By: Sumit Kapur, CLDC Intern
The way we think about the world is conditioned by the knowledge that we are given from those that we place trust in.
This knowledge is not unfiltered—it is curated. In this country, the knowledge that we learn in schools is curated by state educational boards to adhere to state and federal regulations. Curriculum, beyond all other motivations, must satisfy the interests of those in power.
These interests are apparent in how we learn about evolutionary biology. The revolutionary writer, Peter Kropotkin, gets at the heart of this issue in discussing Darwin’s theory of the struggle for existence. The idea that the struggle for existence is a a key factor in evolution has historically permitted us to “embrace an immensely wide range of phenomena in one single generalization, which soon became the very basis of our philosophical, biological, and sociological speculations.”
Key here is that this biological idea has been expanded beyond its initial scope to apply to other aspects of society. We are taught in school that prosperity requires a selfish struggle.
But what if we didn’t have to struggle against others? What if we could work together and help each other succeed?
This is where mutual aid comes into play. Mutual aid represents the basic idea that we can come together and act in solidarity with others to reach a common goal of a more just and compassionate world. It exists with consideration not just for the collective good, but also for the “greatest amount of welfare and enjoyment of life for the individual, with the least waste of energy.”
Much of our world’s history of positive progress is characterized less by selfish struggle and more by collective action. From the Enlightenment Age to more modern times, we have been able to actualize ideas that once seemed like pipe dreams by circulating ideas and working together. Mutual aid has historically been and will continue to be fundamental to the functioning of a just world. With the technological and communicative resources that we have today, mutual aid networks have the power to be stronger than ever.
They are also more important than ever before.
In the era of COVID-19, the oppressive ills of a rather selfish brand of capitalism have been laid bare for all to see in the United States. It has become increasingly clear that the capitalist State that preaches the virtues of the “selfish struggle” is incapable of guaranteeing individuals with the most basic aspects of a healthy life. As COVID deaths surge past 140,000 in this country and unemployment claims skyrocket, we are able to see the State’s oppressive elements with clarity.
The sole legitimacy of ideas like the struggle for existence are necessary for the operation of an oppressive capitalist State. Ideas such as this one help to normalize and maintain oppression by encouraging competition and discouraging collaboration. It becomes a lot more difficult to dismantle systems of oppression if those oppressed cannot collaborate and unite to fight against them.
It is clearer than ever that the State’s preference of competition to collaboration will not cut it if we want to survive, thrive, and build a future based on justice and equality. In this time of crisis it’s clearer than ever that we need to embrace collaboration for the sake of our collective future.
Join us at the Civil Liberties Defense Center for an interactive conversation about what mutual aid looks like in practice on July 23 at 3 PM PST with:
Malik Rahim, founder, New Orleans Black Panther Party, and co-founder, Common Ground Collective
Cindy Milstein, anarchist organizer, author, and educator
Cat Terrill, organizer, Tacoma Food not Bombs
Register for this free event at bit.ly/radical-roots.