Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot #2!

Hello all,

Here’s another bit of audio-only content.  I did another guest spot on Wizardly Wisdom Podcast.  The first one was a blast, but this one is about 20% more awesome.  We spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of the libertarian movement, some historical context for different positions people hold to be “the libertarian position”, and why discourse about this discourse is important.

You’ll have to forgive my rough audio, we had some technical difficulties, but I think the content more than makes up for a little echo and click.

 

A Frank Discussion of Rights

Previously, I have written on my blog and on social media concerning rights and all the things surrounding rights in common discourse. As far as I can tell, I have not written the word “right” in quite a while… and I’ve only mentioned it a few times out-loud in private conversations as I explored the ideas I am planning to write on, today.

Today, I want to begin a frank discussion of rights. Given my self-imposed word limit and general mental constraints, I want to ask and contextualize three questions and make one follow-up (potentially) controversial statement. One may be able to trace the evolution of my ideas alluded to in previous posts to where I am now by reading though my published posts and the book-exclusive material, and one certainly could do so if they know me on social media or in-person; regardless, this is where I am at in my exploration of the concept of rights. So now, some questions:

  1. What function does the concept of rights serve?
  2. What is the ontology or metaphysics concerning rights?
  3. Are there more philosophically resilient alternatives to the concept of rights?

I will save my statement for later.

Rights seem to be a shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning. In classical texts I’m familiar with, “rights” are less a concern than they tend to be in modern and postmodern texts. As a matter of fact, when the Greeks and Romans addressed concepts that look like “rights”, they tended to focus more on what the term “privileges” covers in the modern age: a liberty granted to an individual or group by the guy(s) in charge. In a lot of ways, moral and ethical argumentation either had everything to do with virtue and ignored rights entirely, or centered entirely on one’s responsibilities as derived from one’s privileges. In the middle-ages, the concept had evolved slightly so as to include what amounts to “privileges granted by God”; a prime example would be the so-called “divine right of kings” or the liberties taken by the Church.

In the 1700’s, there was a major shift in popular philosophy. With the sudden explosion of productive technologies (such as the printing press and general industry), the subsequent decentralization of cultural production and consumption, and the sub-subsequent weakening of governmental power, certain theories that were only whispered about in the middle ages became widely popular. One such set of theories would be those of classical liberalism; another would be social contract theory; and one more example would be the rise of secular humanism.

One theme that was central to all three of those sets of theories was this niggling question: “If our rights aren’t derived from the king’s (or God’s) permission, how can morality exist?” The answer that seems to have won out in the marketplace of ideas is the straightforward, “People have rights because they are people, just because. Rights are something intrinsic instead of some contingent set of permissions.” Given how liberalism, democracy, and humanism have played out over the last few centuries, I doubt anyone with a basic understanding of modern history could honestly deny that the answer provided above is fraught with pitfalls. Even the SJWs demanding that free college, getting paid just for existing, and having permission to murder one’s offspring are intrinsic rights, just because, will tell you that people are mis-applying the concept.

Ultimately, every application of rights I am familiar with revolves around the essential question(s): “What can I get away with and what am I entitled to?” This is the reason I say it seems to be the case that rights are used as shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning; the focus of the rights discussion seems to be largely the same focus of ethical argumentation in general. If I have a negative right (the moral claim to be exempt from some obligation or another), such as the right to be left alone, that would mean that I “can’t get away with” harassing others (because they have the same right). If I have a positive right (the moral claim to be served by others), such as medical care, that would mean that anyone who can provide me with medical care is obligated to do so.

Depending on the theory, rights derive their ontology from different underpinnings. Some theories posit that rights are God-given, others posit that rights are brute facts, yet other theories posit that rights are derived from the general acceptance of society, and on and on. I think this diversity of suggestions is a result of the above discussed function of rights. Ethics and morality are, by their nature, abstract. Ethics and morality don’t make things happen in the world, at least not directly; they are descriptions of how one ought to act, but they don’t make someone act in a particular way. Rights, as a shorthand for parameters of acceptable human action are at least equally abstract. Where one can observe an apple falling in the orchard and posit a theory as to the mechanisms by which such an event occurs and the regularity with which such an occurrence is likely, one does not have the opportunity to observe a right and speculate as to the mechanisms by which the right accomplished its end.

Instead, more often than not, a philosopher or political activist will ask themselves, “What do I want to achieve? By what mechanism can I empower people to give me what I want and disenfranchise those who would get in the way of my goals?” This may sound like a very cynical take on Locke, Montesquieu, Smith… but one must remember that “What I want to achieve” may in fact be “peace on Earth and goodwill towards (wo)men” or some other fruitcake ideal. Upon answering these questions, the strong zeitgeist of rights becomes a valuable tool in accomplishing those ends. One need only come up with a source of rights that is compatible with one’s pre-existing ontological commitments and promotes one’s agenda.

Of course, this cynical reading of the history of philosophy presents a series of arguments concerning rights that have more to do with sophistry and political theory than it does with a genuine pursuit of Truth. If one were to make a genuine attempt to ground rights in a reliable ontological or metaphysical framework, I imagine it would look a lot like the cases made by a number of Rothbardian philosophers. Unfortunately, the level of abstraction required to make a case for the existence and nature of rights rivals the cases for the existence and nature of God. I only have enough bandwidth for one God-level case at a time, and people should know by now which one I’ve taken on. Instead, I just want to point out that a theory of rights which anchors itself in some moral or ontological case needs something metaphysical which lacks direct interaction with the physical world, some sort of platonic realism, and a theory of rights which anchors itself in utilitarian or sociological cases results in a utilitarian ethical framework which is sufficient to replace a similar doctrine of rights altogether.

So, what if a grounded theory of rights is better just left as an ethical framework without the concept of rights? Well, for one, doing so effectively neuters the ongoing social justice commentary as well as the general statist narratives wherein people claim positive rights which must be produced by state slavery. Additionally, It expedites certain discussions within and without my particular school of thought when one focuses on the principles and facts available which concern themselves with issues most people refer to as “rights issues”. What I mean to say is that the rhetoric and traditions of rights may only muddy the waters if there is an equally or more philosophically resilient alternative.

Despite the likelihood of being accused of all manner of character flaws, such as that of being a materialist, being a nominalist, or of being some sort of pagan or atheist, I think we can ground any discussion of “rights issues” in a far more easily defined and effective set of terms and principles. For example, I believe Hans Hermann Hoppe’s premises for argumentation ethics obtain nicely. One such premise is that private property is an inescapable feature of the human condition; the very fact that one has access to and control over one’s body demonstrates the principle of self-ownership in a way that cannot be abrogated by any instance or degree of criminal trespass or chemical interference.

So, ever the quintessential AnCap, I think that exploration of the logical, physical, and metaphysical features of property will sort out all of the issues commonly presented as “rights issues” and will, more often than not, produce results that jive with rational intuition. For example, a good portion of the classical liberal “negative rights” are the immediate logical consequent of the nature of property: the right to secure oneself against coercion, murder, and theft is less a “right” and more a natural result of the nature of self-ownership; If I own my body (and by extension that which my body produces), given the definitive quality of property that is “exclusivity”, I may exclude others from use of that property by whatever means that does not involve trespass on my part. There: without “rights”, I’ve established the justifiability of self-defense and, due to the universal nature of property, have also denied the justifiability of trespasses such as murder, coercion, and theft.

If there were any rationally defensible claim to what is often called a positive right, an argument for such a claim could be made stronger by avoiding a discussion of rights, itself, and focusing on the reality of property, instead. Perhaps the most defensible claim of positive rights is that of the Catholics: the “right to life”. For example, a “right to life” can not be taken seriously, lest it result in absurdity given the above alluded to discussion concerning the relationship between positive rights and state slavery. Death is inevitable, so to have a right to escape such an inevitable phenomena would require that mankind collectively devote every resource available to the discovery of immortality which would, itself, result in the deaths of everyone involved.

Instead, acknowledging the unborn human’s ownership of its body, the propertarian obligations of a landlord (or, in this case, a mother), the degree of action either is able to engage in, and other features of property and the human condition would result in positions which directly parallel the traditional positions of the Catholic Church concerning abortion, evictionism, self-defense, euthanasia, and care for the elderly. As an added bonus, such an activity would demonstrate the absurdity of the “right to choose”, “right to birth control”, and etc.

The time has come for my controversial claim (as if this hasn’t been controversial so far). The Catholic Church made a grave error in adopting the enlightenment-era’s rhetoric concerning rights. I kinda’ already alluded to that claim in the last section of the post, but I think it is important enough to warrant explicit attention. In engaging a secular humanist agenda on its own flawed terms instead of continuing its pursuits in determining the truth of the matter, the Church made itself more popular in an adversarial world. In the process, though, it laid the groundwork for the current social and ethical battles it finds itself buried under. That is not to say that the Doctrinal positions of the Church, or even the moral and ethical teachings of the Church as a whole are inaccurate, but it is to say that the use of flawed theories and terminology obfuscates the veracity of those teachings. Because of this obfuscation, it is not an unfair accusation to blame the SJWs on the Church and to point out that the Church has backed itself into a corner concerning the pursuit of knowledge of creation (most noticeable of which being economics). This mistake can be rectified if teachers and clergy make a concerted effort to pursue truth as opposed to political expedience… but how long it will take to do so is very much a live question.

TL;DR: Rights, in their most resilient formulation can best be described as “temporary privileges granted by the guys in charge” or, alternatively, “an ethical or moral shorthand for determining justification of actions”. There are a number of frameworks in which people try to ground rights and accomplish the ends for which the have created those rights, some are more reasonable than others, but they all present issues I do not believe can be resolved. Additionally, there is far too much baggage and theory in the realm of discourse concerning rights to expect calm, rational debate. Property, and the logical and material consequences of property provide a resilient alternative to the discussion of rights which also achieves intuitive outcomes. For these and other reasons, I think that it would be a better rhetorical move to simply deny the existence of rights altogether and demonstrate the efficacy and utility of property in dispute resolution and moral or ethical dilemmas.

Also, here’s some George Carlin, for your entertainment.

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Liberty Classroom: an Invaluable Tool

If you are reading this near the end of November in 2016, you can get some major discounts and provide a great deal of support to the Mad Philosopher project by going to Tom Woods Liberty Classroom and subscribing.  If you are reading this at any other time, you can still provide a great amount of value to the project by doing so.

Tom Woods Liberty Classroom is easily one of the most undervalued resources available on the internet, as it provides a legitimate PhD-level resource on a number of crucial subjects such as history and economics.  The term “legitimate” is important, here, as what most universities provide is only half-true and full of leftist propaganda.  This resource is the closest to comprehensive and the closest to unbiased as can be found.

Click Here to get some coupon codes and subscribe.  This affiliate program is definitely one of the best ways to support the Mad Philosopher project, second only to just sending me Bitcoin directly.

 

Here’s some free samples (the best stuff is behind the paywall, obviously):

the best way to fulfill the maxim “Carpe Veritas” is to subscribe to Liberty Classroom and take advantage of everything such a subscription provides.

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Logical Anarchy Guest Spot!

Today, I have another guest spot I’d like to present.  I feel much better about my performance on this episode than the previous guest spot I had, and I’d like my readers/listeners to check out the work that they do over at Logical Anarchy.

Carpe veritas



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Just Another Friendly Argument #2: Contracts and the NAP

If you couldn’t tell, I came into this conversation with a little bit of a cavalier attitude.  James, however, was very well-prepared and had a number of notes he was going to send me in an email, but we both thought it would be more fun to do an argument episode of the podcast.

We discuss property rights, contracts, and the NAP.  I was already coming into a newer and more nuanced position on contracts since the last conversation James and I had concerning the matter, so this episode was less an argument than it was an interview, but we had a lot of fun and I think listeners can get a lot of good material from it.

 

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Democracy: The God That Failed

Back in college, when Bitcoin was brand new, I was still a techno-optimist trotskyite, and I was only just halfway through Human Action for the first time, I had a weird conversation with an upperclassman.

I was arguing about Aristotelianism and its contributions to communism with a classmate when this upperclassman interrupted and began building a case for restoring a Catholic monarchy. Needless to say, I was neither surprised nor impressed… at least at first. Then, he started using the terminology used in Human Action and really got my attention.

At the end of our conversation, I was far from sold on his case for monarchy but I was willing to read the book he offered me off the shelf in the school library: Democracy: The God That Failed. I read the book and it changed my understanding of the world irrevocably. As a matter of fact, I went back and read the first half of Human Action again, and actually understood it. I wasn’t an immediate convert, though; it would be another two years before I dropped real communism in favor of communism light: republican conservatism.

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Why all the autobiography in a book review? I wanted people to know the reluctance with which I engaged the ideas in this book and the profound change it had on my philosophical moorings.

In this book, Hans Hermann Hoppe begins by exploring the historio-economic history of the rise of democracy, explores econ 101 as could only be taught by an Austrian economist who studied directly under Rothbard, and proceeds to describe the economics behind democracy, monarchy, and natural order. Of course, he makes the same case all Austrians do: “Value is subjective, so I’m not going to tell you what to value, but I am going to show you the relationships between various causes and effects so that you can act on those values efficaciously. So, if you value human flourishing…”

The primary focus of Hoppe is the nature of economics and the incentives that emerge under different political arrangements, specifically monarchy, democracy, and anarchy. I couldn’t do the work justice without approaching a page count comparable to the book, but I do want to give you a preview of what’s in store.

In the case of anarchy, economic incentives parallel the Darwinian reality of nature and, where many argue that is a flaw of anarchy, it is inescapable no matter what social structure one builds on top of that state of nature. For example, survival of those best conditioned to live in a particular environment is one such reality. The way this plays out in the absence of the state is that those better suited to delay gratification, cooperate with others, and defend private property are more likely to benefit from a division of labor, specialization of skills, and technological advancement than those who are less suited to such activities.

In the absence of criminal or political elements which undermine these activities, there will be a natural selective process by which those who have these abilities amass more wealth, social capital, and mating opportunities than those who do not. On a long enough timeline, this will create evolutionary side-effects but even in the short-run, market forces naturally puts wealth in the hands of those best suited to invest it in a beneficial manner. Hoppe notes that this process is, both a-priori and historically, the origin of monarchies.

Any given region with sufficient selective processes will eventually have the most well-adapted stock in charge of all or nearly all the land or other resources in the region, making the entire region one large landlord/renter arrangement. Given that this individual in-charge acquired this position by way of making wise investments and mutually-advantageous exchanges, there would be no reason to cease doing so at this point; this means that the de-facto king will continue making decisions directed at improving the value of his assets which, in turn, increases the quality of life of his tenants.

This means that those in service of the king do so by way of voluntary employment: knights, soldiers, constables, etc. provide for the security and management of the king’s assets in exchange for what amounts to wages and employee discounts/benefits. If, at any point, a tenant or employee is unable or unwilling to abide by the rules of the landlord, they can emigrate or be exiled.

It is this liberty which is at the heart of all the incentives for a healthy economy in a monarchy.  The king, in order to maintain or increase the value of his property, must strive to make it worth the cost of rent for his existing and potential productive tenants to remain and the tenants must make it worth the king’s time to invest in their quality of life. At the point in time the king no longer allows individuals to leave or otherwise undermines their ability to function within the bounds of private property, he invalidates his rightful claim to the property he is leasing to his tenants and becomes something more like a tyrant or warlord.

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With that transition, the people are incentivized to undermine the king’s property value while building their own investments. This leads to “black markets”, political graft, treason, and invitations to foreign kings or barbarians to invade. Such a transition is a death knell for that particular region’s economy and culture. By and large, this is the story of the collapse of the British Crown and Empire. Of course, what came next was less than preferable: the rise of democracy.

In much the same way as when a king becomes a criminal, when a democratic social order is imposed on a people, the economic incentives get turned upside-down. Whereas a king owns the kingdom and has both the natural inclination as well as economic incentive to manage it for the sake of long-term gains, a president does not own the state. Instead, a president has near-unlimited access and control over the criminal apparatus of the state designed for expropriation and market manipulation for a limited amount of time. In such a circumstance, a president is incentivized to raise taxes, secure long-term benefits for himself at the expense of future taxpayers and presidents, and to funnel value into the assets he actually owns and that his friends own.

It’s not just the politicians who are corrupted either. Whereas anarchy and de-facto anarchistic monarchy are naturally eugenic, selecting for those most able to cooperate and produce value for others, democracy is a dysgenic process, selecting for those best able to rile the masses into demanding benefits at the expense of those producing the taxed revenue, those best suited to criminal activity, and actually incentivizing all of the behaviors witnessed in the seediest inner-city slums.

The majority of the text is spent on exploring all off the perverse and dysgenic economic incentives which democracy installs over and above, and in direct contradiction to, the natural order. Given that HHH is the economist and I am not and that he spends about 150 pages on the subject, I’ll leave the rest to him. In the meantime, I want to move on to the final portion of his text.

The final portion of the text is focused on where one could be expected to go in a post-democracy world. Barring a wholesale collapse of western civilization a-la the fall of Rome which preceded the rise of free-market monarchies, it is unlikely that the state will find an appropriate method by which to auction off its properties to the people in such a way so as to undo the undue gains of the corporate entities which have grafted themselves onto the political machine. Instead, modern economic technologies such as mutual and voluntary associations and risk-pools (such as HOAs and insurance companies) can simply begin to compete with the political apparatuses and, due to the nature of voluntary markets, outperform the state and put them out of business, so long as they secure their ability to defend against the states’ violence.

This scenario seems to have a fair amount of potential behind it, given HHH’s economic arguments to the efficiency and efficacy of such a transition. While the arguments are very involved and well-argued, the general theme of the argument is that “The state provides for (or at least, doesn’t wholly disallow) various services, such as the roads, education, security, risk pooling, etc. because there is a demand for it, and in the absence of the state, there would still be a demand for what amounts to our current status quo. He explores the economic incentives that would be in place wile fulfilling those market demands in the absence of the states’ direct influence and the social order that is likely to come about as a result of those demands and incentives.

From what I know of Hoppe’s other works, I think that he finds the outcome he presents to be most preferable. While I have a more traditionalist and rugged individualist bias, which I think would be sustainable in a free-market environment, I find his proposed option infinitely preferable to what we have today. Essentially, we would have all the bourgeois amenities such as grocery stores, roads, internets, common currencies, military defenses etc. without any of the current fallout such as poorly-planned roads, wars of foreign aggression, taxation, and perverted markets.

He makes a compelling case for why competitive insurance agencies would actually manage to provide the services that government cannot in a manner consistent with property rights and individual liberties, all economically-based, of course. The first time I read this book, I was very off-put by his apparent love for insurance companies, but the second time around I realized that he’s not talking about your dad’s insurance companies, the ones twisted and maligned by intimate relationships with state violence and regulations, but real risk-mitigation and risk-sharing pools owned and managed by the people best suited to managing such affairs in a competitive market.

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His cases for what ought to come next seem fairly abstract, and he has been called out on that abstractedness by many other authors. To which he responded with a supplementary essay titled “What Must be Done”, wherein he outlines, step-by-step, what he believes to be the most direct and moral route from here to there in modern-day-America. Seeing as how this essay is far more controverial than Democracy: The God That Failed , this is an appropriate place to bring up the most controversial parts of the book (as if advocating the case for monarchy over democracy and anarchy over monarchy isn’t counter-cultural enough). There is a quote of his, from the middle of the book which has become quite popular in my circles on facebook:

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He also makes the case that a free market will naturally select for what has been the traditional family and lifestyle structure in the West. It’s not too unreasonable to think this, seeing as how that traditional family structure necessarily emerged from the selective pressures extant at the time (pre-feudal Europe) and still seem to have the most economically sound incentive structures built into them, from the a-priori angle. Where it gets controversial is when he argues that insurance companies (in their free-market iteration) will act to mitigate moral hazard rather than promote it and, that mitigation of moral hazard is likely to result in (justified) discrimination against those individuals choosing alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, polygamy/andry, extreme drug use, and other things that the cultural “right” views as deviant. This discrimination could be as benign as increased premiums or as intense as a denial of coverage which, in Hoppe’s propertarian conception, would result in physical exile from certain communities. As I’ve covered in my post on LibPar, this does not necessarily mean the end of the homosexual lifestyle or culture, it merely means that communities would have to form around such lifestyle choices and they would have to either be isolationist or able to compete in the marketplace against their more conservative neighbors.

The book is incredibly well-researched and annotated. There are footnotes on every page, some taking up entire pages in their own right. They are drawn from all sorts of references, not just Austrians; Hoppe calls upon historians of every political persuasion, mainstream econometricians, Austrian economists, sociologists, and more. There are a few texts that he referenced enough times that they have been put on my reading list.

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TL;DR: Democracy: The God That Failed is one of the books that, if there were a canon of AnCap literature, would be in said canon. When I first read the book, it neither converted me from my communist ways, nor did it convince me to become a Catholic monarchist as was the intent of the guy that told me to read it. In hindsight, though, it was the only way that I could begin to understand what AnCaps on facebook were saying and gave me something to argue against. As is typical, though, a few years later I could recall the things I had argued against, but had changed my position on all of them. I decided to re-read the book and discovered that, on all the key points at least, I agree with HHH. There are some minor side details and some expressed preferences that I hold contrary views on, but I think this book is a Must-Read, right after Human Action.

No Treason: Lysander Spooner

This month’s Lucaf Fits meeting (that’s my philosophy club) is centered on the nature of freedom. I did my best to try and separate my apolitical proclivities from the philosophy club, as I wanted to be a little more culturally ecumenical with the group’s prospective members, but the group demanded it. The difficulty with finding literature for such a discussion is that You have statist bullshit on one side and high-level praxeological works by anarchists on the other side, with a little bit of lefty garbage scattered between the two. However, there is a gem hidden in that grey zone between the two extremes: Lysander Spooner‘s “No Treason: The constitution of No Authority”.

 

As always, a bit of historical context is in order. Spooner was born at the beginning of the 19th century in America. He was a natural-born anarchist/agorist. He set up a law firm in Massachusetts and quickly became recognized as one of the best lawyers available, despite not having the required government permits to do so. He made a compelling legal case against licensure, but that cost him potential clients, as the government did everything in their power to keep him from acquiring new clients. After business dried up, he tried a few unsuccessful entrepreneurial efforts and eventually decided to set up a post office as an act of defiance against the violent monopoly that the US government held on postal services, and quickly outperformed his criminal competitors. Of course, that didn’t last very long, as the government violently shut him down. From that point on, he was a one-man publishing company, writing almost as much as Rothbard, himself, much to the same effect as Rothbard.

One can’t discuss a lawyer, activist, or political commentator in 19th century America without addressing slavery. Spooner was one of the many activists in the 19th century that has been stricken from the mainstream historical record for the heinous crime of not fitting the ex-post-facto justification for the war of northern aggression. He was a die-hard abolitionist AND he was a defender of the Confederacy’s right to secede from the Union and tend their own affairs. He wasn’t alone, but he is certainly one of the more prominent members of that elite group.

No Treason was actually written as a response to the war of northern aggression, pointing out how the lies written and perpetuated by the Federalists had lost any of their legitimacy when Lincoln (at the behest of criminal bankers) purportedly abolished chattel slavery by way of actively enslaving half of the inhabited continent of America by way of military conquest. In many ways, Spooner is the godfather of the sovereign citizen movement, using common law practices and contract law to point out the reality that the existing government is not only criminal but is, in fact, illegal. He met a similar fate as many Sovereign Citizens, as well… he was mostly ignored into obscurity.

That obscurity is unwarranted, though. In “No Treason”, Spooner presents a compelling case using common law and the contract law of his day, demonstrating the Constitution to be neither a legal document nor a reasonable declaration of intent. He attacks the rationale behind the “Social Contract” argument, demonstrating that the Constitution meets no necessary or sufficient conditions for being a legally-binding contract and that, even if it did, “We know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now… And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.”

He also demonstrates that the secret ballot undermines the legality of the contract and reveals the true nature of the government under the Constitution:
“What is the motive to the secret ballot? This, and only this: Like other confederates in crime, those who use it are not friends, but enemies; and they are afraid to be known, and to have their individual doings known, even to each other… In fact, they are engaged quite as much in schemes for plundering each other, as in plundering those who are not of them. And it is perfectly well understood among them that the strongest party among them will, in certain contingencies, murder each other by the hundreds of thousands (as they lately did do) to accomplish their purposes against each other. Hence they dare not be known, and have their individual doings known, even to each other. And this is avowedly the only reason for the ballot: for a secret government; a government by secret bands of robbers and murderers. And we are insane enough to call this liberty! To be a member of this secret band of robbers and murderers is esteemed a privilege and an honor! Without this privilege, a man is considered a slave; but with it a free man! With it he is considered a free man, because he has the same power to secretly (by secret ballot) procure the robbery, enslavement, and murder of another man, and that other man has to procure his robbery, enslavement, and murder. And this they call equal rights!”

He also consistently argues against the possibility that most, or even any, individuals consent to be governed under the Constitution. Citing the involuntary nature of taxation, the demonstrated propensity for the government to initiate violence to get its way, the illegality of putting a small group of unaccountable oligarchs in charge of a violent apparatus of coercion and theft, and so on. He also points out that, even though the government consists entirely of criminals, they are not even preferable to common criminals, because:
“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.
The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves “the government,” are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.
In the first place, they do not, like him, make themselves individually known; or, consequently, take upon themselves personally the responsibility of their acts. On the contrary, they secretly (by secret ballot) designate some one of their number to commit the robbery in their behalf, while they keep themselves practically concealed.”

Even if people consented to being enslaved by the government and found it preferable to the possibility of falling prey to common highwaymen, Spooner argues that there is no mechanism, physical, metaphysical, legal, or otherwise, by which one could accomplish such an end. Ignoring the performative contradiction of such an activity, Spooner argues: “If I go upon Boston Common, and in the presence of a hundred thousand people, men, women and children, with whom I have no contract upon the subject, take an oath that I will enforce upon them the laws of Moses, of Lycurgus, of Solon, of Justinian, or of Alfred, that oath is, on general principles of law and reason, of no obligation. It is of no obligation, not merely because it is intrinsically a criminal one, but also because it is given to nobody, and consequently pledges my faith to nobody. It is merely given to the winds.” This is a result of the secret ballot, the non-contractual nature of the Constitution, and the manner in which the Constitution is inflicted on those who do not assent and have never assented to be party to the contract.

Lysander Spooner writes with a command of both legal theory and language in a way so as to make slightly-complex legal concepts accessible to the reader while also maintaining a level of entertainment-value which allows one to read through the entire work. It is only about 75 pages long, so one can get through it in an afternoon if one really applies oneself. He touches on other ideas that are central to libertarian discourse, such as the idea of “voting in self defense” and the economic realities inflicted on the peasantry by international banking cartels. I argue that this work, like several others mentioned on the blog, ought to be on everyone’s reading list.

TL;DR: I’ll put the TL;DR version here, in Spooner’s own words:
“Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

Also, here’s a silly video from the Free Thought Project to a similar effect:
https://www.facebook.com/thefreethoughtprojectcom/videos/1765770890309837/

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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Cartography vs. Geography: Borders

A little over a year ago, I felt compelled to write a blog post about national borders. As that discussion is a perennial subject for every ideology to fight over, I felt I had plenty of time to double-check my understanding of the matter before posting and still seem relevant. Boy, was I surprised.

This was an issue that everyone seemed to agree to disagree on, relegating the discussion to election years only, during which the nation would compare and contrast open borders with slightly-less-open borders. Of course no-one would question the premise of the existence of borders being necessary. Anyway, out of nowhere, a wealthy, aggressive alpha male appeared in this election cycle, running on a platform that amounts to, “We need an almost-closed border, build a wall.” Donald Trump managed to take an issue most anarchists thought they agreed on and turn it into an issue so divisive in anarchist circles that the word “schism” has been thrown around… which is rare in a community built on debate and philosophical adversity.

I have heard and read a great many arguments before this hidden powder keg was lit, and probably twice as many since then. Not surprisingly, my position has remained largely unchanged in all this mess. That’s not to say the ideas I post here are entirely unchanging and correct, but it does reflect my confidence that my position is consistent with the principles outlined on this blog and the principles of anarchism.

To be clear, (because this somehow got confusing in recent history), I am discussing national borders. I’m discussing the cartographical phenomena of lines drawn on a map delineating “state A” and “state B”, and the subsequent expectation that a matching line be drawn in the sand and walls and enforcers be stationed along that line. This is a different phenomena entirely from what could be called “property lines” or some other defined boundary of private property. That being said, what is the nature of national borders?

A national border is largely comparable to a dam. A government subsidizes the creation of an infrastructure to manage the flow of resources from one place to another. In the case of a dam, it’s typically the flow of water (carrying fish, generating electricity, being used for agriculture, etc.) from uphill to downhill regions. Some times, things flow uphill, such as fish, but it’s usually a downhill function. In the case of borders, it is typically the flow of individuals (carrying material goods, generating revenue, performing labor, etc.) being regulated. Different dams regulate differently and with different goals, just like borders.

The consistent elements among all borders are that they are subsidized by the state, they are considered to be state/”public” property, they are the edge of (certain types) of jurisdiction and they can be open (to varying degrees) or closed. While there could be variations not explicitly addressed by this approach, I feel addressing the US or EU border as a reasonable microcosmic example of these commonalities. For example, the US border exists, in any actionable sense, because the ICE and law enforcement say so. In theory, the ICE and El Paso cops can’t arrest me for selling Anarchapulco Gold in Chihuahua, but they totally can if I happen to do so on the US side of that cartographical line.

These enforcers are funded by a mixture of taxation and Federal Reserve loans (using our descendants as collateral), which means this activity is endorsed and encouraged by the state, AKA subsidized. The (almost) reasonable comparison of national borders to private property lines is useful at this point. Regardless of the moniker (“public land”, “open land”, “federal land”, “the commons”), the actionable reality is such that “public land” is the ill-gotten property of the state, and said state enjoys all of the rights that come with property. In the same way I could subsidize my friend’s bad relationship choices by allowing him to sleep on my couch when he gets kicked out, the state can subsidize the bad economic and social policies of neighboring peoples by allowing them to stay on “public land” and take advantage of the welfare beyond that border. Conversely, a state can be selective or prohibitive with regards to such subsidization. It can pick and choose who is allowed in or out or simply close the border.

History has borne out the shortcomings of open, semi-open, and closed border policies alike. The Iron Curtain, Berlin Wall, and DMZ of Korea demonstrate the economic fallout inherent in isolationism at scale as well as how difficult it is to enforce a closed border. The litany of empires that have come and gone, for the most part, fell victim to the failures of a semi-open border policy; productive citizens fleeing the slavery of the state, welfare leeches and foreign enemies getting in, all coupled with the perpetual cost and externalities of enforcing the border. The significantly more rare examples of open borders present no less dire a prognosis; one need look no further than the ongoing implosion of socialist Europe to get an idea of what open borders look like.

Given the state of political and philosophical discourse in the current election cycle and the ongoing invasion of Europe, I would be remiss in not addressing Trump and his wall., I am against Trump no less than I am any of the criminals vying for the throne of Empire this year. That said, as long as anti-discrimination laws, welfare statism, and elections exist, the violence of the state and tax dollars would do less harm constructing an enforcing a border wall and an almost-closed border policy than subsidizing the importation of individuals with goals contrary to that of successful human enterprise, which is the alternative. Trump’s wall will become the biggest tombstone on the largest mass grave in human history, and that’s the least damage that can be done with the border of Empire, at this point. Terrifying.

I managed to make it halfway through a post being charitable to the concepts of statism… I think that’s a new record. Now, lets get some anarchism up in here. Borders are bullshit. As I stated above, history dictates that borders don’t work. Borders and states are as close to synonyms as two words can get without actually being synonyms. One of the few truths uttered in the presidential debates this last year is, “There is no state without borders.”
“But… if you want Trump to build a wall, how can you want to get rid of borders?” This is a fair question. In order to answer it, I have to explore a basic economic question first. Migration, like all of human action, is a response to market signals; so, what signals would current migrants be responding to? Not jobs, America currently suffers from the largest labor surplus in history. Not for security, America has both the highest incarceration rate and largest prison population in human history. Not for quality mates, America has an extraordinary rate of genetic and self-inflicted diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression… and that doesn’t include the growing population of beta males and feminazis. The only answer that holds water is the innumerable forms of state subsidization of migration.

If I were to push the “end the state” button today, immigration would dry up instantly. Even if it didn’t, though, the damage that could have been caused by said migration would not occur. Without a state apparatus to steal from producers of wealth and subsidize their inferiors, a state apparatus of wielding violence against one’s betters, a state apparatus preventing intelligent and voluntary interactions, and whatever other state functions immigrants are currently responding to, migrants would be faced with the same challenges as everyone else: get a job or starve, don’t initiative violence or you will get killed, respect private property or you’re gonna have a bad time.

“But what about ISIS? Without a wall…” This is me, being totally unafraid of ISIS. They are too busy doing statism on the opposite side of the world, murdering peaceful people, stealing, raping, you know, the same things that the government does over here. If, somehow, ISIS manages to conquer the Middle East, fend off a Russian invasion, not provoke Israel into stepping up it’s genocidal agenda, get through Europe, and proceed to eliminate every privately-managed American shipping company’s navy (which would totally be a thing once the government is eliminated, can’t let those destroyer ships go to waste), they would be treated the same way every home-grown criminal would be. Unless, by “ISIS”, you mean “muslims”. If that’s what you mean, there’s a much more peaceful and cost-effective solution, one which has been illegal for quite some time: private property rights.

If you’re in my house or place of business, you follow my rules or get kicked out. Most of those rules would likely be intuitive: no violating the NAP and adhere to posted social norms (‘no shirt, no shoes, no service”, “no smoking”, etc.) Some businesses may even cater to outliers: fight clubs, smoker-friendly restaurants, nudist beaches, etc. Depending on where you live in LibPar, one such social norm may be “No Muslims allowed”. Someone is far less likely to jump on a bus, shout “allahu akbar” and explode if the entire town is private property and all private property owners have a “no looking like you are wearing a suicide vest” rule.

“But… RACISM!” So? I’m not sure what you are concerned about. If the individuals being discriminated against are equal or greater than others with regards to ability to provide value to others, those that do not discriminate will out-perform those who do. This will send a market signal deterring discrimination. Conversely, if the individuals being discriminated against are inferior in that regard, such discrimination is warranted and those who discriminate will out-perform those that don’t. To argue against this position is to tacitly admit that one believes a particular demographic is, in fact, inferior; in other words, to argue against this position is to be racist.

One issue which was indirectly addressed in this post but warrants explicit mention is the myth of “right to travel” or “freedom of movement”. No matter how one formulates such a concept, it is a “positive right” which, as readers of my book or attendees of Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom will know, can’t possibly exist. I have as much “right to travel” as I do a “right to functioning kidneys”. If, for whatever reason, my kidneys fail, no one has an obligation to give me theirs and I cannot be justified in stealing them. The same goes for right of travel; my ability to do whatever I want ends where your property begins. If for whatever reason, I am not welcome on your property, I have no right to travel into your place of business, your home, or your butthole without invitation.

TL;DR: The arbitrary lines drawn on a map by which criminal gangs determine jurisdiction, AKA national borders, are as unnecessary and misanthropic as the gangs themselves. Every vaguely legitimate function of national borders are better accomplished by simply reinstating private property rights and letting nature take its course.

Borders

Defending the Undefendable

In the spirit of Rothbard, Walter Block presents a treatise on the relationship between crime and economic manipulation, semi-appropriate ethical indignation and the unintended consequences of using violence to try to prevent those ethically unappealing actions.
In Defending the Undefendable, Walter Block defends the heroin dealer, the speculator, the employer of child labor, and the man who screams “fire” in a crowded theater against accusations of economic perversity and harming the social order.  He does so quite effectively.  After reading this book, one who is educated in economics will have to seriously reconsider support of a minimum wage and legal prohibitions against child labor.
The introduction, written by Rothbard himself, makes it clear that while the people defended in Block’s book are heroes because of the role they play economically and the adversity they face in reducing the friction of a politically-controlled economic system, this is not a moral defense of the particular actions the people make.  For instance, a heroin dealer could very well be a boon to the market and a hero in face of the evils of government while also perpetrating an immoral or unethical act (such as selling poison to people, even if it is a voluntary interactions).
As compelling, concise, and informative as the book is as a whole, there is one chapter, however, that doesn’t seem to belong.  The defense of the “Male Chauvinist Pig” was less an economic defense of chauvinism and much more an incoherent and aggressive defense of feminist talking points, most prominent of which being the importance of abortion.  This defense of abortion is actually inconsistent with a much more compelling case he makes later on in the case of defending “The Employer of Child Labor”.
All-in-all, though, this book is a must-read for anyone who believes in the free market but hasn’t critically assessed their position on “the undefendable” as of yet, people who are genuinely interested in reducing crime and increasing the quality of life for the poor, and those that still believe that government violence can somehow improve the world.  Each chapter is a few pages long, very direct and to the point.

One can acquire the book for free in digital form from the Mises Institute, or purchase a hardcopy at Amazon.  I strongly recommend that you do so.

A Solid Definition of Government

This week, I am clearly picking the low-hanging fruit. I have to admit, working on my book last month and getting so worked up last week seems to have burned me out. I’d rather just read Dostoevsky and listen to Dimmu Borgir in my free time this week. Instead, I’m going to lean on my default post-type and define something while looking at the etymology and philology of the term.

Looking at my definition of anarchy (and the preceding discussion), it would seem that I am doing things backwards. Typically, people define anarchy as “the absence of government”; I argue that anarchy was here first and government is the absence (or privation of) anarchy. I could leave the conversation at that, but I wouldn’t be doing the history of the word its due time, nor would the subject warrant a full blog post.

“Government” is one of the many words that English-speakers have lifted from the French, like buffet, ballet, abatement… lots of words that end in “t”, it would seem. In the French use of the word, it largely means the same thing it does in English: “The group of assholes who violently claim arbitrary swaths of land and the people and fruits thereof”. Technically, the noun form of the word is derived from the original verb, “To control or dictate.” Unless we are speaking of self-governance, that sounds an awful lot like coercion and slavery.

As a matter of fact, that’s where the French got the word. Somehow (there’s some debate in academia), the French got a hold of an ancient Greek word: kybernan. Kybernan is the Greek word for “piloting a ship”. Pretty innocuous and maybe even voluntarist, right? Well, this word came into widespread use in the time of Greece’s heyday of naval warfare and mercantilism. Still innocent-sounding? The ships of that period were not diesel or cesium-powered, nor were they steamboats or sailing ships; they were powered by slaves. The primary method of steering a ship was by dictating the manner, rate, and direction the slaves were to row.

It would seem that kybernan has managed to keep it’s meaning fairly well through its multiple iterations. The federalists, especially Madison and Hamilton, were particularly fond of descriptions and metaphors for government that, while not quite “The citizens shall be like slaves rowing a trireme while me and my friends whip them,” were not much different. Interestingly enough, the prefix “cyber-” is derived from the very same Greek word. “Cybernetics” or “systems theory” is inextricably tied to government, too. In today’s vernacular, “cyber-whatever” usually means “computer-y” or “robot-y”, but cybernetics is a field of study much older than computers and robots. Cybernetics is a tradition that reaches back to Plato, but has changed dramatically from it’s origins in “studying regularity in closed systems” into a form of sociological alchemy pursued by many famous intellectuals such as John Dewey, Norbert Wiener, and Alan Turing. This set of theories were predicated on the idea that human environments were closed systems which could be molded by internal and external factors. The idea driving cybernetics was the idea that the masses of under-educated and working castes could be molded into a sort of perpetual-energy machine, sustaining both itself and the lifestyles of the enlightened progressives. All such an endeavor would require is the perfect admixture of coercion, theft, violence, and mind-control.

This may sound like a crazy conspiracy theory, but it is truly a matter of mainstream historical fact. On need only read the writings of those involved in the project to confirm its facticity. Besides, there’s already a popular (and crazy) conspiracy theory about the word “government” that I need to dispel. Rather than focusing on the historical reality of Dewey’s obsession with cybernetics and government, some say that “government” is either Old English or Latin for “governing minds” or, alternatively, “mind control”. Given the relationship between cybernetics and western governments over the last century-and-a-half, it isn’t surprising that one would assume that “government” and “mind control” are synonymous, but there is one degree of separation betwixt the two; it’s just a funny philological quirk that it worked out that way. As is usually the case, it is better to address historical realities and actual conspiracies instead of creating imagined conspiracy theories out of ignorance.

While fun, this linguistic foray has done little to define the term “government”. Unless, that is, we are going to define government as “slave-driving on an ancient Greek boat.” I guess I went on this tangent to bolster the case for my definition, but before I deliver the punchline and just tell you my definition, I have one last point to touch on.

Those Greek slaves were different in nearly every way from the slaves in America circa 19th century, and both were equally different from slaves in Egypt circa the 20th century BC. What, then, is common to each “slave” to make them such? Slaves in the American south were largely allowed to do whatever they wished when not working, so “total loss of autonomy” doesn’t work. Slaves in Greece were afforded second-class citizenship and some degree of representation in government, so “lack of legal ‘rights” and “lack of political representation” does not suffice. Many slaves in Egypt became such voluntarily, as an alternative to the death penalty or to pay off family debts, so even “being conscripted from your home country” doesn’t work. Similarly, nearly every alternative faces similar counterfactuals.

However, even in the case of Greek slavery (which had the most liberty regarding property to my knowledge), that property was more-or-less rented from the local government and could be repossessed via an ancient Greek eminent domain from which real citizens were secure. Therefore, I think I’m going to take a page out of the AnCaps’ book and say that the defining characteristic of a slave is a systematic or institutionalized denial of one’s property rights. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, that Marx would have found the average family of his day to be a form of slavery. I’m sure you’ve already guessed where this is going; kybernan, being equivalent to “slave driving”, and “government”, being equivalent to “an absence of anarchy” gives us a historical basis for saying “government” is best defined as, “an institutionalized denial of one’s property rights”. I have not yet been presented with an example of government, in the abstract or specific, which fails to meet this criteria, nor have I encountered an instance, in the abstract or specific, of an institution which is not a functional equivalent to government which meets this criteria.

Taxation is functionally equivalent to declaring superseding ownership over another’s property or self and demanding rent for continued use of that property or self. Property tax is a declaration of ownership of land and improvements upon the land. Income tax (by the books) is a declaration of ownership concerning monetary gains that arrive in the owned territory and is also (in practice) a declaration of ownership of one’s labor. Sales (and the synonymous “value-added”) tax is the declaration of ownership of both (or either) the property changing hands and/or the relationship between the two parties. This list is as long as the list of things taxed.

Law enforcement is functionally equivalent to declaring ownership of either one’s self or one’s actions (same thing, really). Even the most honorable and benevolent law-maker will admit (as the Federalists openly did) that laws are designed as an attempt to control individuals. I’ve already addressed the relationship between control and ownership, so we don’t need to discuss that now.

In establishing a monopoly on certain services (de-facto or explicitly) such as defense, security, infrastructure management, financial instruments, etc., governments establish a claim on either the concepts themselves or every specific instance of such things. For example, I can’t own a tank, arrest someone, build a power generator, mint coins, deliver packages, or even opt-out of having those services provided without explicit permission. Of course, all of these services are provided by way of stealing my property and by taking out loans from central banks using me and my descendants as collateral… yet another explicit claim of ownership over myself and all I own.

Someone can attempt to contrive something that looks like, and achieves similar outcomes to government without violating property rights. So far, every time I’ve witnessed such attempts, the attempt either fails to meet so simple a moral standard or is, effectively, a description of AnCapistan. This is how I, myself, became an anarchist. I was a communist out of an Aristotelian notion of positive rights and the need for government to provide them. After a decade or so of trying to explicate and enumerate rights and how they could all be upheld without contradiction, I realized that it is metaphysically impossible to uphold positive rights and that the government can’t even protect one’s negative rights.

TL;DR Government, the absence of anarchy, is ultimately defined by one identifiable function. Every historical example of government presents some feature or behavior unique from or contradictory to another, save one. Interestingly, slavery is defined by the same function which is fitting given the etymological root of the word: kybernan. Government is “the institutionalized denial of property rights.”

Robber Barons are your Friends

I will eventually write a full review of “How Capitalism Saved America“, but for now, I just want to encourage people to read Chapter 7 “The Truth About the ‘Robber Barons‘” as today’s resource suggestion.

There isn’t much to say, despite the length of the text I’m suggesting.  This chapter explores the revisionism applied primarily to the railroads of the pre-FED american landscape and teases apart fact from fiction.  It’s no surprise, really, that public education would try to paint capitalism as evil, even when examining one of the greatest successes of capitalism itself; it’s all a matter of financial incentives, given that “public” school is funded by the same institution that is a competitor against capitalism…

Feudal AnCapistan

This week, we’ve got another audio-only post.  I was asked to refute a very simple claim that anarchism is synonymous with feudalism.  While such a claim demonstrates a lack of economic literacy (which I made a conscious effort to avoid getting into today), I thought it would be worth at least beginning a conversation about, given that I’ve heard it multiple times.  Not only have I heard it multiple times, but it was the argument which I presented in defense of Objectivism against anarchism during my 6-moth conversion from neoconservatism to anarchism.

In this recording, I address a few different reasons why it’s unlikely that feudalism would be the result of anarchism (I ignored the fact that feudalism and anarchism are antonyms and could not therefore be synonymous) and allow for one historical interpretation which could allow for feudalism to emerge, which also effectively explains how we got ourselves into the mess we’re in.

I feel compelled to point out, though, that feudalism is, in many ways, superior to the current situation in most of the globe (Empire included).  Additionally, in the argument presented in the OP (presumably off 4chan) there is an implication that AnCaps don’t care about the poor.  While *some* AnCaps may not, it is not inherent to the belief system of anarchism.  As a matter of fact, I recently addressed just how an anarchist is often more concerned about the poor and more willing to do what it takes to help them.
However, in a truly anarchist (AnCap) society, the only people that wind up poor are those that are unwilling to work (RE: provide a valuable good or service to others) and/or unwilling to maintain healthy relationships with other human beings.  In which case, there is little reason for one to be concerned for the poor, as it is a free choice to be such.

http://anarcho-capitalist.org/wp-content/pdfs/Rothbard%20(Murray)%20-%20The%20Ethics%20of%20Liberty.pdf

Intellectual Property?

It should be no surprise that the issue of property should become so central on an anarchist philosopher’s blog; nearly every opposing argument to anarchy I have encountered hinges on property rights or one’s fear that their property should become insecure.

It also should be no surprise that intellectual property should come up so quickly; copyright law has been a cultural mainstay sine the Church and publishing companies had decided to try and control society’s intellectual pursuits several centuries ago. IP is a subject almost as involved and arguably more convoluted than property at large, so I’m going to focus on one specific point concerning IP today and add to it more later on. I would have to, as property rights and IP intersect frequently with issues such as innovation and privacy. Some more definitions, some metaphysics, and one not-so-world-shaking claim are all I can manage this week.

What is intellectual property? Despite being a centuries-old cultural mainstay, IP law is very nebulous and unhelpful to rational inquiry. Only slightly more useful is the cultural and academic narrative concerning “stealing ideas” and channels by which one gives credit, which are somewhat informed by IP laws. Instead of teasing ideas out of these frustratingly ad-hoc narratives, we should look at the term and the high-altitude basics with fresh eyes.

So, “intellectual”. I tend to avoid metaphysics on my blog, instead reserving such exercises for in-person discussions and my still-unpublished book. I am essentially a substance pluralist, which means I am not beholden to the materialist doctrine. Today, I am going to be using terms such as “ideas”, “mental/intellectual substance”, “mind” and the like. While these terms sound like some sort of Cartesian dualism (to which I do not ascribe), I am aware that, in some form or another, there are materialist parallels to each of these concepts. For the sake of our discussion, we will have to assume that people possess minds and that the discussion of intellectual matters are concerned primarily with the operation of minds. I don’t think this is too far a stretch for my readers.

Ideas are immaterial. Where apples or rocks exist independent from observers and act on their own (producing gravity, growing, decaying, interacting with their environment), ideas are contingent upon minds (or, rather a medium which can contain the idea, such as a mind). If there is an idea in my mind, it exists solely within my mind. Even as I write these words, the idea I am attempting to express resides solely within my mind. It is possible, though infinitely unlikely, that someone, at some point in time, may have an idea that is identical to the one I am expressing now, but it would not be the same idea, nor would we ever have a method by which to determine that it is identical.

This is due to the phenomenological barrier between our rational minds and the world around them. I am currently experiencing having an idea and attempting to express that idea in precise linguistic terms. I am expressing it in this way, hoping that by reading these words you, the reader, will be able to use this expression to construct a similar enough idea such that we will have a common language for expression of ideas. You can never see or experience the idea in my head, but you can attempt to construct a facsimile idea that is close enough.

In short, I cannot “give” or “take” and idea from you, I can only strive to provide you with the necessary components of an idea I wish to share. If I, for whatever reason, wish to prevent you from constructing a particular idea, I can attempt to avoid expressing hints at that idea. This is the basis of a secret. If I have an idea in my mind and wish no-one else to be aware of it, I can refrain from expressing it and even engage in behaviors that may prevent others from becoming aware of such an idea. For instance, Bruce Wayne can pretend to be a playboy billionaire too busy hanging out with loose women to be beating criminals in the dead of night, thus keeping his secret of being Batman.

Bruce Wayne is an excellent example, as he effectively demonstrates the nature of secrets. For example, the common inhabitants of Gotham have no idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman, primarily because they are ignorant of the requisite evidence to form such an idea. However, every iteration of Bruce Wayne is eventually exposed as Batman to someone else (Alfred, Dick Clark, Catwoman, Bane, etc.). The moment that a copy of the idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman is created, the secret is out. Such a secret inevitably spreads at a geometric rate, sparking the creation of duplicate ideas in fresh minds from the initial host, spreading like a virus and taking on a new form with each duplication.

If Alfred discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman, can Bruce justifiably kill or coerce Alfred in order to prevent such a spread of information? One may make a convoluted case that Alfred, by knowing something that could put Bruce in danger, is aggressing against him… but I don’t have time to waste on such absurdities. All Alfred has done is construct an idea which serves to inform his understanding of the world. The material equivalent would be Bruce creating a tool, say an ax, in order to make woodcutting easier, and Alfred, seeing the utility of such a tool, fashions an ax himself to cut his own wood. It is possible that Alfred’s ax may put Bruce at risk,(Alfred may snap, and murder Bruce in his sleep or a criminal may acquire the ax and use it in the same manner), but the mere fact that Alfred possesses a tool does not threaten Bruce. The same applies to Catwoman, Talia and Ra’s AL Ghul, Bane, etc; regardless of who knows the alleged secret, the only thing that matters (morally speaking) is what they do with that knowledge.

Now that we’ve taken most of our time exploring the term “intellectual”, let’s briefly turn our attention to “property”. My last two posts (here and here) explored the basics of property already. We don’t have to go much further than we already have. I got the least amount of feedback to-date concerning these posts, so I have had very little opportunity to change my mind.

Two key requirements I have laid out for something to be considered property are thus: the alleged “property must be a discrete and identifiable object, and it must be transmissible. Given what we have already covered concerning intellectual matters, it becomes readily apparent that an idea is not really discrete and identifiable. Whether it be an immaterial entity within one’s mind, a specific arrangement of cells and chemicals in a brain, or a series of magnetic charges on a metal plate, an idea is difficult (to the degree of being an impossibility) to identify as a discrete object. Additionally, an idea, in any of the forms I have just listed, cannot really be moved from one medium to another; they are actually merely duplicated with varying degrees of fidelity. Because “intellectual” things cannot meet the necessary conditions for property, “intellectual property” is an oxymoron.

“But what about books? You can own, trade, identify, and move books.” Books are obviously property; they meet each of the necessary and sufficient conditions we have already covered. However, there is a delineation between the material book itself and whatever ideas the book “contains”. The paper, ink, glue, etc. are discrete and identifiable, but the ideas that can be constructed by way of the material object only exist insofar as the mind is able to assemble ideas from its interaction with the material object. When one buys a book, one isn’t buying ideas. One, ostensibly, purchases a book with the intent of receiving fresh inspiration for one’s mind, but all they purchase is ink-stained paper.

“What about ebooks or software?” Legal fictions aside, we can look at identifiable, concrete actions and determine what is taking place. When one creates an ebook or piece of software, they are devising a particular series of on/off signals which are comparable to the phonetic and tonal sounds one makes when one performs a speech or holds a conversation. One can duplicate that series of signals with comparative ease, courtesy of modern computers. However, in order to create a duplicate, one must first have access to an existing instance of that arrangement of signals.

Ultimately, the (ostensibly) easiest method of gaining access to that series of signals is to pay the creator or host for such access. Things like DRM are typically implemented with the intent of making alternative methods of access cost-prohibitive. In the case of software, limiting functionality to people and charging for a password to increase functionality is still a common practice today, even if it is somewhat hidden behind the user interface. A material comparison would be a factory producing fully functional and free cars with locked doors. The easiest way (in this case) to gain access to the car and drive it away would be to pay the factory owner for the key to unlock the door.

Based on these behaviors, I would say that electronic media or, rather, the data stored on those media, are not property. They are certainly intellectual, which disqualifies them from being property. Instead, when one “purchases” an ebook, software, or whatever, one is paying for the service of allowing access to an extant copy in order to duplicate it, for the service of providing a password which grants access to functionality, or some comparable service. If this seems contrary to one’s intuition, I suggest one investigate how exactly services like Netflix operate.

The most informative part of this discussion, though, is a matter of the metaphysical and physical impossibility of theft. When something is stolen from its owner, the owner looses access to and control over the stolen item; that is the definitive quality of theft. Ideas (and data, a subset of ideas)can be copied, modified, and even destroyed, but they cannot be stolen. If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.

TL;DR: Metaphysics and science alike will admit that the phenomena of ideas are immaterial (or, at least, have not yet found the specific material components and nature of ideas). Both will also bolster the claim that ideas are not moved about in the same manner as material objects, but are mind-specific and merely copied from medium to medium. Based on our current definition of property and these attributes of intellectual things, ideas cannot be property. Therefore, intellectual property is an oxymoron and ideas cannot be stolen. Nor, despite laws to the contrary, can one justifiably initiate aggression against anyone else over an idea they have, not even Batman

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Is Property Theft?

 

Is property theft? I used to be a hardcore commie in the spirit of Marx and Trotsky, so one could assume that I would simply say “yes” and go burn down a Walgreens or CVS.

 Of course, if property were, functionally or definitively, an exclusionary principle (this is my rock, go get your own), it would be forgivable for a collectivist to believe that personal property would be something stolen from the collective society. The working definition I presented last post is exclusionary, so I’m not likely to be making any AnCom friends this week.

How could the exclusive nature of property be theft? If one were to assume that the world at large consists of common resources and common welfare, there are certain logical and practical results that follow. Whether these resources are held in common among men, animals, plants, God, Gaia, etc. results in merely superficial differences. Logically, if a river, rock, oil well, or field of poppies is a common resource to all, individuals ought to be disincentivized, culturally, from taking from that resource. In all reality, if one believes that common resources exist (as opposed to either unowned and owned property) the inevitable conclusion is that “property is theft”. The fairy-tales of noble savages, taking only the fruit that had fallen from a tree and living in shelters made of driftwood and caverns seems to be the inevitable outcome of such a position.

I argue that even this outcome is insufficient, though. If we are going to consistently apply this rubric that property is theft by virtue of its exclusivity, than any act which would exclude access to a resource would be considered theft. (Side note to my AnCom friends, this is not a case of affirming the consequent as I mistakenly believed back in my commie days, but we don’t have time for this discussion right now.) By discriminating who I work for, have sex with, or have a conversation with, I am preventing others from having access to the resources that are my labor, body, and mind. Not only is property theft, but so is any form of consumption, work, or even existence… which results in absurdity because letting oneself starve to death would be robbing the collective of one’s intellect and labor.

This description, I guess, is not entirely fair. It is conceivable that one could make an argument that theft isn’t categorically bad and that some level of theft produces sufficient utility to allow for it… but that’s utilitarianism… which is moral nihilism, so we’ll focus on more intelligent arguments. It is also conceivable that a system could be set in place which could allow for collective consensus. Theoretically, if 100% of the collective’s members agree that a particular common resource ought to be invested in a particular manner, than one would be directed by the collective to invest it is said manner. The 100% consensus is crucial to this solution, though. If 99 people decide that a particular roll of toilet paper would best be invested by dividing it between collectivists numbered 001 through 035 but I’m collectivist 100 and I’ve got poo on my bum, I would likely disagree with the majority. If they go through on the plan to divide the roll of toilet paper amongst the senior collectivists, they are preventing me from having access to a collective resource. They are stealing the toilet paper from me. The majority has stolen from the minority and there is no amount of definitional gymnastics that can correct that.

The more inclusive a collective is, the more problematic consensus becomes. If the semi-intelligent collectivists had their way and the only intellectually consistent implementation of collectivism were to extend to all people, then the consensus of property use would be required from, at a minimum, the several billion humans on the planet. Assuming everyone plays by the rules (and that children are capable of consent) the human race would quickly starve down to a population small enough to achieve consensus, because economics. If we are to do as Pope Francis and other hippies do and begin involving God, cows, and soil bacteria in our collective ownership, though, consensus becomes impossible. God, cows, and bacteria are mute; they cannot vote on who gets to eat or clothe themselves. So, thanks hippie god, we collectivists get to starve now.

If I were to not try my hardest to come up with experientially viable premises from which one could conclude that “property is theft” in the vein of collectivist ideologies, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence. The issues we’ve run up against thus far are a result of assuming that one could own property and that collective ownership arises from individual ownership; while this is a standard application of philosophy (building from ontological simples to relationships of greater complexity), perhaps we could try the theological approach and work top-down. What if it is impossible for the individual to own property? Initially, I would say that all things are unowned. If all things are unowned, I’m not certain how something could be stolen. I guess we could define theft as “preventing access to”, and see if we get any new results.

Immediately, it is apparent that nothing changes from our initial attempt. “Preventing requested access to” might work better. If I discover food as I wander barefoot through the woods, it wouldn’t be theft to eat said food, then. As a matter of fact, by turning it into energy for one cell of our collective, I am contributing to “the common good”. If Cacambo, the man who could not prevent my access to his service as a sherpa, also desires the food I have discovered, I must share. Initially, this makes sense; this actually most closely parallel’s my formerly-held communist beliefs. For the sake of efficiency in such a world, it would make sense to build some sort of Rawlsian socialist government wherein rights are contingent upon the state’s authority. For the ability to say “no” is ultimately the meaning of rights, and the collective consensus would be the enforcer of when it is culturally acceptable to say “no”. Sounds an awful lot like the moral nihilism of Hobbes’ Leviathan, no? Electing kings to delineate and enforce “rights”?

Well, that’s because it is. If one cannot deny others access to resources, even with exceptions granted by Rawls’ utopia, one will ultimately wind up where we are in the American Empire and where we are heading. If I cannot deny my labor (taxes, cake bakeries, etc.), resources that I control and have access to (civil asset forfeiture, taxes, etc.), or even myself (social engineering, social justice cults, etc.), others can be expected to be constrained by the same rule. So, in the absence of 100% consensus, which has already been explored, we encounter the situation wherein I cannot deny your request to resources I am using or labor I can perform and, simultaneously, you cannot deny my request to the same. My request (and yours) is functionally equivalent to denying access to a resource, which is property (by our hypothetical definition) and therefore theft. In this way, we’ve come full-circle. This is moral nihilism because either theft is immoral and merely existing is theft and therefore immoral, or theft is not immoral and, based on our definition of theft and property, I can do whatever I want to anyone.

Therefore, property cannot be theft or, if it is, there is no reason to care. This negative determination, even informed by last post, isn’t entirely satisfying; property is not theft, it is merely that to which one has access and over which one has control. I’m going to take my remaining space allotment to try and expound a positive case for property. All my usual qualifications apply: this case is not a necessary conclusion from the premises already laid out, this is not a categorical anarchist claim but only a claim made by an individual who happens to be an anarchist, I’m making this case for the sake of discussion and reserve the right to change my mind at a later time, etc.

I would go so far so as to say that the soundbite, “Property is theft,” is actually backwards. A soundbite that better fits my definition and determination is, “If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.” Of course, like all soundbites, this phrase is practically meaningless, it merely expresses the inverse case of the definition I provided last post.

More exciting and meaningful than soundbites would be the ideas of self-ownership and autonomy. Most anarchists, libertarians, Austrian economists, and the like often hinge their rhetoric and arguments on the principles of self-ownership. One can see why, based on the absurdities encountered while exploring collectivism and the attempted abolition of property, one would conclude that one must own oneself. If property is that to which one can lay claim, have access, and control over, who else could own one’s self? Of course, it raises the question, “Can a person be property?” There is a lot of fodder here for linguistic and semantic inquiry in most extant languages concerning possessives as applied to the self; as much as I enjoy these discussions, though, I just want to make one quick philosophical point.

One definitional point of property I did not address last post is the transmissibility of property. In parallel to my earlier soundbite, if something cannot be transferred from one person to another, I am not certain that it could be considered property. So, if oneself is property, one must be able to forfeit control and access to one’s self to another person. I would argue that, even in the case of slavery, in whatever form, one is merely separated from one’s property or labor while still being oneself. I understand the utility of using self-ownership as a rhetorical shorthand, but, anti-prostitution rhetoric aside, one cannot “sell themselves”; ergo, one does not own oneself.

Bracketing centuries of metaphysics, what is a “self”? A materialist will tell you that your body and your self are identical. A dishonest materialist will tell you that your consciousness is your self and that it is an emergent property of the material arrangement of brain stuff. A lazy Christian will tell you that your self is your soul. A more rigorous Christian will at least say that your self is the unity of your body and soul. These answers, for all of the disparity in substance commitments seems to provide a consensus that the self is the specific arrangement of things that one has direct control over and access to and could not exist without. Based on that consensus, I would say that self-ownership is likely impossible, or problematic at best, but self-autonomy is a viable alternative that also fills the role that self-ownership does in AnCap philosophy.

TL;DR: Property cannot be theft. There is no way one could define property, or argue for collectivism, in such a way that does not quickly unravel into absurdity. If one finds oneself in a situation where people are shouting pithy one-liners at each other, a decent response to “Property is theft,” would be “If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.” Closely tied to issues with property and collectivism is philosophy of identity. In all reality, the breakdown in communication between collectivists and anarchists hinges on divergent commitments concerning identity, but that’s a huge piece of work I’ll have to chip away at slowly.

 

Towards a Definition of Property

 

Before I can argue about intellectual property, we must first have a working definition of property at large.

 Property, like the other concepts I’ve tried to define in this blog, is an idea that nearly everyone uses daily without much self-awareness. Of course, the precedent set by previous posts will be upheld here; my definition is going to be functionally approximate to common use, but counter-intuitive. A good starting place would be to identify the common understanding of what property is and what function it serves.

Property, in its common conceptualization, is simply an item, process, idea, or region of space to which one lays claim and society acknowledges said claim. Usually this claim comes in the form of a title, deed, or bill of sale (receipt) issued by the seller or government and the acknowledgment takes the form of deference to property and licensure laws (and all the violence inherent therein). Of course, an anarchist would be disinclined to use such a convention. Before throwing it out, though, we ought to explore the function of such a convention.

What function does property convention serve in contemporary culture? Ostensibly, it is a determining factor in the acknowledgment of rights and liabilities. If some thing is one’s property, one has the right to do with it what one will; if said thing is not one’s property, one can only do with it that which is permitted by the acknowledged owner. Of course, if this rhetoric is to be used as a definition of property, the state is the owner of all property by virtue of laws concerning what uses are allowed for all property. As a function, though, this idea serves as an excellent starting place for defining property.

What could be necessary and sufficient conditions for an item to be considered property, with an eye to producing a functionality similar to that mentioned above? I am not confident that I could fully formulate them here, but I must at least begin the discussion.

One such condition I believe to necessary is the discrete nature of the object in question. This is both a practical and a definitional concern. Where one could indicate a clearly defined object and lay claim to that specific object, it would be nonsense to indicate something nebulous or unconstrained and lay claim to it. For example, I could lay claim to a specific apple as my property and the claim could be easily constrained to the perceptible material boundary of the apple’s flesh, but it would be practically and conceptually impossible for me to crop-dust the line at the DMV and then lay claim to the fart cloud permeating the room and everyone’s nostrils. Another possible example would be for me to fence-in a distinct and limited area of land and lay claim to it and it may be a legitimate claim. Barring that being a legitimate claim, I can at least claim that the fence is my property…. which, given the basics of property rights, would be more or less functionally equivalent to claiming the land inside the fence.

However, laying claim to “all the land between this ocean and the next” or “from sea to shining sea” would be as absurd as, and logically equivalent to, claiming “all the apples”. It may be possible that, by way of trade (purchase) or labor, I may successfully acquire all of the known apples or all of the known land, but this is a circumstantial quality of that claim, not an essential or necessary one. What this means is that an apple or piece of land could be discovered to which I have not yet laid legitimate claim and I would then no longer own all of the apples or land, whereas, a categorical claim to “all the things” would mean that if a new “thing” were discovered, it would automatically be incorporated into my property.

In addition to being a discrete object, one must claim it in order for it to become property. A rock in a forest, unseen by man, may as well be a planet in the Andromeda galaxy: undiscovered, unowned, unimportant. A rock in my hand, though, is mine (unless the rightful owner has handed it to me… whatever). Of course, if two parties lay claim to an object, there must be some principle by which to determine whose claim is legitimate, but that problem should be explored later.

There are those who claim that whatever object is claimed, it must be a limited resource in order to become property. I hear AnCaps assent to that claim, but only because they believe it to be a tautology; all resources are scarce, only the degree to which they are scarce is in question. I also hear liberals and liberal-leaning individuals assenting to this claim. However, I believe this claim is assented to solely because it can serve the liberal agenda of eliminating property; in a post-scarcity world, property couldn’t exist. I am inclined to agree that such a condition for property is tautological, but for a different reason than the AnCaps. In laying claim to portion of even a non-scarce resource (such as a bucket of seawater or a fistful of sand at a beach), one creates a particular type of scarcity. The sand owned by the individual in question is scarce by virtue of being his sand. It can be argued that such a distinction is meaningless, that his sand is indistinguishable from any other which is non-scarce… but the industry of religious and cultural relics would argue otherwise. Of course, this scarcity only exists so long as one cannot lay claim to the entirety of a resource, scarce or not, as I addressed above.

The next condition is complex and may be considered the deciding factor by which property is defined. Property could be considered an object to which one has the most full control over and access to. While this principle sounds straightforward and implies a Hobbesian brutality, it is far more nuanced and just than it sounds. Some examples really are simple and Hobbesian. If I wander into the woods and find our previously undiscovered rock from before, I can pick it up and claim it as my own. It is mine by virtue of being in my hand. If I bring it home and place it in my yard or home, it is mine by virtue of being on my property and in my control. If I were to claim it as mine, drop it in the woods where I found it and walk away, never to return again, anyone could claim the rock because I have forsaken control over and access to said rock.

This is where simplicity breaks down. What happens if I loan said rock to my neighbor, or rent it to a client? I abdicate physical control and access to someone else, how is it different from simply having gifted or sold it to someone else? An easy answer, which I reject, is “contracts”. Contracts, as readers of this blog will know, are as fictitious as the law in my mind. A lease or renter’s contract amounts to nothing more than a promise with a written reminder of that promise. Which, incidentally, serves as an excellent launching point for my suggested solution. So long as my neighbor honors my wishes regarding the rock (contractually state or not), I still exert control over the rock, if indirectly. I may lack access to said rock, depending on the nature of my agreement with my neighbor, but insofar as the nature of that lack is temporary, my control of the rock serves as a substitute.

If my neighbor decides he values my rock more than his friendship with me, he may decide to violate our agreement and claim the rock as his own. In which case, he takes control of the rock and renders my lack of access to it permanent. These two factors being the determining factors of property would render the rock as his property. At this point, the Leviathan of social acknowledgment reawakens and rears it’s many ugly heads. One method by which I could prevent or mitigate such an event would be to publicly establish my claim to the rock before lending it to my neighbor. At which point, if my neighbor steals the rock, I can call upon our community to place social pressure on him to return my property. I could also alert the community that I intend to retrieve my property at any cost, in order to dissuade the virtuous men of my community from interceding on my neighbor’s behalf if such an attempt were to escalate to violence. In this way, the social forces I can bring to bear could still be considered “control”.

There are many technologies that lend themselves to this solution, though. Branding, titles/deeds, third-party records-keepers, smart property, remote bricking, social conventions, etc. have all come from the long-standing intuition of social acknowledgment. Even with such technologies, as a principled anarchist, I believe the utility of such solutions may be insufficient justification in light of the potential for abuse. One can turn to fictitious accounts of the wild west for examples of abuse of the contract/social acknowledgment solution to theft. These flaws are sufficient to encourage me to look for a better resolution, but this is one stopgap measure that seems to parallel the average person’s intuition and lend itself to marketability. Other options have been explored and are in use today. I believe that a small enough community would have no need for such technologies, especially a community centered on anarchist principles. In the case of larger communities, I recommend reading Spooner, Rothbard, or (oddly enough) Proudhon for alternatives. Again, I believe in letting a thousand flowers bloom and seeing what works, but this particular issue and resolution is raised this time for definitional purposes.

The issue of theft gives rise to the last condition I have found to be necessary for a thing to be considered property; legitimacy of claim. My neighbor claiming the rock he borrowed from me as his own is considered an illegitimate claim and, therefore, theft. There is an overabundance of issues and theories concerning legitimacy of claim. Most straightforward of these issues and solutions is that of homesteading. It’s a very involved discussion that I will explore further at a later date. A quick overview, though, is essentially thus: the first person to use or add value to an unowned object has a legitimate claim of ownership. After one establishes such a claim, one may give or sell it to whomever one so desires.

By extension, then, if one purchases property from someone else, one then has a legitimate claim to it. Of course, if the seller has stolen said property, there remains the issue of whether the original owner’s claim or that of the unwitting purchaser is (more) legitimate. Thus far, I have not read or synthesized a categorical answer to this particular problem. Perhaps discussions with you, the readers, will help me to do so. In the mean time, I’m inclined to give the pragmatic case: don’t let your stuff get stolen. If it does get stolen, get it back before the thief sells it. If you fail to do so, there’s little cause to steal it from someone uninvolved in the crime. Maybe, if you ask nicely, you and the new owner can work something out.

This answer is clearly unsatisfying, so I will venture two cases that each have their own flaws, but may prompt appropriate discussion. If ownership is some metaphysical attribute that a person or piece of property has, then the claim of ownership that the original owner makes would be more legitimate than that of the thief or the unwitting purchaser of stolen goods, as theft would not transfer the metaphysical ownership from oneself to a thief… or we wouldn’t call it theft and expect the thief to return the stolen property or equivalent goods. If, in fact, ownership is merely a term we use to describe a practical state of affairs, the purchaser of stolen goods has a legitimate claim to the property by virtue of having engaged in a voluntary exchange of goods, trading something of approximate value for something else of approximate value.

There also arises the issue of homesteading abandoned property, which closely parallels the limit cases of theft. I feel I’ve taken enough of your time this time around, and I believe any satisfying answers would have to be informed by the limit cases of theft and their resolutions, so we’ll save that issue for later. For now, titles, records, blockchains, receipts, deeds, etc. are useful tools to try and avoid finding oneself embroiled in such an issue.

TL;DR; My working definition of “property” is, “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.” This definition needs improvement and exploration, especially in establishing a principled resolution of theft and homesteading abandoned property.

 

The State IS War

The State IS War

A few months ago, I briefly described a “state of war”. The main focus was on the state of war as pertains to interactions between individuals, but it could be considered a prerequisite to this post on the nature of the state of war as pertains to states.

Hearkening back to “Towards a Definition of Anarchy”, I denounce any institution predicated on or constructed for the sake of coercion, murder, or theft. For now, we will simply define “government” as the very same. Between laws enforced by men with guns threatening murder or imprisonment and theft in the form of taxes, fines, and regulations, it is clear that the common conception of government fits the bill. What are the differences between an individual criminal engaging his victim in a state of war and an institution of thousands of individuals doing so?

The first difference, as will be apparent from readers’ gut reaction to the above statement, is one of public opinion. A random individual pointing a gun in someone’s face because “Smoking is bad for you” would be publicly reviled and may even be stopped by a third party. However, a man in a blue shirt and a shiny badge pointing a gun at someone for smoking is hailed as a hero and many would likely come to his aid if the victim were to defend himself. Admittedly, public opinions on weed are shifting (and the opinion on tobacco is shifting the opposite direction), but public opinion on law enforcement is not. The same holds true for taxation (because you live within an arbitrary cartographic boundary, the state owns your property), laws (those within said boundary are subject to the opinion of the state with regards to morality), standing militaries, etc. So, where one could easily find support in protecting oneself from an individual criminal, the same is not true with institutionalized crime.

Secondly, due to the nature of institutions and collectivist ideologies, the guilt of the crime is distributed across a great many people. For example, one’s intuition is typically such that the grouchy lady making $10 behind the counter at the DMV is not guilty of theft or murder due to her job. Many people, even, do not find the soldiers stationed around the globe or the local cops who are shooting children to be guilty of murder. This intuition can find its root in many claims; “It’s just self-defense”, “it’s for the greater good”, “they’re just doing their job”, and “if you just follow the law, nobody gets hurt”, come to mind. At the end of the day, though, by participating in an institution, one is de-facto endorsing the core beliefs and activities of that institution. If I work for planned parenthood, I endorse eugenics and infanticide. If I work for Starbucks I endorse pseudo-socialist fair trade coffee. If I join the Boy Scouts or the Knights of Columbus, I am endorsing a pseudo-paramilitary organization dedicated to nationalism.

The aforementioned grouchy lady at the DMV, many cops, soldiers, and politicians, etc. are not murdering children or stealing property with their own hands and I am not about to advocate the wholesale slaughter of social workers… but the guilt of these crimes rests more heavily on their heads than the average voter or on those that do not execute their duty outlined in “What is the State of War?”.

Thirdly, related to the first two differences, is the efficacy or success rate of institutional states of war. Between public support, the apparently clean hands of the individuals operating on behalf of the institution, and the sheer difference in tactical assets available to the state versus the individual, the odds are forever in favor of the state. The tragedy of the commons rears its ugly head when MLK and Eric Frein are murdered by the state, the Confederacy is invaded by the United States, the government massacres native Americans and innocent citizens at Ruby Ridge, Waco, Kent State, the list goes on and on. This ignores, of course, the firebombing, drone striking, and nuclear annihilation of civilian targets on the other side of the world and imperial occupation of the globe.

Closer to home, though, one-third of my wages are stolen from my paycheck before it is even printed, due to the institutional efficiency of compliant victims. Across the continent, arbitrary laws and fines are written, levied, and enforced by a legion of bureaucrats and armed enforcers with the public support and consent of their subjects. Driving 76 on the “free”way is a deadly prospect, not because of mechanical or skill limitations, but because doing so legally grants authority to state enforcers to explicitly engage the driver in a state of war between individuals.

So, what is the cash value of these differences? Well, with regards to “What Is the State of War?” not much. If someone, anyone, attempts to force someone else into a state of war, the victim has a moral obligation to kill or permanently incapacitate them. It matters not whether they are a back-alley crackhead, a law enforcer, a mob racketeer (but, I repeat myself), a Nazi, or a Marine. Does this mean we should all start crucifying social workers or killing cops sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts? Not necessarily. The difference between individual states of war and institutional ones hinges on the difference between individual interactions and institutional interactions; I will write more about this distinction later, but for now I will simply show the result of this difference as applies here.

As is the case for an individual state of war, institutional war ought to be avoided if possible. If one finds themselves living in an institutionalized state of war, whether by way of accident of birth, invasion, or an aristocracy signing some document in a nearby colony at the behest of the French monarch, one ought to take all reasonable action to avoid and opt-out of the state and its inherent war. Anonymity, disruptive technologies, the agora, and perceived compliance are all options which do not require one to abandon their right to live where they may. An option which has greater cost and risk associated with it but with tremendously greater payout is to simply move away. Not to Somalia, of course, but to a more free place; as compared to North America and a majority of Europe, a great many exist. One does not have a moral obligation to leave, but the ought to do what they can to cease support and compliance with regards to the state while also avoiding individual states of war. One such method is to simply leave.

As is the case with individual state of war, one ought to properly equip themselves and conduct themselves so as to be prepared to defend oneself. This requires the formation of a geographically local community centered on the principles of anarchy, with equipment designed to obtain a tactical advantage, an environment of self-sufficiency, and outside the purview of the law. Insofar as these attributes are lacking, such a community must make it as costly and dangerous as possible for the state to operate in said locality, thus discouraging direct acts of war.

One also must try to de-escalate the state of war they find themselves in. This may sound contrary to the preceding prescription, but it is not. In the case of institutionalized war, it is closely tied to the second method of avoidance. If one is self-sufficient and living outside the purview of the state, the state will have little public support in engaging one in a state of war. Additionally, in disseminating the truth of the state and its inherently misanthropic nature, one can garner additional public support, thereby starving the state of its authority. As MLK and Malcolm X’s cultural revolution demonstrates, good PR is key.

Ultimately, when individual agents of the state engage one in a state of war, they are no different than any other man, morally speaking. When a master is beating his slave or a rapist is raping or a murderer is murdering, they ought to be stopped at any cost. What about the interim? When a slave owner is drinking tea, a rapist is at Starbucks, or a murderer is at church, ought one stop them from being able to continue such crimes? In 1940’s Paris, could a citizen of France be justified in shooting a man in an SS uniform who is simply drinking wine? I do not have an answer as of yet.

I do know, however, that that is the basis on which police arrest people after a crime is committed. In which case, if one supports arresting criminals after the fact, they must also support the execution of professional criminals after the fact as well. Additionally, if you believe that, for any reason whatsoever, that the US soldiers shooting SS officers across the European countryside were justified, then the french resistance is as well and those that wish to kill cops in the name of freedom most certainly are as well. If any war in known history (identified by numbers of individuals in uniform killing numbers of other individuals in uniform) can be justified, a freedom-minded individual is equally justified in killing individuals wearing the uniform of their oppressor.

TL;DR: The state, as an institution predicated on the crimes of coercion, theft, and murder, is itself a state of war. This raises serious moral concerns with regards to the relationship between a free individual and individual members of the state. Much discussion is required, especially taking into account statist justifications for war and how they apply to such relationships. A further investigation into the tragedy of enforcement is also required.

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