Sunday, June 03, 2007

Freedomain Radio - Frequently Asked Questions Part 1

What is Freedomain Radio?

Freedomain Radio is a philosophical conversation based on empirical logic and the Socratic method, designed to help you bring the maximum freedom and happiness into your life.

Philosophy? Really? Isn't philosophy kind of, well – useless?

Post-modern philosophy, in general, yes. In terms of how you can make sense of your life, and make the kinds of decisions in the here and now that will make you happy in the future, absolutely not! Philosophy is the most extreme sport known to mankind. It is intense, grueling, exciting, challenging, ennobling and occasionally utterly terrifying. Here at Freedomain Radio, we do not focus on philosophy as an abstract science, but as an immediate, personal and tangible methodology. Philosophy will certainly help you understand politics and history, economics and epistemology, but most importantly, it will help you make rational decisions in your life – decisions that you know are correct.

What approach does Freedomain Radio take?

Freedomain Radio takes a simple and common sense approach to philosophy. Clearly, reality exists independent of your mind. You exist independent of me. Truth in your mind is fidelity to reality. Logic and evidence are the only ways of separating truth from opinion, consistency from conformity, fantasy from fact.

What about morality?

Morality is one of the most challenging sciences in human thought. Morality is a concept within the human mind, and as such does not exist in external reality, in the same way that gravity or rocks do. This does not mean that morality is subjective, or imaginary, or arbitrary. Numbers do not exist in external reality either, but that does not mean that mathematics is a subjective discipline.

Any moral theory must pass a number of scientific and rational hurdles in order to be considered potentially valid. It must be universal, logical, consistent, reversible – and it must both explain history and have the capacity to predict the future. Anyone who proposes any form of "preferential behavior" for humanity as a whole must submit that theory to a rational and scientific examination. If you are not interested in proposing any form of preferential behavior, that's no particular problem – however, you are then excluded from any debate about ethics. For more on the Freedomain Radio approach to morality, click here.

But – aren't you an anarchist?

Yes, I am an anarchist. Unfortunately, the term has been degraded through mythology to mean "a world without rules" – usually garbed in post-apocalyptic outerwear and riding a well-armed motorbike. This is nonsense, of course. "Anarchy" is merely the logical application of the moral premise that the initiation of the use of force is wrong. If violence is a bad way to solve problems, then the government is by definition immoral, since "government" always means a group of individuals who claim the right to use violence against everyone else, in the form of taxation, regulations etc.

But if there is no government, how can the inevitable conflicts in human society be resolved?

The most important thing in philosophy is to consistently question the premises of propositions. For instance, embedded in the above question is the premise that conflicts within human society are currently being resolved by governments. This is also pure nonsense. Governments are agencies of force – governments do not persuade, governments do not reason, governments do not motivate, governments do not encourage, governments do not resolve disputes. Governments have no more power to create morality then rape has to create love. A gun is only useful in self-defense; it cannot be used to create virtue.

For somebody who is an anarchist, you sure do sound like a politician! Wasn't that just a complete dodge of the question?

Excellent catch! Here is as good a place as any to introduce you to the concept of Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs). This concept cannot answer every conceivable question you might have about dispute resolutions within a stateless society, but rather is a framework for understanding the methodology of dispute resolution – just as the scientific method cannot answer every possible question about the natural world, but rather points towards a methodology that allows those questions to be answered in a rational manner.

DROs are companies that specialize in insuring contracts between individuals, and resolving any disputes that might arise. For instance, if I borrow $1,000 from you, I may have to pay $10 to a DRO to insure my loan. If I fail to pay you back your money, the DRO will pay you instead. Obviously, as my credit rating improves, the cost of insuring my contracts will decline.

The DRO theory can be as complex as any other free market theory – and a lot of intellectual effort has gone into resolving how particular transactions might occur, such as multimillion dollar international contracts. Credible DRO theories have also been proposed that solve problems ranging from abortion to child abuse to murder to pollution. For more on DRO theory and practice, click here.

But – what about the roads?

The most important thing to understand about anarchism is that it is a moral theory which logically cannot be over-concerned with consequences. For instance, the abolition of slavery was a moral imperative, because slavery as an institution is innately evil. The abolition of slavery was not conditional upon the provision of jobs for every freed slave. In a similar manner, anarchic theory does not have to explain how every conceivable social, legal or economic transaction would occur in the absence of a coercive government. What is important is to understand that the initiation of the use of force is a moral evil. With that in mind, we can approach the problem of roads more clearly.

First of all, roads are currently funded through the initiation of force. If you do not pay the taxes which support road construction, you will get a stern letter from the government, followed by a court date, followed by policemen coming to your house if you do not appear and submit to the court's judgment. If you use force to defend yourself against the policemen who are breaking into your home, you will very likely be shot down.

The roads, in other words, are built at the point of a gun. The use of violence is the central issue, not what might potentially happen in the absence of violence.

That having been said, roads will be built by housing developers, mall builders, those constructing schools and towns – just as they were before the government took them over in the 19th century.

Okay – here's a scenario for you: a guy builds a road that completely encircles a suburban neighborhood, and then charges $1 million for anyone to cross that road. Isn't he holding everyone who lives in that neighborhood hostage?

This is fundamentally impossible. First of all, no one is going to buy a house in a neighborhood unless they are contractually guaranteed access to roads. Thus it will be impossible for anyone to completely encircle the neighborhood. Secondly, even if it were possible, it would be a highly risky investment. Can you imagine going to investors with a business plan that said: "I'm going to try to buy all the land that surrounds the neighborhood, and then charge hugely high rates for anyone to cross that land." No sane investor would give you the money for such a plan. The risk of failure would be too great, and no DRO would enforce any contract that was so destructive, unpopular and economically unfeasible. DROs, unlike governments, must be appealing to the general population. If a DRO got involved with the encircling and imprisonment of a neighborhood, it would become so unpopular that it would lose far more business than it could potentially gain.

All right smarty-pants – what about this: the company that supplies water to a neighborhood suddenly decides to increase its rates by ten times – people are going to be forced to pay the exorbitant price, right?

First of all, if you are so concerned about people paying increasingly exorbitant prices for services, then it scarcely seems logical to propose the government as the solution to that problem. Taxes have risen immensely over the past 30 years, while services have declined.

However, even if we accept the premise of the problem, it is easily solved in a stateless society. First of all, no one will buy a house in a neighborhood without a contractual obligation that requires the supply of water at reasonable rates. Secondly, if the water company starts charging exorbitant prices, another company will simply move in and supply water in another form – in barrels, bottles or whatever. Thus raising prices permanently costs the water company its customers. Investors will quickly realize that the water company is shooting itself in the foot, and will align themselves with shareholders, resulting in a hostile takeover of the price-gouging water company. Given that this result will be known in advance, no CEO would be allowed to pursue such a self-destructive course. The consumers are perfectly safe – it is only when a government exists that can be manipulated by corporations to prevent competition that the consumers are truly in danger.

Okay – what if two DROs have different rules – isn't that just going to result in endless civil war?

No. First of all, it is unlikely that DROs would have wildly different rules, because that would be economically inefficient. Cell phone companies use similar protocols, so that they can interoperate with each other. Railroad companies tend to use the same gauge, so that trains can travel as widely as possible. Internet service providers exchange data with other Internet service providers, passing e-mails back and forth. Like evolution, the free market is more about cooperation than pure competition. If a DRO wants to create a new rule, that rule will be fairly useless unless other DROs are willing to cooperate with it – just as a new e-mail program is fairly useless unless it uses existing protocols. This need for interoperability with other DROs will inevitably keep the number of new rules to the most economically efficient minimum.

New rules will also add to the costs for DRO subscribers—and if it costs them more money than it saves, the DRO will lose business.

But – won't the most successful DRO just arm itself, violently eliminate all the other DROs, and emerge as a new government?

First of all, if the potential emergence of a new government at some point in the future is of great concern, then surely the elimination of existing governments in the present is a worthy goal. If we have cancer, we go through chemotherapy to eliminate it in the present, even though we may get cancer again at some point in the future.

Secondly, unlike governments, DROs are not violent institutions. DROs will be primarily populated by white-collar workers: accountants, executives and so on. DROs are as likely to become paramilitary organizations as your average accounting firm is likely to become an elite squad of ninja death warriors. Given the current existence of governments that possess nuclear weapons, I for one am willing to take that risk.

Thirdly, if a DRO tries to turn itself into a government, the other DROs will certainly act to prevent it. DROs would simply refuse to cooperate with any DRO that refused to submit to "arms inspections." Furthermore, DRO customers would also not take very kindly to their DRO becoming an armed institution – and their rates would certainly skyrocket, because their DRO would have to provide its regular services, as well as pay for all those black helicopters and RPGs. Any DRO that was paying for goods or services that its customers did not want – i.e. an army – would very quickly go out of business, because it would not be competitive in terms of rates.

Are there any examples of anarchic societies being successful in the past?

There are, but that is not the essential question. Again, the essential aspect of anarchic theory is the moral rule banning the initiation of the use of force. Anarchists advocate a stateless society because governments are evil. When slavery was abolished for the first time in human history, there was no example of a successful slave–free society — if that had been a requirement, then slavery would never have been abolished.

That having been said, I can absolutely and confidently point towards a nonviolent society that you're intimately aware of – you. I am guessing that you do not use violence directly to achieve your aims. It seems likely to me that you did not hold your employer hostage until you got your job; I also doubt that you keep your "girlfriend" locked in the basement, or that you threaten to shoot your "friends" if they do not join you on the dance floor. In other words, you are the perfect example of a stateless society. All of your personal relationships are voluntary, and do not involve the use of force. You are an anarchic microcosm – to see how a stateless society might work, all you have to do is look in the mirror.

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