Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Life Without Government: It’s Not As Distant As You Think

I am always astounded when someone rejects even the possibility of a stateless society by demanding that I supply proof such a society has ever existed, or could ever work.

“But I can give you an example of a perfectly functioning non-violent society right this minute!” I reply.

“Oh yeah?” my interrogator will demand skeptically. “Where?”
“Well, it’s… you!”

A great flurry of confusion always follows this very simple statement. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, are you married?” I say.

“Yes, but…”

“Did you force your spouse to marry you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“When you proposed, did you hold a gun to her temple and threaten to pull the trigger if she didn’t marry you?”

“No, but…”

“Do you have a job?”

“Yes…”

“And when you went to that job interview, did you hold a knife to your interviewer’s throat until you got the job?”

“No…”

“Did you go to school?”

“Of course! But what…”

“And if you wanted an ‘A’, did you work hard, or did you kidnap your teacher’s daughter and hold her hostage until you got the grade you wanted?”

“No, but…”

“Do you shoplift when you go to stores? Do you leave restaurants without paying the bill? Do you ‘pump and run’ at gas stations? If you want to have a party, do you herd your guests up at gunpoint?”
The answer is always the same. Of course not! Over the past twenty years, over thousands of conversations, I have never once met anyone who regularly used violence. I’ve met a few people who’d been in bar fights, heard tales of a few bad marriages and seen some fairly nasty parents, but I have never once met a single person who regularly and systematically used violence to force obedience out of others.

So naturally, I am quite confused when people demand that I produce historical proof of functioning non-violent societies. It’s like a panting man asking me to produce proof of the existence of air.

You do not use violence in your life. You do not force people to do your bidding. You do not shoot or stab or poison people who disagree with you.

And I would guess that you don’t know anyone else who does.

Just think about that for a moment. Think of your close and extended family, everyone at work, all your managers, employees and customers. Think of the man who flies your plane, the woman who fixes your car, the teenager who delivers your newspaper. Think of the thousands and thousands of people you have met during the course of your life. How many of the people you have met as an adult have ever used violence against you?

I bet none.

Now that’s quite remarkable when you think about it. Just looking at your own life, you can see a community of hundreds or thousands of people composed entirely of pacifists. A community composed of people who resolve all their disputes without pulling out knives or guns.

People generally respond to this, of course, by arguing that people don’t use force because the State has courts and the police and so on, and without State protection we’d be in that mythical state of nature, stealing and killing each other at will.

That’s an interesting objection, but I have a hard time taking it very seriously, because all I have to ask in return is this:

“Have you ever actually tried to use the State justice system?”

Of course not. If they had, they wouldn’t speak so blithely about how the ‘thin blue line’ is all that separates us from cannibalism. And it’s not fear of the police that keeps you from dumping your garbage on the lawn next door, but rather a natural desire to live in peace with those around you.

And sure, there are people who use violence to get their way – but you can protect yourself against criminals. You can’t protect yourself against the State.

Does this approach prove that a stateless society will work flawlessly? Of course not. However, I hope it helps you see that in your life, a stateless, pacifistic society works beautifully! I don’t expect that this approach will convince you of the practicality of a stateless society as a whole, but in the society that you live in – surely the most important to you – it does highlight the simple fact that non-violence is the norm, and that voluntary cooperation is in fact how most people actually live.

In other words, if we actually look at our own lives, and set aside propaganda and fear, it becomes clear that stateless societies are not only possible in the future, but alive and well in the here and now. To see the future of freedom, we need only look in the mirror today.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

> How many of the people you have met as an adult have
> ever used violence against you?
>
> I bet none.

Used violence, or threatened to use violence? In either case, actually, you lose (albeit not by much).

Also, I believe that you're expressing an ivory tower view here. Violence is distressingly common in a great number of communities in the United States. I suggest you volunteer to work in the emergency room of any hospital in south central Los Angeles, where a great number of army medics get their training in gunshot wound treatment. People get killed over trivial matters in this country. Removing a strong central authority could just as easily lead to this becoming a more common and widespread activity.

In addition, outside our particular (relatively stable) society, a very large percentage of people in a great number of countries are routinely subjected to horrifying levels of violence. One counterexample to your proposition is the current state of affairs in Iraq. The removal of a strong central authority (albeit a corrupt one) did not result in the cheering of the throngs and general all around happiness, but instead a marked increase in community violence. More Iraqis than American troops are killed by other Iraqis.

Emblematic Flames said...

This was a great post. I'm not an anarchist, but your blog has greatly increased my understanding of anarchism as a political philosophy, and it's made me give it more consideration than I have in the past. Keep up the good work! :-)

Druid (Arbor Low) said...

Ivory tower view! How diplomatic!

We are conditioned from birth to conform to our society (any society), with rewards given to those children that comply, and punishments to those that don't. This is in itself a violence. In adult life, both transgressions and punishments become more severe. If you did force your wife to marry you (which does happen in some societies)or did use a gun in a job interview (protection racket?), there would be potentially violent consequences (the wife fights you and the interviewer pulls a bigger gun, or you go to prison, or execution - depends on the values of the powerful in your society) that disuade some from such behaviour. I am very happy for you that you haven't noticed the appalling suffering on our planet - how sweet! I hope you never encounter it personally.

Having taught in a prison for four years, I can assure you that there are some genuinely hideous people. Some believe that their victims were at fault BECAUSE they were their victims!!! There are also a lot of people with different values to you, who would disagree with your concepts of morality - think fundamental Abrahamic religions (Christianities, Islamics, Judaisms) vs Hedonists (Swingers, hippies, etc)as an example.

Whilst some of us aspire to objectively assess the seemingly irrefutable foundations of our indoctrinations, others do not attempt to recognise their prejudice and see as valid opportunity what others might see as crime/unethical. You seem to base your position on the assumption that others have the same innate sense of good and evil as you do. I suggest this is not so.

Your argument for a stateless society (a concept I support by the way, though not in quite the way you do I think)wouldn't last the first round in my neck of the woods. It's when folk have little or nothing to lose that the stateless society becomes most evident.

We would all do well to remember that nothing is absolute - including our beliefs.

PFrank said...

While a nice idea, the spectre of state violence is still present.

Your analogies of leaving a restaurant without paying, shoplifting, pump and run, etc... don't hold water. These behaviors are held in check in large degree by the THREAT of retribution from the state in the form of laws, arrest, and incarceration.

As I said, a nice idea but naive. Very naive. You expect the best from people, counting on their "basic good nature". That my friend, WILL get you very dead very quickly. One should always expect and plan for the worst in any and every situation. If the worst does not come to pass, then what is left is a pleasant surprise.

While I am a free-market anarchist, I will NEVER assume the best or rely on the basic "goodness" of humans. While we humans are for the most part morally self-governing, the small percentage that are not are sufficient to wreak havoc on an otherwise peaceful existence.

We do not need the "State" for protection, if we are willing to do it ourselves. You must be prepared to defend what is yours, possibly to the death.... again, against that small percentage. Human nature has changed to the point that most are either unwilling or unable to be self-reliant, which necessitates the "State" for them. Why else would so many follow so blindly?

You see Utopia, I see TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). Without the state, the only deterrent to many crimes committed by the small percentage is the fear of retribution from the victim's Glock. If more would be willing to defend themselves and their own, at that point would we be ready for a "Stateless" existence. That said, a Stateless existence would certainly go a long way toward thinning the herd, with the most hearty surviving.

Don't lose the idea, but please inject some reality. I strongly endorse a Stateless existence, but it will certainly not be in the Norman Rockwell you have authored here.

Henry the 8th said...

Why bother? These people are not free market anythings, go suck on your feeding tubes you statists.

Anonymous said...

I think posters against are missing the point.

The idea is that with the state there are no checks. If they decide say alcohol is for some reason dangerous and needs to be outlawed, then an amazing amount of resources gets committed to removing alcohol from our society. A whole new class of criminals are created, and a whole new type of violence around a new black market working vs. the state is created.

Oh, wait, that already happened.
Repeatedly, oops.

BUT take away the state and allow people to live on thier own terms in thier own societies and you have voluntary cooperation. Yes some of these societies might decide government is the way to go, but they should not force that view on others. Just like feminism was supposed to be about women having a choice as to do with thier lives what they wish. Not a militant call for all women to go to work and forget home and family. Minority rights was not supposed to be about suborning majority rights, but to give minorites the choice to live as the majority had. The operand for all this is choice, as opposed to coersion.

And raising of a child, a horribly weak strawman argument. I have 2 children and have read a lot on thier development. When they are born thier brains are on par with advanced dogs or chimps. This is to keep the head from being too big and all women and children dieing in childbirth. That means children before a certain age are not able to communicate effectivly or rationalize in any way. Are you comparing educated full grown adults to partially developed newborns?? If so, keep your nonthinking argument and yourself to that category, because that infant is not me and I don't need to swaddle myself in your self-righteousness.

Iraq, terrible argument. Very strawman, "Iraq" as a whole was never a country until an outside power drew its borders. Now that no military dictator is in charge they want to break down to live in the comfort of smaller agreeable societies. Once again the outside forces are so busy trying to force the different groups to stay together that they are even killing eachother in thier desperation. "Freedom of Association" works both ways, the freedom to not associate as well as the freedom to associate, most people miss that point entirely. This problem was caused and perpetuated by states. If you want I can suggest a couple of good books on the subject. Stop watching movies and TV specials that admit thier fiction and creating arguments from that, please.

To the prision population argument. Decriminalize all non-violent victimless crimes and you lose over 50% of the jail population, make property criminals work to pay back thier victims, and you get rid of 75% of what is left. BUT if you take the current state route, you put those people in with sociopaths and psychopaths for years and you don't get the most agreeable citizens. DUH. Because of genetics and hormone levels, etc, 5-10% of any animal, virus, bacteria or human population are going to be abnormal in one way or another. Are you comparing all adults to sociopaths and psychopaths, or the products of being locked up with said over relatively or extremely minor offenses?? If so I assure you, you need a LOT of help with you ethics and morality meeter. NOT ALL LAWS ARE EQUAL, parking the wrong way on a road is not the same as stabbing your wife to death.

Please, stick to the issue of whether or not people should rule other people, and if they should why? Bad examples just confuse the conversation and show how little you understand about the central issue.

sage said...

"Make property criminals work to pay back their victims"? How to you propose to do that, in a non-violent way? You've just shot your own argument in the foot.

Zachariah said...

The state does not keep us peaceful in general but protects us from the rare person who decides to use force. The state is another tool we use and it if effective.

It's a strange thing, when force is not an option non-violence remains the norm. But remove the constant threat of retribution against violence users and violence user will trump the non-violent.

If you want evidence look to the emergence of civilization. What was the most prevalent form of government? Dictatorships. Governments are evil things, agreed. The exist by using force, or the threat of force, to get things done. But remove them and the first group of people who decided to start pushing people around through force will have a tremendous advantage. The fact remains that governments are stable, stateless anarchy is not.

Governments are demons, but the one we have is a demon on a chain. We can't kill them, so we may as well use the one we got under control.

Anonymous said...

Plato232

a very idealistic view. In your scenario a lot of the reasons we don't do all of these negative actions within our society is because we do have a governing power and laws that will punish us for our actions. You seem to neglect this fact in your opening thread.

Then we have to look at human nature. We are a pack animal. I know we have come a long way and we are civilised. But we gather in packs (tribes,communities call them what you will). We also follow the animal pack animal logic of alpha and beta males. We need leaders. if we individually don't aspire to be the alpha then another individual will. and so conflict will follow. You seem to think that we would come up with natural and fair laws individually. This couldn't be further from the truth. laws would differ between each individual. So who would decide what is right and wrong and who would decide what punishment should fit each crime.
Normal moral, law, abiding citizens can become quite lawless and dangerous if certain situations arise.
Just look at natural disasters and watch these normal citizens start looting shops etc.
Humans protect themselves and their families first, this is then extended to friends and aquaintances and so on. If your family is threatened I am pretty sure you would step outside the box and take action contrary to normal accepted behaviour.

But back to the pack animal scenario. Some individuals would fight for the alpha male status. some individuals would like more than their fair share and use any means to get it.
If we took away a government slowly but surely a new governing power would form. this is the nature of humans. It cannot be changed. It has never happened it will never happen.

In a group of ten people. at least one will be weak and at least one will be strong. The only way the other 8 can enforce equality (protecting the weak from the strong) is to have a group within the 10 (chosen fairly by the majority) to decide things for all 10.
This is where humans were at the beginning. this is where humans are now.
I admit we are far from a fair society but to try to take away governing power is to try to take away human emotion and human nature.

Anonymous said...

The pooh-poohers are wack.

An armed population is a polite population, no one should be without a form of self-defense like pepper spray or gun.

Then the perps would think twice as the already know cops don't show up to prevent anything ever in most cases.

Screw the evil state.