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The alternative to the state, part 6: breaking free

August 13, 2012 8 comments

“Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy’, why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person?” – Murray Rothbard

The worst thing the British ever did for India was to unite it. India is a vast country of a billion people with nothing in common. As many as a million people died and 12m were displaced when India was partitioned. Today, an insurgency in the east of the country started and continues because of a central government stealing their land in the name of “development” that the people are not interested in, and 100,000 farmers have committed suicide. India has gone to war with Pakistan several times and approached nuclear war over a border clash. None of these things would have happened if India had followed Gandhi’s vision.

“The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy,” said Gandhi. He believed India should comprise independent enclaves that were not subject to violence by powerful governments. His idea of swaraj, which means self-rule, was how to avoid domination by foreign rulers. It meant continuous effort to defend against subjugation. “In such a state” of swaraj, said Gandhi, “everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour”. Swaraj is not just about throwing off shackles but creating new systems that enable individual and collective development. Unfortunately, the forces of power prevailed, and India became ruled by rapacious Indians only marginally better than foreigners.

Many statists believe we need national organisations and associations. But I do not understand why. Most decisions could easily be taken on a personal level, and the ones requiring collective action could come on the community level. As I have made clear on this blog, voluntary collective action is realistic and preferable to coercion. Democracy cannot be said to offer true freedom to the individual without freedom from the government’s every edict. In Democracy: the God that Failed (p81), Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains “[w]ithout the right to secession, a democratic government is, economically speaking, a compulsory territorial monopolist of protection and ultimate decision making (jurisdiction) and is in this respect indistinguishable from princely government.”

Let us go further into justification for secession. Here is Scott Boykin on the subject.

“Modern political thought has produced three main types of argument for the state’s legitimacy. One, found in Kant, grounds the state’s authority on the purported rightness of its institutions and aims.” By whose judgement? If the individual is the judge of what is right and wrong, the individual who deems the state’s institutions and aims wrong has the right to secede; at least, the individual who practices non-aggression.

“Another, found in Locke, holds that consent, whether explicit or tacit, is the source of the state’s authority. A right of secession challenges this-position in maintaining that consent may be legitimately withdrawn in favor of an alternative political arrangement.” If democracy is based on the consent of the governed, does that mean one can withdraw one’s consent?

“The third, found in Hume, bases the state’s authority on its usefulness in producing order, which facilitates the individual’s pursuit of self-chosen ends.” The modern state, in a variety of legal ways, destroys order and limits the individual’s choices. Therefore, you have the right to secede.

You, an individual, and your family and friends, can opt out of a system based on violence. No, I do not mean you can leave and go somewhere else. All countries, by definition, have governments, and government, by definition, is force. I mean you have the right to end a relationship with those who threaten you with violence.

Community secession

To start, however, I recommend secession on a community level. The only reason I advocate community secession is that no political entity will recognise an individual who secedes until the right to do so is itself recognised, which might not be for a long time. It may be just as true that national governments will not recognise local secession either; the history of secessionist movements is, after all, the history of central states’ making war on separatists.

As I have written elsewhere, anarchy exists and has existed in numerous places throughout history. It often arises during or after a war, revolution or other crisis. Those things may be coming to democratic countries, as they have in Greece and to a lesser extent the US with the Occupy movement. Think how hard it is for the people to change everything from how bad it is now. As a result, many are realising they can make a better society on a local level. They are leaving the state and the banks and the big corporations behind and making a new start.

Thus, we can start sovereign communities. The sovereign community is not subject to the authority of any state besides a local one its members have all willingly signed on to. Naturally, the “community” could be as big as it wants, provided positive consent is granted. It would enable everyone who wants to escape the state to do so, while not dismantling it for those who still want to live under a state system.

I propose entire communities separate, one by one, from the state. They might use legal means and go through the courts, as law is how things get done in a statist society. The sovereign community would not be cut off from all other communities; there is no doubt people would still visit each other. They would just not pay taxes or consume government services. They would make their own rules.

How to break away

Breaking free of the state could be undertaken bit by bit, as in these communities.

–The town council of Sedgwick, Maine, unanimously passed a law exempting the people of the town from all external laws related to food. Federal laws prohibit the growing and selling of certain foods; these people do not care. They have declared food sovereignty.

–Some places are moving away from fiat currency imposed by central banks. Greece’s current situation of lawlessness is leading many to adopt a cashless economy. Barter exchange has become the norm for many Greeks.

–That said, the Greeks may have been forced to act this way with the collapse of the Greek economy. Other communities are taking similar measures without being forced by circumstance to do so. Pittsboro, North Carolina, issues its own currency. It already had the US’s largest biodiesel cooperative, a food cooperative and a farmers’ market. Now it has taken a further step toward self sufficiency. According to Lyle Estill, a community leader, the currency has experienced no inflation. And Pittsboro is not the only one. Cities and towns around the US are rejecting Federal Reserve notes for circulation.

–Other communities are passing laws that refuse to recognise federal laws regarding corporations, such as corporate personhood. More than 100 municipalities in the US have passed ordinances prohibiting multinational corporations from dumping or spraying toxic chemicals, building factory farms, mining, fracking and extracting water.

–The Free State Project aims to make New Hampshire the first state to secede (successfully) from the US. The idea is for libertarians to congregate in order to have the biggest impact. (Not all anarchists agree on this strategy, incidentally.) New Hampshire is not the only state hoping to secede, with independence movements in California, Texas, Wyoming, and presumably other states I am unaware of.

–Keene, New Hampshire, has become a kind of centre for anarchist activism, encouraging the liberty-minded to flock there. It has not seceded from the US but might do in the future. Its people engage in all kinds of agorism, mutual aid, outreach education and civil disobedience. Learn more here and here.

–Like Keene, anarchists and socialists gather in Exarcheia, a part of Athens, Greece. It houses many organic food stores, fair trade shops, anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist activism.

Such piecemeal changes can be steps toward freedom and independence for one’s community, but they could just be a declaration of sovereignty over one particular thing members of the community do not want controlled by someone else. Alternatively, people could break away entirely from the state in one fell swoop. Has anybody done that?

–The Lakota nation, an American indigenous group, seceded entirely from the United States of America. It canceled all treaties it held with the state and its members renounced their citizenship. They hope to reverse the enormous harm 200 years of incorporation into the US has caused.

–Seasteading is an option that becomes more viable every year. Seasteading means building new homes on barges, ferries, refitted oil platforms or islands out in the ocean. Most have been unsuccessful, succumbing to natural disasters or lack of support. That is no reason to write off the whole idea. The real challenges are in construction and, as with all sovereign communities, escaping the violence of the state. Seasteading might not only mean building homes, but also resorts, casinos, aquaculture, deep-sea marinas and even universal data libraries free from copyright laws.

Freetown Christiania, is an enclave of  Copenhagen with just under 1000 residents. It is a self-governing and self-sustaining community which, though officially part of Denmark, is de facto largely independent. It began in 1971 and has become a kind of sanctuary for outcasts such as single mothers and drug addicts. The people make rules by consensus and have banned hard drugs, though marijuana and hashish have been sold openly.

–As mentioned in previous posts, the Yubia Permanent Autonomous Zone in California is an example of a community that has broken away from the state and established communities based on the non-aggression principle. “The most important thing to understand about Yubia,” says its website, “is that it is not only a place — it is a way of being.”

–These things could happen on a much wider scale. One goal of anarchism is to reduce our vulnerability to repression by the state. We can develop alternative economic and security organisations and decision making. People have already started decentralising the internet, making it harder to implement a kill switch. Hackers, who were once mischievous teenagers, have grown up and have launched satellites to enable a free internet outside of the state’s reach.

–Similarly, in an economy based on a single currency that is regularly debased by a central bank, a new form of online currency known as bitcoin has emerged. It has the chance to revolutionise global finance. One article explains its significance: “There’s decent incentive for small businesses to use it—it’s free to use, and there aren’t any transaction fees. At the moment you can buy the services of a web designer, indie PC games, homemade jewelry, guns, and, increasingly, illegal drugs. If the internet is the Wild West, BitCoin is its wampum.”

–Or we could eliminate money. Setting up a resource-based economy based on the vision of the Venus Project and Zeitgeist holds wide appeal. Some people call their ideas idealistic. Who knows until they try? For those who are interested in building such a society, let them do it. People will join if it shows signs of success. Set a time and a place, get together and make it happen.

–Though difficult without the support of those around, breaking free does not have to take place at a community level. Business and professional associations might decide to stop following pointless laws and paying taxes, while nonetheless continuing to act responsibly. Schools can ignore federal and state laws regarding curriculum or the hiring and firing of teachers, instead making those decisions in concert with parents and perhaps students.

Unfortunately, these things are only possible when enough people, let’s say a critical mass, agree and are willing to fight for these rights against the state they are compelled to obey. The biggest danger inherent in secession is the same one sovereign communities have had throughout history: the state does not give up control over anyone easily. But people are showing more and more that they are fed up of statism, and are doing something about it. Find more about breaking free at www.secession.net.

The alternative to the state, part 2: agorism and counter-economics

July 11, 2012 3 comments

Freedom, including the freedom to build and trade and innovate, is the natural state of humanity (as agorists will tell you: see the principles underpinning agorist theory here). If the state is meant to protect us from the bad people (it is not, but that is its perpetual justification), it follows that, if we are peaceful people who do good things for ourselves and others, we have the right to ignore the state. If one must ask permission, one is not free. Agorism is voluntary exchange without asking permission; taking one’s freedom back and using it to make people better off.

Monopolies enable and encourage abuse. In Markets Not Capitalism (pp68-74), Charles W. Johnson explains that the state has a monopoly on huge swathes of the economy. It has a monopoly on security, and trillions of dollars’ worth of security apparatus to use as it likes. It owns land and natural resources, fabricating land titles, instituting complex land-use and construction codes, and the capture of others’ property by use of eminent domain. It controls the money supply, enriching bankers and criminalising alternative forms of currency that people could use to avoid inflation. It grants monopoly privilege to patent and copyright holders. It has a monopoly on the building of infrastructure, artificially lowering fees of transportation at the taxpayers’ expense, instead of turning it over to the private sector where it can save money and save lives (see here). It has a monopoly on regulation, which largely protects big business at the expense of small, creating new monopolies. Finally, it decides everything that crosses its borders, from the amount of goods and the fees for them to the movement of people. This blog has outlined the problems with most of these monopolies already. The question at hand is, how do we challenge them?

In the New Libertarian Manifesto, Samuel Edward Konkin glances at how libertarians have tried to end the state, from violence to collaboration to spreading the word. He concludes from their overall failure that the answer is to stop feeding the state, and outlines his vision for an agorist society, and the counter-economic method of getting there. Counter-establishment economics, or counter-economics, is simply peaceful action that the state forbids. It exposes the unnecessary and damaging role of the state in the enforcement of its monopolies.

Agorism has much to do with self sufficiency, shaking off dependence on the state and doing things for oneself and one’s community. In addition, while it means avoiding taxes, it is at least as much about starving the state of funds. If a person, or much better, community, opposes the state, he or it can set up businesses or co-ops that are unlicensed, unregistered, unregulated and illegal. They can provide goods and services cheaply and without needing to feed the beast.

Agorism means that one by one, people will stop supporting the state and start supporting each other instead. Agorists will be at the forefront of the building of a new society, and they provide an example for those who are interested. (More on the logic of agorism here.)

To make clear, drug barons are not agorists (as they do not believe the state is immoral) or counter-economists (as they use violence). It is unfortunate that it is necessary to use violence in drug markets, but that is a natural consequence of the criminalisation of something so many people want. But not all black markets are violent.

As the Movement of the Libertarian Left shows, counter-economists come in all shapes and sizes. They could be

–Tax evaders (how-to);

–Smugglers (of humans looking for opportunities, drugs to people who need or want them, banned books, cigarettes subject to high taxes, and so on);

–Midwives whose positions have been eliminated by state health care systems;

–Doctors working without belonging to government-approved national medical associations;

–Gun owners who disobey firearm restrictions;

–Gamblers who gamble with friends instead of in registered casinos;

–Unregistered taxi drivers;

–Publishers and consumers of illicit art, literature and newspapers;

–Pirate radio operators (how-to);

–Farmers who grow and sell things the state prohibits, from hemp to raw milk;

–Cooks who make and sell food, perhaps to friends and neighbours, by mail order (like Stateless Sweets) or by the side of the road;

–Unlicensed contractors (how-to);

–Employers who pay under the table and employees who are paid under the table;

–People who pirate drugs or entertainment subject to intellectual property laws;

–People selling things at garage sales, roadside stands or on Craigslist;

–People who give sanctuary to others on the run, such as whistleblowers and runaway slaves;

–People feeding the homeless despite prohibitions on it;

–People using an alternative currency (such as bitcoin or others), and using encryption to transfer funds online (how-to);

–People engaging in reciprocal gift economies (like the Freecycle Network, Freegan, Food Not Bombs and the Really Really Free Market);

–And anyone competing with a government monopoly, like Lysander Spooner did. Looking at all these illegal (but victimless) activities, are you a counter-economist?

In the twilight years of the Soviet Union, just about everyone was. The state had proven itself utterly incapable of providing more than the bare minimum of all manner of goods that were, in fact, available on the black market: food, repairs, electronics, exit papers and favours from the powerful.

Occupiers, you are counter-economists. Occupy movements were entirely voluntary, working on consensus, anticapitalism, mutual aid, equality and solving their own problems. They established clinics, schools, libraries, kitchens and security teams. They showed everyone that we can have a voluntary society, that we can build a new society, based on compassion and helping each other, out of the shell of the old. It is called prefigurative politics. These values also inform the philosophy of the sovereign community, meaning new communities outside the reach of the state. Voluntary institutions show not only the morality of non-aggression, but also that we can solve the world’s problems without force.

Learn more at agorism.info, www.humanadvancement.net, in the book Markets Not Capitalism and in the writings of Samuel Edward Konkin and the Movement of the Libertarian Left, available free online.

The alternative to the state, part 1: the sovereign individual

July 9, 2012 Leave a comment

“The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.” – The Dalai Lama

Until we achieve freedom, we need to lay the groundwork. The state is best done away with by making it irrelevant. The groundwork is in the work we do, the planning and organising to separate from the state entirely, but it is also inside our minds.To become free, we must free ourselves. My term for those for whom only oneself can decide what is right is sovereign individuals.

To a sovereign individual, the supreme authority is the self. Only the individual can decide what is right for him or herself. Of course, he or she takes others into account. When driving, one takes care not to run into other cars. A sovereign individual lives the non-aggression principle because he or she believes in the silver rule: not doing to others what he or she would not want done to him or herself.

The sovereign individual believes in self ownership, meaning that the individual owns his or her actions and their consequences. A man owns the fruit of his labour and no one has the authority to dictate what any proportion of it can be used for. He enters into whatever voluntary associations and voluntary exchanges he likes, but would only be forced into them when he has no choice.

Sovereign individuals might also let others take responsibility for their own lives. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Helping each other is great, but when we try to force virtue, which might just be our opinions of what is right and wrong, others lose the chance to experience the freedom to figure those things out, and take no responsibility for the consequences.

Think about what we do with children: Not letting them play with knives and firecrackers, helmets for virtually every activity where they might get hurt, lying to them about the dangers of cigarettes and other drugs, hauling them to jail for starting food fights, or whatever universal rules for creating the ideal humans parents in a particular culture believe they have discovered. All these things are producing irresponsible and spoiled people who are easier to scare into giving up their freedom. We could just let them decide what they want to do on their own, giving them the freedom to get hurt and the responsibility to learn from it.

Most people think they know what is right for others, which I believe is why they participate in politics and want governments to control people. But do we know what is right? Do you like it when others tell you what to do, or argue with you about the right way to do it? If people want to work it out themselves, let them. Changing people is hopeless and unnecessary. People are affected more by others’ examples than by their words. If people decide that they want to be unplugged, take them with you. If not, leave them in the matrix where life is more comfortable.

Voting and other participation in politics is a way of trying to control others by force. Sovereign individuals avoid it. They also do not like taxing people because taxes are taken without asking and spent on repressing people. It may be possible to avoid paying taxes by various means: buying directly from manufacturers such as farmers, working under the table, and so on. It is easier when done with like-minded people, as they can use alternative currencies that are not subject to central bank manipulation, buy and sell from each other without government interference into markets or move toward a gift economy (all of which will be outlined in a future post). Suffice to say, supporting local businesses and farmers and boycotting businesses that receive favours from the government are worthwhile principles to live by.

Many people who consider themselves sovereign individuals are engaging in mutual aid and counter-economics. It can be hard to come by reliable reports because what they do is often illegal, and naturally they wish to remain under the radar.

But be careful about avoiding taxes, and about defending yourself against state aggression. IRS special agents are armed. They have been told that sovereign individuals are terrorists. And if you are known to owe back taxes, you cannot leave the US legally. Careful about living “off the grid”, too. People attempting to live outside the state’s reach are finding it impossible. An estimated 1% of Americans are attempting to escape the long arm of the state but are getting raided by thuggish police. Read some examples here. Peaceful people who want to be free are getting shut down by a state that looks to squeeze every drop of tax milk it can from the cattle it rules.

But it may still be worth doing. You may prefer to find somewhere with less zealous police and a government less focused on destroying individual freedom than the US. There is plenty of world out there where we can be free. A pirate’s life for me.

(For more on how to be an individual, read about my friend Dave.)

The alternative to the state: introduction

July 6, 2012 1 comment

The purposes of this blog (and upcoming book) include exposing the dangers of the state and promoting the alternatives to it. I believe I have sketched the problem in previous posts, explaining why the state is at the root of many of our greatest problems today. This series will describe the alternative.

Right from the start, please bear in mind that when I say “the alternative”, I do not pretend to have all the answers. No one person has the answers to how society should operate. Only the people as a whole, working together in societies of their choice, can decide that. Politicians and bureaucrats barely represent us at all. They are not the people as a whole, yet they are the ones who hold the power. Anarchists want the people to have a free hand in designing their society from the bottom up, as opposed to being forced to accept one imposed from the top down.

That means they choose the forms of association that are right for them. They may wish to organise as communities, apartment blocs, agricultural cooperatives, workers’ unions, and so on. They will come up with their own rules, pool (or not) their resources as they see fit, and organise to solve collective problems in their own ways, not in whatever ways are in the interest of the powerful.

Though I do not have all the answers, at least I can and should suggest some things, and then we can try them, and see how they work out. One could argue with some justification that it is up to anarchists to propose the ideas (though I would argue it is up to the statist to justify the initiation of force and the preferability of monopolies).

In part 1 of this series, we will consider what people are doing to become sovereign individuals. A sovereign individual is one who rejects being ruled. He or she does not recognise the authority of anyone  with whom he or she has not entered into a voluntary association. The sovereign individual does what is possible to avoid consuming state services and paying taxes. He or she is a person who tries to stay free in an unfree world.

Part 2 will look at agorism and counter-economics. Agorism, from the Greek word agora, meaning open marketplace, is a radical way of breaking the state’s various monopolies and regulations, and delving into black markets. Counter-economics, or counter-establishment economics, means, according to Samuel Konkin, who coined the term, the practice of any peaceful human action that the state forbids. Lysander Spooner once attempted to start a rival to the US Post Office. He violated the law, of course, and was shut down. He was successful until that time, however; and had his American Letter Mail Company succeeded in opening up the market for mail, de facto or de jure, he would have been a successful agorist.

Part 3 considers mutual aid. Mutual aid means, well, helping each other. It means voluntary, reciprocal exchange of resources and services. You might have something I need, and then tomorrow I might be able to help you with something I have. Though it dates back to early man (and perhaps millions of years before that), mutual aid has evolved into mutual aid societies, which could mean cooperatives, money pooled by whomever for insurance, credit unions and trade unions.

Though other parts of this blog talk about polycentric law (such as the recent post on previously-existing anarchic societies), part 4 goes into greater depth as to how it could function in the modern world. Competing legal agencies are an alternative to the state’s monopoly of the dispensation of authority and justice, and have the potential to lead to a far more just and prosperous world. Contracts are a big part of the law; this section will deal with them as well.

A number of alternatives to state services have been proposed on this blog. We have considered roads and highways, education, health care and environmental protection in the stateless society. I think, given what we know about human nature, there is no reason to believe that we could not perform all the tasks of government that are perceived as essential or preferable. When something is left to people unfettered by force, individuals, associations, co-ops, grassroots mutual aid campaigns, free clinics, unions, communes, businesses and charities will take care of it. Not everything needs to be about profit or power. Charles W. Johnson in Markets Not Capitalism (p62) describes this truly-free market as “the space of maximal consensually-sustained social experimentation.”

In fact, unlike anything run by government, free-market involvement leads to advances and innovations, rather than stagnation. But it is just as possible to have cooperatives and communes, planned communities, and communities owned by businesses for their employees, all of which exist today, none of which require government intervention. Government intervention would prevent the members of those communities from making their own rules. But why? Are people in government somehow more moral or able to make rules than the people affected by those rules? Humans make rules in the absence of force; and they copy each other’s best practices. If the members of a collective believe no one in their community should do drugs, they can make that a rule. They might make you sign a contract agreeing not to do drugs when you move in, and if you get high, they kick you out. If it works for one community, another might want to copy them. Seems simple, really. In part 5, we will look more at contract-based communities.

Some communities around the world have taken measures to extricate themselves from the long reach of the state. Some merely do not recognise a certain federal law; others do not recognise governmental authority whatsoever (secession). Part 6 will discuss how communities are breaking free of the laws of less-representative levels of government that they do not like.

The real alternative to the state is simply to allow people freedom from force. Everything that the state forces on us is one less freedom. How about eliminating laws and regulations, one by one, and letting people be free to figure things out for themselves? They get their freedom, they take responsibility, they are no longer forced. It is simple.

What stands in the way of this idea is a small number of people who want to control others and a large number of people who enable it by paying taxes, voting and obeying the law. When people embrace better ideas, they will free themselves.