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.