Contracts and the NAP

A while back, I mentioned that I think contracts are bullshit. Some day, I hope to get into a full ontology of contracts, but I doubt many of my readers really have much interest in such things. Instead, I’m going to Start a conversation with a few people I know in real life concerning the nuances of the NAP with regards to contracts.

 

Would breach of contract be a violation of the non aggression principle? What about scheduled payments in the future, non-compete, and nondisclosure agreements?

Given that I think contracts are bullshit, I bet most people would assume that the answer I have is simple and straightforward: “no”. Of course, I can never let something be simple. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll just assume the definition I expect to use for the full post on the ontology of contracts and say, “a contract is merely an external explication of an agreement between two or more parties”. In other words, Bruce and Alfred come to an agreement concerning their affairs, say a nondisclosure agreement. That agreement exists as a relationship between the two but, for the sake of clarity (given the human condition), they decide to write the entire thing down and, content that the written document explicates the agreement sufficiently, sign the document to signify their provisional assent to the agreement and the accuracy of the document written to reflect that agreement. Then Bruce and Alfred put the document somewhere where it can be referenced but not altered by either Bruce or Alfred.

That’s a contract, right? It sounds pretty similar to a previous discussion we’ve had. So, lets say the agreement is that Bruce will pay Alfred for services rendered at a certain rate so long as Alfred does not let anyone know some secret Bruce is trying to keep, either by actively communicating that information to someone or letting them figure it out on their own through some form of neglect. Would Alfred be aggressing against Bruce by telling the secret? We can certainly agree that doing so would be dishonorable and vicious, but would it be criminal? Another way to ask would be to say “Can Bruce justifiably kill Alfred if he does so?”

I haven’t gone into that issue in full detail yet, either, but the easy way to put it is I stand by Cantwell’s philosophy of paperclips; It is theoretically justifiable to shoot someone over stealing a paperclip. Admittedly, the odds of encountering someone who would both steal a paperclip and allow the situation to escalate to the point of lethal force are statistically negligible and the odds of encountering someone who values the sanctity of one’s ownership of paperclips over the exorbitant cost of a bullet are equally negligible. However, the moral reasoning remains sound, even if the tactical choice would be tolerance.

Why am I talking about lethal force and paperclips when I should be talking about contracts? Well, is Alfred committing a crime against Bruce if he violates the contract? Can Bruce justifiably kill Alfred for doing so? Surely, the cost of the secret is greater than that of a paperclip. Even so, I argue that the secret is of a different category than that of the paperclip. Whereas a paperclip is property, a secret is nothing more than an abstraction of an individual’s ideas. The primary historical role of contracts such as nondisclosure agreements is an attempt to use the law to transmute mental things into material things, which can then be treated as property. So, even though Alfred may be dishonorable and breach his agreement with Bruce, he isn’t “stealing” anything from him.

What recourse would Bruce have in such a circumstance? Under the legal fictions currently in place, contracts are largely treated as laws are: if one violates a contract and then continues to refuse to play by the rules of the contract concerning breach of contract, eventually the issue would escalate to an encounter with law enforcement, which if the dishonorable man still refuses to comply, will be killed by law enforcement. Because of this, the current state of contract law is every contract follows the formula “We agree to do these things. If we don’t do these things, someone’s gonna fucking die.” Just like a law.

The same is the case if Bruce does not pay Alfred for his services, just for the sake of clarification.

I am obviously not impressed with this formula. As such, I have been exploring contract theories and trying to figure out the exact relationship between the ontology of contracts and the nature of the NAP. Thus far, I have found two possible answers to the question above, and they are mutually exclusive. As such, I’m presenting this post as a conversation-starter (as is the custom at this point).

Option #1: Contracts are 100% bullshit. In this case, the reality of the situation is straightforward: caveat emptor. If Bruce and Alfred make an agreement that Alfred will do butler stuff and Bruce will pay him at the end of the month and either one fails to do so, it renders the agreement void. If Alfred fails to do butler stuff, Bruce doesn’t have to pay him and if Bruce doesn’t pay Alfred, he doesn’t have to do butler stuff. The reality is that all that exists is the agreement between the two with their honor and social standing at stake.

While this solution is simple, it does have some complications. For example, the agreement is temporal in nature: Alfred spends a month of his life performing a service for Bruce before not receiving payment or, if paid in advance, Bruce pays a month’s salary before not receiving the agreed upon service. There are a few technologies which can be employed to prevent such instances, but in the words of Sov Tsu: “If you create a technology to solve a moral problem, you didn’t actually solve the problem.” So, instead, I will simply point out the obvious circumstance surrounding contract-violators: if one is living in a society of a reasonable size, there will be little opportunity to violate agreements without destroying one’s reputation and being dishonored or declared an outlaw. These extenuating circumstances are enough to keep a majority of potential frauds at bay, even in our overpopulated cities and towns.

Of the technologies available to increase the effectiveness of social accountability is that of reputation systems (which I generally dislike); one can have an Angie’s list or a yelp which operates much like a credit score: if one doesn’t have enough honor points, you probably don’t want to get into a contract with them. Another is that of outlaw status; if someone violates fundamental social mores, they can be declared an outlaw by the offended parties, which basically puts them outside of the general functioning of society: you breach a contract without making proper amends, you are refused service at many businesses and won’t be defended if someone were to try to rob or kill you.

Or, alternatively, we can look to the free (black) markets that have existed outside of normal contract law since forever and see what technologies exist there. The one that comes to mind right away is that of escrow holdings: Bruce puts Alfred’s payment into an escrow account at the start of the month, to be paid out to Alfred after a month of service, and they place a third party in charge of that account. Another free market device is that of word-of-mouth; someone trusted would have to vouch for the trustworthiness of each party. In this case, Thomas, Bruce’s father, vouched for Alfred and so Bruce trusts him (and vice versa).

There is opportunity for abuse in this resolution, as with any. Reputation systems can be gamed, are open to corruption, and can become oppressive forms of governance as opposed to useful tools for self-actualization. Public shaming is only as effective as a society is homogeneous, culturally speaking. Escrow services work great for payment plans and such, but do nothing with regards to agreements which do not concern direct exchange of goods. This is why self-empowerment, social cohesion, and populations within the Bunbar number are crucial to a truly prosperous society: the natural market functions of such a society drastically mitigate the harm caused by fraudsters and indolence without resorting to the criminal activities of the state.

Option #2: Contracts have a social function and are therefore not 100% bullshit. In this formulation, contracts have impetus insofar as they can be enforced without violation of the NAP. So, unlike laws, I don’t think one could pretend a contract is valid if it were enforced with the same mechanism (“do X, or we’ll fucking kill you.”). If one agrees to arbitration by a third party and consequences for breach-of-contract as part of the agreement, it is conceivable that polycentric legal systems could manage to serve as a lubricant for commerce in societies, both big and small.

This polycentric system of agreed upon contractual obligations (and punishments) and arbitrators is certainly preferable to the monopolized and criminal system currently in-place throughout the developed world. Between the competitive nature of the market for “justice” and the voluntary nature of contracts (in theory, at least), this system would likely produce something resembling courts which maintains a reasonably high level of satisfaction with legal arbitration. Given the versatility of anarcho-capitalist theory concerning polycentric law, I imagine that such competition would demonstrate the forms of contract theory which produce the most utility over time, independent of their truth-value, of course. If I were to venture a guess, of what that would look like, I’m guessing that the theories of Stephan Kinsella will likely produce the most utility as well as most closely reflect the facts of the matter, even if he has more faith in contracts than I do.

There are two problems I see with this position, though. First, the issue of honor still plays an inescapable role in this dilemma: a dishonorable person who will not honor an agreement will be equally unlikely to honor the specific clause concerning retribution or the presumed authority of the courts. Ultimately, then, we find ourselves in the initial situation presented in option #1. Second, I believe the harm-reduction and forward-thinking provided by standard financial and interpersonal practices far outperform any sort of contract and arbitration service beyond that which is contained in standard interpersonal and fiscal practices. What I mean is putting lenders in-charge of their own interest rates and application process will enable market functions to weed out the honorable and dishonorable, as does actually knowing one’s customers, etc.

This obviously didn’t cover all the nuances of contracts and such, but it is a starting place for a discussion. I need to do more research into the old tort systems and read more Stephan Kinsella. For the meanwhile, I propose that contracts are bullshit and one ought to strive to be honorable and surround oneself with honorable people. It couldn’t hurt to keep records of one’s agreements and obligations, though. Really, the approach one ought to take to contracts is the same as one ought to take to any service that is currently monopolized by government: ask “can this service be provided without the intrinsic threat of murder AND does this service have any necessity in a free society?

TL;DR: Contracts are bullshit, but they are still an important area of discussion to AnCaps and normies, alike. Insofar as that discussion applies to my project, I guess I’m halfway obligated to write about them. Contracts really seem to simply exist as an external point of reference for agreements, which are relational between two or more parties. As such, whether or not violating a contract or agreement (fraud, essentially) is a violation of the NAP is what is really at the heart of the discussion. I argue that most, if not all, cases of fraud are not actually violations of the NAP and that the old adage of “caveat emptor” ought to be kept in mind. As such, the initiation of force against a fraudster is, itself, a violation of the NAP. However, all the finer points of contract theory are currently beyond my expertise and from what I know of Stephan Kinsella, he would be the guy to read for ideas.

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Thus Spake Zarathustra

This weekend, I hosted one of my philosophy club sessions for the summer. The discussion was on Nietzsche’s magnum opus: Thus Spake Zarathustra. A reader of this blog was recently kind enough to purchase a copy of the text for me from my wishlist, and I couldn’t let that act of charity go unpunished. Today, I am doing a “teaching from the text” post.

For a bit of context, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in the mid-19th century. He was a very clever Prussian/German child, quickly grasping academics and rising through the social and official ranks in university. His main focus was that of a cultural critic and philologist, both of which naturally lend themselves to philosophical activity as well. When he was relatively young, he started to suffer from a mental illness which has never been fully diagnosed. Many believe it to be Syphilis, but there is considerable reason to doubt that diagnosis.

During his time as a productive member of the continental philosophical culture, the western world was reveling in it’s own greatness. Between the ongoing rise of industry, the new form of nationalism that was emerging, and the social fallout from the enlightenment era, mainstream culture was very self-satisfied. Nietzsche, however, was largely unimpressed. He found the post-enlightenment culture to be hypocritical and could sense the looming prospect of the century of total war to come.

His philosophical writings themselves, due to the political climate in his later life and after his death in conjunction with his continental style of writing, generally serve as a sort of ink-blot test for his readers; a punky young college freshman will read “Beyond Good and Evil” and immediately become a Nihilist, whereas a more well-read individual may read “The Gay Science” and hold a deep discussion with someone over the nature of science and the indispensable role of levity and partying in one’s pursuit of virtue. Many who have been educated in modern American colleges and universities, when they read “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, see Nazi propaganda and elitist nonsense…

Fortunately, enough scholarship has been done on the original writings of Nietzsche and the later editions and translations such that one can actually see beyond the veil of history and get to know the actual philosophy of the man… with a little bit of effort. An important historical fact that puts things into context is that Nietzsche is the Aristotle to Schopenhauer’s Plato. Arthur Schopenhauer was a German idealist from the early 19th century who had a very distinct philosophy. He drew heavily on the material available from eastern philosophy, most especially Buddhism, and mixed it with German Idealism as well as his own curmudgeonly intuitions. The most famous of his works, and the basis of his ontology, is “The world as Will and Representation”; spanning three volumes, Schopenhauer builds a world that consists of a creative force which simply swells up out of nothingness, namely, will.

Nietzsche discovered philosophy through reading Schopenhauer, but he spent a good portion of his time arguing against things that Schopenhauer had said. Most especially that of the universe as will; Nietzsche argued that will alone is inert and that it must be coupled with power, the ability to execute one’s will, and the world would therefore have to at least be the “will to power”. This will to power is at the heart of the rest of Nietzsche’s project, and it’s one that I, myself, am sympathetic to.

Thus Spake Zarathustra is a sort of novel wherein the main character preaches Nietzsche’s worldview to the masses of modernists in the German countryside, to varying effect. Zarathustra is, at the same time, both an avatar for the author as well as a manifestation of his philosophy. The general plot is fairly straightforward: Zarathustra lives alone on top of a mountain, generally being awesome and waiting for the coming of the Ubermench (Superman), he then decides to go down from the mountain to preach to the peasants of Germany. While down there, he preaches “the truth” and some people start following him, but most would rather mock and avoid him. So, Zarathustra takes on a few disciples, leaving “the rabble” to their own devices. After a while, he can’t stand being around lesser men anymore and he returns to the mountaintop.

A while later, he has a vision which tells him that people are perverting and ruining his teachings, so Zarathustra has to condescend again to the rabble and try to sort things out. He makes a couple more friends and preaches some more, sings some songs, goes to some parties, laments that he is so awesome he can’t help it and bemoans how he can’t help but bestow his awesomeness on everyone else… Then he starts showing everyone how to really have a good time and cut loose. All and all, for all of Zarathustra’s solemnity when dealing with the rabble and the false prophets (that is, all of them) of the modern world, his exhortation is always that to be joyous and celebratory, because that’s all that there is that makes life worthwhile in a world wherein God is dead for grief of his love of man.

Despite how reductionist and flippant I am when describing the plot of the story, there is a lot of great fodder for discussion and examination in the text. Zarathustra’s words and actions are pointed and weighty; he brings to bear a striking series of accusations against the hypocrisy of post-enlightenment culture, the solemnity with which people address the absurd (in a pre-existentialist way), the futility of attempting to enjoy a life divorced from one’s own personal virtue. Zarathustra takes social conventions, such as friendships, and professes that everyone has the idea backwards. Where modern culture would insist that a friend is one who will support you in every endeavor and turn against those who do not, Zarathustra reminds his audience that one can only become greater than they are by being made aware of one’s faults and weaknesses. One can only achieve power by way of keeping those close who would remind one of one’s errors and shortcomings. A true friendship, one rooted in will to power, is one wherein a friend desires greatness for his friends, even at his own expense. For example: “If a friend doeth thee wrong, then say: ‘I forgiveth thee what thou hast done unto me; that thou has done it to thyself, however, I could not forgive that!” because in doing ill to one’s friend, one is behaving viciously and injuring oneself.

Ideas like solidarity in the state are also turned upside-down.

“Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states.
A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples.
A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”
It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.
Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs… This sign I give unto you: every people speaketh its language of good and evil: this its neighbour understandeth not. Its language hath it devised for itself in laws and customs.
But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen.
False is everything in it; with stolen teeth it biteth, the biting one. False are even its bowels… Everything will it give you, if ye worship it, the new idol: thus it purchaseth the lustre of your virtue, and the glance of your proud eyes… The state, I call it, where all are poison-drinkers, the good and the bad: the state, where all lose themselves, the good and the bad: the state, where the slow suicide of all—is called “life.”…
Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the idolatry of the superfluous!
Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the steam of these human sacrifices!
Open still remaineth the earth for great souls. Empty are still many sites for lone ones and twain ones, around which floateth the odour of tranquil seas.
Open still remaineth a free life for great souls. Verily, he who possesseth little is so much the less possessed: blessed be moderate poverty!
There, where the state ceaseth—there only commenceth the man who is not superfluous: there commenceth the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.
There, where the state ceaseth—pray look thither, my brethren! Do ye not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman?”

He has harsher words, still, for those he calls “tarantulas”.

Welcome, tarantula! Black on thy back is thy triangle and symbol; and I know also what is in thy soul…
Revenge is in thy soul: wherever thou bitest, there ariseth black scab; with revenge, thy poison maketh the soul giddy!
Thus do I speak unto you in parable, ye who make the soul giddy, ye preachers of equality! Tarantulas are ye unto me, and secretly revengeful ones!
Therefore do I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word “justice.”
Because, for man to be redeemed from revenge—that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms…
Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for “equality”: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtue-words!
But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
They are people of bad race and lineage; out of their countenances peer the hangman and the sleuth-hound.
And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!
My friends, I will not be mixed up and confounded with others.
There are those who preach my doctrine of life, and are at the same time preachers of equality, and tarantulas…
With these preachers of equality will I not be mixed up and confounded. For thus speaketh justice unto me: “Men are not equal.”
And neither shall they become so! What would be my love to the Superman, if I spake otherwise?”

If you couldn’t tell by the couple selections I chose to share with you, there are at least a few things Nietzsche has to say to which I am very sympathetic. I used to bristle when people would call him an elitist, because that word was a pejorative in my Marxist vocabulary. As time has gone on, though, I’ve learned that, in fact, both Nietzsche and myself are elitists of a sort: those who can be great ought to do so, and not everyone has that ability or will bother to follow through with such an exercise. In that way, both Zarathustra and myself have a certain attitude: “Not to the people is Zarathustra to speak, but to companions!… I am not to be a herdsman or a grave-digger. Not any more will I discourse unto the people; for the last time have I spoken to the dead.” This wasn’t always my attitude and, reading Nietzsche’s works in chronological order, I get the feeling that wasn’t his original attitude, either.

There is a lot in Zarathustra that certainly isn’t as truthful or as poignant as the other parts… his discourses on the nature of women and religious sentiments themselves somewhat miss the mark, but still ought to be read, so as to better inform one’s position nonetheless. There are a fair number of people that one will run into in the course of daily life, at work, school, the grocery store parking lot, etc. who are unwitting disciples of halfwit Nietzschean professors. So, when someone cuts you off in the parking lot screaming racist obscenities before getting out of his car and sauntering up to the water-cooler next to your cubicle and going on-and-on about how women’s sole virtue is their love of men, you can understand “Oh, this guy must have had a Nietzschean professor back in college and he never grew out of being a frat boy…” and you can decide whether to lay some real Nietzsche on him or to smugly await the superman with the knowledge that rabble like your coworker will soon be obsolete.

Some translations of the work are better than others, as well. There are some that are so far removed from the original German so as to render a totally different ideology from that originally espoused in the text. That is why my favorite edition of the text is the JiaHu Books German/English edition; the translation is pretty solid and the original German is on full display so one can double-check the translators’ work if one so desired.

This work only barely didn’t make my Suggested Reading Lists, but it is an excellent companion to either of the Nietzsche works that did make the lists, as it explores them in a more poetic and novel way.

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From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

In 1969, two significant libertarians wrote articles for the Libertarian Forum Volume 1. One Karl Hess published a list of questions he felt needed concrete answers from the libertarian community and Murray Rothbard dutifully stepped up to the plate and answered those questions from a principled, pragmatic, and economically-minded stance. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, though, this work of Rothbard’s has been excised from the libertarian consciousness and left to the AnComs to champion.

Rothbard is widely recognized as the arch-AnCap and rightly so. Without too much geeking out, I want it to be known that Rothbard, with nothing but a pen, brain, and lectures, has done more for humanity’s sake than nearly any other individual. Of course, he used that brain, pen, and lecturing gig towards such an end for fifty-or-so years and, understandably, made some mistakes along the way. The most significant of those mistakes, which he admitted to being an unmitigated disaster , was the time he spent on the political left.

Between the left-friendly rhetoric and the apparent inability for most to contextualize and dispassionately read material, “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” has gone overlooked despite its presentation of what amounts to, simultaneously, the most principled and most actionable solution concerning the problem of de-socializing state property. Admittedly, this is not entirely Rothbard’s fault, as he was answering the questions of Mr. Hess, a bleeding-heart liberal lacking any solid grasp of libertarianism’s philosophical commitments. Instead of shredding Hess’ article for it’s numerous errors, though, Rothbard attempted to address it on its own terms.

Hess was clearly unaware of the inherent “right-wing” nature of libertarianism/anarchism, openly denigrating “the right” in favor for “left-libertarian” (AKA Marxist) presumptions. The most philosophically criminal of which being his overturning of the ontological hierarchy of human activities, claiming that conceptions of rights and property are derived from some goal of human activity as opposed to the other way around. Such an argument is nothing short of a performative contradiction. Additionally, he lifts openly Marxist revolutionary rhetoric and terminology while also demanding that specifics be given concerning environmental agendas, the revolutionary takeover of General Motors, and egalitarian nonsense such as racially-motivated “reparations” programs in the context of libertarianism.

Given the stage of development Rothbard was at and the stage set by Hess, it isn’t surprising how Marxist Rothbard’s response sounds. Despite all the garbage concerning answers to Hess’ stupid questions, Rothbard still produced a gem which demands legitimate attention. Instead of doing what Rothbard ought to have done and devoting my energy to destroying Hess, what I want to do here is mine out the gem Rothbard created using his later, more AnCap material to inform this activity.

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

It can be taken for granted in anarchist circles that the dichotomy most central to libertarian discourse is that between the state (socialists) and the individual (anarchists). Another, less equivocal, way to name that dichotomy would be that between the criminal (outlaw) and the non-criminal. In order to appropriately understand this dichotomy, one must first come to an appropriate, if basic, understanding of property.

In the tradition of John Locke, property comes into being by way of homesteading. The simplest conception of homesteading is that unowned property enters into private ownership by virtue of an individual investing one’s own property into it, whether it be labor or materials or by way of occupying or otherwise adding value to it. After a certain property is homesteaded, it can easily pass from one owner to another by way of voluntary trade or donation. This is the basis of all forms of human interaction and that which is commonly referred to as “rights”.

For the sake of clarity, a definition of “property” ought to be proffered here. I use the term to mean “any discrete object to which one has access, control over, and a legitimate claim by virtue of homestead or acquisition from the previous owner with the owner’s assent”. Incidentally, I’ve also addressed the concept of “theft” as applies to property before, and recommend that others read the post centered on the issue. In lieu of reading the whole post, one should at least be aware that theft, in this conception, is the unauthorized use, consumption, or acquisition of another’s property.

In such a case that one steals another’s property, one is engaged in crime and is, therefore, deserving of the title and status of “outlaw”. The unfortunate etymology of the term notwithstanding, all it means is that one such individual is not likely to be welcome in polite, cooperative society, so much so that they are likely to, themselves, have property taken from them and be the recipient of violence. Ideally, this circumstance would lead to the outlaw seeking reconciliation with his victims, making the victim whole. Even if reconciliation is impossible, it would still be morally and economically preferable for the outlaw’s stolen property to be confiscated by literally any private individual who can invest it back into cooperative society. Not only should the stolen property be re-appropriated by the market, but also any (formerly) legitimate property belonging to the outlaw which was utilized for that theft.

The clear example of this principle would be a back-alley mugging. Say I take a shortcut down the wrong alley in Denver and find myself held at gunpoint. My assailant demands my wallet. For the sake of discussion, I either hand over my wallet or have it forced from me. It would clearly be justified if I were to promptly re-appropriate my wallet from him. Not only would it be tactically sound, but it would also be morally justified for me to confiscate his firearm and maybe even his getaway vehicle as well. If I am overpowered and some honorable bystander witnesses this event, he would be equally justified in intervening and doing so on my behalf.

This action is preferable and just for three reasons. Firstly, it makes the victim of a crime closer to being made whole and increases the opportunity for justice to take place. Secondly, it decreases the opportunity of the outlaw to continue committing crimes. Thirdly, it sends a market signal that there are externalities and risks associated with committing crimes, thereby reducing the likelihood of others taking such a course of action.

A crime which has only recently been acknowledged as such, historically speaking, is that of slavery. Ultimately, slavery is little more than institutionalized coercion and theft. The (largely fictional) account of slavery in the American South is an easy example of this reality: individuals compelled by the use of force to perform tasks and refrain from others while also being robbed of the fruits of their labor. This description may sound reductionist, but no one could argue that it is not the heart of the matter. The only change that may be warranted would be the addition of some description of scale, but that is superfluous to this discussion.

Given the above description of homesteading, theft, and confiscation along with the popular sentiment concerning slavery, I imagine it would be largely non-controversial to claim that a slave rebellion in such a climate would be morally justified. At a minimum, one who believes the American Revolution was justified would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of a slave rebellion in the South.

Such a fictional rebellion could take several forms. One, unfortunately impractical, instance would be an entire plantation or county witnessing its slave populations simply standing tall and walking off the plantation. I imagine most can see why that would be impossible; given the surrounding environment, it would likely turn out much like emancipation really did. More likely to succeed and more in-line with the first part of this post would be the confiscation or re-homestead of the plantations. Rather than remaining complicit with their slavery (horizontal enforcement, complying with orders, etc.), the slaves could act in self-defense, thereby exiling or executing their masters and confiscating or re-homesteading the products of their forced labor and the instruments by which that theft occurred.

This is where Rothbard’s application of the homestead principle comes into play. How ought the slave re-appropriate the plantation? What options are available? By way of the nature of homesteading, each slave who remains on the plantation and continues to work would naturally come into ownership of his tools and the immediate fruits of his labor. While the theory is simple and broad, the application could be messy and case-specific.

One possibility would be an extreme individualist approach, whereby the individual plants on the plantation would be divided among the farmhands while the individual household appliances and rooms would be divided among the house servants and a micro-economy could emerge whereby the cooks could prepare meals in exchange for the fruits of the field and as rent for staying in the house… but this solution is likely to result in friction: petty squabbles over bits and pieces of the plantation and personal disputes.

An other option would be to collectivize ownership of the plantation whereby a communist micro-state could be formed. Each former slave would continue doing the very things they were before the rebellion, only replacing the masters’ directions with weekly meetings to determine how the plantation ought to be run. Presumably, these meetings would also serve to manage how wealth ought to be distributed amongst the former slaves who choose to stay. Of course, this solution looks far too similar to an Orwell novel and is likely to go as well as the Bolshevik revolution.

A more likely to succeed option would be a sort of middle-ground by which the confiscated plantation would be incorporated, for lack of a more accurate term. It would take a certain degree of commitment and foresight, but the former slaves could divide the plantation into a number of shares equal to the number of remaining former slaves, essentially granting virtual ownership of the plantation to those who re-homesteaded it. This creates an economic incentive to remain and invest labor and play nice with others in order to increase the value of the shares one owns in the plantation. Such activities would increase the dividends and resale value of the share as well as increasing the security of one’s livelihood. However, if one desired to leave, they could, using the dividends or resale of the share to serve as compensation for one’s participation in the labor and rebellion preceding his departure.

Admittedly, this is all hypothetical. To my knowledge, no such rebellion occurred in actual history, which leads me to believe that slavery, writ large, wasn’t as bad as I was told in elementary school. Even so, I only presented three out of a literal infinitude of resolutions of a slave rebellion. Given my more pessimistic views of human genetics, the most likely outcome would be something similar to that which exists in sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to Iceland. However, this hypothetical would be far more likely to end well in the following example.

Before moving further, it is important to draw attention to the basics of this hypothetical. The justification for and the means of achieving this slave rebellion is a combination of self-defense and confiscation in conjunction with the homestead principle, as indicated at the beginning of this post. Self-defense from criminal acts is eminently justifiable, this applies to theft and coercion and, therefore, to slavery. In the case of self-defense, confiscation of the implements of crime-in-progress as well as stolen property is justified as well. Stolen property is, in practice, unowned due to the outlaw effect and the lack of legitimate claim in conjunction with access to the property. Even if that weren’t the case, an executed or exiled criminal’s former property (legitimate or otherwise) is effectively unowned and, therefore, open to homestead.

With this argument in mind, we turn our attention to other instances of slavery. Most widespread, historically and today, is the case of slavery known as the state. By way of regulation, taxation, enforcement, and other euphemistically-named criminal activities, the state coerces specific behaviors, steals and destroys property, and engages in all manner of murderous, coercive, and thieving activities. It is impossible to define slavery in a manner consistent with its historical referents while excluding government in a manner consistent with its historical referents. In Rothbard’s words, “The state is a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called ‘taxation’ and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around.”

In the case of state-slavery “All taxpayers, all draftees, all victims of the State have been mulcted… Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty.” In the spirit of the earlier example, “How to go about returning all this property to the taxpayers? What proportions should be used in this terrific tangle of robbery and injustice that we have all suffered at the hands of the State? Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.”

The specific examples are largely straightforward: police can take their armor, guns, and vehicles home and take advantage of a sudden demand for private security personnel in the absence of the state. Lawyers and judges can establish arbitration firms. Educators can take control of the facilities and implements of education and continue to teach in a competitive market. Those currently providing non-marketable “services”, such as DMV employees, bureaucrats, union thugs, and military will likely have to find a way to re-brand their respective talents of race poverty. Of course, the slave-holders themselves, the politicians, executive officers, representatives, and lobbyists will face exile or execution. Unfortunately, not everything is that straightforward. What of corporatist entities? General Motors, Haliburton, Koch, MSNBC, the Post Office, and “private” colleges are wholly indistinguishable from the state, itself.

“As a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient… The same principle applies… they deserve a similar fate of virtuous homesteading and confiscation.” In the case of corporations and organizations that receive half or more of their funds though government institutions, they are effectively inseparable from the state and must suffer the same fate. The military industrial complex, especially, ought to be confiscated from the criminal band known as the state, not only for its complicity in theft but also its open endorsement of globalized murder. Important note: this is a wholly different issue that the legal abuse suffered by firearms and alcohol manufacturers and distributors when their products are abused.

Speaking of these absurdly regulated industries, many of a communist persuasion will argue that all industry is a beneficiary of government and ought to be re-homesteaded. I disagree. Whereas Haliburton is a direct recipient of welfare, most other corporations are merely indirect beneficiaries of the state’s criminal activities by way of limited competition, externalized expenses, and coercing purchase of goods and services. These corporations will be forced, in the absence of the state, to either adapt to the ensuing market correction or fold and sell their assets. Besides, it is morally suspect and quite inefficient to try and homestead every regulated industry. Those that manage to adapt to market correction were clearly sufficiently virtuous enough to deserve protection from re-homestead, whereas those that fold and sell out were vicious enough to deserve such a fate and homesteading becomes superfluous, as those entities are peaceably re-introduced into the free market.

TL;DR: What is required to de-socialize the state and appropriately pursue the abolition of slavery is nothing short of a slave rebellion. Such a slave rebellion must be conducted in accordance with the moral principles of self-defense, confiscation, and homestead. Otherwise, such activities are likely to end in the establishment of an even-less preferable state of affairs, such as that of communism. In the words of Rothbard, “Libertarians have misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, [Alan Milchman] pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property. It is justice vs. injustice, innocence vs. criminality that must be our major libertarian focus.”

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The Rise of Victim Culture

Today’s Resource Suggestion is some food for thought over the Thanksgiving (state-endorsed genocide day) weekend.  This academic article is a survey of modern academic culture (and the areas of mainstream culture it has infected) and an attempted genealogy of victimhood culture.

Microaggression_and_Moral_Cultures

The main draw for me, and the reason I want to draw it to your attention as well, is the correlation the authors find between the oppressive power of the state and the distancing of a culture from virtues such as honor.

This ties closely to a piece I hope to post in January concerning eugenics, the free market, and statism.  This is good reading for the interim, though.

 

Also, in case you have managed to avoid exposure to the blight that is victim culture, here’s an example:

The Death of Honor

 

Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward
Whoever cannot take care of himself without that law is both
For a wounded man will shall say to his assailant
“If I live, I will kill you. If I die, you are forgiven”
Such is the rule of honor
~Randy Blythe

 Welcome to “honor part two”. Wonderful, right? I spent a good fifteen minutes of your life rambling about ancient concepts that are quite evidently dead, and the best way I can find to spend another fifteen is with a sequel. If you bear with me, I can show you what I see.

Something I did not articulate in the last post is that honor, in its purest ultimate form, is unobtainable by humans; the human condition is such that perfection is unobtainable in this lifetime. We still ought to try, though. No human being has ever demonstrated that they were entirely consistent, self-sufficient, powerful, courageous, just, and intelligent. Instead those that are honored are honored for specific ways in which they demonstrate virtue, not for being perfect. One could honor a soldier’s combat prowess while also acknowledging the fact that he is a murderer or honor a bank robber’s tactical reasoning while also acknowledging that he is a looter.

This is important because there are people we can look at and say, “I want to have the athletic skill of that man, so I will emulate him… but, unlike him, I’m going to try to avoid doing drugs and beating my girlfriend.” Similarly, one can say that someone is a “good thief” or a “good cop” in that they excel at a profession, while still being aware that the profession in question is immoral. If you haven’t noticed yet, I avoid using the words “good” and “bad” with regards to ethics, as our language equates “good” with utility and “bad” with discomfort, neither of which apply in ethics. In this way, honorable action can appear to take on a multitude of incongruent forms.

The character of an honorable man does share certain commonalities across every specific instance of honor, though. They are active, personally engaging their environment in a manner which is efficacious. They are consistent, not stumbling into being honorable but instead consistently acting in accordance with principles for action. They are defiant, not in the way of being stubborn and childish, but in a virile and confident resistance against injustice, misfortune, or the petty squabbles of lesser men.

The aged farmer clawing food from a drought-scorched field, a spartan blocking the advance of Xerxes’ army, the scholar pursuing the truth in a society of liars, the Batman pursuing justice in a city of criminals, and the father leading his family to refuge from wicked men are all examples of honorable action. Looking at all of these examples, which I argue to be a representative sample, we will find several commonalities. They each face adversity in some form or another, whether it be the result of personal choices or environmental misfortune. They determine an appropriate course of action, whether it be fight or flight. They are willing and able to sacrifice everything they have in order to pursue that course of action. They do not expect others to do their work for them. Most importantly, though, they are not inviolate. Not planning ahead, resorting to misanthropic agendas, mis-diagnosing the problem, not living life in a manner consistent with achieving flourishing, reliance on vice, naivete, the list of shortcomings is quite long.

So, we’re halfway into a post titled “The Death of Honor” and I’m still continuing last post. What is the death of honor? Ultimately, the death of honor happened at the hands of the puritans. One day, I will share my full indictment against puritanism, but today really has little to do with puritanism; it merely dispatched a decrepit shell of what honor once was. Most of the work was done by the state.

It is no secret among historians that the sate, any state, has a vested interest in concentrating and standardizing populations. There is a fair amount of scholarship as to why this is the case; most popular and accessible of which is the writings of James C. Scott. The only reason pertinent to this discussion is that of dependence. If the state is to justify its theft and coercion, it must convince its victims that they need the state to commit these crimes for the sake of their survival. By securing the infrastructure for urban environments and taking advantage of the human tendency towards paranoia in crowded spaces, the state can convince its victims that without the state no one could build the roads or protect them.

I am certain you can already understand why the attitude of dependence is antithetical to the concept of honor but, before I address that, I want to address population concentration. I briefly touched on the Dunbar number before, and the time has come again. The Dunbar number is basically an expression of the reality that the human person is constructed such that one can maintain only a limited number of meaningful interpersonal relationships. Honor is closely tied to that number; normal honorable acts can only effectively serve as setting an example within a community of a few hundred people at most, and extraordinary honorable acts are limited to a couple thousand. I am currently working on an “Intro to the Dunbar Number” post, but for now, I will have to direct people here if they want to learn more about it.

Ultimately, by concentrating populations greater in number and density than the human person is built to handle, individuals are forced to begin interacting with other individuals as if they were merely objects in their environment. An object is not given attributions of things such as honor and virtue. One doesn’t have the ability to legitimately honor the girl making one’s coffee, the man taking away one’s trash, or often even one’s own grandfather, simply due to ignorance and the constraints of the lifestyle of a population-dense area.

“Now, wait a minute,” you’re saying, “What about Martin Luther King, John Paul II, and Murray Rothbard?” Well, they’re dead… so… “Ok. How about Pope Fancis, Stan Lee, and Edward Snowden?” These people certainly have done honorable things that are worth emulation, but have you ever met one of these three? Do you go out for coffee together, go to the same school, church, or bar? Unless you know them personally, you only know a story of a thing they did. These stories are quite useful in demonstrating socially preferable behavior, but only in the same way that Hector, Moses, or Bruce Wayne demonstrate such behavior: as mythology. In concentrating populations to unhealthy degrees, honor becomes an attribute of myth as opposed to man.

More importantly, the mindset of dependence which is instilled by excessive population density is strictly antithetical to the development of honor. Where honor requires that one takes responsibility for one’s situation, good or bad, and takes the initiative to improve that situation, dependence insists that the work be done by someone else and that the credit, good or bad, should go to that someone else. When a king conscripts labor to build the roads and aqueducts according to a central plan, he is credited by those that develop a dependence on those commodities. When the kings’ men stop neighbors from invading or pillaging, the king is credited for that security. When the kings’ men pillage and invade, it is seen as the necessary cost of these other things. Out in the fields, though, men are left to their own devices and still successfully travel, procure water, and ward off aggressors with little or no assistance from the king. These activities engender spirit of self-sufficiency, productive action, and responsibility, which overrides any sense of dependency and encourages honorable action. A less-than-perfect but only recently lost example is the anti-or-small-government sentiment amongst bands of farmers and other producers in rural areas of North America.

The modern democratic equivalent of this dependency vs. honor paradigm is readily available, however. The common citizen saying “there ought to be a law”, and attempting to accomplish one’s own ends by use of the ballot box as opposed to direct action is dependent upon his domesticators, whilst the “outlaw” identifies a need, whether it be a market demand or the homeless needing food, and fulfills that need, the law be damned. It may very well be honorable to grab a weapon and interject oneself between a murderer and his victim whether it is a back-alley assault, an abortion, or an ISIS beheading, but there is no honor in demanding that someone else do so. It may be honorable to advocate good causes and to expose misanthropy, but there is no honor in demanding that others should compel good behavior or kill those that exhibit bad behavior. It is even a possibility that there could be honor in assaulting me for my possessions, but there is no honor in sending someone else to do so.

The state is the death of honor. In order to restore this essential virtue, one must establish a geographically local community with a reasonable number of members and engender in themselves the virtues on which honor depends. In the interim, one ought to do what they can to become honorable whilst establishing deep, authentic relationships with friends, family, employers, customers, etc. Stop asking “is it legal?” and start asking “what is just and righteous?”
One cannot obtain external freedom without first becoming free internally.

TL;DR: Honor requires that one be willing and able to assess a situation and take matters into their own hands. The ethos ingrained in subjects of the state is antithetical to these requirements. So long as a culture is dependent on reputation systems, laws and their enforcement, and a mentality of irresponsibility, honor will remain dead. If someone may be faced with the need to call 911 or is anxious to keep their gold stars, they are not free. Without honor, freedom is impossible.

Also, you’ll have to bear with me on the wonkiness of my recordings.  Audacity keeps doing something weird and I haven’t been able to figure it out just yet.

 

Honor

“Kill him!”
“No!”
“But it is our way! It is the Klingon way!”
“I know. But it is not my way.”
“This boy has done me no harm, and I will not kill him for the crimes of his family!”
“Then it falls to Kurn!”
“No! No, you gave me his life, and I have spared it.”
“As you wish.”
~Worf and the Klingon high council

Several weeks ago, I made a post about the opposite of honor. It is long overdue that I should address the root of all social virtues: honor. One will notice that I write more about the handful of things that one should not do as opposed to what one ought to do. Today, I intend to shrink that ratio a little bit. What is honor? Isn’t it some ancient concept that society has advanced beyond? Isn’t honor something like following the orders of your superior? That’s not very anarchist… Wouldn’t an anarchist denounce honor societies out-of-hand?

A more important issue to address than these questions lurks behind the ivory paywalls of academic literature and the veil of history. Modern conceptions of honor are, fundamentally, the opposite of the true nature of honor. Popular culture and medieval theological writings conceive of honor as dutiful obedience to one’s leaders and adhering to social norms. This conception of honor is comically shallow and presents a great deal of self-contradiction, as is explored by numerous sci-fi and fantasy works. I don’t have the space and time right now to address this unintended straw man and all of it’s problems which have been created by history. Instead, I will have to simply define and describe true honor. So, forget anything that you have seen about honor that was produced since Marcus Aurelius, and come with me to the ancient world.

-cue time-travel harp and ancient-sounding music-

Ancient Greece, a region populated with several dozen city-states: some of them more free than others, some of them ruled by kings, some ruled by mobs of slave owners, some of them were pseudo-hierarchical warrior cultures. This region and time is credited with the birth of philosophy as we know it as well as serving as the foundation of western culture. It was also a time and a place, like all places and times with states, a region constantly faced with the prospect of war. In order to flourish in such a region, one would have to either submit to being owned by a powerful man or engender virtues in oneself such so as to be self-sufficient.

There are different types of virtue, and flourishing in its fullness requires all of the virtues, but today is devoted to one specific virtue. Honor is a social virtue. It is an internal, personal disposition to certain behaviors that concern themselves with one’s relationships with others. Honor is a virtue that can only be developed in community, but what is it?

The original words for honor, which later became the Greek kleos and the Latin dignitas, originally meant something akin to “trophy”. It was a physical object which represented an accomplishment that would be given from the community to the individual responsible for the accomplishment. Most often, honors were the spoils of war granted to the soldier who demonstrated how one ought to conduct themselves in battle. Other times, though, honors would be granted to those who demonstrated how one ought to innovate, parent, lead, teach, or even farm. These honors would be given publicly and were expected to be displayed publicly. Over time, honors as physical trophies became overshadowed by honor as a social reputation. An honorable person was one who demonstrated a paradigm behavior that others could acknowledge. In this way, honor was essentially setting the example.

During this time, there existed an interesting linguistic situation. The word for honor represented a single, integral concept that modern languages have teased apart and made two diametrically opposed terms: honor and shame. Honor, like many ancient concepts, was a very complex and rich tradition which defies surface exploration. It was a trophy, a reputation, and a feeling all bundled into one. These were nearly indistinguishable from each other and the same term applied to each of the three independently at times. When one received or established their honor, they would have a particular set of feelings associated with that accomplishment.

When put on a pedestal, one ought to feel self-satisfied and proud, even. One ought to be humbled by others’ recognition of one’s accomplishments, and feel a certain degree of self-consciousness or nervousness. I’m not saying this as an introvert who doesn’t like attention, but because of the nature of honor; at the heart of honor is an expectation of integrity and consistency. Having demonstrated one’s character such so as to be granted honor means that the village children will be pointed to oneself as the role-model: “You see, little Apollonius, if you want to be magnanimous, try to be like Alexander, son of Phillip.” Alexander ought to feel the eyes of his neighbors and inferiors on him at all times, scrutinizing his actions.

Alexander has no obligation to his inferiors. He has no moral obligation to uphold his honor, especially since it would have to be given to him from someone else, freely and without solicitation lest it would be meaningless (much like the medals on a President’s uniform). Meaningful honor cannot be granted to one’s self. Of course, if Alexander drops the ball, finding work may become difficult. There is a certain circumstance of expectation for one with honor which must be taken into account if one wishes to flourish.

These feelings and circumstances should look familiar to those acquainted with the modern religious concept of shame. Initially, as western cultures developed terms for shame, it was essentially synonymous with humility. Not the flimsy Thomist “just roll over and take it” version, but the ancient stoic “don’t exaggerate your accomplishments, just be aware that you are being watched and let your actions speak for themselves” version. Shame originally meant “the feeling you should get concerning your honor,” which used to be the meaning for the word “honor” when used in the context of feelings.

Incidentally, some cultures would honor undesirable behavior, as well. One would be honored for their cowardice, dishonesty, or promiscuity. In which case, the shame felt would be more akin to the popular modern conception of the term. This specifically, is simply a fun bit of trivia as far as the issue at hand is concerned, but it may come up in later posts.

What is important to the issue at hand? So far, we’ve only tried to clear up some small degree of confusion regarding a term that has been repeatedly co-opted throughout history. We haven’t really defined or described it. So, what is honor and what does it look like? As I already said, honor is a social virtue: a virtue pertaining to the manner in which one relates to others. It is essentially setting the example. What kind of example?

An example of virtue. Ancient virtue. Virtue, as a Latin word, really means “manliness’. Manliness meaning “the paradigm example of what a human ought to look like, in appearance and behavior.” I will make a post later about virtue specifically, but for now I will focus on the attributes of honor. Honor is a demonstration of virtues such as integrity, justice, courage, and self-actualization. A man of honor, ultimately, is a man who is free and willing to do the most righteous thing without the aid or encouragement of others. Instead of saying “someone ought to do X” or “There ought to be a law”, a man of honor simply does X and demonstrates how it ought to be done without seeking payment or recognition.

Clearly, honor is a virtue largely contingent upon other virtues. One cannot, for example, step-in when someone is committing a crime against someone unable or unwilling to defend themselves unless one first possess virtues like courage, magnanimity, and the martial virtues. One cannot engage in intellectual pursuits and eloquently and passionately introduce others to esoteric knowledge unless one first possesses the virtues of diligence, discipline, and reason. Unlike crime, honor is more fluid and less axiomatic in its specifics. However, it’s definition is quite helpful in identifying honor when one witnesses it. Honor is a character trait whereby one is prone to consistently demonstrating exceptional virtue in their interactions with others.

Remember, anarchy is a philosophy of responsibility. In the absence of the perpetual threat of murder for disobedience to arbitrary moral claims, alternative cultures of cooperation must endure. Honor, shame, and social relationships have always been crucial to the functioning of free societies.

TL;DR: Instead of confusing honor with a pseudo-Christian bastardization of servitude and approval from one’s masters, one ought to read ancient Greek ad Roman stoics and scholarship concerning them. Honor is centered on the social virtue of living well and setting the example as to how one ought to flourish.

Who is John Galt?