Saturday, December 23, 2006

Statist Dating

Statist Dating
By Stefan Molyneux

So this afternoon, when my son comes home from school, he’s carrying a cat-cage. He throws his books on the kitchen table and flashes me a smile, heading to the fridge.

“Hey son,” I ask, “Where’d you get the cat?”

“Oh” he says, opening the fridge door, “it’s my date’s.”

“Your date’s?”

He takes a swig of milk. “Yeah. For the prom tomorrow.”

“Ohhh-k. Why do you have her cat?”

“Uhh, well, for insurance.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Well I’m not sure she’s going to show.”

“What happened? What did she say when you asked her?”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, she’s all: it’s sooo totally inappropriate. She wasn’t into.”

I shook my head slightly, trying to make sense of my son. “So – you… took her cat? Because she said no?”

“Uh, Dad, no, what do you think I am, crazy?”

“Uhhh, no… But you do have her cat.”

“Well sure! She said she didn’t want to go to the prom with me, and I told her that she did, but she just didn’t know it yet, and that going to the prom with me was the right thing to do, and so I would have to make her do it if she didn’t want to.”

“What? What kind of… Where on earth did you learn that that was a good idea?”

“From my political science class.”

“Your political… What? How on earth does that make sense?” I took a deep breath. “Step me through it.”

He smiles. “Sure! So my political science teacher tells us we choose the government, and then the government gets to tell us what to do. Right?”

“Yeah, that’s the theory I guess…”

“So I asked her: hey, what if we don’t like what the government tells us to do? She says, well, we have to obey the government anyway, but we can protest, or vote for someone else in a few years or whatever. And then I said: what if the government orders us to do something we really disagree with – can we say no? She says, not really, you have to obey the government. Why? I ask. She says: because you have chosen the government. But if we have chosen the government, why would it need to force us to do things? It’s like– if I go to a store to buy an iPod, and say to the guy, I really want this iPod, here’s my money, and he pulls out a gun and says: you totally have to buy this iPod, or I’m going to shoot you.” He shakes his head. “What kind of sense would that make? If I want to buy the iPod, no one has to force me to buy it. If I don’t want to buy the iPod, isn’t it kind of wrong to force me to buy it? Am I wrong, Dad?”

I sigh. Sometimes I wish my son didn’t have to learn these lessons. “No, son, you’re not wrong.”

He smiles. “So then I said that governments, then, must be always forcing people to do what they don’t want to do, or I guess stop them from doing what they do want to do. And she says that people want to do the wrong things, but that government makes them do the right things. So I asked her how people who want to do the wrong things can vote for people who will force them to do the right things? I mean, if you know enough to say to someone: force me to be good – and here’s my list of good things – then surely you’re good enough already, and don’t need to be forced. And only bad people would want that job anyway!” He shakes his head. “Then she gets really angry and just says that people have to be forced to do the right thing, that there are a lot of bad people in the world, and we need governments to protect us, and so we have to obey, because the government is trying to help us, and basically it knows best. So I say: then it’s OK to force people to do stuff even if they don’t want to. She says yes, as long as you have their best interests at heart. I started to ask her how you could possibly know that, but she cut me off and said we had to move on, and that all the other kids were bored, which I don’t think was the case, ’cause they were all pretty wide-eyed by then.”

I nod slowly. “Right. Sooo… The cat?”

My son hops up on a stool. “Right, right! So, I want a date for the prom, and I ask someone in my poly-sci class, but she’s all ‘nooo, that’s soooo inappropriate,’ but I really want her to come, ’cause I have her best interests at heart, so I tell her that she has to come to the prom with me, because there are lots of bad dates out there, and it’s my duty to protect her. She says that she doesn’t need protection. I say sorry, that’s not really an option. She tells me to get lost. I say that if you don’t want to obey me, there will be consequences. She gets really mad and tells me to stop threatening her. I say I am not threatening her, I am just governing her, and if she doesn’t obey me, I’ll be forced to take her cat. She calls me a little creep and storms off.”

“So… that’s her cat?”

“Yeah, it’s easy to find out where people live. And it was an outdoor cat, so I didn’t have to break in or anything.”

I sigh. “So when can I expect a call from the girl’s parents?”

He blinks in confusion. “Parents? Why would her parents call? She’s, like, ancient.”

“Ancient? You’re in grade 9!”


“So how old is this girl?”

He pokes his finger into the cat cage. “Hi there!” He glances at me. “Oh she’s not a girl, dad. She’s a woman.”


The phone rings. Numbly, I pick it up. Before I can say anything, a shrieking female voice hits my ear like an icepick.

“This is Mrs. Staten, your son’s political science teacher, what on earth is going on, and where the hell is my cat?”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Worst. Meeting. Ever!

In my role as a business consultant, I am often asked to provide solutions to highly complex problems. Recently, a large, politically well-connected agricultural business paid me a fortune to provide them with a five-year plan on how to best allocate their assets, capital and human resources in order to maximize profitability. The complexity of the business challenges involved were overwhelming, and I almost despaired of being able to provide them with a solution. The night before my big presentation, however, I suddenly remembered a central lesson I had learned in my political science classes. Armed with inspiration, I scribbled down a complete and total six-step solution, slept well, and presented my answer at the Board of Directors meeting the next morning.

This is what I showed them:

Step One
Find some people.

Step Two
Arm them.

Step Three
Help them disarm everyone else.

Step Four
Give them enormous amounts of money.

Step Five
Give them your wish list.

Step Six
Wait for the solution!

I finished my presentation and turned to my audience, flushed with triumph. But for some reason, my solution was not greeted with cheers and accolades. Instead, I saw nothing but baffled and angry faces.

“What the hell was that?” demanded the Chairman of the Board.

“Excuse me?”

“What kind of crap was that?”

“I’m sorry,” I frowned. “I’m totally confused. Are there any Republicans or Democrats in the room?”

“Well of course, but…”

“And do you vote? Do you all vote?”

“Sure, but…”

“Well,” I asked, “do you have something against democracy then?”

Of course not, they all cried, but what does any of that have to do with this presentation?

“Well,” I said, “that’s the beauty of it! If you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you already agree that this ‘six step’ solution is the perfect answer to incredibly complex problems like educating children, providing health care, alleviating poverty and eliminating drug use – and tons of other problems far more complex than the one you want me to solve! So – given that you already approve of this ‘six step’ program for the most complicated and challenging social problems, surely it should be perfectly applicable to your much less complicated business issue! Heck, it might even be overkill!

This did not go over very well at all, which was rather surprising to me. I had to interrupt their angry words. “What on earth are you upset about?” I demanded. “Do you disapprove of public education? Does public education use something other than this ‘six step’ program? Don’t we give guns to a group of people and then ask them to educate our children? Don’t we give these people the entire power of the state, which they use to prevent other educators from competing with them? Does this power not give this group access to enormous amounts of money? Do we not keep handing those in the government our ‘wish list’ of the problems we want solved? And do we not fully expect that they will provide us with a solution? Why on earth are you angry? You have already approved this plan!”

More anger, more hostility – and then, most strangely, the Chairman suddenly demanded that I give them a full refund! I could not believe it! I asked if everyone had decided that they no longer were Democrats or Republicans. Strenuous denials all around! I held up my hand. “Excuse me. Excuse me! What do you do when the government fails to give you what you want? Do you demand a refund? If not, then why should I give you one?”

They ended up throwing me out on the street, shook their fists in my face, and promised to sue me if I didn’t give them back every penny they’d paid me.

I got up and dusted myself off, shaking my head in utter confusion. When I offer them a political solution, they scowl and yell at me – but they cheer and vote for a politician! I offer them the exact same solution that the government does, and they express loyalty to the government and threaten me! They throw me out into the street – and then meekly send their children to government schools. And jails. And wars.

People are very, very confusing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Gun in the Room Part 2 (Part 1 below)

Compliance is not Freedom

First of all, thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts with me about my last article – “The Gun in the Room.” In general, responses tended to fall into two rough categories:

  • Great article!
    - and
  • You’re insane!

Naturally, I do not wish to take issue with the first assessment, so let's have a look at the general objections contained within the second.

Overall, my sanity was questioned because many people thought I believe that the moment a man breaks the law, the government shoots him. In my world, apparently, the moment your speedometer creeps over the speed limit, state snipers blow your head off.

This, of course, would result in a largely unpopulated planet, and therefore I would like to clarify my position on the correlation between breaking the law and being aggressed against by the state.

If you fail to file a tax return, you are not immediately dragged before a kangaroo court, and shot after a speedy and Stalin-esque trial. That takes time. ; ) Rather, you will get a letter – often a rather polite one – asking if there may be some kind of problem. If you do not respond to this letter, very little will happen.

For a while, anyway.

If you fail to file a tax return again, you may get another letter. Or, you may not. Tax authorities will sometimes leave you alone for several years, to bolster their eventual prosecution by showing a pattern of intentional tax evasion.

However, the day will come when you receive a letter that is not quite as polite. In this letter, you will be told to file your tax returns, or face the consequences, which will decidedly not involve just another letter. If you still do not file your tax return(s), you will get another letter detailing the actions will be taken against you if you do not file your tax return(s) immediately. If you continue in your course, you will receive another letter – decidedly un-polite at this point – with a court date, and a list of penalties that will be assessed against you when you are found guilty of tax evasion. Initially, these penalties will be largely financial – back taxes, fines etc. If you show up at the court, you will be found guilty, and large fines will be imposed upon you. If you do not pay the fines – or do not show up in court to begin with – sooner or later, the police will come to arrest you.

When the police come to arrest you, you will be severely discouraged from acting in self-defense, despite the fact that their actions are identical to a “home invasion.” When the policemen break your door down, if you pull out a gun to protect yourself, you will very likely get shot. Even if you do not get shot, your prison stay will be greatly extended because you have now threatened the police in addition to not paying your taxes.

If you attempt to escape from the custody of police – or, later, the prison guards – you also will very likely get shot, and will certainly receive harsh punishment. If, after you are released from prison, you still refrain from paying your taxes, you will very likely spend the rest of your life in prison. (We need not go into the horrible details of what happens in prison – let’s just say that, after your first night, you may have a new appreciation for the legal victims of the “war on terror.”)

The fact that months or years can pass between breaking the law and being violently punished – combined with the reality that most people do obey the state, and thus do not incur such punishments – often confuses people as to the true nature of the society they live in.

To take a parallel example, let’s look at the institution of slavery. Most slaves did not try to run away, and neither did they aggress against their masters. If they worked hard, and obeyed the rules, they were even unlikely to be beaten or deprived of food (though rape was another matter). In other words, a slave could live most of his life without being directly aggressed against. Does that mean that slavery was not enforced through violence? Of course not! Compliance to violence only obscures it, it does not eliminate it.

Let’s take another example. Most people will give up their wallets at gunpoint rather than risk of getting shot. In most robberies, then, no actual violence occurs – only the threat of violence. Do we then believe that no violence occurs unless someone actually gets shot? If a man approaches you and hints that if you do not pay him protection money, your house just might get burned down at some point in the future, is that immoral intimidation?

Mentioning public schools also confused some people. They understood my point about the Iraq war – that you cannot be said to have any right to oppose it if you are forced to fund it – but they could not make the leap to public schools. Let me clarify. If you do not pay the taxes that pay for public schools, the sequence of events that starts with a letter and ends with you getting shot or thrown into the rape room of a government prison also occurs. Not one single aspect of state finance or activity occurs outside the realm of violence. Even the Federal Reserve is based on violence, because if you attempt to duplicate its capacity to counterfeit, or set up your own currency… Well, you know what happens.

I certainly understand that the simple reality of universal state violence makes many people very uncomfortable – and they are quite right to feel uncomfortable! Once you really get this idea under your skin, your life will change irrevocably. You will no longer be tempted to base your arguments on tedious and complicated abstractions. When talking to people about freedom, you will cut to the core of the issues very rapidly. This will have enormous effects on every single relationship in your life. You will very quickly discover the true moral natures of those around you – and this can be quite shocking. So I certainly understand why people are hesitant to accept this idea, and why they prefer to label me as an “extremist” rather than to begin exploring the reality of state violence in their own hearts and with the people around them.

Of course, there is also an empirical method by which the existence of “the gun on the room” can be tested. It’s really quite simple, although I certainly don’t recommend it.

Stop obeying the law.

If you are right, you have just saved yourself enormous amounts of time and money. If I am right, though, we may never see you again – which would be a real tragedy, because libertarianism needs all the supporters it can get!

If, however, you hesitate to flout the rules of the state, then it is important to examine why. If you’re honest with yourself, you will find, as I did, that you tremble in fear before the guns of the state, and that the humiliation of being ordered around for your entire life is almost unbearable.

The solution to the humiliation of forced compliance is, however, to reject the force, not to imagine that compliance makes it vanish. Such magic is beyond us. We must face the reality of the violence we live under. The fact that you have not been arrested does not mean that you are free.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Gun in the Room

“Put down the gun, then we’ll talk.”

One of the most difficult – and essential – challenges faced by libertarians is the constant need to point out “the gun in the room.” In political debates, it can be very hard to cut through the endless windy abstractions that are used to cover up the basic fact that the government uses guns to force people to do what they do not want to do, or prevent them from doing what they do want to do. Listening to non-libertarians, I often wish I had a “euphemism umbrella” to ward off the continual oily drizzle of words and phrases designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence. We hear nonstop nonsense about the “social good,” the “redistribution of income,” the “education of children” and so on – endless attempts to bury the naked barrel of the state in a mountain of syrupy metaphors.

It is a wearying but essential task to keep reminding people that the state is nothing but an agency of violence. When someone talks about “the welfare state helping the poor,” we must point out the gun in the room. When someone opposes the decriminalization of marijuana, we must point out the gun in the room. When someone supports the reduction of taxes, we must point out the gun in the room – even if one bullet has been taken out.

So much political language is designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence that libertarianism sometimes has to sound like a broken record. We must, however, continue to peel back the euphemisms to reveal the socially-sanctioned brutality at the root of some of our most embedded social institutions.

I was recently involved in a debate with a woman about public schools. Naturally, she came up with reason after reason as to why public schools were beneficial, how wonderful they were for underprivileged children, how essential they were for social stability etc etc. Each of these points – and many more – could have consumed hour upon hour of back and forth, and would have required extensive research and complicated philosophical reasoning. But there was really no need for any of that – all I had to do was keep saying:

The issue is not whether public schools are good or bad, but rather whether I am allowed to disagree with you without getting shot.

Most political debates really are that simple. People don’t get into violent debates about which restaurant is best because the state doesn’t impose one restaurant on everyone – and shoot those trying to set up competing restaurants. The truth is that I couldn’t care less about this woman’s views on education – just as she couldn’t care less about my views – but we are forced to debate because we are not allowed to hold opposing views without one of us getting shot. That was the essence of our debate, and as long as it remained unacknowledged, we weren’t going to get anywhere.

Here’s another example. A listener to my ‘Freedomain Radio’ show posted the following comment on the message board:

If you say “Government A doesn’t work,” you are really saying that the way that individuals in that society are interacting is lacking in some way. There are many threads in this forum that address the real debate. This thread’s counterarguments all focus on government vs. free market society. The rules defining a free market are all agreed upon interactions at some level, just as a government is. Don’t debate that a government is using guns to force others, when it’s really individuals with guns, instead show how the other way will have less guns forcing others or how those guns could force others in a more beneficial way.

I responded in this manner:

But – and I’m sorry if I misunderstand you – government is force, so I’m not sure how to interpret your paragraph. Let me substitute another use of force to show my confusion:

“If you say that rape doesn’t work you are really saying that the way that individuals in that society are interacting is lacking in some way. There are many threads in this forum that address the real debate. This thread’s counterarguments all focus on rape vs. dating. The rules defining dating are all agreed upon interactions at some level, just as rape is. Don’t debate that a group of rapists is forcing others, when it’s really individual rapists, instead show how the other way will have fewer rapists forcing others or how those rapists could force others in a more beneficial way.”

Do you see my confusion?


It is a very helpful sign for the future of society that these euphemisms exist – in fact, I would not believe in the moral superiority of a stateless society if these euphemisms did not exist! If, every time I pointed out to people that their political positions all required that I get shot or arrested, they just growled: “Sure, I got no problem with that – in fact, if you keep disagreeing with me I’m going to shoot you myself!” – then, I would find it very hard to argue for a stateless society!

In more than 20 years of debating these issues, though, I’ve never met a single soul who wants to either shoot me himself or have someone else shoot me. I take enormous solace in this fact, because it explains exactly why these euphemisms are so essential to the maintenance and increase of state power.

The reason that euphemisms are constantly used to obscure “the gun in the room” is the simple fact that people don’t like violence very much. Most people will do almost anything to avoid a violent situation. Even the most bloodthirsty supporter of the Iraq invasion would have a hard time justifying the proposition that anybody who opposed the invasion should be shot – because it was to defend such freedoms that Iraq was supposed to have been invaded in the first place! But how can I have the right to oppose the invasion of Iraq if I am forced to pay for it through taxation? Surely that is a ridiculous contradiction, like arguing that a man has a right to free speech, and also that he should be arrested for speaking his mind. If I have the right to oppose the invasion, surely I cannot be forced to fund it. If I am forced to fund it, then any right I have to “oppose” it is purely imaginary.

In essence, then, all libertarian arguments come down to one single, simple statement:

Put down the gun, then we’ll talk.”

This is the core morality of both libertarianism and civilization. Civilized people do not shoot each other when they disagree – decent people do not wave guns in each other’s faces and demand submission or blood. Political leaders know this very well – I would say better than many libertarians do – and so constantly obscure the violence of their actions and laws with mealy-mouthed and euphemistic weasel words. Soldiers aren’t murdered, they “fall.” Iraq wasn’t invaded, but “liberated.” Politicians aren’t our political masters, they are “civil servants,” and so on and on.

Although libertarianism is generally considered a radical doctrine, the primary task of the libertarian is to continually reinforce the basic reality that almost everyone already is a libertarian. If we simply keep asking people if they are willing to shoot others in order to get their way, we can very quickly convince them that libertarianism is not an abstract, radical or fringe philosophy, but rather a simple description of the principles by which they already live their lives. If you get fired, do you think that you should hold your manager hostage until he gives you back your job? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position on unions, tariffs, and corporate subsidies. If you find your teenage son in your basement smoking marijuana, would you shoot him? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position on the drug laws. Should those who oppose war be shot for their beliefs? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position with regards to taxation.

Like the scientific method, libertarianism’s greatest strength is its uncompromising simplicity. The enforcement of property rights leads to an immensely complex economy, but the morality of property rights is very simple – would you shoot a man in order to steal his property? The same complexity arises from the simple and universal application of the non-aggression principle. It’s so easy to get lost in the beguiling complexities and forget to keep enunciating the basic principles.

So forget about esoteric details. Forget about the history of the Fed and the economics of the minimum wage. Just keep pointing out the gun in the room, over and over, until the world finally starts awake and drops it in horror and loathing.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Personal History of Political Freedom

My journey towards personal, political and philosophical freedom has been a complete and total circle. When I first began to explore philosophy in my mid-teens, I started with the usual suspects – Ayn Rand, Aristotle, Plato and so on. I fully accepted all of the theoretical principles inherent in a rational and empirical approach to analyzing truth. When I first heard the proposition that “taxation is theft,” I accepted it with the same equanimity I felt when I was first told of the world was round – not immediately evident, but perfectly sensible upon reflection.

And so I began my journey towards the heart of truth – and away from the vast majority of the people around me. The pursuit of philosophical truth, political freedom and personal authenticity has always been a somewhat lonely task – though spending time unwise people is always lonelier – but when starting my journey, I had no idea how far it would take me from my starting point. It has been very much like the line from the TS Eliot poem:

“At the end of all our journeying, we will return to the place of departure and know it for the first time.”

Now I am far from the end of my journey of course, but I really feel that I have gained a new appreciation of the ideas that set me on my path those many years ago.

Because I had no idea of the distance I had to travel when I started, I made far too many compromises along the way. These compromises have taught me about the great value of integrity, which was sorely lacking in me. I wanted friends, I needed my family, I wanted to date and make love, to get a graduate degree and move ahead in my career. In order to achieve these false goals, I created within myself two worlds. The first was an inner world where philosophy, integrity, honesty, virtue and truth all ruled supreme, and I was beholden to the goddess of philosophy in a purely removed and Platonic sense (this of course despite being an avowed anti-Platonic philosopher!). The second world was the world outside myself, where practical considerations like ambition, companionship, money and sex all held sway.

There was precious little connection between these two worlds. I dreamt in one, a soul without a body. I lived in the other, a body without a soul…

Throughout my late 20s and early 30s, I pursued the external world of ambition, wealth and status. I co-founded a software company, worked and traveled endlessly, and grew it to a multi-million dollar business. As the company grew more and more successful, it attracted corrupt people who wished to use it to transfer money from gullible investors to their own pockets. As a technologist, I averted my eyes and clung to my ignorance about the financial aspect of the business. After selling the company, I stayed on despite increasing evidence of the increasing corruption around me. I told myself it was for the sake of my employees, but in truth I was greedy for money and status and worldly success.

My conscience, however, trained and strengthened by years of philosophical examination, ultimately rebelled, and I ceased to be able to sleep. The contradictions between my values and my actions, my ethics and my companions – my virtue and my family – overwhelmed me, though I did not understand what was happening at the time.

Desperate to regain my equilibrium, I plunged into an extraordinarily rigorous self-examination, entering therapy and keeping a voluminous journal about my dreams and emotional experiences. Crossing the chasm between these two worlds – the world of the inner integrity and outer actions – proved an enormously difficult task. Taking the ideas that I had loved was so long with all of the seriousness that they deserved proved an unbelievably hard challenge. But I learned an important lesson. Talk is cheap. Integrity will cost you.

As I began to really live my values, one by one, friends, family and lovers all began to drop away from me. Despite my love of rational philosophy, I had accumulated friends who were statists, friends who were mystics, friends who were irrational, friends who were immoral, friends who were empty, friends who actively opposed the pursuit of truth and wisdom – and let's not even bother going over my familial and romantic relationships, I'm sure you get the picture! I debated with everyone, but it meant nothing – it was like two television sets pointed at each other. I strongly disagreed with friends who advocated the use of statist violence, but my moral opposition had no relation to our friendship. My ethics had no fundamental impact on my real life.

As a market anarchist, I do face some very challenging moral conversations with people around me. For instance, if a man tells me he is in favor of taxation, I now have little choice but to remind him that if he is in favor of taxation, it he is in favor of the government shooting me. I am always willing to discuss alternatives to the violence of taxation, but if this man proves unwilling to alter his opinion, then he is a man who wants me to be killed. When I was younger, I would ignore this. Now that I'm a little wiser, I do not.

Once, my wife's boss came over dinner, and brought her husband with her. He was an outspoken supporter of the invasion of Iraq. I tried reasoning with him, but his worship of the military “ethic” was immovable. I then said to him “Well, if I cannot change your mind about the virtue of invading Iraq, will you at least support my right not to fund a war I believe to be morally abhorrent?” He had a great degree of difficulty understanding what I meant of course, since taxation is so ingrained into our culture, but he did eventually understand that I should not be shot for withholding my financial support from a war I believe to be evil. Fortunately, he agreed with this position, helping us avoid a very awkward situation!

I face a similar challenge with Christians. Both the Old and New Testaments constantly command Christians to murder unbelievers. I do not pursue these conversations, since they tend to be very explosive, but if a man tells me that he is a Christian, I do have to ask him if he supports me being put to death for being an atheist. Very few Christians have actually read the Bible all the way through, so they are generally very surprised to hear that God instructs them to kill nonbelievers (of course they also believe that Islam is a violent religion!). They try to find any number of excuses to get their deity "off the hook" for making such evil commandments. They point out the virtues of certain Christians, or that the Bible is mistranslated, misinterpreted, misunderstood and so on. However, I point out that a black man may be forgiven for feeling animosity towards the Ku Klux Klan, even of Klan members do put on a good barbecue and sometimes give to charity – and that is how a rational atheist views Christianity, and most other religions.

All these conversations are challenging enough – however, that the most challenging philosophical conversations I have are those involving the family. My wife practices psychology, and has really helped me to understand the role that the family and early childhood experiences play in molding a person’s thinking. If a man rails against the power of the state, but submits to cold, offensive or aggressive family relations, he understands as little about morality as, well, I did in my twenties! I now firmly believe that the state gains the vast majority of its power, influence and credibility from unjust family authority. In their essence, governments are just parents writ large.

I only really understood this years after I had broken with my own family – which was quite a shock for me. I always believed that wisdom came from reason – but sometimes, wisdom can be provoked by decisive action. When I ended all my unpleasant and negative personal relationships, I thought I was near the end of the book of truth. Not so! I turned the page expecting to find an index, but instead found a new table of contents. Dealing with my family taught me more about morality than twenty years of studying ethical theories. Thoughts and books alone are a sort of prison. Freedom only really comes alive in action.

We can do precious little to free ourselves from the near-omnipotence of state power – however, we can take great strides to free ourselves from the more relevant and invasive tyrannies of corrupt personal relationships. The motto of my radio show – Freedomain Radio – is ‘The Logic of Personal and Political Liberty’ – and the sequence is not accidental. Personal liberty must always come first.

It can be sometimes a grim, lonely, and dispiriting business, talking about moral philosophy from first principles, and refusing to associate with people who wish you evil. However, the rewards are more than worth it! I have wonderful (though few!) remaining friends, a glorious relationship with my lovely wife, and through my work at Freedomain Radio, I have gathered many new friends, and thoroughly enjoy sharing ideas with a truly brilliant crew!

In taking this time to think back more than 20 years over my philosophical journey, I am really amazed at the impressive circularity of my path. Except for small aspects of statism, I cannot really think of any moral principles that I accepted in my teens that I do not actively practice now. The difference, of course, is that rather than just thinking about philosophy in the abstract, I actually practice it in the here and now, in my own life, every day. Bringing philosophy to life in this way has made all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Importing Freedom

Perspectives on the Question of Immigration

- By Stefan Molyneux and Wilton D. Alston

One of the truly “hot button” libertarian issues is immigration. While most libertarians would reject the argument “we must have taxation to pay for the welfare state,” many do support the position that “we must control immigration because of the welfare state.”

This is particularly true for U.S. libertarians, who seem very alarmed that 40% of Mexicans have expressed a desire to come and taste the fruits of freedom north of the border. “Forty million Mexicans coming to live here? What a disaster!”

Well maybe. But maybe not. Let’s spend a few minutes examining that question. And just for good measure, let us be sure to examine both of the most widely held libertarian views.
One major fear that many libertarians have is that immigrants will pour into the country and ‘take over’ the government through lobbying and voting. Another one – and this is by far the predominant “scholarly” position taken by the libertarian intelligentsia – is that immigrants will overwhelm the U.S. economy. This is the position so vigorously argued by people like Hans-Herman Hoppe in an article from as far back as 1998 and Stephen Cox in a recent article from 2006. Separated by such a long time period, and both writing in nominally libertarian publications, both men say essentially the same thing – letting too many immigrants into America (particularly of the low-income/low-skill variety) would be catastrophic for our way of life.

In the “immigrant voting” scenario, state policies will be warped by new influences to serve the needs of these newcomers. Salsa will become the official dip of the United States. Mamba lessons will be mandatory, and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” will end up showing only piñata crotch-shots. In the “economic strife” scenario, the U.S. would be “overrun by millions of third-world immigrants,” turn into a 2000-mile wide refugee camp or some such. The already depleted cup of welfare would be drained and finding a seat at your local emergency room would begin to look like a scene from “Coming to America: Vive La Noche.” Neither Hoppe nor Cox mention dogs and cats living together, but that was probably just an oversight.

All kidding aside, these are both very interesting perspectives, and could actually be a real bridge between libertarians and existing minorities, instead of a barrier, depending upon how they are analyzed.

Overpowering the Vote?

When we consider a flood of, say, vote-happy Norwegian immigrants, we can easily picture that the politicians will be Norwegian, the policies will be “Norwegian-friendly,” and our own culture and preferences will be swept aside in a Norwegian-appeasing majority stampede. We would feel alienated, right? We would feel excluded and ignored and perhaps even a little belittled. We would distance ourselves from the political process and grumble that the government is really only there to serve the Norwegians. We would be highly discontented with the existing system, and probably quite open to exploring alternatives. What would we have to lose?

In other words, we would be exactly the sort of people that libertarians should be talking to. When we fear the government serving special interests based on someone else’s race and culture, we exactly reproduce how most minorities view the existing political system.
Just look at Congress. A bunch of old white guys, mostly. Look at the list of Presidents – yawn, might as well be a picture of the same guy over and over. Look at the history of how the government has treated minorities – from slavery to incarceration to Jim Crow to abysmal local schools and the soft quagmire of the welfare state. Do you think that the average minority member looks at the existing government and says: “Now there’s a bunch of white-haired old fogeys who are truly looking out for me!” Of course not! Minorities aren’t very invested in the existing system. They’re interested in change. What will a libertarian solution cost them? They have no real voice or access to power anyway.

Let’s be honest. Another reason that many of us are afraid of immigration because we fear that foreigners will swarm over dragging families and dependents and overwhelm the public system with endless demands for health care, education, welfare, pensions and so on. Crime and taxes will skyrocket, property values will plummet etc. etc. etc.

Overwhelming the Economy?

In “The Case For Free Trade and Restricted Immigration,” as he attempts to logically and methodically illustrate the error of free immigration that intellectually undergirds this fear, Hoppe says:

"Assume that the U.S., or better still Switzerland, declared that there would no longer be any border controls, that anyone who could pay the fare might enter the country, and, as a resident then be entitled to every “normal” domestic welfare provision. Can there be any doubt how disastrous such an experiment would turn out in the present world? The U.S., and Switzerland even faster, would be overrun by millions of third-world immigrants, because life on and off American and Swiss public streets is comfortable compared to life in many areas of the third world. Welfare costs would skyrocket, and the strangled economy disintegrate and collapse, as the subsistence fund—the stock of capital accumulated in and inherited from the past—was plundered. Civilization in the U.S. and Switzerland would vanish, just as it once did from Rome and Greece."

That does sound pretty scary! (Where’s a Texas-vigilante-turned-patriot minuteman when you need one?) Certainly if the current politicos plundering of our money have not driven the U.S. into the history books right next to ancient Rome, too many low-wage immigrants would be the proverbial straw, right?

But very tellingly, Hoppe includes the caveat, “as a resident then be entitled to every ‘normal’ domestic welfare provision.” Even if we libertarians are so politically weak and societally marginalized that we cannot convince everyone that welfare is a bad idea, surely we could posit a reasonable treatise as to why it should not be offered willy-nilly to anybody who shows up to ask for it.

But wait, there’s more. In the “The Fallacy of Open Immigration,” Cox says:
"Imagine an unskilled laborer who has come here legally, just as proponents of open borders wish that all unskilled laborers could do. Let's say he makes $15,000 a year — an income that is above the minimum wage, an income that is quite good enough to draw millions of people here from almost anywhere in the world, provided we had open borders. And let's say that his wife works too (part time, because of the kids) and makes $10,000 a year. That $25,000 is the value they contribute to the American economy. Out of it, they pay maybe $1,200 in sales taxes, $500 in the property taxes that are included in their rent, $1,900 in Social Security payments, and zip in income taxes. (Whatever taxes are extracted from their checks, they get back in refunds. Actually, because of tax subsidies to poor people, they will probably get back a good deal more than they pay in, but to be extra-fair I won't pause to calculate that.)"

Cox goes on with:

"Of course, the Social Security contributions are not invested and will never earn enough to pay the total cost of the couple's retirement benefits; other taxpayers will have to do that. In this respect, the couple is already a serious economic loss. The scale of that loss will appear when they retire. Other losses are happening right now. Because of their low income, man and wife are eligible for innumerable welfare programs — from subsidized housing to medical assistance (if they don't have adequate private insurance, which they won't) to free legal aid to disaster aid if a storm comes through. Any physical disability may result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to other taxpayers. Whenever the couple have a child, that's $10,000 at the county hospital. Afterwards, it's probably $5,000 a year for a government-financed preschool, then $10,000 a year (the approximate national average) in government funds for K-12 education."

Wow. After hearing all that, not only do closed borders sound like a good idea but one could get the sneaking suspicion that we would all be better off if we could “deport” most of the existing poor people as well! (They were born here you say? Just a petty detail!) They are, using the same analysis Cox uses above, draining hard-earned cash from the pocketbooks of those who pay taxes (something libertarians almost universally consider stealing) and do not contribute their “fair share” to the economy. It’s just not right! And the Founding Fathers would say so too!

At this point some readers might ask, “Well, other then when they got here, what makes immigrants different than the poor we already have?” (Other than the fact that nothing guarantees that they will stay poor, even if they do arrive on a seawater-soaked-mattress. I’ll take NOTHING for $500 Alex.) If it would be immoral to deport those already “draining the system,” how can the inefficiency and theft of that system be used as a logical argument against letting others come here simply because they too could end up using it? Good question.

The fact that such an action and the system it ostensibly protects are orthogonal to libertarian theory might also be a clue. Maybe reading a few more of these closed-border-libertarian pieces would allow us all to find out, but that is unlikely. In the meantime, libertarians would better serve the theory, logic, and dogma they ostensibly value by laboring to remove the sorry hand of the state versus espousing more rhetoric that protects the meager chips already on the table from the poor no matter from whence they came. That sounds simple, but the best answers usually are, at least according to Occam’s Razor.

To be fair to Hoppe though, all his writings do not so openly support closed borders. In “Free Immigration or Forced Integration,” as quoted from the Block article linked below, he says:
“It would also be wrongheaded to attack the case for free immigration by pointing out that because of the existence of a welfare state, immigration has become, to a significant extent, the immigration of welfare bums, who, even if the United States is below the optimal population point, do not increase but rather decrease average living standards. For this is not an argument against immigration but rather against the welfare state. To be sure, the welfare state should be destroyed, root and branch. However, the problems of immigration and welfare are analytically distinct, and they must be treated accordingly.”

Indeed. And libertarian theorist and author Walter Block hits the nail on the head in “A Libertarian Case for Free Immigration” when he says:

“Let it be said loudly and clearly: end welfare for all people, but at the very least for immigrants and their descendants, and by definition immigrants will no longer be attracted to our shores in order to receive such funds.”

Little more need be said if we libertarians are truly worried about this one issue. But just between us, and again calling upon Block, it seems a little simple-minded to suggest “that immigrants come to our shores not to breathe the heady wine of economic freedom, but to avail themselves of our stupendously generous welfare system.” As Block accurately states, “This is not so much a quarrel with immigration as it is with welfare.” Why not focus on the problem directly versus opining about another set of folks who could fall victim to it?


When looking at groups that threaten your economic interests and personal freedoms, should immigrants be at (or even near) the top of the list? Review the data for yourself. Was the invasion of Iraq orchestrated by immigrants? Did immigrants set up the Social Security Ponzi scheme? What about the Fed and the endless debasement of currency? Immigrants? Not so much. The military/industrial complex? Rich white guys. The welfare state? Massive taxation? The national debt? The Patriot Act? The hundred thousand regulations passed by the Federal government every year, are those agitated for or passed by Mexicans or Norwegians or blind women from Luxemburg speaking in tongues?

Of course not. Immigrants aren’t the ones taking away your freedom. It’s guys who probably look quite a bit like you. Immigrants are victims of the same poorly-conceived statist ideas that libertarians normally attack. How can they simultaneously be the culprit in any supposed libertarian examination of the possible problems of immigration?

“Oh sure,” you say, “but a lot of immigrants have lobbyists and influence, and they strive for preferential legislation.” Well sure! But who set up the system that made lobbying was so profitable? It wasn’t the immigrants. It wasn’t the poor. And it certainly wasn’t the blacks!
What does the government spend money on? Social security – mostly for elderly whites. Military spending, which mostly benefits whites. Interest payments on the national debt aren’t exactly swelling the coffers of the NAACP. Corporate welfare? The overprinting of money? Do poor minorities benefit from state-created inflation? You get the idea.

An elementary tactic of those in power is to sow dissent, so that those they rule become fearful of each other rather than angry at the rulers. The idea that millions of Mexicans threaten our freedom more than a few hundred congressmen is laughable. Mexican immigrants are willing to uproot their entire lives and leave their country behind just for the chance to breathe free! The idea that immigrants don’t appreciate freedom, but the average complacent, state-indoctrinated native does is patently false. Immigrants weren’t in charge when we lost our freedoms. White guys were. Millions of ‘illegal immigrants’ threaten you somehow? Compared to your neighbor who votes Democrat or Republican and demands his Social Security? Puh-lease!

Who is more dedicated to freedom, a Republican who supports the President no matter what, or a man who risks death rowing a tiny boat over from Cuba? Who yearns more for freedom, your Congressman, or a Chinese woman who hides in the hold of a ship for weeks, is willing to live illegally and run the risk of get shipped back to her Communist masters if caught? Who understands the dangers of totalitarianism more, the average citizen indoctrinated in state schools with blind patriotism, or those who sacrifice everything to flee the state oppression of their homelands? America was founded by people fleeing oppression!

Many, including Cox, would likely call any libertarian who subscribes to such a (gasp) dogmatic view of libertarian law a fool. Similarly, we purists have a poor grasp on reality. Supposedly, adherence to the very theories that make libertarians different from the political mainstream also makes libertarians a “parody of themselves” and thereby the laughing stock of the mainstream. Maybe all that is true. But not for nothing, if we advocates of market anarchism are thought of as out-of-touch by beer-gut intelligentsia who obtain their political information from Faux News, that’s okay. And if open immigration does turn out to bankrupt the state, is that the end of the world? Can we expect radical reform in the absence of crisis? State bankruptcy ended Communism after all.

If libertarians are going to continue to be what we already are, a tiny minority, almost totally excluded from the political mainstream, then let’s at least do it while staying true to the concept upon which libertarianism is actually supposed to be based: the non-aggression axiom – particularly as interpreted using the argument from morality.

Immigrants and minorities may well be the best friends that freedom has. They do not fall as readily to propaganda, and they experience the excluded underbelly of state power more accurately than many libertarians. They are not threats to be feared, but friends to be made.

As an excluded minority themselves, libertarians should know better.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Respecting the "Sheeple"

Loving Non-Libertarians As If They Never Hurt You…

One of the greatest challenges in the libertarian movement is reaching out to non-libertarians. Some people within the libertarian movement – due to frustration no doubt – have developed a rather scornful attitude towards non-libertarians. I believe that this is the greatest inhibitor to our eventual success as a movement, and I would like to make the case here for benevolence and respect towards non-libertarians.

As an intellectual movement, we will only succeed if we change the mind of others, and so discovering the most effective methods of communication is essential. And before asking how we should change other people's minds, it is well worth asking: what changed my mind?

I believe that the answer to this question will not only new breed more effective communication, but will also foster a growing benevolence towards non-libertarians.

In my own case, libertarianism was an “instant high” for me – and was also almost totally accidental! A friend of mine listened to the rock band Rush, whose drummer was a fan of Ayn Rand. My friend passed me a copy of The Fountainhead, and I fell in love with the ideas within about two pages.

Almost all libertarians that I have ever talked to had a similar kind of “instant epiphany,” wherein they felt that a new world opening up for them, and that they were able to start really using their minds the first time in their lives.

When you really take the time to sit down and ruminate on this process, it is very instructive. Most of us became libertarians because we loved the ideas when we first encountered them. Our passion for the ideas led us to develop the logic of the position. The passion, the pleasure, the excitement – all these emotional experiences came first. The elucidation and rational verification came later.

It seems impossible that within reading a few pages of The Fountainhead, I was able to rationally grasp and process objectivist philosophy. What Ayn Rand called “a sense of life” spoke to me from the pages of her novel. A deep aspect of my personality responded to the passionate individualism of her characters and language. As I learned more and more about objectivism and libertarianism, I confirmed all of my initial impressions, but I was driven to study philosophy because of my pleasure in the process. I became more rational not as a result of logical arguments, but rather because I enjoyed studying logical arguments.

This is a crucial distinction, and something that is essential for libertarians to understand. There are certain souls in the world that are naturally drawn to liberty, and all that is required is that these souls be exposed to rational ideas, and everything follows from there. (There are also certain souls in the world that are naturally hostile to liberty, and no amount of exposure or argument will ever change them!)

What should most concern us as libertarians, are those in the middle – those who are neither naturally drawn to, nor naturally averse to, ideas of liberty. It is these people that we must reach if we are to succeed as a movement.

Once we understand that it was our passionate and pleasurable initial reaction to logical arguments that drew us down the road of philosophy, we can also begin to appreciate that such a reaction is very uncommon. I did not voluntarily choose to find philosophy so pleasurable – it was a complete surprise to me! Thus I cannot really say that my lifelong study of philosophy is the result of listening to rational arguments, but rather from following my own pleasure. I believe that the study of philosophy has granted me a certain virtue and wisdom which I would not have possessed otherwise, but I did not possess those attributes at the beginning of my journey.

If a love of philosophy is to some degree innate, than it cannot be a source of personal pride. If I am prone to weight gain, but work hard to maintain a healthy weight, I can take pride in that accomplishment. If, however, I am naturally thin, then maintaining a healthy weight cannot logically be a source of pride. Most libertarians are “naturally philosophical”, in the same way that Mozart was “naturally musical”, and so for it to be a source of pride and superiority is fundamentally irrational.

Now Mozart would probably have been just about the worst piano teacher in the world, since what came so naturally, easily and pleasurably for him comes very hard for other people. If Mozart wanted to become a good piano teacher, he would have to understand that his own natural talents and capacities were not shared by the general population, and that he would have to approach things slowly and respectfully in order to transfer his knowledge effectively. If Mozart kept calling his students stupid for failing to grasp musical concepts and write symphonies at the age of seven, they would probably not find the experience very pleasurable, and would probably not end up learning a whole lot about music!

The emotional approach of many libertarians to non-libertarians is similar – concepts that come easily to libertarians are very hard for non-libertarians to grasp. This does not mean that non-libertarians are stupid, corrupt, evil, stubborn – or any of the other lovely epithets often bestowed upon them by libertarians! If you are trying to transfer knowledge to someone, and they reject that knowledge, that is always and forever your responsibility. Either you chose someone incapable of understanding what you're trying to tell them, or they were capable of understanding it but you have failed to communicate effectively. Blaming the listener is irrational.

It is also important to understand how libertarianism looks to non-libertarians. It remains sort of a “fringe belief,” of which there are far too many in this irrational world! When the average citizen considers libertarianism, he or she will look to the experts, just as most of us do when surveying unfamiliar fields. What will he see? Well, when he flips on CNN, he sees no libertarians on panel discussions. When he opens his newspaper, he sees no almost libertarian editorials. When he looks at universities, he sees almost no libertarian professors. When he reviews expert literature, he finds very few libertarian positions. When he looks at the thoughts of many of the most intelligent members of the human race, such as Einstein, Russell, Mill, Keynes and so on, he finds socialism or statism advocated in many forms. When he thinks back on his own state education, he recalls no libertarian positions, but endless streams of pro-state “facts.” Can we rationally condemn him for his skepticism? Because he equates “capitalism” with child slavery and the Great Depression, we appear to him like a doctor arguing against antibiotics and for a return to leeching!

Furthermore – and this is a very a very important fact – most individuals will face significant social – and probably professional – repercussions for accepting libertarian positions. Conversations with their families, friends and colleagues will probably become quite uncomfortable. If they have children, they may have to “de-program” them – and reversals in parental moral instructions can be very difficult, both for the parent and child (or, heaven forbid, the teenager!). And what if the person you are trying to enlighten is a public school teacher, or a professor? If he accepts your position, he will have to realize that the vast majority of his career has been spent communicating falsehoods – and thus also punishing the rare student who spoke the truth! This would be quite a bitter pill for any educator to swallow!

Furthermore, even if they switch their positions, we cannot tell them "then, we will triumph, and the power of the state will be curtailed". We really are asking for a lot – ostracism, endless social and professional conflicts, a reversal of all prior ethical beliefs – and for what? Some possible victory in the far future! From a cost/benefit standpoint, it is a pretty tough case to make!

People are responsible for their beliefs, of course, and I am not saying “no one is accountable,” but I think that we need to approach non-libertarians by sharing enthusiasm, not radiating superiority. We all spend good portions of our lives – whether we are teachers are not – communicating about moral and philosophical issues. Asking people to reverse their positions in these areas is asking them to accept that they have hitherto lived their lives communicating falsely about the most essential issues in the world.

This is not to say that we should not try – or that because we have natural abilities in the realm of philosophy that philosophy is subjective, or requires these natural abilities – but it is very important for us to retain our humility in the face of our talents, and not damn those who struggle with what comes so easily to us. Contempt or hostility towards those lacking abilities in a particular area is not a mark of confidence or superiority, but rather insecurity and vanity, and will not save the world. If we are to be the teachers of mankind, we must first and foremost respect our students.

The Grave Danger of Self Defense

I get scads of emails about two positions I hold.

  1. The principle of self-defense is relatively unimportant, and

  2. You live a peaceful life, so you are proof that a stateless society can work.

A communicator must always take responsibility for misunderstandings, so, as a clarification, here is a more detailed description of what I mean.
  1. Self-defense is a red herring
I talk about this in a podcast called “Forget about Self-Defense”, which has led many people to believe that I am a radical pacifist, who would not lift a finger to oppose a home invasion.

I perfectly support the principle of self-defense, but view it to be an unimportant – and, frankly, dangerous – principle in practice.

People who support “self defense” usually view it as a very important principle, central to life in society and crucial to questions of ethics.

I could not disagree more – and my disagreement is fundamental, since it deals more with methodology than conclusions.

To develop my ideas, I try to work empirically, from my own life to the lives of those I know, to general evidence, and then on up to the logical abstract world of concepts and principles. I think this is a more scientific (and anti-Platonic) approach, more grounded in real life, which eschews abstractions not derived from “real world” examples.

So when I think of the “right to self defense”, I think: “OK, when has this right been useful in my life? How many times have I had to stare down 12 ninjas with holding only a broken bottle and found this moral principle to be valuable? Conversely, when have I been in situations of imminent violence and worried about the principle of self-defense?”

And I have to say: well, never!

I grew up in a rough neighborhood, with lots of bullies, and let me tell you something – the principle of self-defense never really comes up with bullies, since they never attack anyone really capable of, or willing to, defending himself. (For more on this, see Bush’s approach to Iraq versus North Korea.)

I was only bullied a few times in my life, and each time the bully was approximately 12 times my size, or I was outnumbered approximately 12-1. “My lunch money? Absolutely, here you go, would you like a kidney too, sir?”

No possibility for self-defense. A nice idea in principle, but in reality

I was also sent to boarding school, where you got caned for disobedience. Self defense? Impossible. Your best hope was self protection – i.e. put a comic book down your trousers and pray!

Now I have to pay 50% of my money in taxes. Self-defense against the state? Impossible!

Thus, when I look at my life, I find that I have never been in a single solitary situation in my life where self-defense was even a remotely viable strategy. Now I could be an anomaly, but I also have never met anyone who was ever able to use personal self-defense as a viable strategy.

Of course, I recognize that such situations do exist – just as agonizing decisions exist regarding brain function and euthanasia – but they are scarcely the norm, and surely not at – or even near – the top of most pressing moral issues.

And why is this issue even important? Why is focusing on “self defense” dangerous?

Well, because it’s so often used as a justification for the state. The argument runs something like this: “We all have the right to self-defense, but some people cannot defend themselves, so we need an agency that will defend them, which is the state.”

The logical – and moral – problem with this is, of course, that if people exist who cannot defend themselves from mere individual criminals, how on earth can they possibly defend themselves against the state? In other words, if you’re afraid of being exploited by violent people, is armed might of the modern state less dangerous than a mugger?

Turning to the state for self-protection is like avoiding a bee by running off a cliff.

Criminals exist, of course, and can be dangerous, and can do great harm – and it is the very fact that sociopaths exist that makes the creation of a state such a deadly mistake! Imagining that you can create a monopolistic agency of pure violence and not automatically attract sociopaths to populate it is one of the greatest illusions of the species! The more that you fear criminals, the less you should ever support the existence of the state! If criminals are dangerous, the state will be totally deadly. If criminals are not so dangerous, the state is unnecessary.

In order to preserve the right to “self defense”, we get the following absurdities:

  • To protect their persons, people submit to states that draft them, declare wars, provoke attacks, and arrest and imprison citizens for non-violent “crimes”.

  • To protect their property, people submit to states that strip that property through taxes, subject them to endless regulations, destroy their currency, load them with public debts, and openly that that property through the force of law.

Does that mean that we give up on the principle of self-defense? Of course not. But the real goal of “self-defense” should be the prevention of violence, rather than the affirmation of our right to shoot attackers. Moral philosophy is like medicine – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and currently, our doctors are on the verge of “healing us to death.”
  1. You live a peaceful life, so you are an example of a stateless society.
People also get confused about this one – which is my fault, of course. I recently got an email from a woman who lived in a bad neighborhood telling me that I had no idea how violent society could be – and that without a government, society would dissolve into a death match of endless warring gangs etc etc etc.

This is very common – and interesting – argument. Of course, when I ask such people how the state is protecting them now, they tell me that it isn’t protecting them at all! What happens when she call the cops? Nothing! And is there welfare, drug gangs, public housing, government schools and so on in her neighborhood? Of course!

Thus her objection to a stateless society is fascinating, and speaks volumes about the effectiveness of state propaganda.

Such people see no contradiction between these four positions:

  1. There is too much violence in my neighborhood to get rid of the state.

  2. The state is responsible for most of that violence.

  3. The state is not protecting me from the violence it creates.

  4. Therefore getting rid of the state is impossible!

This would be akin to a sick person saying:

  1. I am too sick to get rid of my doctor.

  2. My doctor is poisoning me.

  3. My doctor is not giving me an antidote to that poison.

  4. Therefore changing doctors is impossible!

Do you see what a “death spiral” this sort of logic represents?

Either violence is not common in your world, in which case you do not need a state, or violence is common in your world, in which case the state, as ‘educator’ and ‘protector’, is primarily responsible for the dangers you face.

Either way, we need a new doctor. And time is running out.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Murdering the Group; Saving the Individuals

Once more, bombs rain down in the Middle East, Arabs and Jews hurl fire and murder children, the world turns pale with horror and empty words pour from televised heads – and as usual, the obvious and effective solution can never be discussed!

It’s the same with immigration, the national debt, welfare, the war on terror and all the other state-driven and media-obscured questions of the day. Obsessed by details, blind to the obvious, we are like swimmers in shark-infested waters worrying about cramps.

The saddest thing is that we know exactly how to bring peace to the Middle East – and everywhere else for that matter! Solving the problem of collective violence might have been a real head-scratcher in the Middle Ages, but it takes a truly modern education to pretend ignorance now!

It’s embarrassingly simple, of course, but you’ll wear out the batteries on your TV remote scanning for a mention of it anywhere.

What is the solution to the problem of collective violence? Why, just this:

Stop believing in groups!

“Groups” don’t exist, any more than a “forest” exists independently of the trees it describes. A “Jew” doesn’t exist. An “Arab” doesn’t exist; neither does “Israel” or “Muslim”. There are people and land and trees and sky. There are no “groups”.

If people surrender their moral independence to some “morally-superior” collective (or, more accurately, some madman claiming to speak for such a non-existent entity), then of course violence is the inevitable result. Irrational and collectivist moral absolutes are the fundamental WMDs of our species. Believing you are part of the “master race” because you’re Jewish, or the “chosen of Allah” because you’re Muslim, opens the path to blood, tears, flames and graves. Such delusions are both false and absolutist – the most deadly combination. Irrational moral ideals which must be enforced always end up murdering the innocent and the not-so-innocent en masse.

Beliefs that are irrational, required, universal and absolute will always put swords in the hands of men. Illogical and anti-empirical beliefs cannot be validated by external and objective factors. Two scientists who disagree on a theory can resolve their dispute via the scientific method; they can defer to logic and reproducible experiments – they do not have to bomb each other into submission. Mathematicians can disagree over a proposition, but in the end it is not personal – it is not the dominance of one over the others, but of logic and proof over one, or all.

The free market runs on the same principle. “Value” is not decided by committees, or leaders, but by individual decisions. If I think that my product is better than yours, I don’t have to blow up your offices, just appeal to the consumer, the final arbiter. Consumers don’t have to burn down a Ford plant if they prefer Volvos – individual decisions determine the value and success of each company.

In religion, politics and nationalism, things are very different, because no objective method exists to resolve disputes. Who can prove that “Jewish” is better than “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist”? How can these absolute and irrational fantasies ever be reconciled in reality? They are impervious to logic and experimentation. Universal truth is willed, not proven. This irrationality creates instability, hostility and the endless desire for expansion. The more collectivist a society becomes, the more expansionistic it becomes. Witness Israel, Islam – and America.

The solution to the crisis in the Middle East is not easy, but it is simple – and the alternatives are stark. We must outgrow our addictions to the false gods of history – be they religious, political or national. Giving the modern equivalents of witch-doctors access to twenty-first century weapons has become far too dangerous.

If we cannot break our addiction to our fantasies of collective virtue, the slaughter will only increase. And so we must say to the warring tribes of the Middle East – and indeed to the whole world:

“As long as there are Arabs and Jews and Americans and Iranians, our natural brotherhood remains drowned in bloody tribal fantasies. If we refuse to give up our gods and groups and leaders, we will forever live in war and fear and hatred. If we can find the strength to outgrow this madness, we may not all find heaven, but at least we will be free to escape hell. The solution to violence is not vanquishing our foes, but our own illusions.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Despot Cagematch: George III vs George III

If the Declaration of Independence were written today…

In June of 1776, when Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he took great pains to detail the abuses heaped upon the Colonists by George III, then King of England.

Now we have another ‘George III’, the third President to bear that name. How do the abuses the original George III was charged with compare with our current administrations?

HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.
George III has invaded Iraq without a Congressional declaration of war, and has suspended the Geneva conventions for ‘enemy combatants’. Violations of signed treaties include the UN Charter, the International Court of Justice, the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and so on.

HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
George III has used Federal Marshals to interdict against Marijuana users in California (where, as a state, the substance is legal as a medicinal drug). Then there's the needle exchange plans many large cities wanted to implement, that was blocked by George III. After the Terry Schiavo case had been heard by 19 judges in six courts and been appealed to the Supreme Court three times, the Fed intervened. State-level decisions on euthanasia, minimum wages, medical insurance, food contamination and warning labels, financial privacy laws. The Federal government regularly uses the blackmail of the federal income tax to “force” states into adhering to all sorts of Federal regulations – the speed limit, the education standards, OSHA regulations, and on and on.

Last but not least, you might just remember the obscure Fed-influenced Supreme Court decision to overturn Florida’s court-ordered vote recount in 2000.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.
The U.S. Constitution applies on Guam, as do all federal laws, but Guamanians have no voting representation in the electoral college for the selection of the President, and no U.S. senators. Guam is represented in Washington by one non-voting congressman in the House of Representatives. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands both have diminished representation in Congress. And how much does the average Iraqi’s vote count for anyway?

HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.
If you are willing to brave the violence of Washington, you can go and visit the White House and Congress. Just keep your voice to a murmur. And if you want to trail George III around the world to his various tight-security conferences, you’d better have some frequent-flyer miles.

HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.
George III claims the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. The “Decider” can now directly bypass military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, “whistle-blower” protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Bush is also fast becoming the grand master of “States Secret Privilege” – it was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year. Some of the targets include a lawsuit striving to penetrate the fog of secrecy regarding ‘torture extraditions’ and a post-9/11 investigation.

HE has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of the Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and the Convulsions within.
If the danger that Jefferson was most concerned with was civil revolt, or foreign attack, then surely by shipping hundreds of thousands of troops overseas, and provoking a rather excitable Muslim population, George III has ‘exposed’ the US to both external attacks and internal convulsions.

HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
Well let’s see… You are soon going to need a passport to get into the US from Canada, the Mexican border swarms with guards, and the process of getting a Green Card has become about one chicken entrail away from pure voodoo.

HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
Not only has George III said that the Constitution is “just a goddamned piece of paper!”, but he also appointed the freedom-loving Attorney General Alberto Gonzales – who, while still White House counsel, wrote that the “Constitution is an outdated document.”

HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.
Well judicial appointments come straight from the White House, and we are not exactly facing a buffalo stampede of independent judgment here.

HE has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.
Gosh, where do we even begin? The Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the new drug prescription program, the expanded war on drugs, and deficits that will swallow future generations whole.

HE has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures.
Fortunately for this point – but not fortunately for us – George III has sent a good deal of our standing armies overseas. Yay, I feel safer already.

HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
I think that this has, by now, become a bit more than an affectation! George III has declared that he alone will decide on when – or whether – to inform Congress about how the FBI is implementing its expanded powers in the new Patriot Act. His “guiding compass” is the “unitary executive” power of the commander in chief – thus neatly avoiding his oath to abide by the Constitutional separation of powers.

HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
Does anyone really take the Constitution seriously any more? What with the Israeli lobby the Saudi hand-holding, and the Middle East nation building, it’s hard to imagine that US electors really have the ear of the president these says.

FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us;
Don’t bother checking your basement for Marines – just check your personal bill for national defense – or, more accurately, foreign offense. Oh wait, that cost is actually going to your children, who can’t vote. “No taxation without representation?” Right.

FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iran, Panama, Haiti, the War on Drugs et al. Note that Jefferson was not attacking the ‘rank and file’ British soldiers – he went straight for the leader, King George III. Under our George III, the rank and file go to jail; the leaders are rewarded.

FOR cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:
The Federal Registry currently lists hundreds of thousands of statutes controlling foreign trade. U.S. import tariffs on clothes and shoes average 11 percent and go as high as 48 percent. (In 2001, clothes and shoes accounted for only 6.5 percent of US imports, but contributed nearly half of the $20 billion of tariff revenues!) In the first three years of his presidency, George III punished foreign companies 25 times for ‘anti-dumping’ violations – i.e. they were punished for selling goods too cheaply, a crime that enrages consumers no end! Add to that the 2003 imposition of 8-30% tariffs on foreign steel imports (ruled illegal by the WTO), and the general trade problems created by a weakening US dollar, and I think the Jeffersonian arrow hits this particular bulls-eye square on!

FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
There wasn’t even an income tax in Jefferson’s day! If we could resurrect ole Tommy J and show him the current US tax code, his head would surely explode.

FOR depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:
Well, we have the Patriot Act, and Gitmo, and all the gulags in Iraq. George III doesn’t even need a court order for wiretapping any more. Search warrant? Yawn – how passé!

FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:
George III is very keen on ‘torture express’ airplanes which regularly ferry victims to allies with more, ahem, flexible legal systems. These cases of “extraordinary rendition” are even worse than what Jefferson describes, since few of these victims end up being tried at all. Why bother, when you can go straight to torture?

FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rules into these Colonies:
Iraq. ‘Nuff said… A whole other article could be written about how Jefferson’s objections to arbitrary despotism apply to the average Iraqi’s view of the US occupation.

FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
This process has been occurring ever since the early 20th century in America, but George III has sped it up just a notch! The Patriot Act, extraordinary renditions, the scorn for the Constitution, the abandoning of the Geneva Convention, the unilateral breaking of international treaties, growing disdain for property rights and the separation of church and state etc. etc. etc.

FOR suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.
Sadly, our own Legislatures have not been suspended, but feel quite comfortable passing laws affecting a single high-profile individual, such as Terri Schiavo. Going to war without a Congressional declaration might just qualify in this area though.

HE has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
More than 2 million Americans are incarcerated in the vile and overcrowded ‘rape rooms’ of government jails. Deficits and national debt are at all-time highs. And if you think the government is not interested in ‘waging war’ against you, try to stop paying your taxes! And let’s not forget the wire-tapping, the no-fly lists, the profiling, and all the lying

HE has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.
Those in New Orleans might have something to say about this, as would those trapped in the welfare state, the mind-numbing state educational system, and the non-violent offenders entombed in the dungeons of state prisons.

HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.
True enough, except the mercenaries are going overseas, rather than being deployed at home. So far, at least…

HE has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
No draft yet, although it would be interesting to see how many people would pay for the War on Terror if they got a monthly bill for their personal share of the expenses. And if you talk to a new recruit, ask him how accurate a story he got about his obligations before signing up…

HE has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.
No particular problems here, although the treatment of the Native Americans by the Federal government continues to be horrendous.

IN every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.
Petition for redress? Perhaps if your house is seized through Eminent Domain, or through Asset Forfeiture, you can get it back with an apology and something to sweeten the pot. Good luck with that. Let us know how it works out.

The Colonists underwent terrible struggles to throw off the yoke of George III’s oppressive tyranny – and it took less than a century for Lincoln to undo most of what had been achieved, and less than another century for America to turn into just another colonial warlord nation.

It is for this reason that we anarchists keep saying that government is an evil that can at best be only temporarily restrained. It is at best a dangerous servant inevitably becoming a terrible master. Power corrupts. There are no exceptions.

Every generation faces an age-old tyranny that must be overcome. Previous generations successfully ended slavery, reversed the subjugation of women and children, broke the unity of church and state, extended both property rights and the rule of law, and began the process of restraining government power.

Now it is our turn. As unimaginable and unprecedented as the extensions of human freedoms have been in the past, we are not done yet!

Now, instead of striving to cure the state of its corruption, we aim for prevention, which is the dismantling of the state itself, so that its power can no longer tempt and destroy the souls of men. Naturally, this is a shocking idea to many, but there is no reason to be alarmed. Once, slavery had lasted as long as mankind, and ending it was almost unthinkable. The state is not a law of nature, but an invention of mankind, and its legitimacy – the only source of its power – can vanish in a flash of honest thought.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Forced Marriage, A False Freedom

So one morning your daughter comes to you and says that she is engaged to Bobby, a boy she has been dating.

“That’s great,” you say, giving her a hug, “but you have to marry Dave instead.”

She wriggles out of your embrace. “Excuse me?”

“You can’t marry Bobby, pumpkin. You have to marry Dave.”

“I will marry who I want!” she says indignantly.
“Of course you will. You are free to marry whoever you choose!”

She blinks, bewildered. “Then I’m going to marry Bobby!”

You smile indulgently. “You don’t understand. You are free to marry any man you choose, but you are going to marry Dave.”

“You aren’t making any sense. I am not going to marry Dave!”

“Oh, but I’m afraid that you have to.”

“Oh really? And what happens if I don’t marry Dave?”

You sigh. “Well, I’ll have to lock you in your room and feed you bread and water for the rest of your life.”

“What? But you say I am free to choose my husband!”

“Of course you are! But you have to choose Dave!”

She bursts into tears. “Then how am I free, daddy?”

Does this conversation seem rather strange to you? Contradictory? Almost incomprehensible?

If so, then you have just experienced the essence of arguing with a statist.

Many libertarians feel that they have to convince people that the government is dangerous, or that the welfare state harms the poor, or that the war on drugs destroys civil liberties and so on – and that if other people can’t be convinced of the evils of government programs, libertarians will never be free of state control.

Nothing could be further from the truth! You don’t have to convince a single person about the evils of government in order to prove your right to live in a free society. Even if everyone else continues to live in the fantasy camp of government virtue, you can still be free.

But you have to establish one little thing first.

Let’s take the invasion of Iraq as a nice, non-controversial topic.

Some people think it’s great, some people think it’s tolerable, some ‘support-the-troops-but-not-the-war,’ and some hate the whole damn mess.

And we can all live together in relative harmony, as long as one condition is met.

People try to convince me that the Iraq invasion is just, wonderful, great, necessary, required for the defense of the realm and so on. I generally don’t let them get too far down this road, but rather interject the following:

“I understand your reasons for supporting the invasion – and you could be correct. You tell me that the invasion will protect my freedoms and keep me safe, but I disagree with that. I believe that my personal safety is not enhanced by my government lobbing bombs all over the Middle East, staffing hundreds of military bases worldwide, funding dictatorships, supporting coups and so on. But wouldn’t you say that the fact that we can disagree with each other – and with our government – is one of the freedoms that make this country great?”

Sure, the person responds.

“Now would we be living in a free country if every time I disagreed with you, or the government, I got thrown in jail?”

Of course not.

Then I tell the above story of the man and his daughter, and say:

“Do you see how this story applies to our situation? I disagree with the size and scope and use of our military, but I am forced to fund it anyway. Thus, like the girl who is ‘free’ to choose her husband, but must obey her father, I am ‘free’ to disagree with government programs, but I am forced to fund them anyway.

If it is dictatorial to throw people in jail for disagreeing with the government, then forcing people to pay taxes for programs they disagree with is also dictatorial, a violation of both the sovereignty of the individual conscience and freedom of association.
If the military supposedly exists to protect our freedoms, but we are forced to pay for it even if we believe our freedoms are threatened by its actions, then obviously our freedoms are not being defended, but rather violated.

Thus whenever a man tells you that he supports the invasion of Iraq, all you have to do is ask him one simple question:

Am I allowed to disagree with you?

If you are not allowed to disagree with him, then you are not free, so he cannot claim that your freedoms are being protected. In fact, there’s no point in debating with him at all.

If you are allowed to disagree with him about the invasion, then surely you have the right not to pay for it! If you are forced to pay for it regardless of your opinion, then you are not allowed to disagree in reality. Just like the hapless daughter in the above story, you must obey, or go to prison.

You can use the same argument about any government programs (or the government itself, as I prefer!). If someone tells you that the welfare state is helping the poor, you don’t have to convince him otherwise – all you have to do is ask him: am I free to disagree with you? If so, then you can obviously withhold your taxes and give them to charity instead, or start a company or buy goods to create jobs.

This approach is very liberating, because you don’t have to convert a single person into a libertarian or an anarchist in order to clinch the case for freedom. You and your friends can have utterly opposing views about the value of government programs – as long as your friends support your right to disagree with them not just in theory, but in practice.