Archive for March, 2011

The Nanny State was recently out “doing good” in Delaware. What I find more atrocious than the theft and defilement of these people’s private property is the infantilization of the victims. Notice how the authorities treat the owners like children.
This is your father, your mother, your god: The State.

The No Victim, No Crime T-Shirts are now available at Never Take A Plea.
Proceeds (and any donations) go to assisting those charged with victimless “crimes”.

I listened to the Agora I/O talk today on seasteading. It was delivered by Patri Friedman, founder of The Seasteading Institute. In it he made some comments about the problems of numbers and of secrecy in agorism—it’s simply hard to form vibrant markets when activities are underground and market players (agorists) are few in number and scattered around the world. He then claims that creating communities in “unclaimed territories” (“Frontierism”) by taking advantage of legal loopholes in international law (i.e. seasteading) is the solution to these problems. Is it?

Putting aside the fact that playing by someone else’s rules is no way to attain freedom, and ignoring the real possibility that such legal loopholes are likely to be filled as soon as they are taken advantage of, let’s note that there are no unclaimed territories on Earth. Every part of the world we live in comes under the jurisdiction of either some state or some collaboration of states (i.e. International Law). Unless Mr. Friedman chooses to plant his flag on Mars, then he will have to admit that his seasteading pseudo-anarcho-capitalist society will have to contend with foreign powers attempting to regulate, police, or otherwise interfere. To his credit, he does make a marginal concession in this regard.

However, Friedman claims that the U.S. will maintain a hands-off policy towards his anarcho-capitalist seastead so long as no one is “harboring terrorists, laundering money, working on weapons of mass distruction, or exporting drugs to the United States”. He then amends this to include “anonymous banking”. Even if we naively accept this, he fails to note the motives and policies of other foreign governments. He also says that, otherwise, anyone on the seastead would be free to “use drugs locally, have prostitution locally, … have very low barriers to entry for entreprenuers, … have the rights to your own genome, have different regions with different copyright laws and patent laws.”

Firstly, I suspect his list of what is verboten is a little short. What about so called “Intellectual Property”? What about small-arms manufacture? What about the acquisition of and rights to natural resources? What about the right to associate and trade with anyone who would voluntarily do so? If you think about it for a moment you will realize that there is a huge litany of activites that foreign powers will either be desirous to control or find threatening.

Despite his heritage, Friedman seems wholly unfamiliar with the beast, Leviathan. Institutions—and government is one of humanity’s oldest—are self-serving; desirous, first and foremost, of maintaining their existence and strengthening their power. Governments take or control what they believe they need for their survival. The U.S. has not been entangled in the Middle-East for nearly a century because of “terrorism”. It has been so because of the region’s strategic oil reserves. Friedman also fails to learn the lessons of Cuba, a half-dozen South American countries, and much of south and east Asia. Governments are also notoriously paranoid—especially in this age of preemption. To suppose for a moment that they will not try to influence or interfere with a seasteading community is to ignore the entire history of U.S. interference with nearly every nation on earth.

But suppose for a moment that he is right—that members of his society will be free of foreign intrusion so long as they do not engage in any of the activities he lists. What prohibits anyone from doing so? And what are the consequences to individuals who do?

Suppose his fellow seasteaders are violating copyrights and patents, perhaps only within their community. Something like this goes on in Russia and China, much to the dismay of U.S. lawmakers and the industries which profit from such artificial scarcity. Economic and political means are brought to bear to “correct” this problem, to little effect. More direct means of coercion are not utilized because these are heavily armed states. Mr. Friedman’s seasteading society is not.

Now suppose, for instance, that I, a seasteader, manufacture weapons (nothing fancy or WMD-like) and one of my clients is in the small country of, Yoyotania, which does not object to the sale. A neighboring state, Meanistan, is at odds with Yoyotania and is not happy about this. Does Mr. Friedman still think that obeying his off-limits list will keep us safe? Will he try to set up laws, courts and police to restrict this and other market activities which might antagonize someone,… somewhere. Or will he defy all the states of the world … from his little boat? The first destroys the freedom he is seeking, the second invites its destruction.

And even if he and his fellow floaters obey every edict of international law, does he think he’ll be free from intrusive inspection and regulation? Does he think that governments like the U.S. with powerful corporate interests at the helm will not act to contain or limit an econonomic competitor?

There is a serious flaw in this exogenous strategy of founding an anarcho-capitalist society, and that is that you can never really be out of reach of foreign powers that want to control you. To simply bow to them is to be a subject again—not truly free. This was the essence of a comment I made, which Mr. Friedman so flippantly dismissed.

What Friedman really wants is another American Revolution, without all the fighting and other such unpleasantries. He wants “98% of the grab-bag of rights”. He wants more freedom than the founding documents gave us, to be sure; but his solution is yet another half-measure—one which will ultimately follow the same path so long as a founding-flaw, those 2% of rights, are missing. Humanity has spent far too much time, energy and blood reinventing the square-wheel. No, Mr. Friedman, I would not rather “…never have freedom than get a certain limited amount of freedom”. What I would rather do is invest my time, energy and blood in a strategy that doesn’t require compromise; a strategy that will actually deliver us a genuine anarcho-capitalist society; a strategy that will end statism and free humanity, without strings attached; a strategy that doesn’t free us from one state only to enslave us to the whims of a hundred other states; a strategy that isn’t self-defeating from the outset.

If I was unwilling to live with “a certain limited amount of freedom” as he claims, I wouldn’t be an agorist. As agorists, we enjoy some of the freedoms of an anarcho-capitalist society now, but are still limited in many ways by the existing statist system. However, agorism is a path to complete freedom from the state. It has an endgame strategy for the dissolution of the state that seasteading seems to lack.

I see only 2 probable endgames to Friedman’s seasteading venture, depending on one’s choice to remain subject to foreign powers or reject them:

1. The seasteads attempt to obey International Law and conform to the desires of neighboring states.
1.a They restrict the freedoms of their members in order to enforce these foreign laws so as not to raise the ire of a foreign power. They degenerate into mini-states, which gradually decay to the statist nightmares we have today.
1.b They fail to police their own and so become policed by foreign powers. They essentially degenerate into satellite states or simply dissolve.

2. The seasteads oppose foreign restrictions and intervention. Because they are doing so out in the open, unlike agorist black-marketeers, they must continually fight for their survival, both economically and physically. They ultimately lose to the superior forces arrayed against them.

Granted, the failure of #2 is not a sure thing. With a sufficient number of skilled people and resources, a private defense force could be mustered to protect seasteads from foreign intervention; but again, this mirrors the numbers problem Friedman was so critical of in regards to agorism. The failure of #1, however, is guaranteed from the get-go. Taking this route surrenders all sovereignty to foreign powers, and errodes the freedoms enjoyed in this now anarcho-capitalist-society-in-name-only.

Mr. Friedman raises a lot of good criticisms of the agorist approach which need to be answered, but his seasteading solution is no solution at all—not yet anyway. He makes an analogy about being obsequious to a cop so as to be treated like a well-behaved serf,  instead of a badly-behaved serf. Well, I want a world without statist cops; and I intend to work toward one. If he wants to play nice (and subservient) so that neighboring governments don’t burst the little bubble-society he wants to live in, then I wish him all the best in his oceanic folly. But like many others, I don’t want to live in a bubble at the mercy of every statist breeze, so I’m staking my future and my fight against statism here on terra firma.

Property Records

Originally published here.

Property Records
by Robbie Revenant 

I was reading Robert Murphy’s book, Chaos Theory, the other day and recognised an opportunity for enterprising agorists. Yes, we can replace the statist court system, police system and legal system with private alternatives in numerous ways. But to prevent or resolve disputes over property and contracts we must first have clear and trustworthy records of these—records not derived from state sources.
“Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of property law, the purpose of public titles is quite utilitarian; they are necessary to allow individuals to effectively plan and coordinate their interactions with each other. Specialized firms (perhaps distinct from arbitration agencies) would keep records on the property titles, either for a specific area or group of individuals. Title registry would probably be accomplished through a complex, hierarchical web of such firms.
The fear of rogue angencies, unilaterally declaring themselves “owner” of everything, is completely unfounded. In market anarchy, the companies publicizing property rights would not be the same as the companies enforcing those rights. More important, competition between firms would provide true “checks and balances.” If one firm began flouting the community norms established and codified on the market, it would go out of business, just as surely as a manufacturer of dictionaries would go broke if its books contained improper definitions.”
 Murphy, Chaos Theory, pp. 26-27
The problem with property records today is that they are mostly in the hands of the government. Some exist as contracts (mortgages, and the like) filed with banking institutions, and many unofficial copies of these documents are in the hands of individual “owners”. (I used quotes because in the present statist system, none of us actually “own” anything. The government sees us as serfs working leased-land—thus, property tax, building codes, eminent domain, etc. The same goes for anything else which we ostensibly own but must aquire a license, pay a tax, or abide some state-mandated regulation in order to be granted the conditional privilege of owning and using.)
What the agora needs are agencies that “keep records on property titles”, as Mr. Murphy suggests. It could initially consolidate records from government, banking and other commercial sources. Agorists who use these agencies could then sell, trade, or give property, and such transactions could be recorded by the agency with no governmental (or other) oversight or interference. These records could then be considered proof of ownership in the event of a dispute and subsequent arbitration.
This property records business need not be an agorist one. It could operate in the open—following governmental regulations and attracting business from white marketeers concerned about their claims to land, vehicles, homes, businesses, etc. The records could be used to settle disputes in the public (state) court system just as readily as in private arbitration. Either way, white market or black, such businesses would be invaluable. Eventually the state will disappear—and with it most of the records it holds of private ownership. It is essential that such records be entrusted to market-accountable firms rather than the state—not only for the agorists of today and the anarcho-capitalist society of tomorrow, but also for that tumultuous transition period when the state dies and takes its records of who owns what to the grave.
A similar opportunity exists for maintaining contract records—or even of combining the two services. I strongly encourage any agorists out there with the requisite knowledge to consider founding such a firm.

My Activist Arc

Yesterday, George Donnelly posed the question What’s your Activist Arc? It was meant to get his readers to consider the efficacy and consequences of their chosen method of liberty activism. Is this leading toward my goal or is it a distraction? Am I being effective? Am I getting in more trouble than it’s worth—unnecessarily suffering for my activism? Am I doing too much? Not enough? Do I need to change tactics?

It was an excellent question and nicely illustrated with four examples of activists, including George. It got me thinking about my own activist arc. At the moment, mine is even more low-key than George’s—perhaps, too much. This is partly due to a change of living circumstances: Having moved in with my fiancee to a very rural area of Arizona, I am now almost completely off the grid. This makes pamphleteering, attending rallys, or otherwise physically coordinating with other activists nearly impossible. My personal strategy has always been through the less conspicuous two-pronged approach of agorism and education. Getting my voice heard through my writing, sharing my opinions about the illegitimacy of statism and the means and methods of ending it, is of paramount importance to me. This is less likely to raise ire, as the state still pays some lip-service to the canonized notion of free-speech. And while agorism is not without significant risk, it can be done discreetly—without the fanfare associated with, for instance, directly confronting cops (e.g., Pete Eyre’s chosen “activist arc”).

Ultimately, I’m just a man who wants to live freely and well with the woman he loves, but is now all too aware of the forces that would prohibit that. I’m torn between my passion to end the injustice of the state on the one hand, and my desire to simply disappear with my beloved on the other. I want to change the world, but I also want to live in it. I suppose that I’m still feeling my way through this.

One thing I would like to note, though, about George’s exposition is that, while I agree that direct confrontation with the state’s enforcers will tend to bring about swift and cruel reprisal, even the most passive resistence frequently engenders the state’s malevolence. Consider the jailing of Thoreau for refusing to pay the poll-tax. Even now, peaceful tax-protestor Irwin Schiff is languishing in a federal prison. Anti-war protestors are spied on, cataloged as “low-level terrorists”, searched, detained and arrested. Some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., are even assassinated. And just yesterday, the originator of the Liberty Dollar, Bernard von NotHaus, was convicted in federal court—the U.S. attorney declaring him and his associates “domestic terrorists”, saying,“While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country.” One need not harrass cops to call down the heavy hand of the state.

Government is institutionalized violence. The state knows only force. It simply does not know how to respond to peaceful dissenters with anything less than a crushing blow. I do not personally recommend flagrantly defying the state, but even if your chosen “activist arc” is more circumspect, as is mine, you may ultimately face the same consequences. So do what you are comfortable with—what you think is right. In the end, the path you choose must be your own.

Our “Leaders”?

I’ve been assaulted with this nonsense one too many times. It wasn’t the content of the article, World Leaders Launch Military Action in Libya , that bothered me so much as the title. This oft-repeated conflation of the words “leader” and “ruler” simply drives me to distraction; and it’s about time I said a few words about the connotation and denotation of these words.

The word leader once meant someone who guides or inspires. There is a purely voluntary association between leader and follower. Followers may choose to follow, or choose not to follow, without fear of retribution. This is the word’s denotation. It’s connotation has become blurred with another word, however—much to our disadvantage.

The word ruler does not embody the civility of the word ‘leader’. It denotes someone who has sovereignty over others—someone who commands and must be obeyed lest punishment be brought to bear. As such, it is wholly inappropriate to denote Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Sheiks, and other such statist tyrants with the title “World Leaders.” These people do not lead, do not guide or inspire others to voluntarily follow them. They use coercion—force and fraud—to achieve their goals. For instance, when someone joins the military because he is told by his “World Leader” that the endless War on Terror is needed to secure the peace, safety, and freedom of his family and homeland, that is fraud. When he is prevented from leaving the service and compelled to kill for the state and its corporate cronies, that is force. Thus, to be accurate and honest, the article mentioned above should have been entitled “World Rulers Launch Military Action in Libya.”

What is truly unnerving is the Orwellian double-speak being practiced and unthinkingly accepted. “Leader” has come to embody both meanings: it denotes “voluntary guide”, whilst simultaneously connoting “coercive master”. This common misuse of the term when referring to a government official white-washes the coercive nature of rulership. And it allows us to quiet the cognitive-dissonance caused by holding the absurdly false belief that our statist masters are also the defenders of our freedoms.

This bastardization of the word ‘leader’ works to the advantage of the rulers, and to the disadvantage of those who are ruled. If we cannot even admit to ourselves that we are ruled, if we persist in accepting the oxymoronic notion of a “chosen master”, how can we begin to fight against the aggressions of states and statists? We cannot, for we have intellectually disarmed ourselves before ever taking up physical arms against our oppressors. This was one of the lessons of George Orwell’s 1984. When language is so de-constructed as to leave us helpless to formulate the concepts necessary for resistence, or even acknowledge that such resistence is necessary, then we are doomed.

Language, thought, and action are inextricably linked. Words have meaning and power. Do not let that power be bent against you.

The recent tragedy in Japan has triggered some unexpected reactions—from an inane Facebook meme declaring that the earthquake is “payback” for the now six-decade old attack on Pearl Harbor, to some who question whether it is Karma for Japan’s permittence of whaling, to others who postulate that it is the result of a U.S. techtonic-weapon being deployed. These surprising notions have highlighted, in the clearest terms, a way of thinking which forms a barrier to our escape from the bondage of statism.

Firstly, they are all narratives. We humans are story-tellers. We are curious and we want to understand things, especially in times of tragedy when fear and sorrow overwhelm our reason. However, we are often at a loss to immediately see the cause of some event—or, because of some preconcieved notions (often mystical), we refuse to accept the rational and empirical and go reaching “beyond”. Put these traits together and what you get is a susceptibility to the Narrative Fallacy (“illusory correlation”)—the tendency to construct stories around facts which, while emotionally satisfying, lead one to err.

This is understandable and something we have likely all experienced at one time or another. However, within this human quirk lies a more insidious flaw: what some call a “yearning for meaning” is really a desire to ascribe a top-down order to events in our lives—which is to say, “A greater power than XYZ has put this in motion.” It is an appeal to archy, to the overseer mentality—whether it be from a leader, messanger, god, demon, mother nature, karmic force, etc. It is a backward, self-effacing, subservient way of thinking that humans extend to many other facets of their lives. If you don’t believe me, just substitute “Government” for “God”—as many people do. Whenever something goes wrong in our lives, we look to government—either to lay blame or plead for a solution. How can we hope to build a voluntary society, one in which order emerges spontaneously through the self-interested non-coercive actions of individuals (bottom-up organization), when irrational top-down thinking pervades our every waking thought?

I do not wish to debate the merits of holding spiritual or supernatural beliefs. Nor do I wish to weigh the likelihood of various conspiracy-theories. Instead, my concern here is with a destructive habit of thinking: the constant and consistent attempt to attribute events and phenomena to top-down hierarchical organization, despite the fact that all the evidence points to a universe in which order emerges spontaneously from lower levels of organization. The nasty implications of which are that people are all too ready to embrace command-and-control structures and expect order to emerge from chaos by some leader’s fiat.

Secondly, as someone who embraces the libertarian ethos of self-responsibility, I fully reject the notion of collective guilt and punishment for individual actions. It is wholly repugnant for me to accept, as so many do, that some transcendant force of “justice” would punish an innocent for the purported transgressions of another. This turns the whole notion of Justice on its head. To assert, for instance, that some Japanese child who died in the quake or subsequent Tsunami “had it coming” because someone (who died before he was even born) bombed Pearl Harbor is absurd. Similarly, the notion that the child’s death was “Karma playing out” because some special-interest group (and their corresponding greased-palms in government) maintain the practice of whaling is idiotic, not to mention heartless.

“The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.”
— Murray N. Rothbard

How does this relate to statism and statist thinking, you ask? Well, how many people accept the statist notion of “collateral damage”? We are told again and again that the tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children who die every year in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc., due to U.S. military strikes are collateral damage—that their deaths are a “neccessary evil” in the government’s retributive War on Terror. ‘We have to catch the bad-guys and, unfortunately, because these people happen to live in the same geographical region…they must die too‘. This immoral act of aggression against non-aggressors is simply shrugged off by most people. Why? Because to them, even God (the universe, karma, etc.) kills innocents to get at transgressors. So how could lowly humans be expected to be any better? And further, the repugnant notion of collective guilt is employed as a balm to sooth our own guilty feelings. We tell ourselves, because these children belong to the same race, culture, imaginary line in the sand called a ‘national border’, etc., they somehow must bear some responsibility for the attacks on the Twin Towers. Ridiculous! And yet the evil intellectual fraud that is collectivism allows us to turn a blind eye to murder.

These are the lies people tell themselves—to comfort themselves with uncertainty, to distance themselves from unpleasantness, and to avoid difficult moral choices.

But the truth is far more simple, powerful, and liberating! The universe is built from the bottom up, from fundamental forces and principles, to higher and higher levels of organization and order spontaneously emerging from their interaction—and is all the more beautiful, mysterious and powerful for it. And Justice demands that we, each individually, bear the burden and consequences of our actions—not someone else for ours, or ourselves for someone else’s.

“Anarchism, to me, means not only the denial of authority, not only a new economy, but a revision of the principles of morality. It means the development of the individual as well as the assertion of the individual. It means self-responsibility, and not leader worship.”
— Voltairine de Cleyre

When we finally learn to accept these truths we will be ready to apply them to every aspect of our lives. We will finally be ready to throw off the shackles of statism. We will be ready to accept the consequences of our own actions and not spread them to others. We will rise and fall of our own accord, neither limited from above nor seeking to limit those around us. We will, at last, embrace the powerful creativity and freedom that comes from the spontaneous organization inherent in voluntary markets.

But none of this will come to pass so long as we remain prisoners in our own minds to governments and gods.

Plant IP?

My fiancée and I were shopping for flowers to plant on our property when I noticed these medallions on several of the roses. One wonders how enormous the transaction costs would be to prevent vegetative-reproduction of roses if the patent holders didn’t externalize them to society at large, via the theft and violence of the state. This little medallion is a threat that, should its warning not be heeded, the full force of the state (funded itself by forcibly appropriated goods) will be turned against the errant gardener—all to prevent the duplication of a non-scarce resource.

In the summer of 2008 I was studying mathematics and computer science at the University of Arizona. I was also, briefly, learning to Tango. It was in one of my Tango classes that I met Kristine Goodwin, a senior manager at Raytheon Missle Systems. She offered to procure me an internship (and thus a foot in the door of this and other industries). I declined; but for a time, I wrestled with this decision.

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.”
— Mohandas Gandhi

This was long before I had even heard of agorism, anarcho-capitalism, libertarian anarchism, and the like. And while I had an implicit libertarian ethos (a respect for private property, the Non-Aggression Principle, etc.), I had not yet made my convictions explicit. I couldn’t even satisfactorily articulate my beliefs to the woman who is now my fiancée.

In retrospect, I’m pleased that I made the right choice. I cannot personally abide the thought that I could have had a hand in the design of some weapon which, at the whim of a distant bureaucrat under orders from his corporate cronies, could be lethally deployed against innocent men, women and children in some foreign land or even here at home.

It baffles me how anyone calling himself a libertarian could. I know a certain Raytheon employee who recently ran for office in Arizona’s Congressional District 8 under the banner of the Libertarian Party. It’s enough of a contraction that a person who damns the “political means” of living, as Oppenheimer put it, should run for public office. Even more so when the same person claims to abide by the Non-Aggression Principle and believes that the State is a murderous den of thieves, then chooses to serve one of the largest suppliers of the State’s terror machine.

One might argue that he is serving a private company and not the government—that it is the end-user which is violating the NAP and that he has no control over that. He could be likened to someone working for a gun manufacturer. However, this is not the case. The guns produced by the typical gun manufacturer have many non-governmental clients who use the weapons exclusively for morally justifiable reasons, such as hunting and self-defense. But Joe Blow isn’t going to be buying a Laser Area Defense System, Microwave weapon, or Joint Standoff Weapon from Raytheon. This company is a supplier for governments—predominantly the US. Thus, serving Raytheon serves the State. I hope that this man comes to realize that his efforts are empowering the same murderous, thieving empire he hopes to restrain — and resolves to serve no more .

“Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.”
— Étienne de La Boétie, Discourse on Voluntary Servitude

At any rate, what inspired this post was the following clip from the movie Good Will Hunting, which was recently posted by a liberty-loving friend on FaceBook.