I study counseling psychology. I learn to use skills that help people deal with personal issues, trauma, mental issues, and stress. But saying I “help” someone is actually a misnomer.
In reality, I empathize with an individual; I leverage the desire to connect with another human. I do this to show a person that they possess their own ability to cope with the stressors of life. In other words, I help them help themselves. My relationship with a client is what the counseling profession cleverly refers to as the “therapeutic alliance.”
The therapeutic alliance states that a counselor joins with a client and together they form a bond. They enter into an emotional rapport, which accounts for any healing that takes place. Current research in counseling states that the client and therapist bond is what contributes to positive outcomes. This is the open secret of all therapy. Healing occurs because client and counselor share an authentic connection.
Laurie Meyers, writing for Counseling Today, confirmed the importance of the therapeutic alliance:
In 2001, a comprehensive research summary published in the journal Psychotherapy found that a strong therapeutic alliance was more closely correlated with positive client outcomes than any specific treatment interventions.
This psychotherapeutic idea does not really come as a surprise, because 50 years of research has fleshed out the truth. The therapeutic alliance has been shown to work based on evidence.
I invoke this idea of the therapeutic relationship, because my hope is to reconcile counseling insights and psychotherapy with anarchist political philosophy. Counseling psychology, in my estimation, has unveiled what it is that humans seek most in life: emotionally fulfilling relationships and non-coercion in their interactions.
A Softer Interpretation of Anarchism
I believe the aforesaid truths of therapy and counseling can be applied to voluntaryist thinking for the creation of a new kind of anarchistic philosophy as well as community.
I call it relationalism. It is the philosophy that promotes absence of rulers and total freedom through relationships and social healing, rather than through the traditional routes of argumentation, persuasion, or economic theorizing (although the philosophy is not opposed to any of the traditional vectors of anarchism, as convincing people of this philosophy will likely also require argumentation).
Myself and others have also referred to relationalism as “soft anarchism,” “therapeutic voluntaryism,” or “anarcho-relationalism.” I am certain that more names for this particular philosophy will arise as others begin to discuss it and tease apart all the implications.
There are three primary thought processes or underlying assumptions behind relationalism as an emotional framework for freedom.
- Current conceptions of anarchism have been hyper focused on the LEM Axis. That is, they are geared toward solving Logical, Economic, and Moral problems of society and government. They are embedded in an echo chamber where buzz words like nonaggression principle, property, and self-ownership dominate cultural language. Thus, relationalist anarchism is a new formulation that looks at other, softer determinants for building an anarchist society, and it attempts to move beyond fashionable memes and tropes.
- The soft interpretation of anarchism suggests that humanity’s emotional and relational closeness acts as a prerequisite for voluntaryism, anarcho-capitalism, and many other non-coercive social arrangements. In other words, if people are attuned to each others feelings, there is less of an opportunity for violence and aggression to erupt. This is the application of the therapeutic alliance to society-at-large for building a freer, more psychologically stable world.
- In order to build a social order based on logical, moral, or economic truths, humans must first grapple with their emotional worlds and how they relate and interact with all people. They must learn to heal each other through being together and uniting, in much the same way that a counselor helps a client get better through their mutually agreed upon alliance. In this sense, the philosophy of relationalism sees the anarchist as a social healer that creates communities and nurtures love.
In a way, the relationalist accepts and expands the common voluntaryist meme that “Statism starts at home” and applies it universally, across all cultures and all human interactions. It is true that the parent-child relationship is paramount to creating a healthy human, but the idea of relationalism must permeate all crevices of society-at-large and remain present throughout the human lifespan for full impact.
The Relationalist Ethic
Normally, people do not feel the same sense of empathy, connection, and closeness to people they do not know. Relationalists, however, see everyone as part of a ever-widening and interrelated socio-emotional system. Thus, therapeutic anarchists seek to treat everyone as if they were able to make authentic, loving contact.
In the spirit of the counselor or therapist, the relationalist wants to join with others and form an alliance. Relationalists see rapport as a mainstay of culture and they attempt to apply it everywhere as they walk the world.
But for this to occur, relationalists must adopt a single and simple tenet that guides their interaction with others. This gut level concept is called the relationalist ethic.
- The ethic states that the reason soft anarchists attempt to achieve a relationally-focused community is because shared feelings, empathetic connections, and closeness are always antithetical to violence. They are different neurological states. They are binary mental positions. They are opposites. Empathy and love cannot exist in the human mind at the same time as violence and aggression. Therefore, the stronger the culture of relationalism, the less violent and more anarchic it becomes. This assumption or theory is based on evidence gathered in psychotherapy research, and the hope is that it will remain intact on a socio-global scale.
I do not agree with everything Jiddu Krishnamurti said, but this quote sums up the relationalist ethic in terms of the softer attitude toward society:
“Love is the missing factor; there is a lack of affection, of warmth in relationship; and because we lack that love, that tenderness, that generosity, that mercy in relationship, we escape into mass action, which produces further confusion, further misery.”
However, this is not to say that every person wants to accept loving connections with strangers, but the relationalist contends that if people choose not to accept unknown others, they may in turn jeopardize their own relationships. It means that entities like government may crop up and hurt all relationships because people do not see other humans as loving entities in themselves. Simply speaking, government is the result of people’s lack of relational focus.
As an aside, this position is not to suggest that relationalism is a Utopian agenda. It is just to say that if empathy is accepted as the cornerstone of a healthy and less violent society, it should be a component of culture. Surely, violence will still manifest in society as people are imperfect, but this situation is worsened by governmental destruction of relationships.
But why exactly do relationalists need to even worry about government? Krishnamurti disliked all politics and thought change could occur without looking at “political” cures. Why do relationalists claim to be anarchists? Can’t they just promote empathy and love and be done with it?
The Psychological Problem of Statism and Relationship Desecration
To be sure, the aim of the relationalist is to build an anarchist, but emotionally oriented society. As the relationalist ethic states,soft anarchism wants to achieve total freedom from rulers and authority because these ideas conflict with the concepts of love and sensual union.
A truly empathetic society cannot exist so long as authority and government loom over society and interfere in human interaction. It cannot happen because governments are entities that use violent aggression to sway the masses of people to behave in certain ways.
It is this mentality that thwarts the possibility of having a truly love-based culture. Relationalism is thus expressed in anarchism because governments naturally destroy interpersonal connections.
Here are several examples of how government and the political classes prevent and dissuade people from forming social therapeutic alliances. I could provide hundreds of examples, but for the purpose of this essay, four will suffice.
- The governmental institution of police removes the possibility of empathic love from the whole population by providing society with aggressive force and hateful authoritarianism. The mere presence of police puts people in a state fight or flight, which tends to erode the empathy circuitry in people’s brains. This is especially true if it causes increased stress hormones to flood the body. Policing is likely another symptom of the poor relationship systems and interactions that exists in society-at-large.
- The drug war is a political edict that by its nature tears apart families and ruins stable relationships. Whenever a loved one is kidnapped by police enforcers, it destroys the relationship between “government” and that person, and it also undermines that person’s ability to take care of their family, which tarnishes the overall attachment in that family. In addition, if most family members agree with the State that their own loved one should be kidnapped, extorted, and caged, it further divides that family along ideological lines. This situation is wholly antithetical to the relationalist perspective, and it applies to all members of society, not just the family system.
- One of the most hideous examples of government’s destroying relationships and undermining compassion is that of the Child Protective Services. This institution thrives off of its ability to break up families and destroy closeness among family members. It is in this anti-family atmosphere created by government that truly stable and caring relationships cannot be nurtured and continued. As a disclaimer, it is certainly true that some children could actually need to be taken out of abusive families that already have horrible relational interactions, but the State and these kinds on institutions only exacerbate relational problems within the family environment.
- The military is probably one of the most destructive institutions for the development of interpersonal and empathetic connections between people. Anyone who joins the military has their ability to feel the pain of another human systematically excised in boot camp. The only time a soldiers feelings return is when they come back from the war with emotional or moral injuries psychiatrists refer to as PTSD. In order to continuously heal social relations, the standing military in all of its manifestations must be abolished.
Essentially, what government is in the business of doing is destroying relationships; they engage what I call relationship desecration. Governments transform human emotional functioning into an enterprise of volatility and violence. When relationships are constantly torn asunder by the State, people become even more violent and volatile. They utterly lose their sense of connectedness with other humans, and instead of being awash with empathy, they are ensnared by hate. This is why relationalists maintain a philosophy of emotive anarchism.
The evidence for relationship desecration is clear if one merely looks at the psychological research on what authority does to people’s ability to connect with others. In other words, the concept of authority blocks people’s feeling capability. Stanley Milgram, who conducted the famous experiments on obedience to authority, elaborated on this concept:
“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
In relationalist terms, people can’t feel with the person they are hurting; they cannot empathize and connect. These are the reasons why relationalists must promote not only love and interpersonal interaction society, but also abolition of government and authority for the purpose of healing society and creating an environment that nurtures empathy rather than destruction.
Additional Thoughts on Relationalism
Relationalism hinges on love and human attachment. As a philosophy it is contingent on people’s desire to be with other people and form relationships. In other words, healthy human connections necessitate absolute freedom.
In this light, relationalism is not a detached model for new sociopolitical arrangements, nor a dry run of endless debates and objective presentations. It is not a strictly cognitive exercise. Instead, it is a psychological expression or aesthetic that implores people to create loving and harmonious relationships, without the desire for coercion to undermine that relationship.
It is also not only a philosophy. It is a process or a dialogue. It was what philosopher Martin Buber called the “I-Thou” connection. It is a heart-level instinct based on human psychology. This acknowledgement of the feeling vectors of anarchism represents what the relationalist stands for.
In addition, Relationalism is not an appeal to emotion from a logically fallacious sense, nor a suggestion that people get carried away with their emotion and forget higher brain functioning. It is only to say that focus of anarchistic interactions should be hinged on dialogue and rapport. It is literally the idea that we can exercise rational faculties but also stay in sync with our emotions and attachment to our fellow humans.
This philosophy is something totally novel, and this is just the first of many articulations. It is a fertile field for developing a host of interesting and helpful ideas, which ultimately are a psychological technology that can be employed by everyone.
As of now, to my knowledge, the therapeutic findings of psychotherapy have not been applied to anarchist political philosophy nor integrated with any decency. Therefore, I hope this articulation will help others in the relationalist community continue to build these ideas so that we may eventually dissolve the State apparatus and learn to love each other with full integrity and the whole strength of our humanity.
A friend and fellow relationalist of mine, Gordon Peters, expressed what soft anarchism for the community could look like in these beautiful words:
The community facilitates a healthy physical, spiritual, and mental climate for all. The community is open to all services, as individuals are led to provide them. The community understands that coercing an Individual into unnatural service will harm the health of that individual and the health of the entire community. The community arcs towards simplicity and common sense. The rest is celebration.