli-soaked hemptivists claim to have literally seceded, it’s patriotism? She’s actually saying this as mobs are tearing down statues of southern insurrectionists, for fornication’s sake.

Anarchism, rightly understood, is an honorable philosophy. A Venn diagram of libertarianism, conservatism, and anarchism has some overlapping bits. There was a good deal of anarchism in Albert Jay Nock, Herbert Spencer and, if you look really hard, William F. Buckley. Anarchism’s biggest problem isn’t that it doesn’t work, it does. It just doesn’t scale up. You can’t have a large, modern, mostly urban society and leave all state functions to the people. Some hippie commune or kibbutz, with sufficiently fertile soil and a high tolerance for living not far above the poverty line? Sure. A modern industrial state? Nope. You need laws, you need order, and you need mechanisms to enforce them. Moreover, even the hippie communes and kibbutzim aren’t as autarkic as they like to believe. The Woke Walden II isn’t merely leaching off Seattle’s electricity and water, its whole existence depends on the tolerance of the city—and the food trucks just outside its borders. It can’t defend itself from the Seattle Police Department, never mind the 101st Airborne. It’s a little Green Zone of Greens playacting in the center of the city like little kids defending a cardboard fort in the backyard. 

The great relearning

Earlier this week, I wrote a G-File called “Unlearning the Worst Parts of Ourselves.” It was about how humans come into the world with all sorts of basic programming that manifests itself almost from the moment we’re born. (Please: become a Dispatch member to read it!). 

What I didn’t get too deeply into was the folly of believing that human nature is infinitely malleable, that we’re blank slates that can be molded into whatever “society” or the state wants us to be. Going back to Plato’s Republic, a great many political movements and philosophies are based upon some version of this idea. Rousseau, who contributed so much to so many of them, believed that we are born good and are enslaved by society. “Man is born free and everywhere is in chains,” he writes in The Social Contract.

In the essay that made him a star, ”Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences,” he writes:

So long as government and law provide for the security and well-being of men in their common life, the arts, literature and the sciences, less despotic though perhaps more powerful, fling garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh them down. They stifle in men’s breasts that sense of original liberty, for which they seem to have been born; cause them to love their own slavery, and so make of them what is called a civilised people. 

For Rousseau and his imitators, a new, righteous civilization could be built if we just started over at Year Zero and reinvented everything from scratch, this time treating human nature as a blank canvas or a wholly benign building block. The Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis all had their conceptions of Year Zero, or the great do-over. And so do the CHAZzers. And so did many of the hippies and radicals of the 1960s. Which brings me to Tom Wolfe’s magisterial essay “The Great Relearning.”

The forefathers and foremothers of the CHAZzers—the assorted radicals and Rousseauians of the 1960s—believed in sweeping away the chains Rousseau had described. Wolfe notes that Ken Kesey even organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge, where he believed Anglo-Saxon culture began, or at least took its wrong turn, in the hopes of launching his grand reboot. 

Wolfe begins his essay by recounting a “curious footnote to the psychedelic movement.” He recalls how, during the Summer of Love in Haight Ashbury, doctors at the free clinic discovered diseases that “no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scruff, the rot.” 

Why had these forgotten maladies returned? Well, it turned out that when you start over at Year Zero by rejecting all of the accumulated wisdom and knowledge embedded in culture, laws, customs, including basic hygiene, that stuff rushes back in. Nature always rushes back in. We benefit from millennia of trial and error and a storehouse of knowledge that basically resides in the civilizational “cloud.” But if you start from the philosophical premise that the past has nothing to teach you and the present is just the poisoned fruit of the past, you’re not destined to recreate something better. You’re virtually guaranteed to recreate something worse. 

As bad as some police may be, they are all subject to laws that have been worked out over centuries. Can those laws be improved? Sure. But I would rather have cops be professionally trained and answerable to the law and to the politicians and voters above them, than rely on untrained militias who use their own instincts. The police do not have authority because they have guns. They have guns because they have authority. I’ll take the Seattle PD over some rapper who declared himself in charge solely because he has an AK-47. 

But by all means, start over from scratch. Don’t cook your food or wash your hands. Don’t tell people that if they commit violence or steal things they’ll be punished. Don’t tell people that private property is a thing. Just don’t be surprised when you get some bowel-stewing illness or be shocked that when you waddle back from the crap pit out by the food prep area, your iPhone is gone and there’s nobody around to do anything about it because it was the Warlord of Woketown who took it. 

Various & Sundry

Pippa is being a bad girl. Twice this week she rolled in foulness that required hazmat level cleanings. She also took off her (very expensive) brace in the woods and won’t tell us where she put it. We don’t know why this is happening, but we are not well-pleased. But as Homer Simpson said to that spoiled sandwich, I find myself saying to Pippa, “How can I stay mad at you?” Particularly when she’s clean, she’s remarkably snuggly at home these days. I wish I could explain to her that the rolling creates the requirement for baths. Baths don’t create the requirement for a ball. On walks, Zoë is still mostly all business. And Pippa’s waggle is still functioning within normal parameters

Indeed, all three of the quadruped girls are being quite well behaved on the home front. They seem to have worked out some basic rules. If the spot next to me is open, it’s first come, first serve. Admittedly Zoë still has trouble recognizing Gracie’s squatter’s rights (which makes Gracie more opportunistic and demanding when the dogs are out), but she’s definitely getting better at it. 


And now, the weird stuff

Photograph of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone by Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.