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Violence

April 28, 2017 Leave a 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. 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?

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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.

Property

March 1, 2017 1 comment

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.

Inequality

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

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.

Hierarchy

February 2, 2017 1 comment

This post is part 2 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist.

A pure focus on the state distracts somewhat from the more general problem of hierarchy. Not all “authority” is bad, since I defer to the authority of the carpenter, the tailor, the bus driver and so on every day. That is ad-hoc authority: I follow them for now for my own benefit. Institutionalized authority is the problem. Anarcho-capitalists (ancaps) agree with this idea but limit their focus to the institutions of the state. But it is not only the state’s authority that is harmful.

Power corrupts. The state is not the only source of power. In a world where money buys influence, the lack of a state would only partially diminish that power. Money could still buy authoritative-looking media sources and spread any kind of lies, fear, hatred, etc.; it could be used to bribe any kind of leader (such as union leaders or town elders); it could be used to raise a private army, and once those things had taken place, the non-aggression principle (or NAP) would be no longer a norm but would return to, as it is today, little more than an ideal to aspire toward. The state would be reborn.

I disagree with other anarchists who look down on anarcho-capitalism because they think it would be even more tyrannical than today. If that were true, why would the rich not be at the forefront of calls to eliminate the state? They are the true beneficiaries of the state. They might be able to reconstitute the state if it were eliminated, but without it the accumulation of wealth and power would be more difficult. When I was an ancap, I wrote about how people in a stateless world could defend themselves against people trying to restore the state. I do not disagree with ancaps on everything. However, I no longer see anarcho-capitalism as the ideal. We could go much further toward freedom and justice if we dig deeper into anarchist theory.

Anarchists oppose institutional hierarchy. Hierarchy as we know it today is largely a product of state violence, what Marx called primitive accumulation, but does not exist solely in the state. It has transformed people from hunter-gatherers and self-sufficient farmers into dependent cogs in the wheels of the capitalist/corporatist/whatever-you-call-it system. The majority is, by the design of the system, locked out of making decisions regarding it. That is just as true in a corporate hierarchy as in the state.

People with money are far more likely to become owners and bosses than people without money. They can afford the best education and the best means to impress others (eg. nice suits, lavish parties). They can afford to start their own businesses and do not have to work for minimum wage. They can afford the accountants and lawyers necessary to navigate the complex regulatory state. The owners and bosses make decisions, including the decisions about whom to promote up the ranks. Hierarchy thus reproduces itself. When there are other hierarchies in society, such as in unions, powerful people can co-opt them by buying the influence of the leaders. Hierarchy thereby creates a class system, buoying the people on top not only through the state but through their informal influence, and keeping the people on the bottom down by locking them out of the decision-making process.

But why should workers not participate in decision making at the organizations where they work? It seems cruel to tell them they should buy stock in the company or start their own when these things are far easier said than done. It sounds a bit like “if you don’t like it here, move”. Moreover, ancaps often say those things in regard to the current economic system, not some ideal free market. It is almost as if they are mocking people for not having enough money to buy influence over decisions that affect their lives when the system they live under makes doing so impossible.

That is why anarchists believe in non-hierarchical or horizontal organization–no superiors, no subordinates, everyone on an equal footing regarding decision making. In my view, that does not necessarily mean equal salary: I might choose to divide my time between two organizations and thus take only half the salary from each. It does, however, mean all employees can decide those things together, and do not have to beg or butter up their bosses for raises and time off or live in constant fear of getting fired for some mistake or failing.

To address the ancap concern, non-hierarchical organization does not require violence. It requires creating such structures as viable alternatives to the life of class, money and power. It could mean starting cooperatives, where employees are also owners; it could mean starting communes, where property is voluntarily given up; it could mean any other form of mutual aid, working with the people around you to solve your problems. The abolition of hierarchy is an ideal to be striven for, just like non-aggression.

Turning fear into empowerment motivates people and reduces stress. They take responsibility. They are accountable to each other. They do not need to compete for dominance. These things distinguish communities from corporations. Hierarchy, on the other hand, creates stress and fear, as people worry about getting told off or fired or merely docked an hour’s pay for coming in five minutes late. The people in charge have no responsibility to their employees beyond the necessarily unequal terms on which they were hired. (And in a stateless society, who is to force a boss to honor a contract? I have written on this subject too, and yet can no longer see how someone begging to be hired could ever bargain on equal terms with a rich person who can afford better representation.) As such, bosses can, say, fire employees en masse with no notice. Hierarchy creates positions of better pay and power over others that only a minority can fill, which others can only compete for like crabs in a bucket. (And if you do not think the ability to fire another for any reason you like is power over that person, we must agree to disagree. Being able to quit, at least in today’s world, does not compare, since the company can simply hire someone else.) People jockeying for power are forced to defer to the people on top, to kiss their boots, to show themselves willing to serve and dominate, to play a rigged game with a smile.

Hierarchy, anarchy, solidarity, freedom

To illustrate the problem, consider racism. A racist seeks to impose a kind of hierarchy. A racial hierarchy is not very different from a social hierarchy. I know of no perfectly fluid class societies where it is a simple matter for poor people to get rich. At least one survey has found a majority of poor Americans never even make it to the middle class. A racial hierarchy makes it impossible for all within the subordinate race to reach the top (without a revolution), though the masters can elevate some members of the subordinate race by creating house negroes and field negroes, dividing the subordinate race and refining the hierarchy. A social hierarchy is only somewhat less bad in that it makes it impossible for most to reach the top. That should come as small consolation to the poor.

Hierarchy necessarily creates inequality. Though my next post will focus on inequality, for the time being I can point out inequality is not an ideal. Forced equality is not, either, of course (again, anarchists are not Stalinists), but most inequality is simply unnecessary and harmful and too readily tolerated by ancaps. If we somehow eliminated the state without eliminating the stark inequality of power in society, the dominance and submission we know today would not disappear. It would simply regroup and return in a different form.

Communists are not coming for your toothbrush

January 31, 2017 1 comment

People who do not leave their hometowns or countries of origin, or who leave them only with closed minds, have trouble understanding what is wrong with their own culture, ideas and beliefs. The same can be said of people who choose an idea and do not question it. For about three years, I was committed to what its adherents call anarcho-capitalism, along with its close cousins, voluntaryism and agorism. If you have followed this blog, page and book, you will have heard my perspective mostly through the voluntaryist lens. But as I strayed into deeper waters, I began to see the flaws and limitations of my ideas. This post is part one of a summary of what I have learned since I finished my book.

Many people who think they are right simply refuse to listen. I have been one of these people many times in my life, certainly when I was part of the online anarcho-capitalist (ancap) community. I have never heard any anarchist say we need to create a state. Creating a state is antithetical to all variants of anarchism. Yet ancaps have insisted to me, repeatedly, without ever backing up their claims, that anarchists want to create a state. Indeed, I have explained anarchism and communism as decentralized, with no state and no need for a state, with no hint of wanting to centralize power, and ancaps have told me I want to create a state.

socialism communism Homer Simpson

Presumably, this belief stems from their further claim that anarchists want to forcibly collectivise everyone and everything. Again, I have never heard anyone say that, but it has been repeated so many times among ancaps it has become an article of faith, a given, a fact that needs no facts to back it up. They want to kick you out of your homes, we are told, and collectivise everything you have, right down to your toothbrush (though that part might be a joke). Who says? Why would they? Because they do not believe in property? Different definitions of property are part of the root of this misunderstanding, though different attitudes toward it are as well. (I will discuss property vs possessions in a future post.)

Many of the same ancaps also refer to all anarchists who are not capitalists as “commies”, by which they seem to mean Stalinists. Anarchism is the opposite of Stalinism. Communism has more than one definition and many self-styled communists want to destroy the state and give, as the slogan goes, all power to the communes. The ones who want strong states, armies and gulags while calling themselves anti-imperialist are usually referred to as tankies and have virtually nothing in common with anarchists. Yet, so many ancaps lump tankies and ancoms in together and call them all “leftists” and assume “leftists” all want to recreate the state and force you to live a certain way. Not all communists are tankies and, by the way, not all anarchists are either capitalists or communists, and if you do not know that, you have only a limited understanding of anarchism and communism.

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Neither have I ever heard anarchists say they want to stop free and peaceful trading of goods or labor by force, yet I have been told that is exactly what anarcho-communists (and presumably anarcho-syndicalists, but to most ancaps, again, any anarchists that does not identify as a capitalist must be a commie) want. What they want, in fact, is to make trading unnecessary by sharing everything. There is a world of difference between trying to make something that is imperfect unnecessary and using force to ban it. I seriously doubt anyone, ancom or otherwise, has any desire to intervene in some trade you are making with your neighbor. These strawman arguments serve no purpose other than to dismiss other anarchists without having to listen to them.

In fact, some ancaps believe their own tales to such an extent they say “capitalists are the real anarchists”. To be true, this statement requires extremely narrow and uncommon definitions of both capitalism and anarchism. People who laugh at the supposed contradiction of “libertarian socialism” do not get that “libertarian” meaning anarchist, favoring freedom and equality in opposition to capitalism, predates the more American definition of favoring free markets.

On a related note, “socialism” does not mean “anything the state ever does”. No definition of socialism means that except the ancap definition. Anarchism is stateless socialism. To most anarchists, socialism means decentralized or common ownership of the means of production. Likewise, there are not many people other than ancaps who think “capitalism” means completely free trade. So why do ancaps feel the need to interrupt every conversation about capitalism as it is by saying “that’s not capitalism”?

But if “we have never had capitalism before” because it is a perfect free-trade society, why do so many ancaps resort to telling socialists they would never have all the good things they have without capitalism? Whatever “capitalism” means, that argument begs the question. There are not only two possible economic systems, capitalism and Stalinism. Anarchy would mean a major unleashing of economic potential and people would choose various forms of organization and production. But why would you favor business when mutual aid has been the norm throughout human history? How will poor, sick and disabled people get by without mutual aid? And why trust charity, a top-down approach, over treating people as equals?

The next post will be about the danger of tolerating hierarchy in social institutions.

The problem with inequality

October 18, 2014 1 comment

The state is a tool to create a ruling class of people who acquire their wealth through theft. Inequality means those who have can buy protection from those who do not, and that tends to lead to repression in the form of police states or slavery. The state cannot, by its nature, eliminate inequality. But what if we abolished the state, as anarchists want? Would inequality still matter? I used to believe inequality was not a big deal, or it only mattered to jealous people. I was wrong. Here are three reasons why, especially today but even in a stateless society, inequality is an issue of major importance.

-Psychological effects

Studies suggest we have an innate desire for equality and fairness. The UK Mental Health Foundation finds that living in an unequal society causes psychological and physiological changes. Inequality can lead to a constant “fight or flight” reaction and perpetual stress. It can lead to violence directly through increased crime (including homicide), and can also create the conditions in which violence festers: less trust, disintegrating families and communities, poor scholastic and work performance and mental illness. The US and the UK, the most unequal societies in the rich world, show the strongest symptoms.

So much for those of us on the bottom of the pyramid. What about those on top? People with relatively large amounts of power and wealth are known to take on the characteristics of psychopaths. Compassion, empathy and sense of guilt decrease (“why don’t the poor just work harder?”); narcissism and entitlement increase (“of course I deserve to be where I am”); rules become for other people (“survival of the fittest”); lying and manipulating become easier; irresponsibility becomes the norm; and the desire to accumulate overrides other goals. (Find more here, here, here, here and here.)

-Structural violence

Structural violence is a kind of indirect violence whereby social structure and institutions prevent people from meeting their basic needs. Intellectual property laws that prevent people who need medicine from receiving it are one example. Borders preventing needy people from entering places where they could make a living are a second. Hoarding food or means of sustenance and surrounding it with fences or security guards is a third. Excessive debt, certain forms of discrimination, structural unemployment, poor working conditions and even just beliefs in the rightness of social hierarchy are further examples. Hellen Keller became a radical socialist soon after she realised blindness and other handicaps were mostly concentrated among the lower classes. A considerably inequitable social structure could lead to structural violence.

-Statism

The modern state is both a cause and an effect of the endless accumulation of wealth. Historically, it has not been possible to create and maintain vast fortunes without violence. Primitive states were forged in conquest to accrue and protect fortunes at the expense of their subjects, and modern states continue to exist for this purpose. (The actions of the so-called Islamic State mirror the actions of a primitive state.) Capitalist states emerged to protect and privilege those who made their fortunes as owners of capital, and while not all of “the 1%” want to use violence to make or expand their wealth, all benefit from and most refuse to question the violence of the system. A hierarchical or unequal society would make it possible for new states (or other forms of violence, such as human trafficking) to form. A stateless society should have safeguards against such a possibility.

-Protecting ourselves from the unequal society

The people of an anarchist society must protect themselves against the mental stresses and violence of unwarranted privilege and the potential reemergence of a state. My suggestion is a very widespread feeling of solidarity: the idea that we are all of equal inherent value and have no right to rule others; taking care of those in need; organisation based on mutual aid, including, of course, self defense. Sufficiently large numbers of people skilled at wielding modern weapons would make it easier to prevent the rise of a new state. We will be truly free when those around us are free, and we will only achieve freedom by working together.

The Black Panthers offer a model of an egalitarian community organisation. Imagine a confederation of them.

The Black Panthers offer a model of an egalitarian community organisation. Imagine a confederation of them.

It is not necessary—in fact, it is contrary—to enforce a state of equality. Benjamin Tucker wrote that the word “socialism” scares people because so many others think one can dismantle privilege by destroying competition and centering production in the hands of the few. But as he went on to point out, as Mikhail Bakunin had years before, anarchism is socialism without the state. If we organise to make decisions together and take care of each other, we have no need for authority. It is not necessary to kill rich people but simply to eliminate the system of violence that privileges them. Laurance Labadie once said “[i]n a world where inequality of ability is inevitable, anarchists do not sanction any attempt to produce equality by artificial or authoritarian means. The only equality they posit and will strive their utmost to defend is the equality of opportunity. This necessitates the maximum amount of freedom for each individual. This will not necessarily result in equality of incomes or of wealth but will result in returns proportionate to services rendered. Free competition will see to that.” Market anarchists might take this to mean freed markets and free association. Gary Chartier explains here and in Markets Not Capitalism, freed markets can work to abolish wage labour and corporate hierarchy as the main form of economic organisation, as well as the formation of a dominant class. (You may want to follow the links provided to read his proposals as to how to work toward such conditions.) He goes on to point out that those who protest in the millions against capitalism are not opposing private ownership and free exchange but a system that exists to grant the owners of capital a huge amount of power over society.

The future will be determined by what we value and why we value it. If we value equality as a means to freedom, we can have both.

Fairweather friends of freedom

February 7, 2014 Leave a comment

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression. – Thomas Paine

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. – Noam Chomsky

Nowadays, everyone claims to believe in freedom. Most people, however, do not. This post aims to expose hypocrisy.

Total liberty would yield any number of predictable and unpredictable benefits. But not everyone is convinced. To them (thanks in part to Hobbes), we need a hegemon or overarching power to keep us in check. But why? We have spent most of our history either without rulers or trying to avoid being subjugated by them. Collective security emerges whenever it needs to. We are told history shows the more powerful and better organised militaries always triumph over the masses, which is basically true. That is not a reason to give up and accept our servitude. It is a call to help more people see through the lies and unite against the power that aims to enslave us. Working together we can stay both safe and free. It has happened before and can happen again with the right ideas.

Many who claim to favour freedom believe in strict gun control. How do we defend ourselves against tyranny of those who have all the guns without equal forces? Others say we need to limit immigration. These people believe either freedom should be reserved for those inside our political boundaries, or else it is simply untenable.

Those who advocate real freedom are frequently told they should move somewhere else (usually Somalia). It is clear those who say you should leave the place where you live in order do not believe you should be free where you are. The idea of secession is derided as untenable, which simply means those who want to try it are foolish. But if that were the only problem, people who care about free would still defend those who wished to secede. Instead, they are told they cannot, because, as the nationalist refrain goes, if you try to split my country I will kill you.

But the most hopeless cases are those who claim to defend freedom but in fact loathe it. I refer to soldiers and their supporters. Not all of them, of course; many have indeed seen through the lies and realise how much damage war causes. Too many, however, hold contradictory positions. Their claim is they defend freedom. While there is no actual evidence for this claim, let us assume it is true. Why, then, would they also continually tell the rest of us to stop criticising the wars and the troops? Why would they not encourage it as a sign freedom exists? They actually threaten us with violence, seeing no contradiction between this action and what they claim to have fought for. Their lack of logic, their utter incomprehension of freedom, their inability to see through the lies of the war and the elite that send them to war hold us all back. It is sad that the most well-meaning people, those who could be defending the people against the state, are doing exactly the opposite.

Thus we have the fairweather friends of freedom, those who speak freedom out of one side of their mouths and yet advocate authoritarianism in practice. The list of objections to freedom is endless, but it all amounts to the same: you cannot be trusted to govern yourself, therefore you need to be under the threat of violence at all times. I urge those who believe freedom must be limited to reconsider their positions based on the evidence. See the links above for more.