No doubt that workers' control of the means of production would offer a great improvement over today's society, but in An Anarchist FAQ Iain McKay has not properly considered the facts of (pre)history and the origins of hierarchy, and so 1) falls short of his own ideals, 2) lacks the necessary ecological and psychological context.
Experts consider the Holocene extinction, beginning around 10,000bc with the advent of civilization (and continuing to this day) the worst extinction event perpetrated by any single species in the history of the planet.
By any objective standard, this constitutes the most important--and most immoral-- event in the whole of human history; certainly in any general discussion of environmental destruction.
Yet McKay makes no mention of it. Or the fact that it started when we had a population of just about 5 million, with much lower production/consumption levels than any modern anarchist society could achieve. Things as basic as agriculture, roads and tree-felling sufficed to cause major habitat destruction.
Many scholars also believe that humans had a role in the (less extensive) Quaternary extinction that began with the upper paleolithic 50,000 years ago (hunting hypothesis), which would imply that we can only reach the ecological balance of other predators at even lower middle paleolithic population/production levels.
At any rate, though civilization did lead to great population/production growth, the biggest driver was the industrial revolution (hockey stick population increase)--leading up to state/corporate capitalism and our current ecological crisis.
Thus any objective person looking at the human species compared to the rest would have to conclude the following:
1-Bad: humans (mainly because of our greater potential for destruction)
4-Worsest: state/corporate capitalism
McKay wants to go from 4 to a self-managed 3, which would indeed constitute a great improvement. But to present this as some sort of great ecological position seems to me disingenous. Even in the highly unlikely scenario that anarchists could cut the current population number (7.2 billion) in half and make them all anarchists, does he really think that 3.6 Billion humans in an industrial society can cause fewer extinctions and habitat destruction than 5 million neolithic farmers who were already causing the Holocene extinction?
Then of course, we have the issue of the origin of hierarchy and authoritarianism. Mckay, in an effort to bypass the logic of primitivism, and without any evidence, tries to solve this question by adhering to some Reichian theory about children not having sexual freedom.
But because he cannot accept civilization and its culture as an authoritarian step in relation to nature, he misses on the explanation that makes most sense: Terror Management Theory, which has 25 years of evidence to back it up (look up the 1000s of studies on Google scholar). Since it originated from Ernest Becker's ideas, I'll quote him:
"Civilized society is a hopeful belief and protest that [art], science, money and goods make man count for more than any other animal. In this sense everything that man does is religious and heroic, and yet in danger of being fictitious and fallible... The real world is simply too terrible to admit. It tells man that he is a small trembling animal who will someday decay and die. Culture changes all of this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe. Immortal in some ways... If we were to peel away this massive disguise, the blocks of repression over human techniques for earning glory, we would arrive at the potentially most liberating question of all, the main problem of human life: How empirically true is the cultural hero system that sustains and drives men? "
The evolutionary explanation goes something like this:
++Hominids began using their emerging cognitive abilities to understand their world and meet basic needs for nutrition, mates, and other resources. But this happened before they had reached the point where significant self (and thus death) awareness arose. Death awareness thus developed as an unfortunate byproduct of prior adaptive functions--not as an adaptation selected for its advantages. Anxiety in response to the inevitability of death threatened to undermine adaptive functioning and therefore needed amelioration.
Any social formation that was to be widely accepted by the masses needed to provide a means of managing this terror--which we mostly bury in the unconscious. Thus humankind used the same intellectual capacities that gave rise to this problem to fashion cultural beliefs and values that provided protection against this potential anxiety. And while the emergence of morality and mutual aid evolved to facilitate co-existence within groups, the struggle to deny the finality of death, co-opted and changed morality's more primitive function.++
Hunter-gatherers themselves had religious beliefs and a place in the tribe that granted them meaning and value, but by and large seemed to have supressed their death fear by staying busy thinking about their next meal, doing interesting, immersive, purposeful, physically demanding work and by having a kind of contextual humbleness--seeing themselves as part of the natural world instead of the human-centric world of civilization.
No industrial society, no matter how anarchist, can provide this contextual non-human-centric humbleness. Even work, which is much of anarchism's focus, poses some problems: Even if unpleasant jobs like mining could be minimized, how can one compare the purposefulness of a hunt with that of, say, a curtain designer in an anarchist society? The latter will likely have to compensate for this lack with either other surrogate activities or delusions about the importance of his job. And this is quite apart from Ted Kaczinski's notions of technology changing the social landscape too quickly for our stone age brains to adapt.
In general, if humans need a certain level of ego delusion to supress their death anxiety, we shouldn't advocate for this delusion to take on a material form. In other words, material culture--civilization--materializes the ego delusion. It violates empirical reality by elevating humans above other animals and encouraging the pursuit of symbolic immortality--striving to become individuals of value in an illusory world of meaning. True, together with this great delusion and loss of contextual reality come small pockets of deeper understanding--some of the discoveries of science. But clearly these can't offset the delusion of a whole society.
In this sense, God creates a more powerful sense of immortality than other aspects of culture, which only provide a strong sense of symbolic immortality to those who can become individuals of value in its trumped-up world of meaning and continuity--most prominently its masters.
And so in saying No Gods, No Masters, the anarchist wants to eliminate some extremes of ego delusion in civilization--not its sociological foundations, which deny the reality of impermanence expressed by a Kalahari Bushman song:
"The day we die a soft breeze will wipe out our footprints in the sand. When the wind dies down, who will tell the timelessness that once we walked this way in the dawn of time?"
Of course, in these discussions certain more "pragmatic" considerations are always brought up , such as that (despite primitives' superior physical and mental health) modern medicine has great advantages over primitive medicine--without which child mortality would be enormous--as it was before the industrial revolution.
But unfortunately, this assumes that humans have the right to grow in number and continue the Holocene extinction. It ignores that if we use a balance scale like blind Justice holds, place all the species going extinct on one side, and place us on the other—giving us about a 500,000 times more weight because we invented the scales—the scales will tip in favor of our extinction, even with our weighted advantage.
And so not only does civilization encourage delusion, but morally speaking, humans don't have the right to it, or to a population above 5 million.
As the VHEM says, we should abstain from reproducing to "live long and die out", at least till we reach that number--to stop acting as a tyrannical, murderous elite over all the other species.
Context matters, even if we only want to go from 4 to 3. And even if we cannot reach the goal, we should always start with the truth.
Delusion has consequences. In this case, the Holocene extinction, which should become the general context of anarchist discussion.