Thursday, July 19, 2012

Wendy and Carl

Lately I have come across links that either refer to, or are written by Carl Watner and Wendy McElroy, who as you probably know if you've been reading this blog are the main founders of The Voluntaryist.

Running across their work gave me the idea that one thing I could continue to do with this blog is post those items when I see them. So that's what this post is about.

The first item I wanted to mention is part of Robert Wenzel's 30 Day Reading List That Will Lead You To Becoming A Knowledgeable Libertarian. The piece for Day 15 is Murray Rothbard's introduction to Lysander Spooner's Vices are not Crimes and in that introduction Rothbard writes,

We are all indebted to Carl Watner for uncovering an unknown work by the great Lysander Spooner, one that managed to escape the editor of Spooner's Collected Works.
I have since read Spooner's Vices are not Crimes and there it's a great little book. You have to love how Spooner just lays out each objection and then goes on to demolish it with logical reasoned points.

One place in particular was interesting to me personally because it pretty much mirrored my ideas on parenting. Spooner says parents need to be careful that they are not keeping their children from questioning, from experimenting, because in doing so, we can prevent them from developing their ability to figure out what is and is not conducive of his well-being. (More on this is in Section XIV of Spooner's book.)

Another example of something I found particularly interesting is that Spooner defended assisted suicide and explains why it should not be a crime. The man was so far ahead of his time wasn't he?

Now to Wendy. She is presently doing a lot of writing in various places but for this post I wanted to point to her writings for The Daily Anarchist. She has not written much on that site yet, but what she has posted has been particularly interesting and relevant to me because two of her posts are about Georgism and the single tax. I'm interested in all libertarian analysis of Georgist ideas because I have one libertarian-minded acquaintance who has really taken to the idea. Frankly he is rabid about it and is constantly pushing me to investigate it. But I just can't even get enthused enough to get started because it does not seem to really solve any problems that I see with what we have now because the single tax still relies on having someone manage it.

Anyway, everything she has posted there has been very interesting and thought-provoking for me.

So, if you are looking for more from Carl and Wendy, then I encourage you to check these items out.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Not Goodbye, Just Consolidation

The great advantage of the internet is that there is now a huge buffet of interesting information available with the click of a mouse. Besides all of the past issues of The Voluntaryist, there are many other websites where one can go to learn about living a life of non-aggression. There are archives of other libertarian-minded newsletters and journals and even complete books, all available for free. And if that were not enough, we now have access to loads of podcasts and videos.

What’s not so great is having limited time in which to investigate and share what I learn. I have enjoyed working on this project and the focus was exactly what I wanted for a while but continuing issue by issue is no longer meeting my needs because I want to branch out and include more.

And yet Carl and I have discussed this and we both know there are gems in future issues that I haven’t found yet. From the start Carl has directed me to future issues when I said something he knew was addressed or developed further. At the time I resisted that, thinking I wanted to read it all as it happened. It sort of felt to me like looking ahead would somehow spoil the experience for some reason.

But that discussion led me to another idea, one where I may still be diving into future issues of The Voluntaryist while also commenting on other things I find interesting as I mentally munch through the buffet of information I find on the internet.

Carl is going to keep an eye on the topics I post on The Suburban Voluntaryist blog and if I hit upon a topic that reminds him of a related article in The Voluntaryist, he will let me know and I can then read it and add that to the discussion.

I think this is a good way to consolidate and yet still continue to read and learn from The Voluntaryist.

So I am moving to The Suburban Voluntaryist blog where I will continue to post my weekly newspaper columns and now also share my thoughts about any interesting podcasts, videos, articles, etc.

If anyone here wants to join me, I have set up an easy email subscription just like the one I had set up on this blog, so just go to The Suburban Voluntaryist and sign up and you will get an email when anything is posted there.

If you do decide to join me, that would be great. If not, I hope you enjoyed following me as I worked on this project. Thanks to everyone who has commented or responded to me in some way a huge thanks to Carl Watner for all the time he has taken in the past to communicate with me and help me learn and also for continuing to do so as the possibilities arise on The Suburban Voluntaryist.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Voluntaryism in Action

Pete Eyre, who I’ve mentioned on this blog before, (here and here) has recently accomplished a goal which clearly demonstrates voluntaryism in action. That’s not why he did it of course. Pete chose his course of action because he had a problem to solve and wanted to find a peaceful, non-governmental approach.

You can read all about it here but in general what happened is that Pete found himself in a conflict after he loaned money to a friend and was having trouble getting the loan re-paid. So Pete, knowing the importance personal reputation plays in an individual’s successful interactions with others, decided to create a situation that he hoped would provide enough incentive for his friend to act.

He succeeded. What I like best is that this was a win-win-win situation.

Pete has been re-paid a debt he was owed, his friend has freed himself from the debt while moving himself a bit higher up the personal ladder of reputation, and all of us who are looking to see how to solve problems and conflicts through voluntary interactions now have a wonderful real-life example in all its rich detail.

While I sit around blabbering about this stuff, Pete is one of the people actually out there truly living and breathing it. Pete’s patience and commitment to voluntaryist ideas really paid off - not only literally for him, but in general for all of us. Nice job Pete!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Peace: The Natural Consequence of Liberty

The feature article in Issue 35 of The Voluntaryist consists of an excerpt written by Gustave de Molinari called “The Production of Security.” According to a preface written by Murray Rothbard, Molinari was the first economist (this was in the 1880s) to apply free market principles universally and consistently, thereby concluding that security should not be given an exception.

Molinari writes:

"We are consequently led to ask ourselves whether this exception is well founded, in the eyes of the economist. It offends reason to believe that a well established natural law can admit of exceptions.

A natural law must hold everywhere and always, or be invalid. I cannot believe, for example, that the universal law of gravitation, which governs the physical world, is never suspended in any instance or at any point of the universe. Now I consider economic laws comparable to natural laws, and I have just as much faith in the principle of the division of labor and in the principle of the freedom of labor and of trade as I have in the universal law of gravitation. I believe that while these principles can be disturbed, they admit of no exceptions.

But, if this is the case, the production of security should not be removed from the jurisdiction of free competition; and if it is removed, society as a whole suffers a loss. Either this is logical and true, or else the principles on which economic science is based are invalid.

And so he concludes:

"It thus has been demonstrated a priori, to those of us who have faith in the principles of economic science, that the exception indicated above is not justified, and that the production of security, like anything else, should be subject to the law of free competition."

The idea of free competition in security scares a lot of people. They worry that it would lead to war between the security providers. But isn’t that what we have now, with nation-states monopolizing security and compelling funding?

These people don’t seem to understand that if so many people are afraid of out-of-control security providers, then they certainly would watch out for that and not voluntarily fund them. If security providers actually had to work to keep you as a customer, you would certainly make sure the company wasn’t going to go around starting conflicts, wouldn’t you? And if you saw that happening even after doing due diligence, you wouldn’t continue to give them money would you? And if you ran a security company, why would you try to do such a thing? What sense would it make in a competitive marketplace?

I like the way Molinari puts it:

“Just as war is the natural consequence of monopoly, peace is the natural consequence of liberty”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Religion and Voluntaryism

In the article from Issue 34 titled, “The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the Voluntaryist Tradition,” Carl Watner discusses the arguments made for religious voluntaryism and points out that those same arguments apply to voluntaryism in all aspects of our lives.

I understand the angle taken here, but something about the conclusions drawn bother me.

First, let’s get oriented as to what Watner is saying in this article. Here’s an excerpt discussing Edward Miall, who helped form the British Anti-State-Church Association:
“Edward Miall, a leading dissenter, was the guiding light behind this organization for many years. As editor of THE NONCONFORMIST, Miall roused many Baptist and Congregationalists to attack the root from which their grievances sprang. He argued that the State should accord no special position to one church. Disestablishment became his cry. Miall elaborated a whole political theory, voluntaryism, on the basis that religion should always be supported by voluntary giving and not by State aid. The voluntaryists taught that no acceptable or effectual service could be rendered in the spiritual realm which did not first rest on individual conviction and individual conscience. Coerced support for the State church was not only a violation of conscience but also resulted in a weakened church. (Apparently, neither Miall nor any of the other leading voluntaryists attacked the church rates on the ground that it constituted an unjust confiscation of property.)

Carl goes on to explain that
“It was in the United States that the voluntaryist tradition was most widely recognized, even though not always put into consistent practice. The "voluntary principle " in religion became an axiom for nearly all Americans. This formed the underlying basis for separation of Church and State in the United States.

Finally, Carl ends the piece with this:

“The voluntary system did not lead to the decay of religion or morality or to the host of evils which all defenders of the established order predicted.

There is a clear parallel between the predictions of those who opposed disestablishment in Connecticut and those who cannot believe that an all voluntary society could exist today, neither group could believe that the spontaneous order in the religious market place or the commercial market place would provide any sort of natural order. If nothing else, the historical case in Connecticut proves them wrong.

The lack of a compulsory, coercive authority in both religious and commercial organizations does not lessen their authority, but in fact increases it (however paradoxical this may appear). Precisely because such voluntary groups of people lack the coercive authority of a government, they are obliged to direct their efforts to establish a powerful moral authority over those whom they would exert an influence. There is simply no other legitimate way to deal with people. They are either voluntarily persuaded to take a course of action or they are compelled to do so through the use of force. Authority voluntarily accepted is far stronger and a more powerful factor than violence can ever be. To understand and come to an appreciation of this paradox would seem to be a valuable lesson to be learned from an examination of the struggle for religious freedom in the voluntaryist tradition.

Okay, so I can understand the point that intellectual progress was made as religious groups worked to break free from government control. But what I’m not sure about is whether their argument for voluntaryism really applied to what they were actually doing inside their religious organizations.

Yes, they threw out the government gun because they wanted the freedom to grow their own brands of religion, but it seems to me they were comfortable doing so because they had developed a very effective foundation using another gun, at least in the supernatural, mythical metaphorical sense because they relied on the belief that there is another life after death. They relied on the idea of a supernatural authority who could threaten “eternal death” if a person did not obey the religious precepts and thereby the commands of the religious leader, who was merely an agent for the supernatural authority.

Isn’t this also a threat of violence? Is it fair to say they were willing to give up the government gun because they had in their possession this metaphorical gun? Plus they were very aware of the need to pound unproven conclusions like an afterlife into the minds of very young children, when they are most vulnerable and unable to reason through and analyze any arguments given in support of the premise.

If this is how you operate, you don’t really need a government to control people do you?

The good news, pun intended, is that the move towards religious anarchy may have been a step towards society moving away from a reliance on the supernatural. Now that access to information outside of the religious views of family origin is more widely available, religion, or at least organized religion, seems to be changing. People shop around more, trying to find the right one that fits.

So maybe religious anarchy was a good thing, but it doesn’t appear that the conclusions Carl makes match what we see now, at least as far as religious decay is concerned. Then again, perhaps I see it differently because so much has changed since Carl wrote this. There has been a bit of an explosion in alternative ideas and the public viewpoint of the non-believer has certainly skyrocketed since this issue was published in 1988.

So to me, Carl’s conclusion may be incorrect; it appears that religious anarchy might just do what they feared in that more people may be moving towards reason and logic, leading many to conclude a lack of evidence to support many religious premises.

However, the main problem I see now, and it’s ironic, is that most of the people who identify as non-believers, or who are spiritual but reject organized religion, have seemed to replace a worship of a supernatural deity to a worship of the state.

So Carl’s conclusion that disassociation with government led to religious peace may not be quite accurate either because it appears the various religions (and I’ll call the non-believers who want a centralized controlling state a religion) are still battling for control of the government gun.

I suppose the problem we really need to solve is how to arrive at a set of guiding principles to live by that do not rely on a coercive authority run by a small group of people, whether it’s religion or the state.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Achieving a Permanent Change in Society

I’m now on Issue 34 of “The Voluntaryist.” That's not very far at all is it? This has been a slow-moving project, much slower than I imagined at first. I’m not sure what I was thinking because I certainly did not set a specific time as an endpoint goal, but still, I thought I would move faster.

When I read these newsletters, a mere 8 pages each, there is usually so much for me to consider, to ponder, to wrestle with, to argue with myself about, that I just can’t do this project very fast.

The problem, though, is that I’m also impatient. When I have a project on my plate, I want to get it done. When I have something on my “to do” list, I want to complete it as soon as possible and check that item off the list. And yet, if a project is worth doing, it’s worth taking the time to do it in the manner that works best for me.

And so it goes. I read, I write, I think, I take a break and I go back and do it all again. This project doesn’t have to ever be completed, that’s not the point of it anyway, the point is to learn and grow in my understanding of the ideas, theories and principles put forth in this newsletter and share my thoughts here. So I plod on.

And that brings me to the feature article in Issue 34, “Does Freedom Need to Be Organized?” In this article, Carl challenges Murray Rothbard’s chiding of individualist anarchists who are traveling the self-improvement route as the means to greater liberty for society as a whole. Rothbard thinks it’s more important to work and collaborate with people on issues of common agreement. He wants us to get out in the “real world” and get things done! Rothbard wants action!

Carl is adamant that the “quiet” process of self-education and self-improvement are key to the change we want to see:
“THE VOLUNTARYIST has consistently maintained that such virtues are the prerequisites to the achievement of spiritual freedom and physical liberty. Effective and long-lasting improvement in human affairs MUST begin with the individual. Reform begins with the individual because society is never better or worse than the persons who compose it, for they in fact are it.”
Yes, if we all learn to live responsibly and do not initiate violence upon others to satisfy our own wants and needs, then society will change as a natural result of the change in individuals. This is not really that hard to get. It’s a logical argument that surely makes sense to any libertarian-minded person and yet, it is often rejected as useless and ineffective. Why?

I think people just get depressed when thinking that real change can’t happen until the individuals in society change because they look out in the world and see that we have a long way to go. I can understand why people simply look for ways to make their own lives better NOW, like perhaps the repeal of an unjust law.

People want change NOW. They want to do something to pursue greater freedom NOW.

I have not always known exactly how to respond to this desire within myself and others, but in this article Carl makes a great point that changing the individual units of society is the only way to get PERMANENT change:
“The problem that we face is not really how to get rid of the State, but rather the longer range one of how to prevent another one from taking its place.”
That really hit home for me and this point does not even have to be thought of in the full-fledged terms of getting rid of the state to be useful. We can also think about permanent change even in terms of the hopes people have on an issue-by-issue basis when working to add a new law or repealing an old one.

I recently ran into an excellent example of this in regards to the currently very hot “right-to-work” issue in Indiana. I learned that this exact battle happened before. A right-to-work law was passed in the late 1950s and repealed in the mid 1960s. And now it’s all happening again. Has progress been made? Has any permanent change occurred?

No, and it’s because the individuals within the society have not changed. Until they do, these conflicts will be infinite. People think they’ve won when something is changed through political means; they don’t seem to understand (or admit to themselves) that if they “won” a change through the political game then their “opponents” can do the same.

Yes, it requires patience but if you truly want to change society permanently, then changing the individual units is the only way it’s going to happen.

(Photo courtesy of wikimedia)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maybe I'm Not A Voluntaryist, Part 2

As I would have predicted, the responses I received on my last post varied on whether or not to take Social Security. Reviewing the feedback from a couple of people made me think more about how I was letting my decision revolve around how others might react.

I expressed that concern when I said this: “Carl says accepting such funds is not a step to a better you or a free society. I completely agree and yet I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t do it. It seems to punish others who may feel an obligation or desire to help me out if I suffer consequences by not accepting the money. Carl might say I would be teaching them the best lesson I could and maybe he’s right. But why doesn’t that feel right?”

I had been playing out various scenarios in my head when I wrote that. I already know I could change my current lifestyle to live on much less so I imagined myself doing what I need to do to not accept Social Security.

But even under that scenario of making it work, I still wondered how it would affect others, specifically my kids. Would it look like I was really “poor” or needed help? And if so, how would they feel about that? Would they feel responsible or obligated to help me out in some way?

If I did manage to actually live by my principles and refuse social security, how would my kids feel, knowing that I might live somewhat differently (i.e. “better”) if I took it? Would they want to just say, “Dammit Mom, just take the money.”

Not wanting to even put them in that position is what had me admitting I might take Social Security.

But after thinking about it more, I realized the scenario I played out in my head just wouldn’t happen within my family. They would clearly understand why I could not take it and they would know that I’d be at peace with myself in doing so. Therefore they would not feel any responsibility in regards to the consequences of my individual choices because they know I would understand and accept those consequences.

They already know that I would not expect anything from them. They know they owe me absolutely nothing. They know I am responsible for my decisions.

Duh. Of course they know all of this; it’s how we raised them. Why did I seem to forget that? They can make their own decisions and I will make mine and I know they would respect that and be comfortable in knowing that I would do it because I would need to live my principles. They know I would not feel right accepting it considering I now know the truth about Social Security and can’t go back and pretend I’m ignorant of it all.

There are also other possibilities I did not consider in regards to their reaction that makes me feel bad in a way. I never considered that they may voluntarily (not out of some irrational sense of obligation) take some action purely because they want to show support for my decision. I also didn’t consider that none of this precludes our entering into mutual voluntary trade agreements which would help me do what I needed to do to live by my principles if I did end up struggling in some way.

But regardless of all of that, no matter what I do, the manner in which it will affect them is purely up to them isn’t it? If I am free to make my own choices and accept the consequences of my actions in life then obviously so are they. I can’t control how they may feel or what choices they may make as a result. I can only make the choices that are right for me and explain to them why I make my decisions.

Maybe I’m starting to get this stuff. I don’t know.

One last point on this: it also hasn’t escaped me that I can do these blog posts until I die, telling myself that I am doing something positive to help educate myself and others on the ideas of freedom, but it would really not be nearly equal to just stopping right here, right now, vowing to never take Social Security and go out and do everything I possibly can so that I am not ever in a position where I’m even tempted to cash one of those checks.

So if I don’t come back here, I guess now you’ll know why. : )