What is the state?

September 17, 2017 Leave a comment

“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine. It can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” – M.K. Gandhi

When looking at the US government today, one can barely fathom the tiny government it started with. The US became such a powerful and destructive government by constantly enlarging the scope of its action. Since the beginning of the federation it has expanded, from the westward march of federal government jurisdiction to the cause of the Civil War: the president’s war on secession. All told, 50 states were incorporated into the union. Now the government controlled resources on an entire continent, like China and Russia. Once the land was conquered, the US government expanded its ability to capture the wealth and challenge the sovereignty of other countries. Sometimes it used trade agreements; sometimes it used guns. There were many civil liberties, and a productive free market, but as the economy grew, the state grew. That is the state’s purpose: to expand the power of those who control it. Liberty quietly slipped away.

Max Weber defined the state as that organisation that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given (national) territory. “Legitimate” here merely means legal, as actual legitimacy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That is why Albert Jay Nock countered Weber by saying the state “claims and exercises a monopoly of crime” over its territory. Statism is the belief that this monopoly of crime is good or necessary. David S. D’Amato explains its effect: “the state’s principal manner of acting is to make peaceful interactions crimes while protecting the institutional crime of ruling class elites.”

After all, what does the state do? It steals, but it calls its theft taxation. It kidnaps, but calls kidnapping arrest. It counterfeits, but refers to state counterfeiting as monetary policy. It uses force and compulsion which it calls the rule of law. It commits murder on a wide scale, but prefers terms such as war and execution. The state claims to act to protect person and property, but in practice claims ownership of both (through, for instance, laws that tell you what you can and cannot put in your body). It claims to protect freedom while taking it away. It claims to aid the less fortunate when in fact it benefits the powerful at the expense of everyone else. If I go to another country to kill people I do not know, I am a murderer. When the military does it, it is fighting terrorism and promoting democracy. This sleight of hand and clouding of truth is how the state manufactures legitimacy.


The state pursues petty criminals partly because they threaten the stability of the system the state has erected and the security of the wealthy, but also because it claims a monopoly of crime. Mafia organisations are even more dangerous, as they pose a more fundamental threat to the state as competitors for plunder and dominance.

I think it is fair to include any state-protected monopoly as part of the state. Monopolies are a large part of the problem. Monopolies tend to lead to abuse, and they destroy the wonderful benefits of spontaneous order. A monopoly is always held together by force, except in the rare case of companies like Standard Oil, which was so popular because it lowered the price of heating oil to a fraction of what it had been (and competitors—not customers—used the state to break it up). In a communist society or even just a freed market, monopolies cannot exist, at least, not for long.

Anarchy is, in fact, the destruction of monopoly. Nearly all monopolies are created by the state. Monopolies and oligopolies, whether on patented medicine, oil supplies or national security, are protected by law. The state thus gains a measure of control over the distorted market and the government works for those rich people it creates. The relationship is symbiotic. The Federal Reserve system is not technically part of the government but a cartel institutionalised by the state. By my definition, it is part of the state.

I also consider the people behind the scenes who pull the strings part of the state. For example, what might be called the US foreign-policy establishment is not merely members of the State and Defense Departments. It includes high-ranking businesspeople. Executives, directors and shareholders in large oil companies probably have far greater influence over the use of the US military than, say, a couple of senators taking stands against war. It includes the Council on Foreign Relations and other influential think tanks, academics and “consultants” (often retired officers) affiliated with those who craft US foreign policy. Intelligence agencies—and not only those in the US government—influence the process as well. Andrew J. Bacevich points out “‘Military-industrial complex’ no longer suffices to describe the congeries of interests profiting from and committed to preserving the national-security status quo.”

This is the world behind the curtain, detailed in the work of Bacevich, among others, that can be described as the permanent foreign-policy establishment. The faces of the state change, but the clear continuity of US foreign policy reflects the interests of those truly in power. The same is true, to one extent or another, for all areas the state attempts to control.

The state’s raison d’être has had different pretexts as times have changed. It was originally a tool for conquering and controlling territory around a kingdom. Social scientists studying the emergence of states note the state began with the divine right of kings: the sovereign, or totalitarian king, kept his subjects in awe of the wrath of gods. Franz Oppenheimer, in his sociological survey of the state, describes its origins.

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner.

As European states grew in technological power, they spread outside Europe as overseas empires. The ambition of conquering and subjugating the weak had not ended. To demarcate their possessions, states drew lines on maps. Countries are only countries today because of the movements of empires. States are products of conquest. Borders are the geographic limits to the power of individual states. States owe their existence and their growth to war. That is why Randolph Bourne called war “the health of the state” and Charles Tilly said “war made the state and the state made war”.

An empire is simply the growth of a state beyond its previous borders. A look at the pre- and post-imperial world gives us no reason to believe that uninterrupted rule by indigenous elites would have been any better than by empires. The liberation of most of the world from the colonial yoke was heralded as a new era of freedom, but in most cases results were very disappointing. Government by locals and foreigners alike leaves the governed wide open to abuse.

Today, states are still about a monopoly of crime over a given territory, but the humanist direction of the moral evolution of society has demanded new functions of the state. Due in part to the pressure from anarcho-syndicalist unions and the supposed alternative to capitalism in the USSR, for example, Western states felt compelled to mitigate the worst aspects of capitalism and introduce the eight-hour work day, the five-day work week, breaks, vacation time, and so on. It is now expected that, since society is rich enough to afford education, housing, health care and so on for everyone, those things will be provided by the state, the organisation with the most resources. The only reason people believe the state is necessary for social programmes, scientific research, relations with other states and so on, is because it has taken on those functions. The state does not exist to provide social programmes; it provides social programmes so it can continue to exist.


The state is not about social programmes and emergency rescue. It is about domination, power over others. People who believe otherwise do not know how to think like the state.

Thinking like the state

What does the state want? In a word: power. Power could be defined simply as the ability to enforce one’s will on another. A further definition is the ability to carry out violence on another if necessary to get one’s way. An abusive husband and father is violence on a family level. The state threatens and employs violence on a local, national and global level.

Its power to carry out violence everywhere exists in the form of local, national and international police; armies, navies, air forces, spy drones, national guards and special branches; intelligence services, surveillance cameras, wiretapping, reading mail, reading email, reading instant messages and collecting data on everyone; and spy satellites in case you try to escape Earth without authorisation. The state has evolved from the small confines of localities to go global. It has a measure of power over us everywhere we go. Such power over so many concentrated in the hands of a few is dangerous.

The state is a monopoly on force, but the constant expansion of the state has led it to take on other monopolies over time. Modern states came to control land, the money supply, infrastructure and the security of the streets. As it has grown, the state has created new monopolies and oligopolies. Having a monopoly on the provision of law, it has created corporations, which relieve their owners and operators of responsibility; granted patents, enabling some of the biggest corporations, from Disney to the pharmaceutical giants, to attain their current size; and used complicated and unnecessary regulations, tax codes and barriers to foreign trade to prevent competition for the big players in the market. The state creates monopolies. Monopolies promote abuse, because they grant power and power corrupts.

Thinking like the state means understanding it expands its power in every direction by every means. If it can close a loophole enabling a citizen’s freedom, it does; if it can write a new one for its friends, it does. But instead of thinking like the state, most of us think the way we are told.

Thinking like the state wants us to

“The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion.” – Edward Bernays

“They don’t want a population capable of critical thinking. They want obedient workers, people just smart enough to run the machines and just dumb enough to passively accept their condition.” – George Carlin

An even subtler power is the state’s ability to shape our thinking. Through its control of primary and secondary education, its influence over tertiary education and the media, the state sets the agenda for what we are to think and believe. The prevailing norms of any statist society are those that benefit the ruling class, until that brief interval of revolution which, so far, has inevitably led back to statism. What kind of person does the state want to create?


The ideal citizen is one who believes he or she thinks for him or herself but does not. Our socialisation comes, to a great extent, from the state. The ruling class has certain ideas it benefits from: statism, nationalism, militarism, consumerism, fear, and to a lesser extent in today’s world, religion. We are surrounded by these ideas and bombarded with “evidence” they are correct. As such, we take so many things as given that we have considerable trouble thinking independently. But those who are told they are free believe it, while they fall in line with the orthodoxy of the ruling class without question. They come to love the symbols of the state: the flags, the uniforms, the songs, the slogans, the language of family, honour, duty and sacrifice. They come to think of them as representing the family of the nation, rather than the institutions of the state. They chastise those who go against the truth they have been given. How dare you question democracy? You are unpatriotic! As George Orwell said in 1984, “Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

On the other hand, people who do not follow conventions are bad citizens. H.L. Mencken described these people.

The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.

The state exists to establish a social order that benefits the ruling class, protect that class and its property, expand its power and wealth wherever possible, fool the people it rules into believing this is all for their own good, and subdue those who do anything counter to its interests. I think we need more bad citizens and less state.



August 6, 2017 2 comments

This post is (probably) the last of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

One major weakness with anarcho-capitalism is its lack of strategy. They have certain ideas I actually agree with, but they are not strategies but tactics. For instance, take agorism and counter-economics. Black markets, tax evasion and alternative currencies are fine, but alone they will not stop the state. Secession, too, while promising, will also not tear down power structures. These tactics are not strategies because we need more to have a revolution worthy of the name.

The true delusions of anarcho-capitalist tactics are the beliefs that you can somehow eliminate the state but keep the capitalist economy, that you do not have to or should not attack the rich themselves, and that violence is unnecessary for a revolution.

Black markets will not necessarily help the poor, disabled or persecuted. Tax evasion is very difficult for most working people. Bosses are not going to go along with not paying taxes. Their loyalties are not to employees who happen to hate the state. They are to their bosses and the stockholders, who will only use the corporation to break the law if there are millions in it for them.


Ancaps tend to deride protests, condemn riots and property destruction and oppose unions. They see a few people destroying property and rush to the defense of corporations. They see riots and looting and instead of asking questions about the conditions that led to such behavior, they jump to condemn everyone who takes part. They say of protesters “they’re protesting so-and-so? where were they when…?” Who cares? They’re here now. They see unions fighting for better conditions and accuse them of stealing and breaking legitimate contracts. But workers and owners are in such unequal positions fairness simply does not enter into considerations of wages and working conditions. You sign a labor contract because you do not want to starve.

If you want to make a change through your job, organize your workplace and take it over from your bosses. I don’t recommend that for every business, but plenty can be said to treat their employees unfairly, taking a large percentage of the value of the product of their labor, firing them without warning just to improve the balance sheet, attacking strikers, and so on.

Some ancaps actually call unions thieves for demanding a greater share of production. If you believe market wages (ie. what employers have decided the minimum wage they can pay their employees is) are necessarily fair or what you deserve, naturally, anything more than that would be unfair. Ancaps believe in the homesteading principle. Haven’t the workers already homesteaded the means of production? (This post goes into a more detailed defense of seizing the means of production. Anarcho-syndicalism is not without its shortcomings, though.)

Strikes cripple production (or at least slow it down considerably), putting a dent in the wealth of those who control the state. If nothing else, a strike can grant workers a larger share of the product of their own labor. (Ideally, those same workers would quit and form cooperatives and communes, but those initiatives are difficult and often require more money or land than they have.)

Even better!


Protesting should not rule out the possibility of violence, depending on the circumstances, rather using what Peter Gelderloos in How Nonviolence Protects the State called a diversity of tactics. There are many possible forms of direct action. I would not discourage, say, blocking people from going to work at a factory producing cluster bombs to drop on Yemen. I see great potential value in attacking military recruiters, prisons, summit meetings, the offices and homes of people who profit from war or poisoning the environment, facilities where animals experience cruelty and rallies of people with inherently oppressive ideologies (eg. neo-Nazis).

How could such violence not be considered self defense? We are already living under such extreme conditions a lukewarm response will have little effect. Moreover, it is a sign of how privileged a person is that he or she would lecture those less fortunate on how they should behave, when it is right for them to fight back and when they should be quiet and remain oppressed. If not now, when? When ancaps say it’s ok?

Again, protests can lead to violence under the right circumstances. Why would it be wrong to intimidate or beat up those factory workers building cluster bombs when you know that person is going to do something that will lead to the deaths of innocent people? What is the problem? You would, in fact, be REDUCING the amount of violence by only beating someone. It is the same logic as stopping bullying by using force, or shooting someone so he or she could not commit murder. (I write more on the legitimacy of certain violence here.)

Actually, they both are

The problem with this meme is, while independence of a sort is probably necessary for anarchy, the state has, on innumerable occasions, shut down independent farms (see the documentary Farmaggeddon or read Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal for more). Who will protect them from the SWAT teams? They could certainly set up security arrangements with their neighbors, but at some point the police will overrun them. However, if large groups are fighting the police, tying them down and stretching their resources, the farmers will be of much lower priority.

Indeed, this meme typifies the ancap belief in the possibility of non-violent revolution. Whatever tactics they attempt, they will need to defend themselves in large groups. Secession could take place in some countries, such as the US or Canada, but if the nation states get too small, or if the elite from one place cannot extend their influence into the new place, violence will inevitably ensue. Secession on a large level (such as the possible secession of the state of California) leaves us with similar economic and political structures. Secession on a community or individual level, where people can truly govern themselves, leaves those people vulnerable to violent state reprisals. We would need mutual defense among free people to stay free.


Demonstrations could be accompanied with strikes if workers are on board (ie. if they are “woke”) and boycotts if consumers are. Protests, strikes and boycotts can be part of a push for solidarity. Solidarity means standing together, where we are stronger, instead of being disunited as employees, citizens or consumers.

From my perspective, the most effective way of reducing violence and promoting solidarity is through mutual aid. It leads to greater freedom for those who cannot care for themselves, and less inequality, with all the benefits therein. It reduces our reliance on big business and government, and thus their power. It eliminates the need for competition, for treating each other as crabs in a bucket, and for charity. Ancaps tend not to recognize the necessity for these things, which is why they are so lukewarm toward mutual aid. (Well, that and because it smacks of “communism”, which to an ancap is pure evil.)

I think solidarity and its attendant mutual aid are the ultimate weapons against those in power. Without them, eliminating the state will remain a pipe dream.


July 14, 2017 1 comment

This post is part 6 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

Ancaps will not let you define capitalism in any way but theirs. Instead of acknowledging the decades of debate surrounding the term and the history of actual capitalism, they will post a link to a dictionary, or quote their favourite economist, and ignore everything you say. As such, it can be difficult to have a conversation with them. You talk about what you dislike about capitalism and they interrupt with “that’s not capitalism”. They write articles talking up the good things that have happened under actually exisiting capitalism but distance themselves from the bad things, as if one could have existed without the other. They like to take all the supposedly good things from capitalism as evidence that it works, and call all the bad things it brings “socialism”. They attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

Not all problems stem from the state. Slavery could easily continue without a state. Slavery was not and is not a result of the state. Neither was the Irish Potato Famine, as landlords exported food they owned in a way that should be considered legitimate to propertarians. These are problems of capitalism that would be problems whether or not ancaps’ particular vision were realized. Another such problem is that of competition.

Not everything can be reduced to economics. You say we should stop competing with each other and share and ancaps will accuse you of wanting monopolies. But anarcho-communists do not want monopolies. They want gift economies. A gift economy is, essentially, where things are free. Yes, it is possible; indeed, unlike trade, gift economies have been the norm throughout human existence, just like anarchy, equality and mutual aid.

People who say capitalism is the most efficient economic system ever devised do not seem to understand how capitalism works. Capitalism is not decentralized. Whether statist or not, capitalism necessarily concentrates money and decision-making in the hands of a small group of people, essentially the owners of the means of production. Corporations spend money on taxes, managers, shareholders, lobbyists, security guards, lawyers, accountants, human resources, marketing and advertising, none of which would be necessary in a system where everything was free. And competition creates huge amounts of redundancy as firms spend huge amounts on R&D producing competing but similar products, instead of pooling resources and creating something good for everyone. Moreover, competition among firms leads to paying the lowest possible wages, often resulting in slavery or near-slavery as people in places like China, the Congo and US jails receive pitiful wages and horrible working conditions when an efficient system could produce the same goods without inflicting such pain on its producers.

Alfie Kohn’s book No Contest: The Case against Competition dismantles every claim about the beneficial effects of competition. This post barely scratches the surface of his work. I recommend reading it through for a fuller understanding. (A lecture on the subject can be found here.)

For one, competition is not efficient: it is exceedingly inefficient. You have any number of people working for any number of firms to produce the same products and innovations. You have firms such as pharmaceutical giants all competing for scientific research into the same things, then spending a huge part of their budgets on marketing, administration and other waste. (See here, for example.) Every dollar taken as profit, or spent on marketing, sales or advertising, is a dollar capitalism itself has taken from you. If you work in marketing, etc., you need to understand your jobs are completely unnecessary.

But it’s “natural”, right? All creatures compete, right? Yes and no. There is an enormous amount of mutual aid in nature, even across species but especially within them. Some species engage in somewhat violent competition for mates, though that competition is rarely fatal. Is competition inherent in evolutionary success? Only a simplistic understanding of evolution would imply such. Stephen Jay Gould points out

The equation of competition with success in natural selection is merely a cultural prejudice …. Success defined as leaving more offspring can … be attained by a large variety of strategies – including mutualism and symbiosis – that we could call cooperative. There is no a priori preference in the general statement of natural selection for either competitive or cooperative behavior. (In Kohn, 21)

Besides, modern humans are a bit different. We have created a civilization where competition is no longer necessary, because abundance has become the norm. We do not need to compete over, say, food, water and land, because there is enough for all of us, and we value sharing and cooperation. Whatever nature appears to dictate through the lens of our culture, the reality is there is nothing inevitable about competing.

So why encourage it? Kids don’t like it. Kohn says “I am aware of no studies that found a preference for competition over cooperation – providing the subjects had experienced the latter in some fashion.” (32) If given a choice, children would rather cooperate and eliminate the need to divide winners from losers. While a few kids may enjoy competing over cooperating, the vast majority appear not to. Competition as we know it is largely a learned phenomenon, continually reaffirmed in school rankings, games and sports. This focus on competition, especially on creating the myth that it is inevitable and beneficial, serves those in power, who want us to compete with each other to serve the rich, rather than work together to make serving the rich unnecessary.

Kohn also asked the question “Do we perform better when we are trying to beat others?” and found overwhelming evidence to suggest the answer is almost never. Competition tends to bring down performance, not enhance it. (47) Competition puts intense pressure on us, and not even pressure to succeed (which in itself is not necessarily good) but pressure to beat others. Trying to do something right and well is quite different from trying to beat others. (55) It might result in lies, tripping other people up, heartbreak, and so on, when in the absence of competition we need not stress but simply be as good as we choose to be.

Competition encourages win-lose thinking, as opposed to win-win thinking. (127) It poisons our relationships. (132) It discourages altruism and empathy while encouraging envy, mistrust and contempt. (140-1) And it is unnecessary.

The results of the many studies, which clear away the myths about competition’s inevitability and benefits, should mean radical changes to the way we do things, from the market economy to kids in school and at home, from examinations to debates, from meting out justice to having fun. Unfortunately, it is fundamental to capitalism, so those who identify with capitalism are likely to have a hard time unlearning competition.

Workers should not compete with each other, locally or across countries, but unite to unionize or take over their workplaces or start cooperatives or overthrow capitalism altogether and begin sharing the product of our labor.

The mainstream discourse on terrorism is still a shambles

June 4, 2017 Leave a comment

I once believed we had gone beyond “they hate us for our freedoms” and similarly fatuous rhetoric. I thought as 9/11 slipped further into the past fewer people would use it to excuse every act of state violence. When I started following the troop-supporter, Muslim-hater Facebook pages, however, I realized this ignorant nonsense still goes on every day.

Every day, thousands of people talk about terrorism with no reference to its actual causes, and about Muslims as if they were a cohesive terrorist organization. This kind of talk is to be expected at the fringes of popular discourse; unfortunately, it is increasingly becoming the mainstream position, and those who shout loudly and angrily about subjects they do not understand have marginalized the people who know something about terrorism and Muslims. I clearly had not considered how useful the phantom of Muslim violence was to the ruling classes, or how lucrative the Islamophobia Industry would be.

First, if we are going to talk about terrorist attacks committed by Muslims, we should be talking about imperialism. The further back into the history of European imperialism we go, the more we can understand about what is going on today. But if you do not want to read dozens of history books, just look at what the current imperial powers are doing now. The US and UK have been bombing Iraq continually since 1991. They have occupied Afghanistan continuously since 2001, despite what the media have told us. They have been arming Saudi Arabia since its founding, and those weapons (such as UK-made cluster bombs) have been causing horrible harm to the people of Yemen. The US, UK, France and Turkey have all been bombing Syria since the civil war started there. There was a terrorist attack in London just yesterday. Could the hundreds of civilians the US and UK have killed in Syria and Iraq recently have anything to do with it? Did you even hear about them? And people have had the nerve to respond to the attack with “when will we start fighting back?”

However, the words “imperialism”, “hegemony”, “foreign occupation”, “state aggression” and “state terrorism” are largely absent from mainstream media (unless they describe Iran or North Korea) and thus popular discourse. Instead, we hear about heroic soldiers keeping us safe (us) and evil terrorists who hate us (them); deliberate attacks on innocent civilians (them) and collateral damage (us). Most commenters in the West know nothing of what their rulers are doing in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or Syria, and have no interest. As such, their opinions on war and terrorism are worthless. Nevertheless, they are very influential.

Many people commenting from the safety of their homes in rich countries have no curiosity about the causes of terrorism. They speak of it in isolation, as if it had no causes. Others put all the blame on Islam, as if such a variegated religion somehow inevitably produced terrorists, and neither imperialism nor ideology played any role. Take this meme.

I have seen this meme posted several times on the support-the-troops Facebook pages. In other words, people who are just fine with whatever American and British troops are doing overseas, who are suspicious of or hate all Muslims, who have no idea what caused the attack on the World Trade Center, want to keep alive the anger that fuels the many wars in the Middle East. This anger leads not only to indifference when civilians get terrorized by the US and its allies but gloating. Countless people talk about how many Muslims support terrorism, yet they never bring up the astounding number of Westerners who laugh at dead civilians, cheer on indiscriminate bombing of their homes and infrastructure and then, out of sheer cowardice, refuse to let the victims take refuge in their countries. They talk about the “radicalization” of young Muslims but never use the word to describe the millions of Americans who now love killing and torture and see freedom and justice as luxuries.

Liberals are not making things better. They say things like “Christians commit acts of terrorism too”, instead of looking at causes of questioning the War on Terror as a whole. They bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition, which is easily countered by the argument that those things ended long ago. The War on Terror is itself a crusade. Why not point out the millions who have died and will continue to die until it ends? Why not point to the nationalist and religious rhetoric that is driving state violence against innocent people all around the world?

In the US, far-right (eg. neo-Nazi) groups are much more numerous and dangerous than Muslim terrorists. However, the mainstream media do not report these facts, and loud, anti-Muslim, conservative, internet media write them off as insignificant, misleading or lies. Instead, they focus on violence committed by Muslims. Moreover, far-right groups tend to attack Jews, Muslims and assorted brown people, so comfortable white communities have little to fear from them.

Liberals also tend to support the state’s humanitarian justifications for war. They join conservatives in their excoriation of “Muslim countries” for their repression of women and homosexuals. They are carrying on the centuries-old tradition of waging war in the name of white men saving brown women from brown men. They make ignorant, blanket statements about Muslims and Islam, sometimes referring to “Muslim culture” (as if Muslims didn’t belong to countless diverse cultures) or a monolithic “sharia law” (because they know nothing about interpretation) and repeat the lies about Muslims they read in the internet media (“Muslim no-go zones” is an example that keeps raising its ugly head). And despite all their supposed concern for oppressed Muslim women and homosexuals overseas, they know and say nothing about the bigotry, rape, assault and murder by police and non-state actors that occurs in their own countries every single day. If you need an example of privilege, look at one man’s claims to be worried about people on the other side of the planet and his indifference to those in his own community.

The entire concept of “terrorism” needs reexamining. The word is used to shut down debate about causes, make us think killing civilians is the exclusive province of non-state actors and legitimize any action the states deems necessary to fight it. In fact, many times more people die in war, that glorious occupation states engage in for our freedom, than in acts of non-state terrorism. And since virtually every Muslim who has committed such an attack has cited imperialist war as a motivating factor, you might think fewer people would say “they hate us because we’re not Muslims”.

The exception to the rule about state aggression as a cause of terrorism is attacks by ISIS. On the one hand, they could never have started without the wars in the Middle East and the CIA gun running intended to prolong the war in Syria. On the other hand, their violence seems to have little to do with fighting imperialism (though imperialism is unquestionably a useful recruitment tool for them). But here again the media mislead us with the word “terrorism”. ISIS is referred to in the news as a “terror group”, or something similar. A more accurate description would be a state. ISIS is attempting to gain power in various places by terrorizing people. That is how all states are established. (See, for instance, Bruce Porter’s War and the Rise of the State or Franz Oppenheimer’s The State.) They tax and impose laws on their subjects. That is the state’s means and end. The only difference between ISIS and other states is they are not recognized as a state by other states, and are thereby not a legal state. That simple fact does not change their actions.

Most people do not understand terrorism and do not care to understand. They have much to learn before jumping into every conversation on the subject and spraying their opinions all over it.


April 28, 2017 1 comment

Several years ago, I wrote about the virtues of the Non-Aggression Principle, or NAP.  I mistakenly wrote that anarchists (ie. most anarchists) believe in it. However, the more anarchist and revolutionary material I have read, the more I see the NAP as unnecessarily limiting.

Non-aggression means you should never initiate force against other people, and that force should only be used defensively. Inextricably linked is the right of property, which I discussed recently.

The NAP is a fine rule for interpersonal relationships and would be a reasonable way of organizing a small community. But when we live in a world where rich people pull the levers of the state and make decisions to evict people from their homes, steal their livelihoods, pass unfavorable laws and use the police to hold us down, fighting back should be considered self defense.

Similarly, white supremacists and fascists necessarily believe intimidation of and violence against vulnerable minority groups is legitimate. But many people who follow the NAP as an ironclad principle seem to believe only those who actually wield the weapons are legitimate targets. Many ancaps will tell you reasoned discussion with or about these people is the best or only way to defeat them, or otherwise tax evasion or secession. While all these options are ideal, they do not solve the pressing need to protect people from predators.

If someone is on the corner preaching hate, that person could gain a following, which could turn into a gang, attacking people it deems worthy of attack, or a political party, which could become a ruling party. Dangerous people will hide behind “freedom of speech” until they gain power, by which time it is too late to stop them. To be nipped in the bud, you could try reasoning with the person or satire, but if these things do not work, intimidation and the threat and application of discriminate violence should not be taken off the table. Why not make these people afraid to leave their houses?

This last question is particularly timely. Far-right, fascist, neo-Nazi movements are on the rise in North America and Europe. They are organized, motivated and gaining in popularity. They are using violence to take control of the streets. Ancaps make ignorant claims that anti-fascist (antifa) organizing and violence make antifa just as bad as the people they oppose. They actually take the side of the fascists and say antifa call everyone they disagree with fascists to legitimize violence against them. While of course that might happen on occasion, ancaps should know better than to believe everything they hear in the media as representative of all anti-fascists. Ancaps have no strategy for dealing with such people except to sit back, let them take power and then criticize them when they do.

Many ancaps falsely accuse anti-fascists of calling everyone else bigots and fascists in order to legitimize using violence against them. This claim is largely baseless. While there are undoubtedly some that do so, there is no reason to believe it is a normal practice among anti-fascists. Moreover, this wide generalization should be above any ancap who claims to oppose “collectivism”.

In August 2017 ancaps criticized antifa again for attacking fascists for marching and making speeches while some of the same people were attacking innocent people in the same town. They claimed it is fine to prevent people from committing violence but their preaching of hate and violence is all right until they act on it. That is not how it works. The incitement and the violence are very closely linked. You cannot have one without the other. As such, you do not get to select which counter-violence you like to condemn. It was all necessary to stop the threat. Letting them organize would have multiplied the violence. Learn to see the real threat. Stop holding the “freedom of speech” of fascists and bigots in such high esteem. Stop criticizing the people who are doing something about this serious problem.

The above situation about hate preaching could be likened to that of US soldiers during the Vietnam War who fragged (killed) their superior officers. One could argue the officers were merely advocating violence, not actually committing it themselves. But the killings were an act of resistance to an aggressive and tyrannical war machine, and probably played some role in ending the US’s prosecution of the war. How could it not be justifiable?


Did these people end the war, or did the Vietnamese and US troops who raised the cost of war too high to continue it?

I would take the utility of violent resistance one step further. If a group of owners and bosses is reducing salaries, cutting pensions, firing employees and attacking strikers for no other reason than to protect their pocketbooks, it is all very well to say “go and start your own business then” or “you should have saved your money”, but that does nothing for the newly impoverished. Can you explain why taking away someone’s source of income is not violence (even though security guards and police are there to protect legal owners) but smashing the windows of the decision makers is?

What if a board decides to poison a river people or animals rely on for their health? Is that not violence? And what if it is not clear who the precise decision makers were because the board does not make its meeting minutes public? Surely, attacking members of the board would be an act of self defense, whether to prevent them from doing it again or to prevent others from doing the same. If you do not agree with using overt violence against them, why not at least fight back some other way, say, by taking down their websites, hacking their emails and hacking their bank accounts?

A purist adherence to non-aggression would prevent someone made unemployed and homeless by the force of the political-economic system from, say, breaking into a supermarket and stealing food. Even though ancaps are well aware the system robs some people of everything they have, they have no solutions for those people besides charity. What if the sum of everything given to charity is insufficient to feed and clothe and house all the people in the streets? Ancaps would tell those people to wait for the generosity of others, because stealing food from a business is a violation of the NAP. Thus, to reiterate, while the NAP can work for small groups, it is not ideal under this system of plunder.

I understand the hypothesis violence against even worthy targets leads to the expansion of the police state. But the police state will take any excuse it can to expand, and in the absence of a reasonable excuse it will fabricate one. If we stand by and watch rather than fighting back, we have already lost. Many people, particularly ethnic, religious and gender minorities, are already subject to the kind of abuse you fear will be brought down on all of us. If we are trying to reduce the amount of violence and repression, we will need to fight back against oppressors. We can start by recongizing and supporting the struggle of marginalized and brutalized people and stop criticizing their methods. That is what is meant by solidarity.

In a world where the people in power do not respect the NAP but those who do refuse to invoke it to fight back, it amounts to pacifism, and pacifism is a luxury. Ward Churchill, in Pacifism as Pathology, writes

If you feel a relative absence of pain, that is testimony only to your position of privilege within the Statist structure. Those who are on the receiving end, whether they are in Iraq, they are in Palestine, they are in Haiti, they are in American Indian reserves inside the United States, whether they are in the migrant stream or the inner city, those who are ‘othered’ and of color in particular but poor people more generally, know the difference between the painlessness of acquiescence on the one hand and the painfulness of maintaining the existing order on the other.

And at what point is it legitimate to start fighting back? Only when we are certain they are killing innocent people? Secrecy makes such knowledge impossible. Look at the Holocaust. Most people did not know it was taking place until it was over. Derrick Jensen, also in Pacifism as Pathology, puts it thus:

One of the smartest things the nazis did was make it so that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational best interest to not resist. Many Jews had the hope–and this hope was cultivated by the nazis–that if they played along, followed the rules laid down by those in power, that their lives would get no worse, that they would not be murdered. Would you rather get an ID card, or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather go to a ghetto (reserve, reservation, whatever) or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather get on a cattle car, or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Would you rather get in the showers, or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? But I’ll tell you something important: the Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, including those who went on what they thought were suicide missions, had a higher rate of survival than those who went along. Never forget that.

They tell us that if you use violence against exploiters, you become like they are. This cliche is, once again, absurd, with no relation to the real world. It is based on the flawed notion that all violence is the same. It is obscene to suggest that a woman who kills a man attempting to rape her becomes like a rapist. It is obscene to suggest that by fighting back Tecumseh became like those who were stealing his people’s land. It is obscene to suggest that the Jews at who fought back against their exterminators at Auschwitz/Birkenau, Treblinka, and Sobibor became like the Nazis. It is obscene to suggest that a tiger who kills a human at a zoo becomes like one of her captors.

All of this closed-mindedness–this intolerance for any tactics save their own (one pacifist in his review of Endgame wrote “Give me Gandhi or give me death!”)–is harmful in many ways. First, it decreases the possibility of effective synergy between various forms of resistance. Second, it creates the illusion that we really are accomplishing something while the world continues to be destroyed. Third, it wastes valuable time that we do not have. Fourth, it positively helps those in power.

We already know the state and its patrons are killing people. The time to resist is now, before they can grow too large to challenge.

Peter Gelderloos in How Non-Violence Protects the State (which I strongly recommend) also puts forward the idea of effective synergy among forms of resistance, a diversity of tactics, as he calls it. No thoughtful revolutionary thinks in terms of purely violent resistance, as it is likely to lead to dictatorship or chaos. But if violence is used strategically and combined with educating the public (including through satire), counter-economics, boycotting corporations and taxes, strikes, the takeover of the means of production, building decision-making and mutual-aid structures, community and personal autonomy and secession, there is the chance of meaningful change and even revolution.


March 1, 2017 2 comments

This post is part 4 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

Property is a more complicated issue than most ancaps give it credit. This post only outlines my rather simple views on the matter and why they differ from what I used to believe as an ancap.

First, we should probably distinguish between property and possessions. There is more than one definition for these words, but for our purposes we might call property the exclusive ownership of the means of production, including land, factories and machines. Exclusivity is the key factor. Ancaps often want to know if their hammers, laptops and 3-D printers are included in this definition, and I would say no: they are possessions, intended only for personal use. If people were monopolizing the hammers and laptops and 3-D printers, that might be a different story. However, these things are widely available.

Infoshop’s FAQ summarizes the anarchist argument against property thus:

The statement “property is theft” is one of anarchism’s most famous sayings. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that anyone who rejects this statement is not an anarchist. This maxim works in two related ways. Firstly, it recognises the fact that the earth and its resources, the common inheritance of all, have been monopolised by a few. Secondly, it argues that, as a consequence of this, those who own property exploit those who do not. This is because those who do not own have to pay or sell their labour to those who do own in order to get access to the resources they need to live and work (such as workplaces, machinery, land, credit, housing, products under patents, and such like).

Many ancaps ridicule the idea of positive rights (such as the right to food and shelter, as distinct from the right to be left alone), and yet assume we have a fundamental right to property, as if property were an unalienable extension of one’s right to the ownership of one’s body. Hey, I like privacy too, but surely my preference alone is not enough to justify forcing someone off land I live on. What if there are refugees, or people evicted from their homes by thoughtless landlords, and I have land and room where they can stay? A communist would surely open his or her home at some point to these people, but even if you fall short of communism, what is the justification for saying they are not allowed to, say, put up a tent on your lawn or shelter in your garage? Ancaps are supposed to be opposed to all initiation of force but disregard the force involved in kicking someone off one’s property. I myself took several discussions to realize this form of force was part of the problem.

Hans Hermann Hoppe tried to put it this way.

Is it not simply absurd to claim that a person should not be the proper owner of his body and the places and goods that he originally, i.e., prior to anyone else, appropriates, uses and/or produces by means of his body? For who else, if not he, should be their owner? And is it not also obvious that the overwhelming majority of people—including children and primitives—in fact act according to these rules, and do so as a matter of course?

Moral intuition, as important as it is, is not proof. However, there also exists proof of the veracity of our moral intuition.

The proof is two-fold. On the one hand, the consequences that follow if one were to deny the validity of the institution of original appropriation and private property are spelled out: If person A were not the owner of his own body and the places and goods originally appropriated and/or produced with this body as well as of the goods voluntarily (contractually) acquired from another previous owner, then only two alternatives would exist. Either another person, B, must be recognized as the owner of A’s body as well as the places and goods appropriated, produced or acquired by A, or both persons, A and B, must be considered equal co-owners of all bodies, places and goods.

Unfortunately, Hoppe’s argument begs the question. He assumes things must be owned. Yet, exclusive ownership of property is a very new institution, invented in most places by the same people who came up with and benefited from the state. Who says this stance is “moral intuition”? Who says “natural rights” are so natural and right? Why does ownership of one’s body necessitate ownership of the product of one’s labor? Why is it so hard for Hoppe to understand we could share things? “Primitives” certainly do NOT make these same assumptions, as any anthropologist can tell you. They do not own things. They do not even understand the concept. They share. If one hunter kills an animal and the other does not, everyone eats. In fact, in some cultures, the successful hunter downplays his or her role in the killing out of a sense of solidarity. If said hunter bragged, even though he or she was the one who brought home the food, the rest of the group would shame him or her. So perhaps Hoppe should learn a bit more about humanity before claiming to speak for all of it.

Murray Rothbard, on the other hand, in Confiscation and the Homesteading Principle, takes an almost syndicalist view of ownership. He looks at Yugoslavia and how state-owned factories became co-ops owned by the people who worked there. He looks at the USSR, where all means of production were in the hands of the state, and says the workers have already homesteaded them and therefore should own them. (It would certainly have been better than the disastrous way things ended up transitioning to capitalism.) “The principle in the Communist countries should be: land to the peasants and the factories to the workers”. He makes no distinction for “stolen property”, by which he means property owned by the state or slaveowners–those who have worked in these corporations or the slaves who worked the land have already homesteaded it. He even made the case for reparations, as slave-plantation-owners’ descendants were still alive, and thus reparations can be quite specific.

His article also says the following.

Alan Milchman, in the days when he was a brilliant young libertarian activist, first pointed out that libertarians had misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, he pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property.

Does it not follow if business owners have acquired their wealth through some kind of violence, even if the violence occurred generations ago, that wealth is a reasonable target for confiscation?

A house is a possession. If you are living in your house, it is not sitting idle, and if you do not want to let others in, I do not think it would be right to force you. However, if you have a house sitting unused, can you not see why an anarchist would say you should open it up to others to stay there?

But perhaps you do not have a large income and need to rent out your house to live. A bigger fish to fry is corporate ownership of property. Look how many houses banks in the US own. Preventing people from squatting there is the same kind of violence as protecting a nation state’s borders.

Some ancaps envision gated communities and yet assume the borders of the nation state are illegitimate. What is an independent, gated community but a small nation with closed borders? What if all the decent land and water in the area are claimed already? Where do “immigrants” go? Who asked you to build your house there and put a fence around it? Why does nature belong to you?

The ideal is not to wall off what is mine and yours in the name of scarcity but to share in the name of ending suffering. Sharing does not require permission from everyone else in the world before planting a tree, as Hoppe states later in the same essay. It merely means if a man comes along who is hungry, “it’s my tree because I planted and tended it” is not a moral basis to deny him food from it. If you are afraid of free riders, join with people in your community to shame able-bodied scroungers into contributing something. But please do not wrap your fear of scarcity up in a moral basis for private property.


February 20, 2017 2 comments

This post is part 3 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

One thing anarchism has given me is a relentless desire for freedom–not just for myself, but for everyone. It has extended to my personal relationships and to the food I eat, as I believe animals are just as worthy of liberation as humans. I think equality is an essential part of freedom.

Ancaps tend to shy away from the word, as if “equality” meant conformity, or sameness. No anarchist believes in a Harrison-Bergeron state, where people with talent are fettered so others don’t feel bad. All equality has to mean is having an equal say in the decisions that affect you. We do not have that now, as most people are locked out of the political process, and we do not have that under any hierarchy. In the moneyless, propertyless society anarcho-communists and others envision, there would be no inequality of wealth, either, as everyone would share and thus have equal access to everything. (More about this in my next post, on property.) Ancaps tend to assume, as I used to, that there is no particular harm in inequalities of wealth if no one has control of the state’s tools of violence, and that attempting to reduce inequality is a pointless distraction. I think this belief is mistaken. Tolerating inequality is dangerous, particularly under a state but even in a stateless society.

Some ancaps invoke an analogy of Robinson Crusoe to justify exclusive ownership or private property. Alone on his island, Robinson can do whatever he likes. But when Friday comes along, now there are two people and things need to be divided among them. If Robinson spends time making a fishing net while Friday basks lazily in the sun, Robinson should own the fish he catches and should not be obliged to give any to Friday. This situation is plausible on a desert island. But that analogy can take us no further than a new society of able-bodied people who start with nothing. Our world is a world full of established order, of force and violence, of wealth acquired by force and inherited for generations. It is a world where laws, regulations, taxes and, underpinning it all, unequal access to resources have made it impossible for many people to earn a living wage, and yet where ancaps tell people whatever “the market”–not the ideal free market but the market as it is now–dictates their wage should be is correct.

Ancaps will tell you “no one owes you anything”, to the effect not of proposing ethics for a free society but to justify the market and property relations of today. They speak as if most CEOs and rich people were simply workers who had worked particularly hard and somehow deserved not only their enormous salaries but the power over workers and politicians that position brings with it. They do not appreciate that a major feature (some might say the defining feature) of capitalism is how the people on top own the product of a worker’s labor and then give as little as they can get away with back to the worker. If you produce $50 worth of widgets in an hour and make $10 an hour, the corporation has taken most of the value of your product away. That is what socialists mean by exploitation. If you are a fly-by-night employee working for people who have put many years of sweat into their business, this arrangement is not problematic. However, if a hundred people have run a factory for years, they are the true source of the wealth of the owners and bosses. Yet, if they attempted to take over their factory, ancaps would say they are stealing, and violence is a justifiable response.

The capitalist corporation

While I think abolishing the state would significantly reduce the power of the rich, if they are simply left alone they could easily find a way to reconstitute the state in a different form. Capitalist enterprise always sends money up the hierarchy. Retaining hierarchy, the money system and unequal access to resources could make it profitable to raise a private army. While most anarchists envision a society where everyone’s needs are met, many ancaps simply assume this situation would arise if we eliminated taxes and barriers to work. But what if it did not?

Theft would still be an issue, which means security guards would still work in the employ of the rich. Whether or not security guards became a private army, the employment of security guards is a highly inefficient way to allocate resources–protecting wealth rather than creating it. Why would that situation be preferable to more equality, more access to what we need, less need for protection from either theft (for the rich) or predatory armies (for everyone else)? How can you justify turning someone away from a hospital or denying them life-saving drugs when there is easily enough money to pay for it? How can you justify letting someone go hungry when supermarkets owned by rich people are full of food?

Another problem with the current economic system, whatever you want to call it, is it necessarily produces winners and losers. It inherently–not incidentally–produces unemployment, homelessness, poverty, debt and non-state violence. These effects are not due to lack of hard work. I think most ancaps, at least thoughtful ones, understand this point. What it means in practice is, as unfortunate as it might be, we need welfare programs. Yes, there are better ways of providing them, but until you are helping organize mutual-aid arrangements, please do not encourage the dismantling of programs that help people keep their heads above water.

On a related note, while I sympathize with the desire to abolish the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax or intellectual property, these things are simply not going to happen while power is still concentrated in the hands of the rich. The people who are really in charge benefit from these things, which means that even on the off chance a large majority of voters agreed with these policies, the system would perform as it always does on such occasions: Politicians would talk about the need to “do something”; they would either pass a law hailed as monumental or complain about being stymied by the president, the Congress, the courts, the pressure groups or whomever else; if they were successful in passing the bill it would be too watered down to have any significant effect or it would be quietly repealed a few months later and things would somehow return to how they were. That is why the slogan “evolution, not revolution” does not take the workings of the system into account. A popular revolt can topple a government in a matter of days, and has often led to anarchy. If people have the right ideas and initiative, they can create a free society in this situation.

Capitalism creates a class system, which creates stress, a significant cause of illness. It creates boom-and-bust cycles, which put us in a state of hypervigilance, fearing for our very survival. It leads to domination and hopelessness. It leads to substance abuse, as we try to find a way to dull the pain. (More on all these effects here.)

More people in our world need to learn about humanity’s long history of mutual aid. Charity may be necessary in a world where we do not organize and take care of each other but we will not have a revolution worthy of the name without mutual aid. Charity is only necessary because of the systems of exclusion and exploitation that destroyed mutual aid. Charity is a top-down approach.

Rich people are not generous just because they give money to charity. They may have made their money through inheritance, the violence of the state (eg. intellectual property) or simply by having enough capital to start and maintain a business, paying workers as little as possible and keeping the rest. Anarchists advocate a non-hierarchical, non-paternalistic, empowering approach to solving our problems, not one where you can give a small amount of your enormous wealth away and be called a public benefactor.

I have written more on this subject in another post. Suffice to say, inequality is not “good” or “natural” and ancaps should learn about the dangers it poses to freedom.