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Posts Tagged ‘revolution’

How to topple a government

October 24, 2013 2 comments
This is what defiance looks like

This is what defiance looks like

In only 18 days in early 2011, Egyptians succeeded in a major step toward revolution. (They unfortunately did not take the opportunities thus presented them but that simply makes their example more educational.) In only four days, from January 25 to 28, the people rose up in the millions, defeated the security forces in the streets and destroyed the legitimacy of the regime. You want to know how to defeat your oppressors? You want to learn from the Egyptians? Perhaps Etienne de la Boetie could explain both the causes and the effects of the uprising.

All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?

…From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

That is what Egyptians did. They had to fight the police, but the state is necessarily a minority; as such, when enough people join in, even just through providing onions and vinegar to survive the tear gas, the state loses. The people denied the state its authority for FOUR DAYS and only four days, and it evaporated. All we need is enough people who decide to disobey.

Freedom to reach our potential

April 25, 2013 6 comments

The reason I advocate freedom, in whatever forms seem both ideal and possible, above just about everything else is because it is the single most important thing for realising humankind’s potential. In today’s world, freedom is ebbing away. States are getting bigger and bolder. Propaganda is getting more sophisticated. More people are coming to depend on the state for more privileges and services, and the state is coming to seem more necessary than ever. People are willing to give up their freedom instead of taking responsibility for the most important things in their lives: security, health, education and where a sizeable proportion of their income goes. The following outlines the benefits of freedom and the basis for my claim that freedom is how humankind can reach its potential.

What is our potential, anyway? Psychology, anthropology and history can provide us answers, as we can see what has been done and what can be done if people decide. As individuals and societies, we have the potential to be responsible for ourselves and those around us, to take care of each other. We can have egalitarian societies. We can have peaceful societies. We can reach untold heights of technological advancement and material progress. We can wipe out diseases. We can solve ancient mysteries. We can adapt when systems break down. We can be happy, healthy, wealthy, wise and at peace. This is our potential. But how do we get there? By concentrating power? Enacting laws and regulations? My answer is to build a free society.

freedom liberty anarchy

What advantages would a stateless, voluntary, anarchic society have in realising our potential?

Art. As many of the people reading this will be used to freedom of expression, they may not appreciate its value. Art is a way of exposing and mocking oppressors and violent people, of communicating things we all know are wrong on a deep level. In a free society, it would still have the power to expose wrongdoing and bring people together, while providing a necessary outlet for all forms of self expression. In addition, art is an expression of life and adds to our enjoyment of it.

Economy. Free and open economies, meaning ones with unhampered freedom to do the work you want, move where you want to do it and keep the full product of your labour means more prosperity more equally shared. I have gone into this elsewhere, so please follow these links. On why regulation is not protection but crony capitalism, see here. On what the free market really means, why it would reduce inequality and why it means a smoother business cycle, see here. Finally, two studies (Hamilton and Whalley 1984; Winters et al. 2003) find that fully liberalising labour markets, which means letting anyone move anywhere to work, could add forty trillion dollars to the global economy. Freedom of movement would also unleash the various benefits of diversity. Freedom facilitates exchange (whether of goods, services or labour) among those optimally positioned to make the most of it.

Health. At present, we are chained by laws that limit what we can put into our bodies, while subsidies and regulatory handouts to large agribusiness and chemical corporations (and whatever Monsanto is) distort the market for food, making processed and GMO foods competitive with fresh, local produce. State regulators often miss dangerous things, whether by negligence (since they pay no price for being wrong) or corruption (since many of the people who make dangerous things are put in charge of regulatory agencies, Monsanto again the clearest example). Regulation per se is not wrong, but it is better handled by the wisdom of the crowd. That is why we have so many websites (and before the internet, books and magazines) by and for consumers to make the best choices for their health. (Find more here.)

Education. For over a hundred years now, the state has controlled education nearly everywhere with public education whose curriculum only those in power can approve. The result is not the best education for everyone, as we were promised, but the indoctrination of every generation in the state’s values: obedience, nationalism, the glory of military service and how to get a job in the modern corporate economy. What could education be like? There are so many possibilities, only one of which involves spending most of one’s childhood at a desk in a classroom. Giving parents and children their freedom would mean far more experimentation in education.

Justice. Our system of positive law, with the state creating, interpreting and enforcing laws, as well as controlling the court system, is necessarily biased in favour of the state. Justice only comes through the state system if the result does not concern those who control the state. But a system of privately-produced, or polycentric, law could serve the average person far more effectively and efficiently.

Peace and security. With no criminalisation of victimless pursuits, there would be far fewer criminals and no violent black markets. With no taxation to force the costs of war onto the masses, a major incentive for war is gone. With no ability to wage widescale war, feuds may take place but none of the worst horrors we have seen can occur. With no indoctrination into nationalism, free people will likely unite to defend each other, given their shared interest in collective security, but will not be forced into supporting a cause they have the choice to opt out of. They will form organisations to keep the peace, anything from neighbourhood watches to militias, depending on what kind of threat they perceive; and dispute resolution will always be available because there will be no monopoly of it.

Happiness. Fewer people’s lives torn apart by the state, whether put in jail for a victimless crime or killed in a war, means more happiness. Inequalities, a source of stress, illness and violence, would be lower (non-existent in communes). The uncertainty of wild economic mood swings, the unemployment that is an inevitable part of a highly-regulated market, the continual threat of violence for something one did not even know was a crime—all would be gone. Not all sources of unhappiness would evaporate, of course; one should not expect miracles. But there is reason to believe we would be happier.

All these things are possible because free people can advance their lot through trial and error. You know so if you have lived in a society that is free in any given way. If the state pays little attention to science and technology, there has probably been enormous such progress in your lifetime. Humans are natural scientists. Progress is inevitable in any area they put their minds to—provided, of course, it is not blocked by the powerful.

How does freedom get us to where we could be?

Imagine the strictest totalitarian state, perhaps like the Soviet Union, or even along the lines of 1984. All the human potentials listed above are absent. Now, imagine if the unfettered freedom to move to new places was somehow introduced to society. Not only would people have the chance to better their material circumstances; they would have the chance to see how people in other places lived and worked. They would learn different ideas and beliefs. The same could be true if the people could consume whatever media or art they chose, or if the state played no role whatsoever in education or science. One person would realise he or she should be allowed to say and do what he wants, and most importantly to think differently, and would spread the word to others. If the idea of liberty caught on, it could bring the edifice of all forms of oppression crashing down. The idea of freedom liberates minds that are receptive to it.

chains freedom potential

Now, imagine a society six months after having eliminated all forms of oppression, including indentured servitude, feudalism, social hierarchy, debt and wage slavery, taxation, laws and central planning. If people made the conscious choice to end these things, their society would not collapse into chaos. The first six months would be a trial period for them, as they attempted various forms of ownership of production, mutual aid and reciprocal exchange. They would be taking uncertain steps, and some people would attempt to set up governments, gangs and other vehicles for concentrating power. The free people would need to act in concert to reverse such attempts.

How about after five years? After five years of maximising spontaneous order society would likely be bursting with energy. The people would have come to certain conclusions based on the past years of trial and error, and certain norms would predominate. A culture that valued freedom would put it into practice in all of its institutions. There could be voluntary institutions for everything that needs to be done collectively, such as infrastructure, education, health care and security. Some would be provided through mutual aid, while others would be available for purchase.

A currency would probably have been decided on, as free people usually come up with a currency through a process of elimination. That said, there might be competing currencies, even in the same place, which would protect against inflation because people can use the alternatives whenever one currency is debased. There would also probably be communities with various systems of moneyless exchange, such as a local exchange trading system, or LETS.

Communities would have various rule systems based on contracts. Many rules would be uniform across geographic spaces, as they are today. Norms spread but they usually do not spread everywhere except by force (think of the global spread of liberal democracy). Even five years into a revolution of spontaneous order, people would still be testing and developing their rule systems, and would be learning from best practices shared by other communities.

This society is possible. It requires not a leap in nature but merely a shift in mindset. People need to unite, organise to achieve their goals, and stay vigilant to protect their freedom and their security.

freedom emancipation

Principle versus expediency: how to save the world

June 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Billions of poor people. Wars without end. Torture, disease, genocide, starving children. There are some major problems in the world. The question is, how do we do something about them? We have options. Some people say we need to take control of governments and force the changes rapidly. After all, people are dying now. This post will argue against hasty action.

We have become accustomed in the modern world to doing things fast. We want things now. This trend is reflected as much in activism as with everything else. How will we change everything? Revolution! Slow down. What kind of revolution? A revolution is a major event involving many people. It is impossible to predict the outcome of a revolution, and it is rarely (perhaps never) as the original revolutionaries envisaged. And the kind of revolution that takes place in the street inevitably means violence. Is an uprising, violent or non-violent, the best way to change the world? Let us continue with our options before deciding.

Another effect of wanting immediate results is a focus on elections. We need to field new candidates, ones that will do the right thing. Are there people like that? Look at the hopes of the Tea Party. After the Tea Party got some of its members elected on a small-government ticket, the newly elected voted for all the same big-government legislation as the other Congresspeople, and have even ended up with all the same campaign contributors. It turns out that a few new people could not make radical changes. One does not simply walk into Mordor.

How about putting pressure on existing politicians? That can work. As little hope as I see in the political process, enough letters or enough protesters can force the hands of the elected. But what is the political solution? Remember, government is based on force. Every law passed is an order. If one does not follow the law, one risks arrest and all the violence that it results in. What we want to force on others may not be the best thing for them.

When we consider working through the system of force, we want to use the existing tools to do so. The state system has two basic tools at its disposal: taxation, which could be used to redistribute wealth, and law, which could be used to force people to act right. I am opposed to the idea of using the state on moral grounds. And as I will demonstrate, morality is not only an end; it is a means.

As I write in greater detail elsewhere, a simple but powerful moral rule is the non-aggression principle (NAP). The NAP states that the initiation of force or violence, including the credible threat of violence, against unwilling adults who have not initiated force themselves is immoral. Laws force entire populations. If we could opt out of laws, we would be free, but we cannot. Laws based on the NAP are moral but laws regarding what we wear, eat, drink and smoke, for example, are not, because those things do not harm others. There should be no law regarding victimless pursuits. Taxation means forcing populations to pay for whatever the government decides on. But not everyone in the population has aggressed against another, or is being taxed commensurately to his or her aggression.

Many anarchists believe in the NAP on philosophical grounds. They argue that, whatever is done with the money raised by taxation, whatever someone’s idea of virtue that informs the wording of a law, it is wrong to force peaceful people. More importantly, however, force is a terrible tool for solving problems, and tends to cause far greater ones.

Do taxation and regulation lead to a redistribution of wealth? Yes: from the lower classes to the rich. The basic reason for that is that the lower classes, including the middle classes, have no power over the state. The state has power over them; and in every society, it becomes a vehicle for transferring wealth from the people who are outside it to the powerful people who control it. We have had social welfare policies for decades and poverty still exists. But why are they still poor? Welfare policies actually entrench poverty by making people dependent on the state.

The best cure for poverty is, in fact, a free market. The free market just means free people trading with each other out of mutual benefit, without force. Tearing down the endless regulations and taxes that are designed to benefit the wealthy would give opportunities to everyone else to work as they like. How we could do that by using the state I do not know, because, again, laws benefit the powerful and the powerful control the state. It is impractical to use the state to solve society’s problems.

Could we use laws to force virtue? It depends what is virtuous. I agree with Penn Jillette on this one.

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral, self-righteous, bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

The other question is, can the state actually be reconfigured to work for the greater good? Can it be sustainable if done by force and not spread throughout the population as common values? I am inclined to say no. If people can be led to believe in taking care of each other and taking care of the poor, they will do so voluntarily, as of course many do already. If they cannot, forcing them to do so could lead to a backlash. Look, for example, at the plight of some of the people in the democratic world who are most vulnerable: immigrants. Immigrants are people like everyone else, so surely they should all be permitted the same rights and freedoms. Letting immigrants into the US, Europe and the rest of the rich world meant giving them a chance to help themselves and their sending countries. But anti-immigrant forces first controlled the discourse and then the relevant areas of the state, and 400,000 people were deported from the US in 2011 alone. People escaping horrible conditions in Africa are left to drown in the Mediterranean. I take the sum of these and similar actions and indifference toward them to mean the people are not ready to be forced to take care of everyone else.

The state may be a lost cause, but we are not out of options yet. The problem is that the more viable solutions are long term. They require patience, not quick fixes. I think there are two basic things we could do. The first is to educate people—particularly ourselves—on the issues and how to solve them. We can keep the real issues foremost in the minds of people, so that we are the media and the teachers. That doesn’t just mean Facebook, of course. It could mean street protest and symbolic action to raise awareness. This process is neverending, so it is incumbent on concerned people to educate to the extent that others become the media and the teachers as well. The main downside to this option is that not everyone will be interested. But that just means they have better things to do, and I do not blame them for that.

But not everyone has to join us. The second thing is to organise with like-minded people. That means being leaders, working together, helping each other and doing things ourselves. The revolution does not have to be violent. Look at what Occupy did. They were entirely voluntary, working on consensus, anticapitalism, mutual aid, equality and solving their own problems. 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 the NAP, but also that we can solve the world’s problems without force.

Has anarchy existed before?

June 11, 2012 27 comments

Anarchists often get asked if anarchy has ever existed, and if it has ever worked. On one level, the question seems ironic. When do they think the state has “worked” before? These people who think we can somehow reform the state and turn it into a tool for social justice are, unlike anarchists, as this post will show, the ones who have no history to back up their claims.

Everyday anarchy

It has been argued anarchy is wherever people do things without being forced to. Consider Butler Shaffer’s argument.

I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives.

Should you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched, required to show a passport or driver’s license, fined, jailed, threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful, voluntary, and devoid of coercion.

Anarchy works every day as we interact with the people around us. But, admittedly, it does not get to the heart of the question: can a society exist without a state?

Before answering that question, however, another arises. Where has the state worked? I do not mean, where has the state maintained order and created a national health-care system. The state has done lots of things. But at what cost? Given what we know about the state, a huge one. In Jonathan Goodwin’s words, “The list of state failures is exactly as long as the list of state-run programs. Should the burden of proof of the benefits of considering anarchy and opposing the state really be on the proponent of anarchy?”

If you are looking for an example of a modern nation state that has gone anarchist, you will not find one. The very idea that a nation state could somehow eliminate its government and retain its territorial integrity is fatuous. It would almost inevitably become a number of self-governing communities. They might develop a confederation based on perceived shared values, but they would not force policies on millions of people through representatives, bureaucrats and police. A large country can only be held together by force. Somalia is not fully anarchic; however, to the extent that it is, it is doing pretty well.

Other societies throughout history, however, have done far better.

Everywhere anarchy

Anthropologist David Graeber says anarchy has existed in thousands of places before. Anarchy means no coercive hierarchy and no rulers with the ability to initiate force over an entire population. Anarchy is an ideal condition of humanity. It is not something that will be accomplished in six months of reading books. But in one way or another, at different times, there are opportunities to throw off the state and work and cooperate freely. As such, there have been a number of relatively or completely anarchic societies throughout history. They may have been small communities defending themselves from encroaching empires, confederations with skeletal local governments, or other voluntary, self-governing collectives. Anarchy has existed. It is simply governance–making and enforcing rules–without the state.

In fact, it was the norm for a long time. Yale professor James C. Scott explains. “Until shortly before the common era, the very last 1 percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary self-governing kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading, and peacemaking. It did not contain anything one could call a state. In other words, living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition.”

Thus, to say the state is necessary due to human nature is erroneous. The era of statelessness was the longest era of human governance, and the first states that arose were trivial compared to those of today. “To an eye not yet hypnotized by archaeological remains and state-centric histories, the landscape would have seemed virtually all periphery and no centers. Nearly all the population and territory were outside their ambit.” People sought refuge in places out of the way, such as the Amazon, where today indigenous people are losing their ancestral homes to agricultural and industrial expansion, aided by state muscle; highland Latin America and Africa; the Balkans and the Caucasus. Living outside the state was a realistic option until only a few hundred years ago.

Zomia

Scott’s book is called the Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. In it, he explains the history of the politically autonomous region of different ethnic groups in the highlands of Southeast Asia (dubbed Zomia in 2002), who descended from groups that left the lowland state. The people of the whole region reorganised their social structures, folklore and agriculture to be inaccessible to the state.

When the state attempts to incorporate stateless people, it clothes its actions in the language of civilising the barbarians: development, economic progress, literacy, and so on. However, it inevitably does so by force. Those escaping predatory states were runaway conscripts and slaves, war refugees, religious minorities and those fleeing taxes, and others who predicted the same fate for themselves.

Their social structures presented no hierarchy that encroaching states could have used as agents of control. “Their subsistence routines, their social organization, their physical dispersal, and many elements of their culture, far from being the archaic traits of a people left behind, are purposefully crafted both to thwart incorporation into nearby states and to minimize the likelihood that statelike concentrations of power will arise among them. State evasion and state prevention permeate their practices and, often, their ideology as well.” The long existence of Zomia disproves the hypotheses that we require some form of coercive hierarchy to function as societies and that an elite with coercive authority will always emerge over time.

The Apaches

When the Spanish came to Central America, they made short work of Montezuma and Tenochtitlan, along with Atahualpa and Incan civilisation. Why? Because if you cut off their head of a rigidly hierarchical organisation, which the Spanish did by killing its chief, you incapacitate it. Then they went to the Apaches. The Apaches did not have rulers. Instead, they had spiritual leaders called a Nant’an (eg. Geronimo), who led only by example and not coercion. From the Starfish and the Spider: “You wanted to follow Geronimo? You followed Geronimo. You didn’t want to follow him? Then you didn’t. The power lay with each individual—you were free to do what you wanted. The phrase ‘you should’ doesn’t even exist in the Apache language. Coercion is a foreign concept.” They were free people, most of whom resisted the Conquistadors’ attempts to adopt an agrarian life and convert to Christianity. They fought back and won and held back the Spanish for centuries. The Apaches succeeded so long because of the decentralised way they organised their society.

There was no capital or central command, so decisions were made all over. “A raid on a Spanish settlement, for example, could be conceived in one place, organised in another, and carried out in yet another. You never knew where the Apaches would be coming from. In one sense, there was no place where important decisions were made, and in another sense, decisions were made by everybody everywhere.”

Apache society was not disorganised. It was in fact very advanced and complex. But it was decentralised—very differently from a hierarchical society. A decentralised society is characterised by flexibility, shared power and ambiguity, which “made the Apaches immune to attacks that would have destroyed a centralised society.”

The Spanish would try to kill the leaders but leaders kept emerging. Likewise, you could kill people participating in the Egyptian Revolution but it would not stop the Revolution. In fact, when you attacked the Apaches, they survived and got stronger as a result. They decentralised even more. “This is the first major principle of decentralisation: when attacked, a decentralised organisation tends to become even more open and decentralised.”

Ireland

Ireland was also effectively anarchic until conquered by England. It functioned as a number of confederations (called tuatha) composed of independent political units that came together annually to vote on common policies. People were free to, and did, secede from their confederation and join another. Association was voluntary.

Laws were not changed at the whim of rulers (because Ireland was not ruled) but when people voted in an assembly to change them. Laws were not created by a clique, as in our time; nor was justice dispensed by a monopoly provider. Parties to disputes selected from a number of professional jurists chosen for their wisdom, integrity and knowledge of customary law. Several schools of jurisprudence existed and competed for the business of dispensing justice. Other people, in effect insurance providers, were independent from the jurists and joined with the party that won the case to exact punishment on the loser. If the loser did not pay, the entire community considered him an outlaw and would no longer engage in contracts with him.

Ireland suffered small-scale conflicts, but without a central state that taxes and conscripts, these were negligible compared to the bloodbaths of the rest of Europe. Ireland may not have been the ideal anarchy, but in the absence of Enlightenment ideas of freedom, justice and equality, it did well.

Revolution

Opportunities to escape the state arise during revolutions and wars. During Egypt’s recent revolutionary uprising, every neighbourhood in Cairo formed—within 48 hours—lagaan shaabiyya, or popular committees. When the police suddenly left the streets, they opened up the jails, letting out thugs who, they intended, would terrorise the people into begging the police to come back. Instead, despite thousands of years of dictatorship, the people organised and substituted for the police, protecting the people in their communities and even cleaning the streets. They made decisions as communities and demonstrated amply that they could replace the state if necessary.

During the Spanish Civil War, the state was in crisis and lost its ability to govern large parts of the country. Workers controlled factories, peasants collectivised farms, people used barter instead of money, started libraries, schools and cultural centers, and organised militias to fight in the civil war. Spain’s brief experiment with anarchy was by no means utopian, as war imposes a variety of constraints on people. But it could be replicated and improved on.

In Ukraine in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917, a free state emerged comprising millions of people. Throughout the Russian Empire, as imperial authority collapsed, workers, soldiers and peasants began to reject any outside authority and establish self-governing cooperatives. They began by arresting state officials, occupying government buildings and disarming police. They were eventually ruthlessly crushed by the central government, much as the communities in Spain were. But they demonstrated, as the did the Southeast Asians, the Irish, the Spanish, the Egyptians and, as we shall see next, the French, that anarchy is desirable and practical—if it can be maintained in the face of state aggression.

In the wake of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the Paris Commune was established. The Commune was independent of the French state and self-regulating. The armed workers defended Paris against German soldiers and for some time French government aggression, but were eventually overwhelmed and murdered in droves. Like some of the other examples, the Commune was not the ideal picture of anarchy, but it nonetheless comprised free people in community warding off oppression. They did well in the time (less than a year) they had. As Mikhail Bakunin said at the time,

Contrary to the belief of authoritarian communists—which I deem completely wrong—that a social revolution must be decreed and organized either by a dictatorship or by a constituent assembly emerging from a political revolution, our friends, the Paris socialists, believed that revolution could neither be made nor brought to its full development except by the spontaneous and continued action of the masses, the groups and the associations of the people. Our Paris friends were right a thousand times over.

This list is not exhaustive; again, there have been thousands of cases (here, here, here), only a few of which have been recorded.

Many people will read these examples and reject them because they do not conform in every way to the ideals of a stateless society. They are presumably the same people who would dismiss all anarchist or voluntaryist thinking by saying it is utopian. The societies that have existed without the state are evidence the state is not necessary, and people who want to can live free. It is also evidence utopia is difficult or impossible to achieve. So what? One does not need utopia to be free of the state. The coming posts outline the theory and methods for achieving a stateless society even more successful than these ones. The point is, freedom works for the people wherever it is tried, whether in a community wishing to free itself from oppression, or simply to the extent it is allowed in a state system.

But even though anarchy has been attempted and has worked, an equally reasonable answer is it does not matter. New ideas work if they make sense and enough people agree to put them into practice. When John F. Kennedy said the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, nobody asked if it had been done before. When slavery was abolished, it was not important to ask if there had been historical precedents. The abolition of slavery was an idea whose time had come. Many people thought that it was impossible to get rid of slavery—after all, that would be extremism—and slaves were better off in captivity than free. It turned out they were wrong. Anti-abolitionists used to ask “but how will the cotton get picked?” But if the cause is moral, it does not matter how the cotton will get picked or the roads will get built. People who need a historical precedent for anything before they consider it have not attempted to use their imaginations. Whether it has existed or not is irrelevant when considering if it could work in the future.

Egypt’s elections and the end of Tahrir

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a lesson behind this picture. It is a disappointing tale but it must be told. This picture is from Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Cairo. The Egyptians who took down the Mubarak regime should be proud of themselves. Yes, they scored a victory for freedom. Yes, they did so by uniting. And most importantly, they showed the world that through uniting to face common problems, we can do anything.

However, the Egyptian Revolution took an unhappy turn. Since Mubarak resigned, what has happened? Hundreds have been killed and far more beaten, shot at and arrested for nothing. Who killed and attacked the people? Who did it before the Revolution? It is not the military. The military is one part of the state. Telling the military to move aside means asking a different set of rulers, still with different priorities from yours, to govern you. It is not one part of the state that represses. It is the state as a whole.

The state is not a humanitarian organisation. It is not a way for people to work together to get things done. And it does not represent the people. It is an institution that forces everyone to comply with the mandates of a few very powerful people who have their own interests at heart. If something needs to be done, why would you want these people to do it for you?

The state comprises far more people than a few elected “representatives”. It means the military, the heads of which will remain influential, rich and unaccountable, powerful businesspeople, police, bureaucrats and everyone who is connected to those in power. Those who have the power to initiate force, to use violence on others, will use it to protect their interests against those who want their freedom. That is true everywhere. Most Egyptians know the state has amassed power and wealth over the past 30 years but seem to think they have tamed it. But you cannot tame the state. You can only injure it temporarily.

Today is election day in Egypt. The electoral contest has divided Egyptians in every way that electoral politics always divides people: by opinion. People are attacked by others who insist that their party and their candidate is the right one to impose his will on 80m people. The greatest tragedy is that Egyptians have been so deeply indoctrinated by thousands of years of despotic rule that they believe the incoming president needs to be “a strong man”: a man who will force everyone to do everything he says. His subjects will have to hope he wants and knows how to get the best for everyone else. Well, it is possible. But it has not happened very often.

Egyptians threaten to protest again—a “second revolution”—if things do not go as they believe it should. But they are fooling themselves. The past 8 months or more have already shown that Egyptians, like everyone else, will be divided by those in power. Those who voted for whoever becomes president will stand by him, and will tell everyone else why they were right. It is simple psychology: if I voted for him, he must be good. I suggest Egyptians put aside their unhealthy craving for big government and consider life without it.

As I said elsewhere, freedom for Egyptians is still possible. Everything the government does you can do yourselves. It means taking responsibility for your community and working together, rather than hoping the state will come along to fix your problems. Here is one idea. Instead of relying on police for security, why not organise neighrbourhood groups that agree to protect each other? If you live in a reasonably wealthy community, you can pay people. When you pay people and can stop paying them if you want, you become their customers, and they do what you want or they lose your money. The government is not like that, because you have to pay. The police are not accountable to you but to their bosses, the politicians. If you do not have the money to pay for people to protect you, you probably need protection from the police more than any other groups. All that is required is some agreement, organisation and cooperation. Together you can solve your own problems in ways that the state will never do for you. That is what free people do.

I know you and your peers can think of other ideas. Remember the Revolution. Unite in the face of repression.

Ron Paul

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

We endorse the idea of voluntarism, self-responsibility, family, friends, and churches to solve problems, rather than saying that some monolithic government is going to make you take care of yourself and be a better person.” – Ron Paul

Electoral politics, despite everything I have said about it, could be a path to freedom. I might be wrong that working through the current political system to achieve a freer and more just society is unrealistic. After all, perhaps the anarchist vision of a world without artifical hierarchies backed up by force is unrealisable. Presumably that and similarly less-optimistic beliefs about what is possible are why some people reject radical ideas. But Ron Paul could represent a major new step toward that world.

Well, it’s possible. This post is why Dr Ron is the only politician I have ever seen anywhere that I would (tentatively) endorse; why his policies are the right ones; why the two biggest slanders against him are wrong; why I do not expect him to win; why he will have trouble implementing his programme even if he does win; and why I am nonetheless glad to see how far he has come.

Why Ron Paul is different

There are two reasons I believe Ron Paul is different from anyone else running for president.

-First, he has a consistent voting record. As a Congressman, Ron has always voted according to his libertarian convictions, voting against wars and the police state, for example. (The same could not have been said about Barack when he took office, as Barack had voted for spending bills funding Operation Iraqi Freedom, for instance.) That means Ron has principles, a hard quality to find in a politician, and even more important, sensible principles; we can be thankful that the voters in Ron’s district approved.

-Second, one of the biggest problems with democracy is that most politicians are swayed while in office of promises of lucrative jobs and other benefits after leaving office for pleasing special interest groups. Ron would be 82 or 86 when he retired from the presidency. Would he really need any more money? He is less corruptible than a president in his 40s or 50s. I think. I could be proven wrong, however. After all, he still accepts campaign contributions. He will need to give out some tax-funded presents if he gets to the top. Still, his policies are worth trying.

Dr Ron’s policies

Before we delve briefly into the man’s policies, bear in mind that everything I am about to say is based on his voting record and stated principles. I do not need to remind anyone reading this blog that politicians seldom keep their word when they get into office. As I say above, he is more likely to do what he says than others, but we should be careful not to fall into the trap of assuming he will or will be able to. If fewer than nine tenths of those who voted for Barack with tears of joy in their eyes are not disappointed now, they have not been paying attention. We can only hope Ron will be different.

His policies, if he truly attempted to implement them and was able to do so, would save countless lives and taxpayer money.

-He would very likely refuse to bomb Iran, or give the Israeli hawks the green light to do so they thirst for.

-He would end the War on Drugs, and all the maddening arrests, gangs, murders, destruction and seizure of property, corruption of law enforcement and governments that goes with it.

-He would end the War on Terror, the war on Afghanistan and support for corrupt dictatorships. Doing so would shrink and hobble the military-industrial complex and the surveillance state. Ending the US’s disastrous military adventurism would almost certainly reduce or even end both foreign and domestic terrorism as well. As such, we would have less need for the FBI and the CIA and all the trouble they cause as well.

-He would abolish the Federal Reserve, meaning people would be able to save their money and not see it vanish through inflation caused by the printing of money. Since the Federal Reserve was instituted in 1913, the US dollar has lost about 98% of its previous value. That means anyone holding dollars at any time in the past century has lost his or her ability to spend that money. And since the Fed printing more dollars between 2000 and 2007 than in all its previous years combined, we can expect inflation to eat away at everyone’s savings ever more rapidly in the near future. (If you think we need a central bank because inflation is a good thing, I urge you to read this.)

-He would decrease government spending, meaning lower tax and debt burdens for our and future generations. This move would encourage investment locally and from other countries.

-He would repeal (or just stop passing) laws and regulations that hold back small and medium sized businesses in favour of big ones. A freer market would bring innumerable benefits we can only begin to imagine. The greatest experiment in anarchy and free markets ever, the internet, has proven the value of creative destruction, creating new economies, new ways of communicating and access to a previously unthinkable amount of information. A free market in the US could mean something similar. Ron Paul could take the US on its first few steps in over a hundred years in that direction.

Of course, all hopes are that he can get into office, can follow his principles while in office and avoids getting blocked by special interest groups. His first obstacle is libel and slander.

What has been said about Ron Paul

-“He’s a racist.” In a move typical of politics, his opponents have been able to use the scantest evidence to turn countless lefties away from Ron Paul by branding him as the thing they hate the most. But are his policies racist? How would they affect people?

In fact, policies of freedom are policies of equality and anti-racism. They give everyone the opportunity to live the life they want. They reverse the state’s entrenchment of poverty and the entitlement mentality it has fostered for decades. Fewer people would depend on the state. Poverty would fall as people would be able more easily to start policies without endless restrictions, tax forms, regulatory requirements and licensing fees. Paying lip service to diversity, or in Barack’s case just being black, says nothing about how the man’s policies affect people. The free market would do wonders to eliminate poverty for everyone.

-“He’s an isolationist.” Nearly as emotive for the right wing as “racist” is for the left, Ron Paul has been called an “isolationist” for his foreign policy. Presumably, by isolationist his enemies want to shed light on the fact that Dr Ron disapproves of overseas military bases and interventions. Is that really such a bad thing? At a time when the US intervenes militarily in a number of countries and kills everyone in its path, its overseas prisons and bases consume billions of dollars and approval of the US around the world is in the toilet?

But isolationist implies ignoring the rest of the world, evoking the time China’s emperor ordered the destruction of all imperial boats to cut China off from the rest of the world. The word these people are looking for is non-interventionist. Non-interventionism is simply the absence of coercion on an international scale. In the absence of instability caused by war, people trade with each other. And because borders are meaningless to people who have something to offer humanity, they trade with whoever in the world has what they want. And free trade, which really means without a government-written and implemented policy backed up by a gun but the absence of one, breaks down barriers. It lets everyone benefit from a liberal economy wherever the power has not been taken away from them to do so. A Ron Paul foreign policy would likely be one of cooperation and trade, not war.

Why I don’t think he’ll win

I am not a pessimist by nature. The glimmer of hope I see is the reason I wrote this post. But I do not actually think Ron has a chance. Think of the people who oppose his policies.

-First, big business, protected by countless laws that run counter to the free market Ron may understand and believe in more than any politician in the US. The opposition of big business to Ron Paul shows up in the media conspiracy against his candidacy. As is well documented by media watchers and his supporters, the mainstream media have deliberately ignored Ron Paul every chance they can, even sneakily not mentioning his name when discussing the Republican candidates. If Ron’s supporters can continue their commendable, tireless efforts to turn heads, he will break the media blockade.

-At the same time, Ron is opposed by anti-business types who believe his free market policies benefit big business. Ron Paul or no Ron Paul, these people need to be made to understand that the owners and executives of big business do not fear regulations: they write them. At the moment, markets in the US are dominated by an effective oligopoly of large corporations who can easily afford to comply with complicated tax codes and burdensome regulations. Fewer regulations and subsidies mean new businesses can be created by anyone to challenge the big players, lowering prices and unleashing the ingenuity of the free market as a result.

-Next, the US military’s domestic constituency. Everyone who believes the US should have a big, interventionist military that invades other countries for looking at the president the wrong way have something to fear from a Ron Paul presidency. These are powerful people, represented in some very powerful interest groups.

-Any other pressure groups currently getting rich off the US taxpayer may also decide Ron Paul is not their man. All these groups can fund media campaigns to deny Ron his chance.

Since Ron wants to reduce or eliminate foreign aid, foreign governments do not want him to win, either. Think of the states who would lose military aid and protection:

-Afghanistan, Pakistan and the other Central Asian states as the AfPak war is wound down;

-Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states protected by the US military;

-Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and so on benefiting from US government patronage;

-and even Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Turkey, Russia and China who benefit from the oil and other big business concessions they would lose when the US stops fighting wars for them. (See here.)

How they could prevent Ron’s victory is hard to say, as it would be clandestine; perhaps they would fund media campaigns; perhaps they could get him assassinated. Presumably, not all of these governments would do such a thing. But we would probably never know who it was if they did.

Why he probably would not be able to do much if he did win

It is still possible that enough voters are not fools and Ron will be elected in 2012. A major push by his supporters, along with a continued stellar performance from Ron himself, could secure a victory. But things would not be easy for him.

-The same foreign governments could find ways to oppose his actions after he was elected, from the same hypothetical disinformation campaigns to a terrorist attack that would leave the US people thirsting for blood and forcing Ron’s hand to go to war. But, of course, the hardest hurdles would be from within the US.

-Congress would not be libertarian. It would still be beholden to interest groups. It would likely block as much meaningful legislation as it could. Congress has grown in dysfunction for decades as the rewards of power have grown. A libertarian president’s greatest hurdle would probably be an irretrievably corrupt Congress.

-The people would not be libertarian, either. To make what could amount to a revolution in the US could be catastrophic if the people are not ready for Ron Paul’s ideas. To his endless credit, he has educated numerous masses on the principles of freedom, the Constitution, US history, the Federal Reserve and the realities of wars and terrorism. And many of his supporters have spread the same ideas; kudos to them, too. Winning the Republican nomination would give Ron far more time on the bully pulpit, forcing the media to pay more attention to him. My worry, however, is that, at this point in history, opposition to Ron’s policies will pour out of every corner of American society.

-Teacher strikes that would ensue if Ron eliminated the Department of Education, and they would enjoy widespread popular support. Any similar union or other interest group fearing a threat to its established legal privileges could engage in strikes or other protests. Millions of Americans depend on the state in one way or another, many of whom are very rich. Working together, they could cripple the economic growth Ron’s policies would otherwise foster.

-Moreover, there is also a distinct possibility that those predicting an imminent economic crash will be vindicated. Ron Paul would be taking the reins just as the economy and the political system are crashing. The uneducated masses will be easily led to believe libertarianism is to blame for these crashes, just as they believe the free market was to blame for the subprime and financial market crashes of 2007 and 2008. The instability caused by strikes and so on might lead the people to pine for the days of the police state.

Why I am glad he is running for president

I may not think he will win the nomination or the election, but I am nonetheless thrilled to see how many people Dr Ron has educated. He has used the bully pulpit to open countless pairs of eyes to libertarian ideas and Austrian economics. This alone makes me love his candidacy.

But until we change many more minds in the US, Ron Paul’s wonderful ideas could run into million-dollar or million-man roadblocks.

Fortunately, with or without a Ron Paul presidency, there are plenty of ways to oppose the state and achieve freedom. This blog will go into those ways in future posts (and when it becomes a book later this year).

My message to the Egyptian people

October 6, 2011 2 comments

Having lived in Cairo for the past six months, I can honestly say I have come to love it. I love the hundreds of people I know here, and have enjoyed the company of the thousands of wonderful Egyptians I have talked with. I came in April, in the wake of the violence that killed over 800 people, in the hopes that the message of freedom espoused by the protesters that brought down Mubarak would continue, and the people would reap the benefits of having liberated themselves. Unfortunately, the message has grown cold, and Egyptians are still slaves.

The protest movement has lost its unity. When people are unified by a few narrow ideals and goals, they can accomplish amazing things. Unfortunately, they often have the wrong ideas. Revolutions do not always have worthwhile outcomes. They often mean the transfer of power from one group of uncaring elites to another. The French, Cuban and Iranian revolutions, for instance, were popular revolutions for freedom against corrupt dictatorships, but a small group of cunning ideologues surfed the wave of discontent and positioned themselves as the alternative. Being little more than “not the last guy”, they were cheered into power. The people ended up living under regimes that were different but not significant improvements. The reason was, the people themselves had the wrong ideas.

The Egyptian Revolution (if that word is in fact appropriate) is different from the French, Cuban and Iranian revolutions, notwithstanding the possible election of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the coming elections. In Egypt, the head of the regime was removed but it grew a new head immediately as the military took over. The military stood neutral during the three weeks of violence in January and February; a smart strategic move, as it turned out, because it was able to side with whichever group won the battle. One message of the time was “the people and the army are one hand”. That slogan has become a sad joke, as witnessed by the thousands of military trials for peaceful protesters and the lack of any progress on the revolution’s demands. People are still being locked up for nothing, churches are still being burned with impunity, and the hopes I heard in the voices of those I met when I had just arrived have largely faded. The countless demonstrations against the transitional military government have been in vain. Egypt is still a police state.

In the past twenty years, democracy has become the ideal that all nations are supposed to desire and gravitate toward. The main reason they have done so is that the US has consistently spread its message, and as the winner of the Cold War and the uncontested superpower, was free to do so all around the world for the past two decades. But democracy was supposed to be about advancing freedom, which is why the two words are often spoken in the same breath. It has not advanced freedom. It has brought a veneer of legitimacy to the same rule by elites under whose rule most of the world’s people are still subject. Freedom only comes to those who demand it and take it and defend it. Those who do not appreciate or defend their freedom lose it, slowly but surely. Take the modern United States, a country which many Egyptians seem to hold as ideal. Since the American Revolution, Americans have become complacent, too fat and happy to care what their government does. As a result, government power runs unchecked and the people are no longer free. Hundreds of thousands of people live in prison, many for nothing more than smoking something the state has deemed illegal because it threatens the profits of big corporations. Americans go to jail and get beaten every day for protesting, filming policemen beating people, or feeding the homeless. Is this freedom? No, but it is democracy.

The elites will try to divide you. They will try to divide you by religion, class and political views, and then tell you you need a strong government to protect you from foreign devils. But your fight should not be among yourselves, or with foreigners. The only group with the power and motive to take away your freedom is the state. Do not fall for the lies. Do not succumb to the simplistic divisions they will try to impose on you. Educating yourselves is a vaccine against hatred. Action is antithetical to tyranny.

But freedom is still possible. There are ways to attain it for everyone, but they are not easy, and they take time. Voting will not bring it about, as a vote in an election means supporting a system based on violence. Why give your consent to be ruled by people who only want to take your money and your freedom, people who see you as producers for their own benefit, people who will not care about you, however much support you give them? You do not need rulers. Everything the government does, you can find solutions for yourselves. Work together to solve your own problems. Defy the state and its violence. Expose the bankruptcy of the state’s claims to protect and represent you, like you did in January. Educate yourselves on the philosophy of liberty and the practice of civil disobedience. And most importantly, continue to spread and live the message of freedom.

Egyptians, if you want to be free, take down the whole government, not just its head. Otherwise, in a generation’s time there will be a second metro station called Al Shohadaa (martyrs), and it will be named after your children.