Persuasive Anarchy: Using Change Talk to Create Freedom Lovers

Many people complain that anarchists are idealists who imagine a Utopia that will never exist. They call anarchists stupid and naive and delusional. They say anarchists do nothing but fantasize about dreams with no way to realize them. They do not give anarchism a second thought. These anarchophobes go about their lackadaisical lives and never weigh or consider the plight of the freeman. They absentmindedly reject freedom, thus they miss the beauty of the vision and ignore the raison d’etre for living anarchically. 

People harbor anti-anarchist thoughts because they fear change. They feel safe and secure in their lives, work, and livelihood; they fail to grasp the necessity of change. But if they took Alan Watts advice, their life might be vastly improved .

Watts said:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

If people plunged into change for the sake of freedom, the idea of anarchy would invoke less dread and hesitation. It is true that the anarchist perspective is replete with images of a disorderly and mad world: but in truth, this new world is not stricken by doom and chaos. Instead, it promises freedom from institutional violence, less war, zero taxation, and greater personal autonomy. Whereas science was the revolution of the old world, anarchism is the rebellion of the new one; it is the sun breaking the horizon and flash-burning all the vampires of culture and convention. Anarchism is not a fear-invoking idea. It the dawn of a golden new epoch.

But for most people, anarchy is death and destruction regardless of how it is presented; It is fetters and chains even though anarchists desire freedom; it is desolation even though no one argues for widespread destruction or nuclear warfare.

People believe this nonsense because the freedom of anarchy implies departure from social and cultural norms. It means people’s lives might be utterly different, abnormal, or extraterrestrial. The human animal yearns for simplicity, structure, order, and security. Any vaguely alien idea about reordering and reorganizing society will send people spiraling into a maniacal state of terror.

But there are psychological methods to help people, to persuade them about the brilliance of anarchism, and ease them into considering the philosophy with new found appreciation and curiosity. Change talk through motivational interviewing is a potentially great tool for the anarchist.

Motivational Interviewing and Change Talk

In psychotherapy, clinicians often look for moments of clarity and change in their client’s language. There is technique that substance abuse therapists use to promote intrinsic growth and behavioral change in their clients. It is called motivational interviewing.

The Center for Evidence Based Practices expanded on the definition:

“Motivational Interviewing is an evidence-based treatment that addresses ambivalence to change. It is a conversational approach designed to help people identify their readiness, willingness, and ability to change and to make use of their own change-talk”

Change talk can also be used by anarchists, just not in the same professional capacity, because an anarchist is not a counseling therapist—but he is a cultural therapist of sorts. He is trying to help people work through the trauma of everyday living. He is trying to help people understand why they agonize over existential issues, why the world is so violent, and why they see anarchy as strife. He is playing the role of social healer and visionary, and giving people the ability to change by articulating truths and providing a clear image of the future.

Of course, this visionary-anarchist will only notice change talk in people he or she converses with on a daily basis. So the anarchist must speak with people about the ideas regularly, and attend to all of their reactions and thought processes. Change talk is difficult, if not impossible to identify on people who anarchists rarely confront. A trusting relationship is a necessary prerequisite for recognizing this kind of speech.

The signals for change talk are readily available. The individual will start to become less emotional, but they will still be visibly aroused, in the sense that they fidget or appear nervous. They may start to pose serious questions for the anarchist, out of raw curiosity, although a hint of combativeness may still permeates their rhetoric. Nonetheless, this is a signal that the person might be ready for change.

The individual will clearly suggest their desire, need, reason, commitment, and ability to make the change over to anarchism. But the anarchist might have to help spur this kind of talk and thought process by making himself or herself available.

It is also up to the anarchist to exercise patience and employ nonviolent communication to ease the process. When someone is in a state of “change talk,” they can be quite vulnerable. The anarchist should remain calm and not become volatile. Just as a general rule of thumb, the more poised and level headed the anarchist, the more likely people will be willing to listen. The anarchist can use similar questions that motivational interviewers use during substance abuse counseling to determine the desire, ability, reason, commitment, and need to change. These are the five:

  • Desire: Why would you want to make this change?
  • Ability: How would you do it if you decided?
  • Reason: What are the three best reasons?
  • Need: How important is it? and why?
  • Commitment: What do you think you’ll do?

If these questions are asked in an empathetic and caring tone, it can help create new anarchists by allowing them to accept and consider the possibility of a changing world. It will help them consider why they want to start living differently and why they might want to help others change. It may aid them in seeing the world in a better light, and realize that anarchism is not a visage of a broken, hostile world. They may start to realize how anarchism can heal everyone, as a kind of social panacea.

With that said, sometimes using change talk and motivational interviewing is not enough to spur outright change. For more difficult or stubborn personalities, confrontation might be a necessary strategy to inspire change for freedom.

Using Confrontation; Expertly Raising Arousal levels

Things get trickier when it comes to using confrontation, though. Most people tend to believe that confrontation means getting aggressive and hostile. In a therapeutic setting, confrontation just means pointing out discrepancies between person’s thoughts and actions, or just thoughts. It does not mean berate the individual or purposely make them feel stupid.

An anarchist goes about this by trying to expertly point out the errors in thinking, as well as examples of cognitive dissonance the person is suffering from. Cognitive dissonance refers to a person who is entertaining two contradicting thoughts simultaneously. For example, a lot of people think murder is bad, but they justify murder if it is called war. The anarchist can politely “confront” the individual and point out their discrepancy.  However, regardless of how caring and empathetic the anarchist tries to be, it is likely that the person will get flustered or angry.

This is normal. But the anarchist should not further antagonize the person and incite anger. They should adjust the levels of confrontation they are using in the discussion, only to spur more change talk and a possible epiphany in the other person. Here is why some confrontation is important: it raises cortisol levels, as well as other neurohormones.

Cortisol is the neurohormone that modulates the fight or flight response in humans. It is released whenever a person feels threatened or endangered in anyway. Generally speaking, too much cortisol can actually damage protein synthesis in the brain. However, studies have shown that medium levels of arousal, or a small amount of cortisol release, can actually increase a person’s attention, learning, and susceptibility to change.

Psychologist Louis Cozolino discussed this concept in his amazing book “The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy.” He said:

“Mild to moderate stress (MSS) activates neural growth hormones supportive of new learning. Thus, MMS may be utilized to enlist naturally occurring neurobiological processes in the service of new learning.”

This is vital knowledge for the visionary-anarchist, because it will give him an understanding of how the change and learning process functions biologically.

For instance, when the anarchist notices the person starting to get aroused, he will know to keep them at the current level of arousal. If he overuses confrontation, it may break the “therapeutic window” and send the person into full blown fight or flight mode. This, of course, would be counterproductive to the anarchist’s goal of helping persuade people to accept anarchy and change for freedom. And sadly, too many anarchists turn people off by becoming aggressive.

Hostile Anarchists; The Art of Persuasion

Helping inspire people to change without turning them off requires patience and a touch of elan. The anarchist should also be somewhat advanced in his communication ability, and understand the tenets of nonviolent communication. A lot of anarchists in the community seem to be hostile and aggressive by virtue of their mindset. They tend to troll feeds or lob attacks at people simply for their viewpoints, but anarchists would do well to remember where people come from.

Most folks were introduced into cultural statism in the same manner a cow is introduced into the feedlot. They were born into it, and their thought processes have matured to believe that grazing and chewing the cud is business as usual. And in order to break this trance, the anarchist must be an artist of persuasion. He must be able to articulate his ideas in a skillful and authentic manner, while maintaining empathy. This is a necessity if he is to give the other person room to think, and eventually grow beyond the confines of the pen. Discontinuing group think and shedding the herd mentality is not an easy feat to accomplish.

But if the anarchist employs therapeutic techniques like change talk and confrontation, he has a decent framework to help people. And he will no longer have to rely on arbitrarily arguing with people. As mentioned, this is crucially important for those individuals who are close to the anarchist, who he communicates with daily. If he can transform friends and family into anarchists by allowing them to embrace change, he may eventually help the whole world embrace change and prepare for a paradigm shift into anarchism.

After all, the raison d’etre for living anarchically is the ability to dance in change; it is the deep yearning to be totally free of toxic convention. And what good do anarchists do if they cannot help heal the world by persuading people of dignity and decency of the anarchist future? People have to be baby-stepped into believing that anarchy is not a delusion, and that it matters on a global scale. They need help with the deconditioning process in order for them to grow and utterly accept the inevitable change toward anarchism proper.


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  1. Jason Boothe on January 18, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Great piece, Sterling!! I cannot agree enough with you on that last part. The hostile (Brutalist) anarchist are, I feel, detrimental to the message of anarchy and tend to turn away far more people than they draw in. Anarchy is peaceful and should be touted in the same manner.

  2. […] Persuasive Anarchy: Using Change Talk to Create Freedom Lovers […]

  3. Pepper Lebeck-Jobe on May 6, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    In your Cozolino quote, you have parenthetically abbreviated “Mild to moderate stress” as “(MSS)” I am pretty sure you mean “(MMS)”

    • Sterling Lujan on May 6, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      Correct. Just a typo. Thank you for pointing it out, as I both write and edit all the content.

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