Thrive: Libertarian Wolf in Progressive Clothing

A friend sent me a piece by Foster Gamble, An Encouraging Look Forward. It’s from Gamble’s Thrive blog. As you might recall, Thrive was a popular documentary from a few years back. It garnered a lot of attention at the time, but it didn’t seem to have any long term impact. My friend asked my thoughts about it. I’ve looked into Thrive in the past, although I can’t say I keep up on Gamble’s writings.

I must admit that I couldn’t be bothered to read the blog post beyond a quick skim, once I saw Gamble praising Trump as good and attacking socialism as evil (i.e., Trump saving us from the Democrats, specifically the threat of Sanders). This is someone who simply doesn’t understand what is happening… or worse, does understand. He can offer no hope because he can offer no worthy insight. It’s just another old rich white guy stuck in an old mindset. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that he finds hope in Trump, as both are the products of plutocratic inherited wealth. There is a long history of libertarians (and anarcho-capitalists) supporting authoritarians, from Pinochet to Trump. It has been called authoritarian libertarianism, which basically describes how liberal rhetoric of liberty and freedom can be used for illiberal ends.

Thrive comes across as a standard pseudo-libertarian techno-utopia with echoes of Cold War rhetoric and Bircher fear-mongering. The capitalists will save us if we only could eliminate big gov, progressive taxation, social safety net, legal civil rights, and democracy. He is an anarcho-capitalist, like Stefan Molyneux who is another Trump supporter. It turns out that (along with Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Ludwig von Mises, etc) he does like to quote Molyneux.

He is no different than the rest of the disconnected elite, but maybe more clever in co-opting progressive rhetoric — similar to how right-wingers co-opted the libertarian label. Interestingly, Trump was elected on progressive rhetoric (by way of Steve Bannon) and that didn’t work out so well. The economic nationalism that Trump promised is the keystone of fascism. Right-wingers like Hitler and Mussolini were able to persuade so many on the political left by their saavy use of progressive rhetoric by glorifying a bright future — and these fascists did rebuild their countries right before sending them back into destruction. It’s highly problematic that Gamble is making many of the same basic arguments that brought the fascists to power earlier last century.

In his blog post, Gamble writes that, “It’s a turn away from globalism toward nationalism and toward localism that will, if allowed, continue until it finds the true unit of human wholeness — which is the individual, not the abstraction of “the group.” Meticulously honoring the intrinsic rights of the individual is what leads to true, voluntary community — which in fact best honors the needs of most people.”

This dogmatic ideology of hyper-individualism has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for this past century. All else is seen as abstractions. Right-wing ideologues, interestingly, are always attacking ideology because only other people’s beliefs and values (and not their own) are ideological — this kind of anti-ideological ideology goes back to the 1800s, such as the defense slaveholders used against the -isms of the North: abolitionism, feminism, Marxism, etc (and yes Lincoln was friends with all kinds of radicals such as free labor advocates and there was a Marxist in Lincoln’s administration).

From the ultra-right perspective of crude libertarianism, love of the supposedly non-ideological and non-abstract Nietszchian individual is the penultimate goal, specifically in the form of a paternalistic meritocracy of the most worthy individuals, a vanguard of enlightened leaders and rulers, even if those superior individuals are aristocrats, monarchs, fascists, or whatever else. As Gamble says that “the group” is an abstraction, Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society. We the public don’t exist, in the fantasy of plutocrats. Anyone who claims otherwise is an enemy, which is why democracy is so viciously attacked.

Beyond the dark right-wing conspiracies, the co-opting of progressive leaders is the most dangerous. Many of those interviewed stated that they were lied to and given false pretenses for why they were being interviewed and what kind of film it was to be. It was built on deception. It’s a propaganda piece produced and funded by right-wing plutocrats. All the fancy production and optimistic spin in the world can’t change that fact.

If you want to understand the worldview of Thrive, read the Rational Wiki entry on the Mises Institute or read some of the Misean defenses of Pinochet to get a flavor, such as General Augusto Pinochet Is Dead and More on Pinochet and Marxism. To Miseans, a social-democrat/democratic-socialist like Allende who was democratically elected, promoted compromise, and killed no one is more dangerous than a fascist like Pinochet who stole power through a coup, eliminated all traces of democracy, and went on a killing spree to subdue the masses. The ends justify the means, no matter how horrific. Capitalism must win at all costs, including human costs. As stated by Gamble’s hero, Mises:

“It cannot be denied that [Italian] Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

My conclusion about Gamble is beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’ve seen this game played far too often. My tolerance for bullshit is approximately zero, at this point. It’s because of plutocrats like Gamble that we are in this mess. I don’t care about his proposed solutions. If we are to gain genuine progress, it will be without the likes of him.

For all my criticism, I must acknowledge the brilliance of using progressive rhetoric to frame an anti-progressive agenda. This is high quality propaganda. Who wouldn’t want the world to thrive with free energy, rainbows, and butterflies? But who exactly will be thriving, the plutocrats or the public? And what kind of freedom are we talking about that requires the snuffing out of democratic process, democratic representation, and democratic rights?

* * *

Deconstructing Libertarianism: A Critique Prompted by the film Thrive

Thrive : Deconstructing the Film

Gamble admits to being “profoundly influenced by Ludwig von Mises,” founding member of the libertarian Austrian School of Economics. As an author, von Mises is celebrated by right-wing presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who claims, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

If I thought the film was libertarian propaganda, it was nothing compared to what I found on the Thrive website. The “Liberty” paper (under the Solutions section) is a real shocker. Peppered with quotes from Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, and Stefan Molyneux, there is even an attack on democracy! Gamble lumps democracy in with bigotry, imperialism, socialism, and fascism and says they all — including democracy! — violate the “intrinsic freedom of others.”

Thrive – The Conspiracy Movie

On April 10, 2012, that nine of the people interviewed in the film had signed a letter repudiating it and claiming that Foster Gamble misrepresented the film to them. These people were John Robbins, Amy Goodman, Deepak Chopra, Paul Hawken, Edgar Mitchell, Vandana Shiva, John Perkins, Elisabet Sahtouris, Duane Elgin and Adam Trombly. In the letter Robbins noted: “When I wrote Foster Gamble to voice my disappointment with many of the ideas in the film and website, he wrote back, encouraging me among other things to study the works of David Icke, Eustace Mullins, Stanley Monteith and G. Edward Griffin. These are among the people he repeatedly refers to in the movie as his “sources.” It is in these people’s worldviews that Thrive has its roots. I find this deeply disturbing. Here’s why…”

The Hidden Right-Wing Agenda at the Heart of ‘Thrive’

In case anyone misses the point—that the state must wither so that man can be free—Gamble shares von Mises’ opinion that like Communism, fascism and socialism, “democracy wrongly assumes the rights of the collective, or the group, over the rights of the individual.”

But wait a minute. Wasn’t that Paul Hawken on the screen a little while ago? How did we get from Paul Hawken to a thinly veiled anti-democracy rant and Ludwig von Mises?

Paul Hawken happens to be one of my personal heroes. A veteran of the civil rights movement, Hawken founded a couple of successful companies in the 1970s, and then went on to became the world’s leading environmentalist/economist with the publication of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993.

In Thrive, he delivers a passionate speech drawn from ideas in his latest book, the marvelous Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.

“If you look at the people who are involved with restoring the earth and stopping the damage, and reversing the depredation, and nurturing change, and reimagining what it means to he human, and you don’t feel optimistic, then maybe you need to have your heart examined,” he says in the film. “Because there is an extraordinary, gorgeous, beautiful, fierce group of people in this world who are taking this on.”

Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Enough of this conspiracy hogwash—let’s do some positive-minded politics! (For a local example, see this week’s cover story about the awesome work being done at Save Our Shores.html.)

In addition to being an admired economic thinker, Paul Hawken is a successful businessman and is nowhere near a socialist. Furthermore, Hawken was among the many sane people who championed the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, which Foster Gamble claims was an Illuminati/New World Order effort to create a global currency and destroy America’s sovereignty.

So—what’s Paul Hawken doing in this movie? I emailed him to find out. He replied he was just surprised as I was to find out he’s in the film.

“I did that interview many years prior under false pretenses,” Hawken replied. “I had no idea I was being interviewed for such a movie. Having said that, I have only seen the trailer [and] don’t really want to see the film, having read about it. I do not agree with the science or the philosophy.

“I do feel used, no question, as do others. It’s a lesson in signing releases.”

Similarly, In an email Thursday, Elisabet Sahtouris said that when she was interviewed for the film, she understood it was to be a very different kind of movie, and is “dismayed” at some of what she saw in the final cut. “I loved the footage shot of me and my colleagues; I deplore the context in which it was used.

“To put the individual above community is simply misguided; without community we do not exist, and community is about creating relationships of mutual benefit; it does not just happen with flowers and rainbows…  and no taxes.”

It appears that Hawken and Sahtouris aren’t the only people who regret having appeared in Thrive. In a scathing review on the Huffington Post, Georgia Kelly of the Praxis Peace Center reports that she has heard from several of other interviewees, none of whom had any idea they were helping to make a libertarian propaganda film.

Film review: Why ‘Thrive’ is best avoided

Ah, so that’s what ‘Thrive’ is all about …

Then, at the end of the film, we finally get into Thrive’s manifesto, it’s vision for the future and how we might get there.  There is lots in there that I wouldn’t disagree with, more local food, renewable energy, local banking, local shopping and so on, apart from free energy being thrown into the mix too.  But now, it is in this final section of ‘Thrive’ that the dark side of the film emerges.  One of the things put forward, alongside local food, renewables and so on, is “little or no taxes”.  Eh?  Where did that come from?!  Ah, now we get into the real agenda of the film, a kind of New Age libertarianism, a sort of cosmic Tea Party, and it all starts to get deeply alarming.

Gamble sets out his 3 stages to get to humanity’s being able to thrive.  Firstly, he argues, we need to hugely scale back the defence industry and the Federal Reserve.  Well I could go along with that, but then the second is “shrink government’s role in order to protect individual liberty”, and the third is then, because we are now freer, with “no involuntary tax and no involuntary governance” and with “rules but no rules” (?), we can all now thrive.  OK, whoa, let’s pause here for a moment.  Indeed the film’s website goes further, describing ‘involuntary taxation’ as “plunder” and ‘involuntary governance’ as “tyranny”.

In her review, Georgia Kelly quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying “taxes are what we pay for a civilised society”.  In spite of all it’s cosmic graphics and pictures of forests from the air, it is in essence a kind of New Age Tea Party promo film, arguing for a society with no government, no taxes, no laws, alongside “interplanetary exploration”, which somehow combine to create a world that respects the rights of all.  Apparently, this would lead to a world where “everyone would have the opportunity to thrive”.  In reality, it would lead to a world in which the wealthy would thrive, but the rest of us would lose healthcare, social welfare, libraries, public transport, pension entitlement, social housing etc etc.  Sounds more like a surefire route to the kind of Dickensian world that led to the creation of a welfare state in the first place.

Responding to any of the truly global issues, such as climate change (which ‘Thrive’ clearly dismisses as part of the conspiracy), would no longer happen due to intergovernmental co-operation presumably being interpreted as steps towards a ‘one world government’. The film presents its suggestions in complete isolation from any notions of ‘society’ and community, presenting a vision of the future where the entire global population is living the same lifestyle as Gamble, the resources to enable this presumably being imported from other planets, or perhaps created afresh using magic?

Nowhere in the film do you hear the words ‘less’, or anything about reduced consumption in the West.  Just as free energy and cures for cancer are our birthright, so, presumably, is the right to consume as much as we like – to think otherwise is to lapse into a ‘scarcity’ mindset.  What I find most alarming about ‘Thrive’ is that most of the people who have asked me “have you seen Thrive?” are under 20, and they seem genuinely excited by it.  Perhaps it is the simplicity of the message that appeals, the “all we need to do is” clarity of its ask.  But having to discuss why free energy machines are impossible and the shortcomings of conspiracy theories with otherwise educated young people who are inheriting a warming world with its many deep and complex challenges is deeply depressing.

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Dreams of Anarchism

There is a debate between Larken Rose and Mark Skousen. It is amusing, if not enlightening. It is an argument between two radical right-wingers.

Larken Rose is an anarchist and not the pacifist live-and-let-live kind. He seems to be a hardcore anarcho-capitalist, where capitalists instead of government rules the world. He also argues for shooting cops when one feels their rights infringed, a rather subjective standard. This is the kind of guy who fantasizes about violent revolution and overthrow of all authority.

Mark Skousen is related to the even more infamous W. Cleon Skousen. That other Skousen is his uncle, a crazy right-wing Mormon who is a favorite of Glenn Beck. Theoretically, Mark Skousen is a libertarian, but I suspect of the authoritarian variety—i.e., a pseudo-libertarian. Maybe he is an aspiring theocrat like his uncle. Whatever he is, he doesn’t exude the principled dogmatism and righteous outrage seen with Rose. But both believe in violence in resolving conflict—see Skousen’s honor culture attitude.

I don’t normally bother with such things. But I do get curious in exploring worldviews outside of the mainstream. What got me thinking was something said by Rose in the debate:

The best attempt ever in the history of the world at creating a country based on ‘limited government’ created the largest authoritarian empire in the history of the world, with the largest war machine in the history of the world, and the most intrusive extortion racket in the history of the world.

Invariably minarchists, at this point, pull a page out of the communist handbook and say “Well the theory works, if just wasn’t done right!”

I have a tip for you, if every SINGLE time your theory is applied to the real world it FAILS COMPLETELY, maybe your theory SUCKS.

At this point, this could be said pretty much of every political theory. Maybe political theory is not the answer. I’ve always thought the least anarchist thing one could ever do is to turn anarchism into an ideology to worship and bow down to. But I have some fondness for what might be called epistemological anarchism, a whole other creature. The kind of anarchist I prefer is Robert Anton Wilson, the complete opposite of a dogmatic ideologue.

I find it amusing when anarchists like this complain that others are disconnected from reality. The only reason they can make their arguments is that they are offering utopian visions. No one can point to the failure of anarchism because there is no great example of anarchism ever having been attempted.

When anarchists try to bring up real world examples, they come off as entirely unconvincing. They are so lost in abstractions and imaginings that they can’t look at the evidence for what it is. This kind of right-wing ideological certainty fascinates and frustrates me. I’ve been down this road before (see herehere, here, here, here, and here). I know all the arguments made. I know the mindset.

There is a careless thinking in much of this. There are left-wing examples that are similar. But in the US the right-wing examples are more prevalent and in your face. It’s harder to ignore them. Unlike left-wing fantasies, right-wing fantasies hold immense power in our society. Confronting these fantasies is important. This requires engaging them, not just dismissing them.

Ancaps have a few favorite things they like to cite. History doesn’t offer them much in the way of evidence, and so they have to cling to what meager evidence they can find. They’ll bring up such things as ancient Ireland. But they end up cherrypicking the facts to fit their ideology and then molding them into a vague resemblance of what their advocating.

Consider the interpretation of the historical and archaeological evidence. It demonstrates the problem when you try to make anarchism into an ideology and then try to apply that ideology to complex social reality. Ancient Ireland wasn’t anarchist in the normal sense of the word—certainly not anarcho-capitalist.

Not only laissez-faire capitalism wouldn’t have existed, but neither would individualism, land ownership, etc. These were highly communalistic societies with strict hierarchies and powerful authority figures. If you disobeyed tradition and broke taboos, you’d quickly find that you weren’t free to do whatever you wanted. The modern idea of individual civil rights was simply nonexistent.

Yes, they were small-scale, local, and decentralized. But that isn’t the same thing as anarchism. Many confuse anti-statism with anarchism. What anarchism means is no rulers. These ancient Irish societies didn’t lack rulers, even if they operated differently than in statist societies. They also didn’t lack violence and oppression. The ancient Irish regularly fought one another—including wars of aggression, not just wars of defense. They didn’t simply respect each other’s liberty and freedom.

We need to speak more clearly and not filter reality through our ideas and ideals.

At a Youtube video, one person left this comment:

Er… There was no individual property ownership in Medieval Ireland. Land was controlled by the nobility as heads of collectives known as “túaths”. These collectives were based on kinship and regional proximity. The vast majority of the people were peasants, or “Churls”, who worked the land for the nobility. Yes, the membership of the túaths was fluid, but this system was based on fealty (oath and allegiance), to break an allegiance was not a simple matter.

These societies had rulers. An anarchist society would lack rulers. By definition, these ancient Irish societies weren’t anarchist. Plus, the cost of leaving one of these societies would be extremely high, including the clear possibility that one wouldn’t survive for long. These were extremely authoritarian societies. There was nothing libertarian about them.

From the same video, someone else wrote:

Under that definition, every economic arrangement imaginable is capitalism. Socialism is capitalism, merchantilism is capitalism, feudalism is capitalism etc. It’s fallacious.

People traded. But trade alone is not capitalism. There wasn’t much if any notion of individual ownership. One community might trade with another, but it was typically a collective action as decided by the king and nobility.

Plus, most daily activity would have included more along the lines of social exchanges, not necessarily even barter as we think of it, but more likely a gift society. See David Graeber’s writings.

As all this demonstrates, anarchists are going to have to take their own arguments more seriously. It’s not a matter of convincing others. The best way for them to convince others would be to create an anarchist society somewhere. They could buy an island and start their own non-statist society. No one is stopping them, at least in a legal and economic sense.

Of course, they would argue that the statists are stopping them or making it difficult. Sure, statists have no reason to make it easy. That isn’t the responsibility of statists. If your anarchism can’t withstand the power of statism, then that is proof of why your beliefs have never succeeded in reality. State governments aren’t going to roll over and die. An actual functioning anarchist society will have to be able to fight and win a war against the militaries of nation-states…. or otherwise somehow defend and prevent such attacks.

The problem here isn’t ideologicaly. It isn’t about finding the right principles and being unswerving in one’s conviction. What anarchists face is a whole world of people, a global population growing ever larger on a planet that is staying the same size. Telling most people that they are wrong doesn’t really achieve anything, however satisfying it might feel to express one’s righteous outrage.

If anarchists hope to find real world applications for their utopian ideals, they will have to confront human nature and not just in theory. That goes for anyone with an ideological agenda, even those who claim to have none. As for utopian ideals, I have my own that I favor and that is the reason I spend so much time thinking about human nature. I want to understand what might lead a mere potential to become manifest. This is the tough questioning and self-questioning that I rarely see anarchists willing to take on.

Despite my criticisms, I support anyone with utopian aspirations. Go right ahead. Dream those crazy beautiful dreams. Think big. You are right to not confuse what is and what ought to be. We need more people with daring imaginations and the courage of their convictions. The next step is to experiment, find out with an open mind whether what you believe is a possibility. Prove all your detractors wrong, if you can. I’ll cheer you on in your bold quest for humanity’s future.

Just don’t full yourself that analyzing a problem is the same thing as offering a solution.

Ron Paul’s 19th Century Fantasy

I was just listening to a speech Ron Paul gave at a Tea Party convention. Some commenters noted it was the first full Ron Paul speech they’d seen from a major news source. Guess what the source is? RT America which is a Russian network that is partly financed by the Russian government.

It’s rather ironic because Americans like to think of themselves as being independent-minded, but you have to turn to a Russian network to get a diversity of alternative American voices. RT America has as guests such people as Thom Hartmann (originally from Air America radio), Cenk Uygur (started the most successful internet news show), and Alex Jones (of conspiracy theorist fame).

I like Ron Paul if only for his sincerity which is a rare attribute for a professional politician. Also, he is far from being stupid… but… His overall repetitive message of big government being the problem comes off as simplistically naive. No one could make such an argument if they knew history and were able to see outside of their own ideological reality tunnel.

I don’t blame Ron Paul per se. He is a businessman and so sees everything through the model of business. His idol is the free market. He honestly believes in it.

People like Ron Paul seem to argue that a free market would solve any problem. The simplest criticism is that a free market has never existed. There are always various people and groups controlling markets. The fundamental concept behind the free market argument is that businessmen have practical knowledge and so are economically smarter than politicians and regulators, smarter than academic professors and researchers. It is claimed that anyone other than businessmen will just mess up everything.

The context of this argument is the idiosyncratic history of America. The US early on was fairly isolated from other powerful countries and many of the communities on the continent were isolated by vast land, but it’s obvious the country wouldn’t remain that way. They didn’t need much of a military or navy. The powerful countries were busy fighting each other. The only reason America won its independence was because Britain was busy elsewhere. The reason the US didn’t need a strong navy was because the French navy defended the waters used by American trade ships. The American sense of exceptionalism arose from this isolation because there was no powerful countries nearby who either were able or willing to threaten us. All the wars we fought early on were minor and easily won.

So, unlike other countries, US markets developed with little regulation. The Boston Tea Party was partly motivated by fighting the collusion between big government and big business. The Founding Fathers intentionally wanted a disconnection between businesses and state just as they wanted between church and state. As far as I know, this was the first large-scale experiment ever to try to develop a free market. This was possible because America as a country grew as industrialization was beginning. The hope was that free markets would regulate themselves through competition and the innovativeness of early industrialization made people optimistic, but this experiment was largely a failure during the Gilded Age… or at least a failure in terms of a democratic society, especially as understood today.

Before the Progressive Era regulation, big business was powerful which led it to be oppressive and sometimes outright violent. They didn’t call them Robber Barons for nothing. Companies back then didn’t have to deal with government interference. There was no regulation and no safety inspections. Some companies even owned entire towns which they ran like anarcho-capitalist fiefdoms. They owned the stores, the hospitals, the schools, the housing. They owned everything. And, of course, workers had very little control. These company towns was nearly indentured servitude because workers could never make enough money to ever save and cost of everything was high.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/anarcho-capitalism-stateless-society/

Ok, but what about vertical oligopolies and monopolies, as MettaliarYanto says in his response? Also, what prevents a “monopoly of force in a given area” your definition of the state?

“[I]f one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established.” [Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 270] Is that not such a monopoly, i.e. state, if private?
Is that not such a monopoly, i.e. state, if private? Contracts that employees signed could have provisions forbidding strikes, organizing, etc., agreeing to pay for police, courts, doctors, stores and militaries hired by the employer.
Company towns had every feature which anarcho-capitalists propose, private police, courts, military, etc. Company rules were law. Buying at the company store was required by their contracts. If they sturck or formed a union, they were fired and evicted instantly. The contracts were entered voluntarily, in your sense. Since rights can be waived, exactly what stops this? The British East India Co. was its own state, ruling for centuries. Same with King Leopold’s Congo, run by his corporation.
“Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.” [The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

Working conditions were unhealthy and dangerous. It was common for workers to be become sick, to be maimed or killed. If their health became bad enough or they were maimed badly enough, the person lost their job and probably wouldn’t be able to find another. There was no unemployment or disability pay. If the person died, their family lost it’s main source of income and kids would grow up without a parent. Also, many kids went to work early on and so didn’t get education. Because kids were small, they were used in mines. Because kids were cheap labor, they were used in factories. Many kids also were maimed and killed.

Work was hard and brutal. People were forced to work long hours without breaks, without overtime pay, and without any days off. People were forced to take any work no matter how dangerous because there was no welfare. If you lost your job, you became homeless and possibly starved to death. There were more people looking for work than there were jobs. Life was cheap. Basically, businesses had the upperhand. If you were fired for no reason or were cheated out of pay, you had no recourse. There was practically no regulation and no worker protection. There wasn’t yet any established and powerful unions to represent workers. When workers organized, they were fired and blacklisted. When workers attempted to form unions, union leaders were threatened and killed. When workers protested, private police or goons were used to terrorize and brutalize workers.

Despite all of this, so many people were poor and desperate that they confronted this private power even when it meant mass slaughter. Most of these working class people didn’t have guns or any kind of weapons. These people were so poor they owned very little. All they had was their own life to put on the line.

There was no legal guarantee of workers rights. The government mostly left companies to sort out their own problems. When the government did become involved, it was mostly local government and not the Federal government. In these cases, the government usually sided with the companies. But, in some cases, the Federal government intervened and enforced peace. Workers had more to fear from local governments because local politicians were more closely connected with local business owners.

For example:

This is similar to the civil rights movement. It was local (i.e., small) government that was acting oppressively and unconsitutionally. And it was the federal government that stepped in to help the average citizen. If businesses and local governments acted morally, the federal government would never have had to take drastic measures. The Federal government was responding to a real problem. People like Ron Paul idolize both free markets and small government, but it was the failure of both that caused people big government to defend their rights and lives.

The other thing these capitalist worshippers fail to understand is that, during the Wild West free market of early industrialization, many businessmen weren’t opposed to government just as long as it served their purposes. Bribery and corruption was common. The so-called free market was rife with cronyism. In the early 20th century, many businessmen supported and did business with fascist states around the world. There was even a planned fascist coup of the US which was linked to some businessmen.

If you want to look for the earliest defenders of consitutional rights and civil rights, you wouldn’t look to big businesses. There were, however, some collectivist communities like the Shakers that operated their own businesses and did so successfully. And there were the Wobblies which was one of the early workers movements. Neither of these was anti-capitalist by any means, but they were against the so-called free market that served corrupt power and oppressed the citizenry. Both accepted women and men, blacks and whites as equals in their organizations. The Shakers and Wobblies were some of the only places at the time where women and blacks could have their voices heard and could hold positions of power.

This was a time when blacks and women didn’t have the right to vote and couldn’t hold political office. Even poor white men had very little power. Industrialization was built on an ownership class with the entire working class treated like secondhand citizens. This was also the era of the genocide and ethnic cleansing targeted at the Native Americans. This is the era of the free market that so many worship as being as being an era of freedom, but the supposed freedom in reality only applied to rich white men. Yes, the rich white men were free from government imposition and free to force their will on everyone else.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinkerton_National_Detective_Agency

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, usually shortened to the Pinkertons, was a private U.S. security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled aplot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.[citation needed] Pinkerton’s agents performed services ranging from security guarding to private military contracting work. At its height, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more agents than there were members of the standing army of the United States of America, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency due to fears it could be hired as a private army or militia.[citation needed] Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the height of its power.[1]

During the labor unrest of the late 19th century, businessmen hired Pinkerton agents to infiltrate unions, and as guards to keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories. The best known such confrontation was the Homestead Strikeof 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to enforce the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad; the ensuing conflicts between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to several deaths on both sides. The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in IllinoisMichiganNew York, and Pennsylvania, as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

The Pinkertons were essentially a privatized force that combined detective agency, mercenaries, and the types of activities now associated with the FBI. Big business at it’s height was potentially more powerful than the Federal government.

During the Civil War, many blacks and poor whites knew a kind of power they never had before. Their was this whole new class of people who were well-trained and often well-armed. The Pinkertons couldn’t just pick on the poor and weak anymore. There is a reason that it was the outlaws and not the Pinkerton agents who were the cultural heroes back then. There was so much corruption and oppression that people were inspired by outlaws who stood up to power and fought back.

I’ve written about this topic a number of times:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/libertarian-nightmare/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/anarcho-capitalism-will-not-work/

In the most recent post, I expressed my frustration:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/anarchism-vs-progressivism/

I feel frustrated when someone offers up something like the free market. The striving for freedom won’t save us. The problem is that we aren’t free. We are embedded and enmeshed in, intertwined with and integral to the entire world. We aren’t free of anything. The very idea of freedom is one of those many abstractions that keeps us trapped in the Iron Cage of rationality, the bureaucratization of humanity… costs and benefits, ideologies and systems, improvement and progress. It’s not that any given idea is wrong. Free markets, for example, sound wonderful. What frustrates me is the mindset that constantly creates more ideas to be forced on humanity, on reality, on all the world around us. We think that if we just find the right idea or principle, the right method or framework then the the problems will be solved… but the fundamental problems of civilization are never solved… or at least not so far.

Why I feel frustrated is because of people like Ron Paul. He isn’t a radical conspiracy theorist ranting about the government nor is an uneducated ideologue. Someone like him should know about the history of the US. So, why does he act like he is ignorant of this history or considers it so irrelevant that it’s not worth mentioning? I’m not arguing that there is no problems with the unions and regulations created during the Progressive Era, but it would be morally irresponsible to pretend that vast problems didn’t exist prior to the 20th century big government. Americans gave free markets a chance and free markets failed. Why would any rational person (besides rich white males) want to return to the social and economic conditions of the 19th century?

– – –

* As a note, I should point out that there never actually was a free market during the Gilded Age. For example, the railroads were built with government subsidies and land grants. Collusion between politicians and businessmen has always existed since the beginning of civilization. It happens on the local level as much as it happens on the national level.

Also, I’m not arguing that all 19th century businessmen were corrupt. But I am arguing that most if not all of the wealthiest tycoons became successful at least partly through less than moral tactics. There were other businessmen who fought against these Robber Barons, but they aren’t the names remembered because they aren’t the businessmen who formed the groundwork for today’s big business. Some would argue that the Robber Barons only became corrupt because they colluded with big government, but this certainly wasn’t progressive big government. The point is that corrupt businessmen will try to corrupt government, big or small.

Anarchism vs Progressivism

I was having a discussion with an anarcho-capitalist who was moderate rather than ideological. It was quite refreshing. Most of the anarcho-capitalists I’ve met have been extremely ideological.

I myself am persuaded by both anarcho-primitivism and progressivism. I think civilization is problematic, but as long as civilization exists I consider it morally optimal to seek the greatest good for the greatest numbers while preventing as many problems as possible. I’m unpersuaded by the idolization of enlightened selfishness and the monetization of human life.

Here is a video this person shared with me to present his anarcho-capitalist view:


Here are two of my responses:

FIRST RESPONSE

He is right about the problems of government building logging roads and selling trees at below market cost. Derrick Jensen discusses that issue. Ownership does increase short-term responsibility. A company will want to ensure its profits are maintained in the near future, but this becomes less certain in terms of decades & completely uncertain in terms of generations.

Also, this video leaves out some important issues.

Big businesses want big governments. Big businesses don’t want anarchistic markets that they can’t control or reliably predict and they don’t want anarchistic societies with populations that aren’t controlled where protesters can shut down factories and an unrestrained population can start revolutions.

People who advocate ownership rights in terms of capitalism too often ignore the non-capitalist ownership rights of indigenous people. Big business wants big government to deal with unruly indigenous people who think they have a right to the land their people have lived on for centuries. Big businesses are too often fine with colluding with the genocide or displacement of the indigenous. Sometimes they don’t even need big govt to do this since there are examples of big business hiring mercenaries or local goons to kill or scare away the indigenous.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/does-poverty-rise-as-biodiversity-falls-pavan-sukhdev/

Anarcho-capitalism might benefit small businesses, but it would never benefit big businesses. Big businesses have immense power. If big businesses didn’t like big govt, they could easily use their power to decrease the size of govt. But big business types such as the Bush family want the big govt. The Bush family is even personal friends with Saudi royal family which rules one of the most oppressive big governments in the world. There is no incentive for a big business owner to help create a truly free market where they have to fairly compete. If competition existed, then businesses would be forced to decrease in size and wealth would no longer be concentrated. These big business types like having their wealth and power. They would never willingly give it up just for some noble ideals of a free market.

SECOND RESPONSE

We seem to both agree that the extreme examples of corruption and oppression as seen with concentrated power isn’t human nature. However, I take it a step further in saying all modern civilization is contradictory to human nature.

Maybe I’m less critical of statism and progressivism simply because I’m equally critical of all modern systems of social, political and economic organization. My cynicism makes me have lower standards and more moderate expectations. I’m more accepting of the failings of our society because I just assume that one kind of failure or another is inevitable with civilization as we know it. Or maybe, as someone who feels like a failure at life, I feel it would be hypocritical to be too judgmental of the failure of others. I have a strong sense of sympathy for human imperfection.

Anyway, I had some thoughts that I wondered how you would respond to.

Not all costs and benefits can be monetized, but capitalism (whether free market or not) almost entirely by design excludes anything that can’t be monetized. This is less of a problem with small communities. Hunter-gatherer tribes, for instance, were more widely spread apart so the actions of one community were less likely to impact other tribes. Similarly, early small agricultural communities caused less large-scale problems. But in todays world of industrialization and globalism, impacts are non-local and the human mind isn’t evolved to understand or care about non-local impacts or the strangers elsewhere impacted. I don’t see how a free market can solve this problem inherent to the limits of human nature.

Some costs and benefits are collective such as fire prevention. A private for-profit company couldn’t solve this problem nor could you get everyone to voluntarily agree to a single solution. A collective solution has to be forced on all because the dangers and costs of fires, especially wildfires, impact everyone in a community. A fire can spread from house to house and from community to community. Fires don’t know property boundaries. If not for government, who would bear the costs and implement collective action to do control burns and watch over vast areas of wilderness to spot fires before they spread?

Also, what about long-term costs and benefits such as with local ecosystems? And what about the extremely non-local costs and benefits of the entire biosphere? Pollution doesn’t know property boundaries or national boundaries. We all collectively share the same water and air and we share even many of the same food sources such as seafood. The challenge with environmental costs and benefits is that they’re usually only seen after decades or centuries. A problem prevented may have no short term benefits, but if not prevented it may have massive long-term costs.

As an example, the President Carter helped create the EPA. The reason it was created was because there was little monetary incentive for companies to solve the problems of pollution and environmental destruction. Much of the costs were invisible to everyday experience. Even scientists didn’t know all the potential problems with pollution, but they knew enough that prevention was the wise course despite there being no immediate and apparent benefits. One of the pollutants decreased was lead and the benefits to this weren’t seen for decades. It was only until recent research that scientists could see that the decrease of lead helped to vastly decrease the violent crime rate. No one could’ve predicted this, but problems like this need to be prevented for the very reason we don’t understand them. It’s the precautionary principle.

This issue is complicated with the inherent conflict between transnational corporations and local communities. What monetarily benefits a company such as mining often doesn’t benefit the local community. And the costs of the companies actions may not be seen until years or decades after the company has moved it’s business elsewhere or maybe even has gone out of business. Who is responsible for those costs?

When indigenous people experiences diseases introduced by foreigners… when the water supply is polluted or the wildlife scared away causing the indigenous to be no longer able to sustain their traditional lifestyle… when industrialism leads to poor health because of pollution and malnutrition, who is responsible for the costs to individuals and communities? How does a free market monetize the costs and benefits that are collective and long-term?
I’m reminded of an example that Derrick Jensen used. He was describing this particular community that was established before there was a large federal government and when people mostly solved their own problems. The first settlers killed and scared off the Native Americans living there. The people who live there and own the land are the descendants of the people who stole the land originally. The same Native Americans still live in the area among the people who still possess their stolen land, the people who are descendants of those who killed their ancestors and destroyed their way of life. The creation of such an ownership class is inherently built upon violence and sustained through oppression. All of that violence and oppression happened before big govt.

This story has been repeated a million times around the world. Right now as I write there are indigenous people being exploited and oppressed often by big business or sometimes by small business owners that settled on the homeland of the indigenous. Early settles used the principle of property rights to steal land because they believed/rationalized that he who makes use of the land has the right to the land. This was based on the concept that land in it’s natural state is worthless. This bias continues to this day. We are only beginning to understand the value of health ecosystems to ensuring water and air is clean, things we normally take for granted without considering the costs and benefits.

All these problems I speak of have their origins at the beginning of civilization. The problems of pollution and environmental destruction, malnutrition and disease became apparent the moment people left behind the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and formed permanent villages which became city-states which became states which became empires which became our present industrialized globalism. Indigenous people have perfectly healthy teeth until they are civilized and start eating a grain and sugar based diet. Capitalism or statism then offers the solution of dentistry, but capitalism and statism are part of the social condition that caused the problem in the first place. That relates to wildfires as well. We have to control nature in order to build stable societies and economies, but that control leads wildfires to become larger than they would ever have become naturally. So, once again, businesses or governments have to create solutions for the problem created by the entire system. All of civilization is the solving of problems that civilization created and every solution creates further problems.

So, the fundamental problem is civilization itself. The human species and human communities, ecosystems and the biosphere didn’t evolve under the conditions of civilization. Civilization has only existed for a few thousand years. Civilization has developed faster than evolution can happen. This has led to the extinction of massive numbers of species and the destruction of massive numbers of cultures.

The further problem is that civilization has created massive concentrated populations which are in themselves unnatural and which preclude natural solutions. We humans are a clever species, but it’s our cleverness that gets us into trouble. We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but fundamentally we are driven by the same non-rational impulses as any animal. The difference is that no other species has ever had the power to destroy nearly all life on the planet.

I don’t see how free markets or any other human idea can solve all these problems without just causing more problems… as history has proven. As has been said before, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging. But how do we stop? Civilization is built on continual progress or else the whole house of cards might fall down. We collectively as a species have to keep running just to stay in place. Solution? We don’t even understand the problem. We are the problem or are at least inseparable from the problem. Any solution will have to be a complete transformation of how humans operate on a collective level, but such a solution could never be predicted just as we have never been able to predict any of the problems we’ve created. So, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.

I feel frustrated when someone offers up something like the free market. The striving for freedom won’t save us. The problem is that we aren’t free. We are embedded and enmeshed in, intertwined with and integral to the entire world. We aren’t free of anything. The very idea of freedom is one of those many abstractions that keeps us trapped in the Iron Cage of rationality, the bureaucratization of humanity… costs and benefits, ideologies and systems, improvement and progress. It’s not that any given idea is wrong. Free markets, for example, sound wonderful. What frustrates me is the mindset that constantly creates more ideas to be forced on humanity, on reality, on all the world around us. We think that if we just find the right idea or principle, the right method or framework then the the problems will be solved… but the fundamental problems of civilization are never solved… or at least not so far.

Maybe you don’t share my frustration. Maybe you have more hope in solutions despite the all the failings of history. I realize most people don’t see the world as I do. I just don’t see anything changing until something forces humans to change. I’m not filled with hope.

Anarcho-Capitalism Will NOT Work

Here is a very good analysis and criticism of anarcho-capitalism. I’ve made pretty much the exact same arguments, but this video offers precise real world examples to back up these arguments.

Info from below the video on YouTube:

I read this article in the original magazine but I see that you have to pay online. Fucking capitalist!!! Sorry.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/4017690

Somali Business Council
http://www.banadir.com/somali.htm.shtml
See how this meeting took place in 2003 before the reEMERGENCE of the state.

– – –

Since posting the above, someone linked here in an anarcho-capitalist forum:

http://freedomainradio.com/BOARD/forums/t/27229.aspx

The opening comment asked about the issue of what if corporations want a state government. The whole argument of anarcho-capitalism rests on the belief that state governments corrupt capitalism and that corporations as we know them wouldn’t exist without state governments.

I think this is a moot point in that corporations and state governments develop together. Both are simply related forms of centralized power and hierarchical organization. The only type of capitalism that is even close to anarchism is bartering which is only found (as an economic system) in pre-industrial tribal societies. However, what made those pre-industrial tribal societies work was two factors:

1) They didn’t have to compete with industrialized nation states.
2) They were traditional communities probably with traditional theocratic political systems.

These societies wouldn’t fit the utopian vision of a modern anarcho-capitalist who wants to implement the Enlightenment ideals of classical liberalism. These tribal societies are egalitarian to some extent for the simple fact they were small close-knit communities and so they could operate according to direct democracy or community councils.

My point is that we moderns wouldn’t recognize these societies as being capitalist in any aspect. And, for damn sure, a modern corporation or anarcho-capitalist DRO couldn’t be run according to the traditional theocracy of a pre-industrial tribal society. Modern capitalism goes hand in hand with modern statism. It’s just a fact. I realize that an-caps would prefer it not to be so, but it doesn’t change the facts.

In the forum thread, the first response was of course a Stefan Molyneux devotee telling the person to read Molyneux’s holy books and all would be revealed. The person who started the thread said the following:

I’ve listened to it in audiobook when I first started getting into stateless capitalism. i should check it out again. But i don’t remember him covering the subject of business actually WANTING a governement.

I’m not talking about DRO’s becoming governments. That is highly improbable for many reasons that have been explained countless times.

I remember stef saying that once violence is out of the equations, life will work “however the hell people want them to work”.

Now if big business “wants it to work” with a government that they set up. What’s preventing them? DROs?

I really don’t see why it’s improbable that a DRO might become a government other than the fact that a society based on DROs is itself highly improbable (that is assuming the DROs lived up to anarcho-capitalist ideals of non-aggression). But, ignoring that, this commenter brings up the same point again which no one in the thread has yet answered. What if states don’t force themselves on corporations and instead corporations choose to create states?

This is sort of like the conundrum of a democratic country like Germany leading to an un-democratic leader like Hitler. What if people freely want to give up their freedom? Similarly, what if corporations freely want to givt up some of their freedom for the stability and security of a state? What if a free market doesn’t actually benefit big businesses? Why would big businesses support anarcho-capitalism if it decreased their profit? Also, in landlord anarcho-capitalism, what if the landless peasants decided to end their contracts and take the land for themselves or create a new government? Most governments that exist were once created or supported by the masses. If the masses rose up, how would the anarcho-capitalist feudal landlord non-aggressively maintain his power and property?

One other commenter countered such criticisms with the following:

the examples and theory have to do with societies that have simply rejected the previous form of government, not by accepting anarchy for the NAP.  This is why the business leaders that remain are still reaching for the gun.

Morality is the reason for Anarcho-Capitalism, not utility.  As Stef and the Mises and Libertarians try to point out; the moral solution is also the most efficient solution as well.

Violence is not a reason for having a government, it is the reason to not have one.

His first point is that it doesn’t count because the corporations didn’t accept anarchy despite no government keeping them from accepting anarchy. Isn’t that the point of the criticism? Why would a wealthy and powerful corporation ever choose anarchy? He tried to avoid the criticism by somehow arguing real world examples don’t count.

His second point that the moral values are noble even if they contradict reality. That is the same kind of argument a Christians make. Religious fundamentalists argue that teaching abstinence is worthy even though it fails in the preventing of teen sex, teen pregnancy, and teen STDS. Religious fundamentalists argue that making abortions illegal is the morally correct action even though countries with illegalized abortions have higher rates of abortions. The sentiment is that if somehow we could change all of society and culture to fit some specific set of beliefs then the world would be a better place. Sure. Every true believer says that. Every utopian dreamer thinks his vision is worthy. So what? Reality is still reality.

Basically, people like this would prefer to live in a dream without violence than a reality with violence. It sounds nice. The only problem is that dreams don’t feed your belly. Nor do dreams protect your family from threats.

Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 2)

I have some further thoughts about the topic I wrote about in my last post:

Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 1)

I started reading the introduction of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. I immediately could tell that Hofstadter was a man who truly understood what intellectualism is about, but his book isn’t a paean to the glories of intellectualism. I sense that Hofstadter was trying to be fairminded even to those he is criticizing (a respectable trait that any intellectual should aspire towards). In this book, he is analyzing the specific history of intellectuality within the United States, the intellectuals themselves and those who opposed them. He doesn’t shy away from tough issues such as communism.

He clarifies a number of points. I’ll discuss two of them.

First, there generally isn’t a group of people who are entirely anti-intellectual. Those who use anti-intellectual arguments/rhetoric usually do so in response to some particular situation. The main opposition towards intellectuals is when they act as experts which goes against the populist grain of American culture (populist sentiments being particularly appealing to American conservatives). On the other hand, American intellectuals have at times been in alignment with this populism (e.g., the Progressive Era). Intellectualism isn’t inherently anti-populist and populism isn’t inherently anti-intellectual, but it’s obvious that in the US intellectualism and populism haven’t always gotten along.

Second, he distinguishes intelligence from intellectuality. Intelligence is universally valued, but intellectuality is not. Someone can be one while not being the other. The central distinction is that intelligence has practical ends and so can be known by its results (can be observed or even measured) whereas intellectuality doesn’t seek external justification. Intellectuality has two attributes that balance eachother: piety and playfulness. There is an almost religious sense that the intellectual has towards the moral values underpinning intellectual endeavors: truth and honesty, justice and fairness, etc. The intellectual endeavor is extremely serious and many intellectuals will dedicate their lives to it for very little reward (unlike businessmen or media personalities, few intellectuals become wealthy). Intellectualism is a calling. However, it’s playfulness (creativity, imagination, experimentation, openness, etc) that keeps the intellectual from turning into a zealot or ideologue. Also, I’d say this playfulness relates to the ability at role-playing, the ability to see different perspectives, the ability to empathize and understand.

The second point relates to psychological research which shows a correlation between liberalism and psychological factors such as the MBTI function Intuition, the FFM trait Openness to Experience, and Hartmann’s thin boundary type. I couldn’t help but think of MBTI Intution when reading Hofstadter’s description of intellectuality. Intuition is all about both the ability to think in terms of abstractions and imaginatively conceive of diverse possibilities. Intuitives tend to have a very playful sense of humor. Hofstadter’s seemed to be describing, in particular, the MBTI types INFP and INTP. There is other psychological research that I’m reminded of. There was a study that demonstrated a correlation between (as I recall) imagination, empathy (or emotional intelligence), and paranormal/spiritual experience… which makes sense according to Hartmann’s model of boundary types.

Conservatives like to call liberals bleeding hearts and it’s true that liberals on average have a stronger empathetic response (which would imply a higher emotional intelligence in that people tend to personally care about others to the extent that they understand the felt experience of others… not to imply, though, that conservatives entirely lack this because to entirely lack it would mean you’re a sociopath). What is interesting is that intellectualism is strongly correlated, especially in the US, with liberalism. For example, most scientists self-identify as liberals. So, what is the connection between empathy and intellectualism? This connection would be most clearly represented by the MBTI NF types (INFP, INFJ, ENFP, ENFJ), but even NT types would have an above average ability to understand the perspectives of others even if they didn’t experience this on an emotional level. My guess, however, is that most objectivists and anarcho-capitalists are NT types which would explain why they don’t identify with the average conservative who is probably an ST type.

I’ve noticed that some people speculate Ayn Rand was an INTJ. My dad, who has tested as an ENTJ, is fairly interested in Rand’s worldview. There is nothing comparable to the systematic logic of an INTJ or ENTJ… because these two types have Introverted Intuition which is a type of abstract thinking when taken to the extreme is utterly detached from outward reality and in some cases can lead to an idealization of outward reality. Let me use Rand as an example. Here are some quotes from the Wikipedia article titled “Objectivism (Ayn Rand)”:

Rand’s philosophy begins with three axioms: existence, identity, and consciousness.[6] Rand defined an axiom as “a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.”[7] As Leonard Peikoff noted, Rand’s argument “is not a proof that the axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity are true. It is proof that they are axioms, that they are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable.”[8]

Like Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand likes axioms. To me, these are just ideas based on arguments. The problem with calling them axioms is that it gives me the sense that there are unstated assumptions underlying the argument for these axioms. These axioms don’t stand alone. For one, the very statement of these axioms is dependent on language (specifically, the English language in this case) and dependent on a philosophical tradition (specifically, the Western tradition in this case). If you put these axioms to a group of philosophy professors, they could debate them endlessly and never come to a conclusion about them. Rand’s perception that she defeats her opponents before even beginning the debate is just pure intellectual hubris. It’s a very simpleminded mentality.

As Rand wrote, “A leaf … cannot be all red and green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A.”[9]

Essentially, this is binary (black/white) thinking. It’s easy to point out any number of examples that contradict this style of either/or philosophizing. Most issues in life consist of multiple categories and blurring between categories. Even something so simple as gender involves complexities such as hermaphrodites.

Objectivism holds that the mind cannot create reality, but rather, it is a means of discovering reality.[14]

This is such an over-simplification that I hardly know what to say about it. Our minds aren’t separate from the reality being perceived. Speaking about whether reality is created or not is pointless speculation, but what we can say is that the mind does create the perception of reality. To anyone who doesn’t understand this, I’d recommend reading the vast literature on the mind-body connection and I’d particularly recommend reading about enactivism.

Objectivist philosophy derives its explanations of action and causation from the axiom of identity, calling causation “the law of identity applied to action.”[15] According to Rand, it is entities that act, and every action is the action of an entity. The way entities act is caused by the specific nature (or “identity”) of those entities; if they were different they would act differently.[16]

This touches upon Rothbard’s own axiom of “Humans act”. This variety of conservative is obsessed with action, with doing and achieving. In Rand’s view, mind and reality are separate to some extent which seems to relate to a more general focus on what separates, what makes “A is A” and what makes “B is B”. It’s why this type is so centrally focused on ownership. You can only own that which is somehow outside of the one who owns. Many of these people even speak of individuality in terms of self-ownership which is a truly bizarre concept. The self, like anything else, is just an object to be owned and to do with as one wishes (manipulated, used, destroyed, sold, etc). The self has no intrinsic value and so it’s only value is what it’s worth on the market.

I’d suggest that this attitude is based in Hartmann’s thick boundary type. Research shows that the person with a thicker boundary has a stronger sense of separation between themselves and others, between themselves and the world, between the present and the past, between fantasy and reality, between body and mind. It’s a fundamentally distinct way of viewing and being in the world. It would seem that Rand had an impressively strong sense of thick boundary.

Objectivist epistemology maintains that all knowledge is ultimately based on perception. “Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident.”[20] Rand considered the validity of the senses to be axiomatic, and claimed that purported arguments to the contrary all commit the fallacy of the “stolen concept”[21] by presupposing the validity of concepts that, in turn, presuppose the validity of the senses.[22] She thought that perception, being physiologically determined, is incapable of error. So optical illusions, for example, are errors in the conceptual identification of what is seen, not errors in sight itself.[23]

Reality is what reality is (A is A). You see what you get. And there is nothing else

According to Rand, attaining knowledge beyond what is given in perception requires both volition (or the exercise of free will) and adherence to a specific method of validation through observation, concept-formation, and the application of inductive and deductive logic. A belief in, say, dragons, however sincere, does not oblige reality to contain any dragons. For anything that cannot be directly observed, a process of “proof” identifying the basis in reality of the claimed item of knowledge is necessary in order to establish its truth.[25]

Objectivism rejects both faith and “feeling” as sources of knowledge. Rand acknowledged the importance of emotion in human beings, but she maintained that emotions are a consequence of the conscious or subconscious ideas that a person already accepts, not a means of achieving awareness of reality. “Emotions are not tools of cognition.”[26] Peikoff uses “emotionalism”[27] as a synonym for irrationality.

Truth is nothing more than the combination of perceived reality (A is A) and pure rationality. This is a very self-contained attitude. Rand or Rothbard is presenting something that they consider to be self-evident for anyone willing to see the obvious (the axiomatic truth) and able to logically deduce the inevitable conclusion (from those axioms).

Integrating with this is Rand’s view that the primary focus of man’s free will is in the choice: to think or not to think. “Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.”[43] According to Rand, therefore, possessing free will, human beings must choose their values: one does not automatically hold his own life as his ultimate value. Whether in fact a person’s actions promote and fulfill his own life or not is a question of fact, as it is with all other organisms, but whether a person will act in order to promote his well-being is up to him, not hard-wired into his physiology.

This is an extension of something along the lines of the axiom “humans act”. The idealizing of freedom and choosing seems to be a form of heroic existentialism as expressed with Sartre’s radical freedom (it’s because there is no inherent value that we are absolutely free). By acting, we define who we are and we claim self-ownership. The “undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism” is a passive experience that must be acted upon.

Rand summarizes:

If [man] chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course. Reality confronts a man with a great many ‘must’s’, but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic necessity is: ‘you must, if -‘ and the if stands for man’s choice: ‘if you want to achieve a certain goal’.[46]

Reality is what reality is, but reality in and of itself is separate from and opposed to rational self-interest. Nature must be tamed by man in order for him to attain his self-imposed goal. Reality is a world of objects and before anything else the object of the self must be taken control of. The method of taking control is rationality and hence actively forcing order upon one’s experience.

What is most important in all of this is that everything from this perspective (whether objectivism or anarcho-capitalism) begins with the claim of self-evident axioms. This must be understood in it’s larger context. The more intelligent defenders of this position don’t claim that everything is limited to this axiomatic approach. Much of the hard sciences necessitate research that can lead to objective conclusions, but the social sciences are dismissed out of some generalized criticism of positivism. What this comes down to is that social scientists can’t come to absolute conclusions and therefore all social science is complete bunk. So, all psychology, all sociology, all anthropology, all Keynesian economics based on data about humans, all of it is meaningless. Humans can objectively study the physical world but humans can’t objectively study humans.

Mises Non-Trivial Insight
By Robert P. Murphy

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the economics of Ludwig von Mises is his insistence on the a priori approach. For Mises, economic “laws” must be logically deduced from antecedent axioms, so that—assuming the initial assumptions are true—the conclusions reached are just as valid as any result in Euclidean geometry.This stands in sharp contrast to the method of the positivists, a camp that includes most of today’s practicing economists. In their opinion, economics can only be “scientific” if it adopts the procedures used by the natural scientists. Roughly, the positivists feel that economists should form hypotheses with testable implications, and then collect data to measure the accuracy of their predictions. Those tendencies that enjoy the most success in this sense are then deemed to be better “laws” than conjectures that do not fit the data so well.

Against the mainstream’s impressive mathematical tools and vast budgets spent on data collection, the Misesians meekly insist that economics must start from the premise that humans act. This action axiom lies at the core of “praxeology,” Mises’ term for the science of human action. The Misesians argue that all of the true economic laws can be derived from this simple axiom (sometimes with additional assumptions about the world, such as the fact that labor is onerous).

I think the motivation in this is the desire to see humans as free agents that can’t be predicted and the fear that anyone who would want to predict humans would also want to control humans. That is the real issue and all of the rationalized argumentation is just window dressing. There is a comforting simplicity in this plea for axiomatic truths and logical conclusions. It’s not unlike the theologians desire to understand the perfection of God through the perfection of rationality bestowed upon man by that very same God. It’s a desire for the world to just make sense. The social scientists gather immense data and portray a complex world. The social scientists are experts who debate issues the common man can’t understand. It’s understandable that anti-intellectualism can be an attractive alternative in response to these experts in control of our fates. When politicians call upon experts, how can we know what they discuss behind closed doors? Why should we trust these experts who live their comfortable lives in their ivory towers?

There really is no way to argue against this mistrust. It’s not unusual for this mistrust to be, especially during social turmoil and economic hard times, to turn into paranoid suspicion. It’s ultimate a sense of fear about what is beyond the individual. We do face many complex issues that have resulted from industrialization and globalization. It’s just a fact that we no longer live in a time when a single person can understand everything and can do everything for himself. It’s tempting to idealize the Jeffersonian libertarianism of a pre-industrial age or to idealize the simple unregulated capitalism when industrialization was barely taking hold. Once upon a time, Americans were innocently naive about environmental destruction, about pollution-related diseases, about the degradation of urbanization. The first century or so of American history seems almost utopian in hindsight. Why couldn’t that have continued? It would be nice to believe that capitalism, if left to its own devices, would’ve brought nothing but good. Why did the government have to ruin everything?

These people may profess rationality, but human motivation ultimately is non-rational. George Lakoff makes a good argument for this in his book Moral Politics. All logic about political views comes down to rationalization. Lakoff argues that we begin with metaphors by which we frame our experiences and try to understand them, but in doing so we filter all of reality through this frame (or, as Robert Anton Wilson say it, through our “reality tunnel”). This framing is prior to our verbalization of it. This is further supported by the psychological research (yes, the social science that is dismissed by Mises and Rothbard). Studies show that humans are born with or else develop early on certain psychological traits, but you don’t have to trust the experts. Go to a hospital nursery or a playground where children are playing and you will observe for yourself the distinctive personalities.

The only reason that the anarcho-capitalists and similar types can dismiss this science is because they’re ignorant of the scientific process. It really can’t be called anything other than anti-intellectualism. I don’t even know what they mean by positivism. They dismiss all social science based on the claim that it is positivist which is odd considering that there are anti-positivist social scientists such as Max Weber. Anyways, I don’t see how the world would be improved if we were able to somehow get rid of all social science and get rid of all the experts. So much of our society is built on social science. There is no aspect of capitalism or politics that isn’t informed by social science. Social science is the basis of all advertising and PR. Social science is used for product design and architecture. Social science is used in military training and military strategy. Social science helps city planners design efficient roadways and helps utility companies determine the patterns of customer behavior.

There is this strange notion that social science is about abstract data disconnected from the practical world. If social science can be used to control people as some fear, that only proves how effective it is in a practical sense. The arguments against social science are distractions from the real moral issues. Those who don’t see themselves as experts fear those who sometimes act as experts. These people want self-control and self-ownership which is how they define freedom, but this ideal of freedom is itself an abstraction. These people can offer no real world examples of a society that operated according to their ideals.

There is a serious disconnection here between American populism and intellectualism, but there is no reason it has to be this way. The average person can only have a negative view of intellectuality if he wasn’t ever taught intellectuality in his own schooling. If every American was taught how to think intellectually and taught to value intellectuality, then intellectualism would become a populist value. Most people have the capacity for intellectual thought. Even if the average person doesn’t desire to dedicate their life to intellectuality, it would still be of value for all citizens to get an intellectual education. The only way to counter fear and suspicion is through knowledge.

Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 1)

I’ve noticed a connection of attitudes in a certain type of person, but I’m not sure what it means. This post is largely speculation. I have a book by Richard Hofstadter on anti-intellectualism in the US and so I’ll write in more detail about this in the future. For now, I just want to point out some thoughts and observations.

Many have noted for the past half century or so that America has a strain of anti-intellectualism that comes to the forefront every so often. I don’t know if this anti-intellectual attitude always correlates with conservatism, but it has in recent history going back to at least the beginnings of movement conservatism. Of course, movement conservatism laid the groundwork for the religious right to gain political power and obviously the religious right has had issues with science ever since science began. It’s true that many popular conservatives were religiously proud/righteous with an element of folksy anti-intellectualism (George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, etc), but it goes beyond just religion versus science.

This critical attitude towards science, whether motivated by religious belief or not, expresses a basic sense of distrust about experts who claim to know more than the average person (implying they are somehow more worthy). This is the dreaded intellectual elite and scientists are just one variety. Other varieties of intellectual elitists are academics and even politicians. The conservative idealizes the businessman who has knowledge and experience of the real world. The intellectual elite (in academic ivory towers or far away in Washington) are disconnected from the real world and so they aren’t to be trusted. It’s why conservatives claim that government is the problem… not that it ever stops them from trying to elect their own to government or stop them from lobbying politicians.

Beyond this point, it becomes a bit murky. It’s not limited to anti-intellectualism per se. There are even intellectual conservatives that express this attitude of mistrust. For the more intelligent conservative, they’ll express this mistrust epistemologically. They might not entirely dismiss science, but they think scientists overreach. What they do trust is cold hard facts. They even mistrust scientific research. There are various reasons for this which I don’t entirely understand, but one of them is a fear that scientists have agendas (projection?). A person can only mistrust the agendas of scientists if they mistrust the scientific process which is designed to filter out personal agendas (and other subjective biases) over time. This would seem to based on a fear that the entire scientific paradigm is an agenda not to be trusted or to be trusted with great wariness. Maybe science has a role, but it shouldn’t be as primary as we make it. Maybe it’s a belief that scientists should focus on more practical matters like doing research that can lead to technology rather than studying social issues or measuring atmospheric pollution. There might even be a religious element (or a religious holdover for non-religious conservatives) in that scientists are treading on the divine when they investigate beyond mundane subjects.

This mistrust extends also to economics which is something I just realized today. I watched some videos and was involved with some discussions where this mistrust of science was put into the context of politics and economics. The issue with science was connected to economics by way of mathematics. It seems to be a mistrust about how (or if) mathematical models correlate to the sensate world. Even if there is scientific research that corroborates a correlation, doubt remains in terms of causation and explanation. A mathematical model remains an abstract theory and there potentially could be many abstract theories that correlate to the same real world phenomena. This same argument was being used against Keynesian economics because Keynesian theorists like to use mathematical models and to make predictions based on those models.

Even though different reasons are given, I sense that all these varieties of mistrust originate from the same general attitude of mistrust. I’d assume that it relates to the fear traditioal conservatives have about radical change. Psychological research shows that conservatives have a stronger disgust response (for example, toward rotten fruit)… not that many conservatives would trust this particular psychological research. I’ve noted that conservatives tend not to have as much interest in psychology. Also, surveys have shown that most scientists self-identify as liberal. Is there something inherently “liberal” about science? Or is there something about a scientific education that encourages a liberal mindset? Furthermore, why do liberals seem more trusting of the governmnet, science, and of radical change? Does it come down to the simple fact that research has shown liberalism to correlate to the psychological trait “openness to experience”?

Since research shows liberals are more open to experience, then what do conservatives mean by having more trust in the “real world”? It seems that conservatives define reality as being logical in that any fundamental truth should stand on it’s own. Any real truth would be obviously true.

Many who make these arguments are minarchists or anarcho-capitalists, objectivists or libertarians… or something else along these lines (even mainstream Republicans will at times make these arguments). Two of the major influences for many of these people (either directly or indirectly) are Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. A popular website is the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The following is a section from an article on that website which demonstrates the style of argument:

Psychology versus Praxeology
By Robert P. Murphy

Of course, even this experimental confirmation does not prove the universal truth of the bystander effect.  It could be that, despite their best efforts, the psychologists did not really pick a representative sample of test subjects.  Moreover, even if the bystander effect is indeed a fact for the current population of humans, there is nothing to prevent the emergence in one hundred years of a new breed of humans who, whether through culture or genetics, do not obey the bystander effect.  Just like any “law” from the natural sciences, the “laws” of psychology (insofar as they are validated by the experimental method) are only tentative.

In contrast, let us analyze a typical economic law:  If the government runs a deficit, then interest rates will be higher than they otherwise would have been.  Now this law too seems commonsensical (just as the bystander effect), but it is more than that:  Once the economist takes care to precisely specify the definitions of the terms, he or she can actually prove the proposition as an exercise in pure logic.  There is no reason to go out and “test” whether it is true, because this would miss the point.  It would be as nonsensical as “testing” whether the interior angles of a triangle (in Euclidean geometry) add up to 180 degrees.

From this perspective, science can only at best deal with relative truths. Logic, however, deals with absolute truths (i.e., axioms):

Statistics, he pointed out, cannot trump logic.

And:

Contrary to the mainstream positivist position, in which all economic theories must lead to falsifiable predictions that can be tested, Ludwig von Mises believed that valid economic theorems must be deducible from the axiom, “Humans act.”

Mathematical data and the scientific research it’s based upon can only ever at best be of secondary importance. These people demand their worldview be absolutely logically consisten, facts be damned. The problem is that the world is infinitely complex. The human ability to use logic is limited. A theory can be logically consistent and yet still be wrong. Also, this idea of axioms is strange. In what way is “Humans act” an axiom that is beyond questioning. There are tons of assumptions this so-called “axiom” is based upon.

This way of argument reminds me of Christian apologists who sometimes are very intelligent and knowledgeable within their narrow frame of interest. Christian apologists often are great debaters and are capable of twisting around words. Their thinking is usually circular and self-contained… meaning it’s logically self-consistent. However, an apologist isn’t interested in new data. The apologists already knows everything that matters. The apologists “axioms” came from God himself.

The axiom in both cases is seen as being unquestionable, a tenet of faith.

I still feel confused about all of this. I don’t understand what motivates it. It’s an attitude about the world and not a specific worldview. People with the same attitude might entirely disagree about the worldview and yet still use the same style of argument to defend their own worldview. It’s very strange. Personally, I find it frustrating. No matter what data I bring up (about poverty or global warming or whatever) will usually be dismissed out of hand or else turned into a philosophical debate about postmodern epistemology. It’s like these people want to avoid the fundamental issues themselves. They feel safest within their system of thought and do everything to defend their system of thought from all that is external to it.

The worst of these people are intellectually dishonest. They use logic as rhetoric, as apologetics, as sophistry. Some of them are quite clever at this game. However, not all of them seem intellectually dishonest. Some will accept scientific research when it accords with their own worldview. For example, Stefan Molyneux uses the psychological research on trauma and I agree with his understanding of this issue, but he uses it to defend a particular ideology which isn’t based on any real world examples.

This attitude of mistrust towards institutions beyond the individual is coupled with a self-certainty held within the individual or within the group that the individual belongs to.

The liberal attitude is different, but I’m not sure how to pinpoint this difference. Liberals can be extremely questioning of the same things conservatives question. So, why does liberal questioning begin and end in a sense of openness? Most liberal who are scientists or interested in science would openly state that science is imperfect. Still, there is a basic trust in the scientific process like there is a basic trust in the political process. I’ve pointed out in another blog how this plays out on the political level (the beginning of the blog post is posted below):

Liberal Trust vs Conservative Mistrust

The other day, I came across data that showed a difference between Republicans and Democrats (Republicans Support Big Government… just as long as Republicans are in power). Republicans support big government when there is a Republican president, but they fight, fear-monger, criticize and obstruct what they label as big government when a Democrat is president. Democrats, however, show more even support for big government no matter which party is in power. For example, almost the same number of Democrats support Obama as supported Reagan. This explains the point (which I think Cenk Uygur made) that bipartisanship is usually Democrats agreeing with Republicans but rarely the other way around.

There is a fundamental difference in worldview. This probably relates as well to my argument that liberals are less dogmatic in their ideology (Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism). Conservatives seem more likely to see themselves as principled and so more willing to stand by their principles no matter what. It’s not that liberals aren’t principled, but a major liberal value is trying to understand the views of others and working towards a middle ground of agreement or at least acceptance. Liberals aren’t against big business in the same way or to the same degree as conservatives are against big government. Instead, liberals think capitalism and democracy need to work together without either being subsumed to the other.

Obviously, there is a very fundamental difference in the conservative and liberal worldviews. Anarcho-capitalists, objectivists & (righwing) libertarians often criticize Republicans and mainstream conservatives, but nonetheless they are clearly conservatives themselves… even if they don’t like to label themselves as conservatives. Ignoring all the differences of ideology, what specifically makes a conservative a conservative and a liberal a liberal? Is it just a difference of psychological traits?

– – –

Continued in part 2:

 

 – – –

Self-Enclosed Stories, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I often watch the videos of Stefan Molyneux. I highly admire some of his insights, but I’m also highly critical of the conclusions he bases on these insights. Here is a very high quality video he just made to which I have a mixed response.

He tells a compelling story. It’s not unlike the story told by Alex Jones and other right-leaning libertarians. Stefan is essentially an intelligent conspiracy theorist which I don’t mean as an insult. It’s just an apt description.

I have a cynical nature with a bit of intelligent paranoia thrown in. I’m quite fond of criticizing the government and the established system of modern civilization. So, I resonate with the general attitude of questioning as seen with Alex Jones or in a less bombastic way with Stefan Molyneux. I resonate, but I also feel repulsed by a tendency towards fear-mongering. At worst, this kind of fear-mongering leads to a dark sensationalism as portrayed in the above video.

My own sensibility is not any less dark, but I lean leftwards away from this rightwing way of portraying a cultural narrative. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is. Liberals seem less prone to use overt emotional persuasion/manipulation. A particular kind of right-leaning libertarian makes progressive leftwingers such as Michael Moore seem like moderates.

Noam Chomsky is no less critical of the government than Molyneux, but Chomsky would never make a video like the above. As another example, Derrick Jensen easily competes with Molyneux on the level of cynical analysis of our present society… and, yet, there is a difference. What is this difference?

Both Chomsky and Jensen have a more open-ended analysis. They’re less likely to come to an absolute conclusion, less likely to tell an ideological narrative. Derrick Jensen explicitly says that no ideology is right, no single answer will solve our problems. Molyneux, however, is selling a specific ideology: anarcho-capitalism. So, the story Molyneux is telling leads to a specific ideological vision of how society should be.

In this, I sense something like naivette. Molyneux believes in his ideological vision. He has faith in the theory of anarcho-capitalism even though there is no real-world evidence supporting it.

The story told by Stefan Molyneux and by Alex Jones could be true. I have a strong suspicion that parts of it are true. My worry is that there are elements of truth mixed in with massive amounts of speculation. Alex Jones is particularly bad about ungrounded speculation, but even the more moderate Molyneux dangerously courts with the paranoid vision. The specific danger I see is that stories have a way of becoming self-enclosed worldviews which can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Libertarian Nightmare

This post is about why the libertarian vision of society scares me shitless.  No offense to Stefan Molyneux, but I truly hope his ideology never becomes reality. 

The Stateless Society Fights Back: Life without a state? Really? Answers to common questions. 

Caging the Devils: The Stateless Society and Violent Crime 

In a stateless society, contracts with DROs are required to maintain any sort of economic life – without DRO representation, citizens are unable to get a job, hire employees, rent a car, buy a house or send their children to school. Any DRO will naturally ensure that its contracts include penalties for violent crimes – so if you steal a car, your DRO has the right to use force against you to get the car back – and probably retrieve financial penalties to boot. 

Call me silly, but this sounds like the worse kind of fascism.  It scares me that someone even thinks this is a good idea.  I’ve been feeling critical of the society we have now which is already a mild form of fascism that some people call corporatism, but the vision outlined here takes it a step further. 

How does this work in practice? Let’s take a test case. Say that you wake up one morning and decide to become a thief. Well, the first thing you have to do is cancel your coverage with your DRO, so that your DRO cannot act against you when you steal. DROs would have clauses allowing you to cancel your coverage, just as insurance companies have now. Thus you would have to notify your DRO that you were dropping coverage. No problem, you’re off their list.

Any homeless person would become the equivalent of an illegal alien.  But in a DRO a homeless illegal alien would automatically be assumed to be a criminal without any legal protections or civil rights.  If you were born outside of a DRO, you may or may not be able to get a contract from a DRO.  Even if you did have a DRO contract, they could drop you at any moment.  Fear would keep everyone in line because no rights would be considered inalienable. 

However, DROs as a whole really need to keep track of people who have opted out of the entire DRO system, since those people have clearly signaled their intention to go rogue, to live off the grid, and commit crimes. Thus if you cancel your DRO insurance, your name goes into a database available to all DROs. If you sign up with another DRO, no problem, your name is taken out. However, if you do not sign up with any other DRO, red flags pop up all over the system.

Not only would a homeless person be both an illegal alien and an assumed criminal, but they would be tracked.  My God, this sounds like capitalistic Stalinism.  The DRO would follow your every move in Big Brother fashion.  A DRO could potentially become so oppressive that cameras would be installed even in houses because all property is owned by the DRO.  Your entire life (work, education, shopping, entertainment) would be controlled by the DRO.  Complete propagandistic control would be possible.  It would be a Communist beauracrat’s wet dream. 

What happens then? Remember – there is no public property in the stateless society. If you’ve gone rogue, where are you going to go? You can’t take a bus – bus companies won’t take rogues, because their DRO will require that they take only DRO-covered passengers, in case of injury or altercation. Want to fill up on gas? No luck, for the same reason. You can try hitchhiking, of course, which might work, but what happens when you get to your destination and try and rent a hotel room? No DRO card, no luck. Want to sleep in the park? Parks are privately owned, so keep moving. Getting hungry? No groceries, no restaurants – no food! What are you going to do? 

All possibility of freedom would be eliminated.  Even if you wanted to escape, there would be no where to escape to.  You could attempt to sign a contract with another DRO.  However, no DRO may want to accept free agents because of their inherent criminal status.  Even if another DRO does accept you, they might be just as or more oppressive than the one you left. 

Obviously, those without DRO representation are going to find it very hard to get around or find anything to eat. But let’s go even further and imagine that, as a rogue, you are somehow able to survive long enough to start trying to steal from people’s houses.

No fuck it would be hard to get around or find anything to eat.  The sub-class of those free of DRO contracts would be forced to seek out black markets or else starve to death. 

Well, the first thing that DROs are going to do is give a reward to anyone who spots you and reports your position (in fact, there will be companies which specialize in just this sort of service). As you walk down a street on your way to rob a house, someone sees you and calls you in. The DRO immediately notifies the street owner (remember, no public property!) who boots you off his street. Are you going to resist the street owner? His DRO will fully support his right to use force to protect his property or life. 

Yep.  There is that Stalinism.  Your neighbors and your family would get payed to spy on you.  The paranoid’s worst nightmare would become reality. 

So you have to get off the street. Where do you go? All the local street owners have been notified of your presence, and refuse you entrance. You can’t go anywhere without trespassing. You are a pariah. No one will help you, or give you food, or shelter you – because if they do, their DRO will boot them or raise their rates, and their name will be entered into a database of people who help rogues. There is literally no place to turn. 

The DRO contract will probably prohibit anyone helping those without contracts.  And if you helped one of these homeless criminals, you’d lose your contract too.  People would just walk past these starving, wretched sub-humans. 

So, really, what incentive is there to turn to a life of crime? Working for a living – and being protected by a DRO – pays really well. Going off the grid and becoming a rogue pits the entire weight of the combined DRO system against you – and, even if you do manage to survive their scrutiny and steal something, it has probably been voice-encoded or protected in some other manner against unauthorized re-use. But let’s suppose that you somehow bypass all of that, and do manage to steal, where are you going to sell your stolen goods? You’re not protected by a DRO, so who will buy from you, knowing they have no recourse if something goes wrong? And besides, anyone who interacts with you will get a substantial reward for reporting your location – and, if they deal with you, will be dropped from the DRO system. 

All property would be tracked, but would the DRO stop there? Of course not.  The DRO would implant all people with tracking chips.  With the advance of technology, they could do all kinds of things with brainwashing and neural manipulation.  Your very body would be the property of the DRO.  Trying to escape the DRO would involve having to steal your own body. 

Will there be underground markets? No – where would they operate? People need a place to live, cars to rent, clothes to buy, groceries to eat. No DRO means no participation in economic life. 

The homeless illegal alien criminals would be forced to create underground markets or else they’d die.  If those underground markets were destroyed by the DROs, the starving sub-class would revolt.  The DRO is just a capitalistic version of feudalism.  Each DRO would be an anarcho-fiefdom.  People created democratic states in the first place to escape the oppressive rule of feudal lords.  Why would we want to create a new feudal society? 

I’m painting a dark vision.  I am a pessimist afterall.  A DRO theoretically could work out as this guy thinks, but it seems improbable considering the real world historical examples of mining towns that were the perfect example of oppressive anarcho-capitalism.  And I’m certainly not alone in my doubts: 

  – COMMENTS (from above quoted article) – 

Matt: “In a stateless society, contracts with DROs are required to maintain any sort of economic life – without DRO representation, citizens are unable to get a job, hire employees, rent a car, buy a house or send their children to school.” WTF! You just replaced oppressive government with oppressive corporate rule. If you can’t get a job, hire employees, or rent a car, etc. without their permission how is this anywhere close to a voluntary society? 

Edward: I am with Matt on this one. I have listened to many of your podcasts and been in and out of here for a while but upon hearing this madness I just dont know anymore. How can you insure the type of people drawn to your DRO organizations arent the same as those who are now on our government and law enforcement/military rosters. This whole arangement to me if far more dangerous that what is currently going on. DRO is the absolute authority on my ability to be alive! What if I want off your DRO grid and do my own farming and build a house myself? Well I cant! I cant own property or a house because Im not DRO covered!!! So “crime” is my only option if i want to live without the DRO coverage!?!?! I say “crime” because according to this system i am now a rouge (criminal) even though I had a peaceful nonviolent nature and I just wanted to exist on my own. The crime here is? 

masonkiller: Matt, Edward, there is a difference. If both of you don’t like a certain DRO or the way it’s running, then you have the option to break your contract. Therefore, voluntary. In our government, they have the same powers, only you didn’t sign anything. You HAVE to be in the system, you can’t say you don’t want to. Though I have other fears with DRO’s. How could you prevent one that had enough funding and owned it’s own bank or was in cahoots with a corrupt bank from coercing people into signing contracts with force and, in turn, creating a new government? 

Me: I agree with Matt and Edward completely. Stefen is a very well intentioned and educated guy, and I fully appreciated his video on The Myth of the Free Market. However, the system suggested here is so inorganic and structured by a left brain thinker that it denies people the ability to exist without attachment to a system that enslaves them. I’d suggest Arno Gruen’s book, The Insanity of Normality to give a more complete version of why people commit crimes. Furthermore, I believe you’d see the err in this system by realizing it still functions as a dominator in a larger context. I don’t think that this system really factors in and analyzes human behavior and motives. Only by addresses the underlying issues of a humans instincts and desires and their response to forced compliance within any system can you truly offer a better solution to the worlds issues. This isn’t necessarily better or worse just different. There is a great video on youtube that comments succinctly on this idea. I will post it as soon as i find it, but it basically shows the cycle from anarchy to democracy to fascism etc. just being a constant loop. I would suggest that the only way out of that cycle would be remove the leveraging device – money. More difficult to put into effect than to say, yes, but with usury being imbedded in the current monetary system through Interest, Inflation and Income tax, you can never get away from oppression. To say that you propose a stateless society is just slight of hand. Maybe you don’t intend it, but the idea of having DRO is the state. Peace 

  

To be fair, the following video is the same guy defending himself against the charge of being naive. 

 

My response to this video is that my own criticism of naivette still stands.  Stef misunderstands.  His naivette isn’t in his criticism of the present system but in his proposal of his own system.  Stef admits in this video that his utopian society is improbable (which I was glad to see him admit).  His argument is that it’s improbability doesn’t matter.  He states that all advances have come from those who attempted the improbable and so we should continue to strive for the improbable.  He believes his idealized society is “the right thing to do”. 

I think his admitting the improbability of his own ideal still can support the critics.  The people who strove for the improbable did so because they believed it to be probable.  If Stef doesn’t believe it’s even probable, then why risk everything for most likely gaining no benefit.  Considering past examples, not only is his utopia improbable but that his utopia will turn into fascism is highly probable.  We should consider all possibilities including the negative possibilities.  His idealism is noble and his moralizing is righteous, but that doesn’t change my assessment. 

Let me share another video that shows the personal context.  

Stef is obviously angry and sad.  The way he expresses himself here seems to imply he has suffered himself in some way.  His response to suffering has been to commit his life to his ideal. 

Derrick Jensen talks about this (and I think Stef would agree to an extent).  We are all victims in this society.  There are two common responses.  Either the victim becomes a victimizer or becomes a defender of victims… and, I would add, that it’s easy for the defender of victims to become just another victimizer (which is how popular revolts sometimes lead to dictatorships).  Stef idealizes free choice, but ideals have a way of becoming distorted when they’re implemented in reality.  Stef hasn’t explained why his ideal will be the first ideal in history not to end in more oppression, violence, and suffering. 

I sympathize with his emotion, but I fear his utopianism.  I respect his devoted idealism, but his bright and shining utopia casts a dark shadow. 

 – – –  

To end on a humorous note, let me offer an example of a normal day in your local DRO corporatocracy: 

Little Johnny comes home from the company-owned school.  His mommy brings him cookies and milk bought from the company-owned store. 

“How was your day, Johnny?” 

“Mommy, I learned today that Coca-Cola tastes better than Pepsi. In science class, we did a blind taste test. One kid said Pepsi tasted better and he didn’t get a gold star. I got a gold star because the teacher said I was a good company kid.” 

“That’s nice, dear.”

Anarcho-Capitalism & Stateless Society

I’ve been watching some videos on the Youtube channel Freedomain Radio. The guy who makes the video I guess is in favor of an anarcho-capitalist stateless society… which basically just seems like an extreme version of conservative libertarianism (a government so small it’s non-existent).  I got involved in a discussion in the comments of the first video and so listened to the second video to understand his perspective on stateless society.

(As an aside, I found the ending of the first video amusing.  The guy stared into the camera trying to look stern, and it reminded me of my friends dad when we were kids.  My friend’s dad would shuffle into the room… shoulders slumped and belly sticking out… and, trying to look mean, he’d grumble, “Who drank my pop? Someone owes me 50 cents.”  It was, to say the least, hard to keep a straight face.  That was my emotional response to the righteous moralizing of the guy in the video.)

I’m truly perplexed why someone can be so critical of the government and yet have blind faith in capitalism.  This kind of libertarian talks about the ‘free market’ as almost a religious ideal.  In the entire history of civilization, a stateless free market has never existed on the largescale.  I added “on the largescale” because I believe such a thing might be possible on the smallscale such as in an isolated intentional community or in an isolated hunter-gatherer tribe.  I agree with Derrick Jensen that largescale modern civilization inevitably leads to oppression… or all the evidence points to this being an inevitability since there are no couter-examples that weren’t quickly crushed.

The only way to create a stateless society would be to overthrow every government which would lead to mass famine and death.  During this process, a group of people worldwide would have to systematically destroy all technology and all infrastructure.  The survivors would return to either the lifestyle of small agrarian villages or hunter-gatherer tribes.  Then and only then might a free market stateless society exist.

I actually agree with many of the criticisms pro-capitalist libertarians have of government.  My only difference is that I don’t look to scapegoat a single group.  The entire system is the problem.  If US citizens overthrew their state returning to a simpler localized governance, then some other state government (Russia or China) would conquer our then defenseless citizenry and impose a new state.  Or another possibility is that, if all government regulation and protection was dismantled, the transnational corporations would either create a new government in place of the old or make themselves into a new privatized fascist government.

This seems obvious to me.  The problem isn’t in some external force or institution.  The problem is human nature itself or rather human nature gone awry because of the problematic nature of modern society in general.  Humans simply aren’t evolved for such unnatural conditions.  If we want to elicit the moral impulses of the human species, we have to re-create the natural conditions under which human nature evolved.

The reason I felt drawn into debating the anarcho-capitalists in the comment section is that some of them seemed fairly intelligent.  They’re perfectly logical people and even are capable of supporting their arguments with evidence, but their vision of a stateless society seems like just another utopia.  Why do they believe so strongly in something that has never existed?  How is that any different than religious faith?

The guy who makes the videos does have some other videos that are quite insightful about human nature (which I wrote about in my post Victimization: Culture & Education).  He is cynical about our present society which he blames on the government, but he is idealistic about human nature.  He thinks that if the external constraints were removed and the psychological shackles were overcome, then people would manifest their inherent morality and there would be peace on earth… or something like that.  His criticisms are righteous and I agree with them to a large extent.  

However, I’m not sure why he thinks capitalism is the natural state of the human species.  If he just stopped at where his evidence-based criticism ends, then his argument would be reasonable; but he wants to go beyond the mere evidence.  I find myself annoyed whenever I’m confronted by self-certainty that verges on that of the True Believer.  Even though he is a bit too intelligent and rational to be an unabashed True Believer, he comes awfully close to it.  History is filled with True Believers who overthrew the oppressive government only to put in place a new government that was just as oppressive.

So, I took all of this seriously and wanted to learn more.  I visited a website one person recommended (Ludwig Von Mises Institute).  The person thought I couldn’t possibly disagree with him once I properly informed myself.  I didn’t take insult.  It’s possible that I could be completely wrong.  I looked around the website, read a few articles and watched a video.  It turned out not to be anything I hadn’t seen before.  It was just the typical ideas one hears from libertarians and anarchists.  As for libertarianism, I prefer Noam Chomsky… who was mentioned some on the Mises website.  These conservative anarcho-capitalists, of course, were of mixed opinion about Chomsky’s libertarian socialism.  Their criticisms of him wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.  Chomsky is closer to my position in being critical of both state power and capitalist power.

I watched some other Youtube videos on ‘stateless society’.  The following video interested me just because of the comment section where I noticed some criticisms that were in line with Derrick Jensen’s thinking.

There was one commenter who caught my attention: mcc1789.  His criticisms went to the heart of the matter and no other commenter even attempted to refute his argument.

Ok, but what about vertical oligopolies and monopolies, as MettaliarYanto says in his response? Also, what prevents a “monopoly of force in a given area” your definition of the state?

“[I]f one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established.” [Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 270] Is that not such a monopoly, i.e. state, if private?
 
Is that not such a monopoly, i.e. state, if private? Contracts that employees signed could have provisions forbidding strikes, organizing, etc., agreeing to pay for police, courts, doctors, stores and militaries hired by the employer.
 
Company towns had every feature which anarcho-capitalists propose, private police, courts, military, etc. Company rules were law. Buying at the company store was required by their contracts. If they sturck or formed a union, they were fired and evicted instantly. The contracts were entered voluntarily, in your sense. Since rights can be waived, exactly what stops this? The British East India Co. was its own state, ruling for centuries. Same with King Leopold’s Congo, run by his corporation.
 
“Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
 
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.” [The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

Derrick Jensen uses the exact same argument with similar examples in his book The Culture of Make Believe.  I was happy someone went to the effort of typing up such perfect quotes.  I was feeling too lazy to do it myself.

As the commenter clearly points out, anarcho-capitalism has already existed in the towns owned by mining companies.  The problem isn’t in creating a privatized government.  That is easy to do if there is no strong state government to regulate against it.  The obvious failure is that this leads to fascism and not freedom.