A couple of weeks ago I commented on the poorly thought out criticism of libraries in Oakland by “the Boss.” I thought that while Oakland libraries might lose the financial battle, they wouldn’t lost the intellectual one.
After reading about the pro-library protests in Oakland by an “anti-capitalist initiative” called Bay of Rage, I’m not so sure. Anarchists protesting in the streets won’t save libraries, because anarchists annoy people. It’s enraged folly like this that has nitwits claiming public libraries amount to socialism.
As anti-capitalists in the West tend to be, they are very upset, and would prefer that Oakland cut cops before cutting libraries. Considering the crime in Oakland, maybe there could be some compromise.
However, they do like libraries, because libraries are anti-capitalist, or so it would seem. Andrew Carnegie would be turning in his grave. Maybe he is, for all I know.
In an article comparing libraries to banks, Bay of Rage grabs the reader immediately with this: “Banks and libraries: they both borrow, and they both lend. A bank is like a library for money! And yet in many ways they are exactly opposed.” Huh. I’ve never thought about it that way before. This clears it all up for me. Thank you, anarchists!
Yes, in many ways they are exactly opposed, except they’re not. If libraries were like banks, when you borrowed eight books, you’d have to bring nine back. They’re not exactly opposed because they’re not comparable in the first place.
Besides, the anarchists act like the banks are exploiting the poor, but banks don’t have anything to do with the poor. It’s the check-cashing places and pawn shops that exploit the poor. You have to be at least lower middle class before the banks start exploiting you.
The twopointopians probably wouldn’t like it that the anarchists think “There is something old-fashioned about the library,” but that oldfashionedness has nothing to do with books, and everything to do with “sharing,” since the public library “is a remnant from a time when the economy could support a few pockets of sharing. Neither capital nor its robber barons can afford such old-fashioned nonsense now.”
I’m not quite sure this makes sense, since capital and its robber barons aren’t the main users of public libraries and never were. The first quasi-public libraries in what became the the United States actually were about sharing. The Library Company of Philadelphia, for example, started when Ben Franklin and a bunch of his chums donated their own books to form the company, and shared them amongst themselves.
Others could join by subscription, and such subscription libraries were not too uncommon in the early US, especially in New England. People could still do this.
For all their good, most public libraries are not examples of sharing in that sense. They’re social institutions, like police or sanitation, that serve a public good that can’t be met efficiently through the market.
The anarchists believe “there is something about a library that is also an image from the future, when the community, the city, the world is a collective enterprise.” Since most public libraries aren’t a collective enterprise in this sense, then good luck with that.
In Anarchy in the Library, the anarchists claim that “Knowledge and information should be accessible to all, for free, and that ideas are not the private property of the elite or even those who created the idea.” That sounds good to me, and libraries among other institutions try to make this somewhat possible.
However, the principle breaks down when it’s expanded, when it becomes confused with a “principle that Anarchists wish to develop in all areas of social life.”
They claim they “want to make more parts of society governed under similar principles as the library. The necessities of life, like food and shelter, are not the private property of the few but the products of the labors of society as a whole. They belong to no one; they belong to everyone.” which is why they “desire the public libraries to remain open and for their principles to expand beyond information sharing and into other parts of social life. There indeed is Anarchy in the Library.”
Though I hate to through a wrench into the anarchists’ anarchical works, the principle that everything belongs to everyone as a whole has never been the principle of public libraries, at least not in the U.S. People tax themselves to provide books. If people taxed themselves to provide everything, there wouldn’t be any taxes to collect.
I know the anarchists didn’t say that everything belongs to everyone, though they implied it, but that the necessities of life belong to everyone. But what does this mean in practice?
In practice, it’s impossible to define what these would. be. Let’s say that food, shelter, clothing, and information/education or necessities of life. Homeless shelters, food kitchens, and public schools are like libraries for the necessities of life. Would setting up more of these be enough for the anarchists?
Knowing how anarchists think, they would argue that such minimal fare is unfair when the rich get so much more, but wealth and the excesses it brings are not necessities of life.
Outside of a few very expensive urban areas, the necessities of life are quite affordable. Thanks to third world sweatshops, clothing is cheap! Food is pretty cheap, too, until you start buying name brand packaged food, which usually isn’t very good for you anyway. Live somewhere you can grow your own food or participate in a produce co-op, and it’s even cheaper. Apartments are cheap, especially with roommates.
The anarchists would say you have to have a job first. But there are plenty of jobs around. They don’t pay much, but you don’t need to make much for the necessities of life.
Give up the cable TV, the iPhone, the big house, the most expensive car you can afford, and anything you buy because it’s a fashionable brand you’ve just got to have, and living is actually quite affordable. One might even give up martinis and jazz, though I consider this a step too far.
Then the anarchists would start complaining about relative poverty, since the goal is to eliminate free markets rather than to make sure people are fed and housed, and that’s when anarchism starts to break down. Outside of some kind of enforced equality and the prevention of capitalist acts between consenting adults, anarchism doesn’t work because almost nobody wants it. A handful of radicals and a few college students are hardly representative of the masses.
And so we have the battling extremes in Oakland: “The Boss,” with his naive faith in pure free markets and his belief that any public goods are always the result of a corrupt government rather than an attempt to provide public goods the market can’t provide; and Bay of Rage, with their naive faith that without markets and banks the world would become a collective and everyone would live in a land of plenty.
These kinds of arguments are soooo 1930s. Maybe we’ll need another depression where social services are nonexistent and shantytowns spring up around major cities for people like the “Boss” to wake up, or maybe we’ll need yet another collective and oppressive state to spring up to convince the anarchists that you can’t have one without the other.
Meanwhile, maybe reasonable heads will prevail, and the Oakland middle class can have some leisure reading and videos while providing at least the opportunity for those who really can’t afford books to have access to them.