Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Building and Supporting Alternatives to the State

The last item in Issue 11 is the editorial, “What’s Next in the Pursuit of Liberty?” This editorial was written by Carl and a fellow by the name of Paul Bilzi. Mr. Bilzi is someone I haven’t heard of and know nothing about. Carl tells me he never met him in person and hasn't heard from him in years. If anyone wants to contribute something about him, feel free.

This editorial continues the attempts to persuade political anarchists to move outside politics and into other forms of activism. Carl reiterates the point that patience is required for change and the best focus one can have is on improving oneself. However, in this editorial he and Paul also point out the importance of creating new voluntary associations:

“We must be dedicated to razing the State, but we must also raise new voluntary associations which allow people to be self-responsible. We have to contribute to the development of constructive alternatives to State services and attempt to get people to understand that they do have the capabilities of providing for themselves without government. Only then can we be assured of having taken care of the means; realizing that right means are the only route to our final destination.”

Much of the disappointment I think many Voluntaryists have with those who spend a lot of time, money, and energy in the political realm revolves around this idea. If we are constantly trying to battle and change the system and ignoring the problems of the system itself, then we are not working to build alternatives. And if there are no alternatives to move to, people will be hesitant to leave, even if they understand all that’s wrong with government.

As is usual, I can best relate to this personally in terms of education. If we really want to improve education and educational opportunities, then we are just wasting our time trying to reform the coercive government system. It’s best to just get out completely, ignore the state and do it yourself while building networks and creating alternatives that help others do the same.

I’ve been a part of a group in Indiana that’s been doing that for some time now and it’s been rewarding and fun. What I like about the way we’ve set up the group is that it’s very informal. It’s been great because as individuals network and connect locally, they voluntarily and spontaneously develop plans and ideas that work for the people involved at any given time.

But even though this group has helped literally thousands of people network and collaborate, even this isn’t completely necessary to help others consider alternatives. Because as each individual takes action and does something outside the realm of government, whatever it may be, others who come in to contact with those individuals see an example right in front of their eyes.

And eventually, some of those people will become curious, want to learn more and figure out if they can do it too. My husband and I had this experience quite a few times when we were homeschooling as friends and acquaintances came to us asking questions, after observing how homeschooling was working in our family. Most of these people were concerned and afraid that they just couldn’t do it, for a variety of reasons, but as we talked to them, we tried to help them see that it was possible, that they can do it. Our respect and confidence in their ability helped move some of them to make the same decision we did and they did just fine, as we knew they would.

What associations, organizations and groups do you know of that are good examples of people working together to develop alternatives to state services?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"All Great State Systems Stupefy"

Issue 11 reprints an article about a 19th century Voluntaryist, Auberon Herbert that originally appeared in THE LIBERTARIAN REVIEW in February of 1979. The editors of The Voluntaryist preface this article by saying they have their differences with him but nevertheless he made contributions to voluntaryism.

I don’t know what these differences are and during the first part of the article, I wasn’t sure I was going to like what he says on education because in his early life Herbert supported legislation for state education.

But he obviously changed his views on this issue tremendously. I took a look at one of his written publications, THE RIGHT AND WRONG OF COMPULSION BY THE STATE, and found some very interesting thoughts on compulsion in education.

In this book, he reprints a letter published in a British newspaper, The Newcastle Chronicle. (The title of this post is a quote from this letter.)

In this letter, he makes a great case for ending compulsion in education. It’s amazing and sad that so many points made in this letter are the same points people are still trying to make today here in America.

I found the following excerpt particularly interesting - he makes the point that compulsion in education might be leading to even worse situations for children than working in the factories (which as you probably know was a big concern at the time):
“It [the State] regulated the labour of children by its Factory Acts (of the defects of which I cannot speak to-day) in order presently to invent a system of its own, so contrived that it should especially aggravate the great danger of the present day, the tendency to nervous disease; a system that, just because its effects are so much more subtle, so much less easily perceived, so much less exposed to the wrath of public opinion, so effectually disguised in the cloak of a great public advantage, that it may possibly prove in the end far the greater of those two rival evils,—I mean, over-pressure in work and over-pressure in education.

…Unfortunately, if the principle be, as I myself believe, utterly and detestably wrong, the costs of the mistake will not be paid by those who have invented and worked the machine, but by those whose approval and consent has never been looked upon as a valid part of the business, and within whose scope of action and responsibility the measure never was placed. The penalty will be paid in the after happiness of the children.”

So there he was, so long ago, trying to help people see that no one is paying attention to the damage the compulsory school system can do to children. He sounds like a 19th century version of education reformer John Holt, whose writings were instrumental in the development of my philosophy on education and learning.

There are many more points and warnings about the dangers of compulsory schooling within this letter. Go read it and learn. (The letter is in the Appendix which begins on page 74.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Government Fans the Flames of Prejudice

In Issue 11, the feature article is written by Carl where he discusses how war, in particular World War I, affected the anarchist movement. He focuses on Peter Kropotkin, a Russian exile and anarchist, who decided to forgo an anti-war stance and instead call for the support France.

In his mind, the prospect of German rule was much worse than supporting a State so he thought it was important to defend the nation and support the alliance between England, France and Russia.

In response a fellow named Errico Malatesta spoke on behalf of other anarchists and pointed out that:

“An Allied victory would simply mean the domination of Europe by England and Russia, which was little better than German domination.”

Malatesta and others thought Kropotkin was letting his prejudices take precedence over principles. In another article, Malatesta wrote:

“For us, national rivalries and hatreds are among the best means the masters have for perpetuating the slavery of the workers, and we must oppose them with all our strength.”

Carl uses this to make a point about ends and means which you can read more about in the article.

What I’d like to address here is how government promotes “rivalries and hatreds” even within a nation, even when there is no outright nation-state war at stake.

The political process itself promotes “war” between the people of a nation. Political parties work to create and identify “enemies,” which leads to the idea that we are “fighting” and “at war” with our neighbors. Political parties have to create an enemy in the form of a group of people so that another group of people will be energized enough to go to “war” in the form of political activism and voting against the enemy.

Government itself benefits by this promotion of prejudice.

Even people who think of themselves as free from prejudice can end up being susceptible. It even happens in factions within parties. Pay just slight attention and you can hear the prejudice in language every day as people talk politics.

This is sometimes the hardest part about moving outside the government box. If a person always strongly identified with a political party, it’s difficult to suddenly consider someone who comes from “the other side” as a friend now and not “the enemy.”

This may be one benefit of Voluntaryism. Voluntaryism does not promote a prejudice against any group of people. Yes, there is an inherent prejudice against aggressors but that is an action any person can do, not an existential state. So since Voluntaryists have figured out that politics is not the answer, we can’t fall for the prejudices political parties try to promote in order to gain votes.

This means we can focus on what we all have in common instead of what we don’t. We can interact voluntarily, and even if we do harbor irrational prejudices against certain groups of people, those prejudices can’t be fanned by those who want to control others through government force.

And that’s what’s really important.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Creating and Developing Libertarian Communities

My mind is really swimming after reading the second article in Issue 10 which is on the topic of utopian communities. In this article, Wendy McElroy points out that there was quite a bit of experimentation with the creation and development of utopian communities in the nineteenth century, although very few were libertarian in nature. Wendy analyzes these communities from various standpoints and ponders the reasons for failure and success.

As I read this piece, I thought about the Free State Project (FSP). Like the people who formed communities in the nineteenth century, it certainly makes sense that people who ascribe to certain philosophies do not just want to do it in the abstract; they also want the chance to actually live in a place that values the philosophy.

I have always been fairly neutral about the project. I have not seriously considered moving there but that’s partly because I came to all of these realizations a bit later in life, after I was already very settled where I am. But I can certainly see it appealing to those who come to understand the ideas of liberty for those who are younger or less settled. I don’t know if such an idea can work but this project may be the best experiment we have going right now in order to find out.

One thing that’s always bothered me about these communities is that it seems to validate the “love it or leave it” argument and the whole idea of territorial sovereignty. Even if you set up a community that is based on individual private property, doesn’t the community at large still need to have some control over a certain bordered area in order to protect against those who don’t hold similar views?

Isn’t that what’s happening right now with the FSP, that the libertarians moving in do not necessarily hold the same philosophies as some who already live in New Hampshire? Isn’t it possible that some NH residents feel like they are being “invaded?” Wouldn’t the same thing happen if a libertarian community if people of a different mindset moved into their area?

Part of the reason communities like these are formed is because these people are in the minority of the population around them. So they need to isolate themselves if they want to live by different guidelines. That may be impossible to do today. As Wendy says,

Until it is possible to construct a society in space, perhaps it will be impossible to achieve what many Utopian planners considered a prerequisite for success — namely, isolation. Isolation is necessary because those who set up a radically different society are always in the minority. If they were in the majority, they could simply stay and change the society around them. We live in a society that worships the state as a creator (of money, of jobs, of education, of civilized man). Anarchists who deny its authority are in a position similar to atheists who deny God. This is dangerous, for society may laugh at eccentrics, but it executes heretics.

Sometimes it just feels like Zach Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman.

This may mean that even the FSP is doomed and yet, when I read Wendy’s comments about atheists, I can see that even in the span of the 26 years since she wrote this, that the ideas of atheism have grown tremendously. It’s a major part of today’s religious discussions and more and more people are becoming unafraid to speak up about it.

I don’t know exactly what I would pin that on, but it could be due to technology which has exposed more people to the ideas and has also connected people so that they don’t feel so isolated, which ironically is the opposite of what we’re saying about setting up these communities.

But then again, atheism can easily exist in a statist society.

I don’t know. Does the idea of setting up libertarian communities just fall into that category where one will be successful when the world is ready, which means that the community as an isolated entity won’t be necessary?

The idea of private property does seem to be the most important aspect of either developing one of the communities or having society as a whole naturally move to the ideas of these communities. But then that gets me thinking about all the sticky conundrums concerning property ownership as it relates specifically to land.

There is no perfect society because there is no perfect human so I guess the best most of us can do is try to live our values the best we can wherever we may be in the world.

Image Courtesy Wikimedia

Monday, November 29, 2010

Societal Change Without Government Force

In Issue 10 Carl shares with us an example of a societal problem that was solved without government intervention: the move to the standard time zone. According to this article, the need for time zones didn’t really exist until the railroad industry began. People were moving faster across the continent which increased the need for accurate coordinated timekeeping, particularly when it came to figuring out rail schedules.

The article goes into detail about how organizations were formed to resolve this issue and although it sounds like it was still pretty difficult and tricky to coordinate, a plan was created. As you might expect, there were those who objected and didn’t want to be controlled by the railroad industry. But in the end, most people saw the benefits of the change which was officially completed on November 18th, 1883.

There are two important points made in this article about government. One is that these time zones were well in place before any government organization made them “official” and the other point is that government force was not used on anyone to get compliance. Carl writes:

“Any old curmudgeon who wanted to continue operating on his old time had the right to do so. He might miss his train or be late for the movies, but no one would throw him in jail for refusing to live by standard railroad time. The fact that the large number of people living around him operated on standard time would be the strongest inducement possible for him to change his habits. Public opinion has the power to change behavior and influence our activities in ways that legislation and government cannot touch. Peaceful, evolutionary change based on the voluntary principle is the voluntaryist way, not the resort to either bullets or ballots. Thus, this history of standard time proves that voluntary social movements can achieve important and long lasting improvements without resorting to governments or coercion.”

This makes me think of one particular societal change that’s happened here locally and in many other areas concerning smoking in restaurants. My biggest disappointment in relation to smoking laws is that I could see that changes were already happening spontaneously simply because society was beginning to demand change. As more and more people rejected smoking, more and more places of business became interested in serving them in smoke-free environments.

Yet there were those who were not content to let this change happen freely and spontaneously, no, they wanted ALL restaurants to change and conform IMMEDIATELY and they were willing to use government force to make it happen. This is too bad because I could see it was happening already and government did not need to be involved at all.

But instead we just ended up with another “example” of why we need government. If only we could have given it more time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Military Conscription Is Unnecessary

In Issue 9, I see that Paul Jacob is still out and active in his educational efforts against registration for the military draft. This issue contains text of a speech he gave by videotape at a Libertarianism and War Conference, held in the Spring of 1984.

As I’ve read about his activities in these past issues in the early 1980s, it’s difficult to go back to the thought processes people may have had then because now, after the events of 9/11, the idea of conscription doesn’t even seem necessary.

This terrorist attack, and the continued government manipulation of the event, changed everything.

We see evidence of this all the time. As I write this, a controversy is heating up as to how much we are willing to take in order to prevent another terrorist attack on a commercial airplane. As it stands now, if you want to fly, you might have to choose between a “naked” body scanner or an “enhanced patdown” by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees.

But I’m not here to discuss that controversy, I want to explore how 9/11 has gone deeper into our body cavities, so to speak. Are you ready?

The attack led Americans to think in a totally different way. We were forced to be much more engaged and aware of the violence in the world because it finally came here.

And how did we react? Well, exactly like all people around the world who have been facing large-scale violence in their countries react. We suffered through deep sadness from the death and destruction. We became angry.

People were ready to retaliate or fight back in some manner. Many wanted to “kick some ass.” These feelings ripened the natural inclination many people have of wanting to protect and defend. Young men and women joined up to fight willingly. Conscription was not necessary.

Even as time moves on, a military draft is still not necessary because society does its part to keep certain emotions and feelings alive. The idea of automatically classifying any member of the military as heroes is stronger than ever. This hero worship is based on no action other than joining this group.

Society’s job is to continue to commend military membership itself as virtuous, even to celebrate this membership for those in the past who only became members against their will due to conscription.

If we celebrate the military service of these veterans too, it helps us ignore the fact they were conscripted. This helps us create an illusion that overshadows the truth of the past. Just in case anyone starts thinking about it too hard.

This myth making, on top of the continued manipulation of 9/11, lessens the need for military conscription. But it increases the need for war.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Long Campaign of Education

The feature article in Issue 9 of The Voluntaryist is an edited excerpt from a book published in 1896 by Francis Dashwood Tandy. The book is titled “Voluntary Socialism.” (Carl explains the title in his introductory remarks. Also, the original version of this entire book is available online here.)

Carl chose the chapter on Methods where the author talks about various means that could be used to reach the goal of a voluntary society. Tandy explains in this chapter why revolution and political action won’t work and his reasoning matches up with current Voluntaryist thought. He then discusses the benefits of nonviolent resistance. (NOTE: Tandy uses the term “passive resistance,” but Carl edited this to the more modern “nonviolent resistance.”) Here is an excerpt that certainly appeals to all Voluntaryists:

Nonviolent resistance can never pass a law. It can only nullify laws. Consequently, it can never be used as a means of coercion and is particularly adopted to the attainment of Anarchy. All other schools of reform propose to compel people to do something. For this they must resort to force, usually by passing laws. These laws depend upon political action for their inauguration and physical violence for their enforcement. Anarchists are the only reformers who do not advocate physical violence. Tyranny must ever depend upon the weapon of tyranny, but Freedom can be inaugurated only by means of Freedom.

Tandy seems quite enthused about the possibilities of nonviolent resistance and uses the example of the Quakers refusing to serve in the army during the Civil War. However, he also points out that nonviolent resistance on its own isn’t going to be nearly as effective without accompanying education.

And the biggest educational hurdle is society’s belief in the State, which is an abstract idea that exists only in our heads. This is the essence of the problem and why it’s so hard to change. Tandy writes:

The State Is king only because we are fools enough to stand In the relation of subjects to it. When we cease to stand in the relation of subjects to it, it will cease to be king. So that in order to abolish the State, it is necessary to change people's ideas In regard to it. This means a long campaign of education.

We have more than an entire century between the publishing of this book and the publishing of this blog post. A lot has happened since then. How are things different? How do the various events of the 20th century change or validate what he says?

We certainly still have the vast majority of people believing in the state. This belief, this superstition lives on in most people’s minds.

How do we battle something that is inside people’s minds?

Education is the only way and so far I'm wondering if we aren't just spinning our wheels because the focus has been on trying to re-educate. AFTER the idea is settled like concrete in our minds. Once that happens it’s hard to break out.

Maybe we need to focus our educational efforts on ways to make sure the idea doesn’t get enough traction into into minds of the young in the first place. How can we do this?

Homeschooling or some free form of institutionalized private school (which I’m not sure exists) is one obvious option but I also want to mention three examples I’ve also had some personal involvement with that seem like good attempts to help jump this hurdle.

One is Brette Veinotte, who hosts a podcast called School Sucks, where he brings down the illusions of our government-controlled education system. His main intended audience is teenagers but his podcasts are worth a listen no matter what your age.

The second example is Stefan Molyneux of who is trying to educate people BEFORE they become parents so they can raise children without such mind baggage.

My last example is the more enlightened younger crowd itself trying to educate. Pete Eyre, Jason Talley and Adam Mueller have been traveling around the country in an RV, connecting and engaging with the younger crowd. The three of them participated in the Motorhome Diaries Project and as we speak Pete and Adam are still on their current Liberty on Tour RV project.

It is indeed a long campaign of education but these are just three examples of things I’ve observed that make me feel as if more positive change might begin to occur.

What do you think? Do you agree that more attention should be focused on reaching the young? Do you have any ideas or are you currently working on a project that you would like to share?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Voting: Channeling Mass Discontent

Considering we just emerged from the muck of another election season, I thought I’d begin my posts about Issue 9 of The Voluntaryist by discussing Carl Watner’s book review of Benjamin Ginsberg’s “The Consequences of Consent.”

Carl says this book caught his interest because even though the author really knew nothing about voluntaryism, his conclusions match Voluntaryist thought about voting and elections, particularly the part elections play in helping government maintain its power.

Carl writes:

Throughout much of the world’s history mass political disruptions and outbursts, such as riots and revolution, have been the real threats to government. Those in power finally realized that they could channel away potentially disruptive political activity by introducing formal means of controlling such mass protests. Elections enable governments to substitute institutional mechanisms for non-electoral sanctions (such as nonviolent resistance or revolutionary violence), which might otherwise be used by a disaffected public. Political party activity turns attention away from non-electoral strategies and forces those who oppose the government to operate by the government's own rules.

I’ve noticed the election process is often used to shut people up and control behavior in between elections. We are told we do have power, that we can have direct influence on the government – just wait until the election. Then by golly, you can show ‘em. You can really register your opposition, your discontent.

Every time a law or government action occurs that someone approves of, and someone always approves, one way they defend it, particularly to those they know will never really like it, is to tell the discontented that they still have the power to change things, just work on electing new people to office.

All sides of the political spectrum take their turn in doing this, even the Libertarian Party which hasn’t even ever had any control.

Many people have bought the “If you don’t like it, then get involved and work to elect others” line. The discontented start focusing all their energy on the next election, as they develop strategy and plans. Working and waiting for the next election.

And if that energy does pay off in electing “new” people, then the system has just created a whole new set of discontented people with energy that needs channeling and where will it go? To the next election. Back and forth. Back and forth. “Change” to “change.”

But it’s all fake. It’s not real change. It’s just taking dirty underwear, turning it inside out, and back again.

I’m ready for real change, how about you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Government Benefits From Prison Slavery

Issue 8 of The Voluntaryist has a note apologizing for the newsletter being delayed, so this issue consists entirely of one item, a scholarly article Carl wrote about prison slavery. The main thrust of this article is to share the history of prison slavery from a Voluntaryist perspective.

Before becoming a libertarian, it never really bothered me that prisoners had to work while in prison. I always thought of it as a common sense way to help pay for their incarceration.

But after being exposed to libertarian ideas, I realized this system was doing nothing for the victim and I began thinking more about restitution. I thought it was strange that we didn’t have a good system of restitution and this article helped explain why that may be so.

The state benefits much more if criminals work for them instead of working to repay those they have actually harmed.

Carl writes:

“… the prospect of increasing State revenues through the administration of criminal justice at the expense of the criminal and his victim was one of the principal incentives in the transformation of private justice from a mere arbitration between parties to a significant part of the "public" criminal law.”

Carl goes on to explain how the 13th amendment ended private slavery but included the exception of force prison labor and makes the interesting point that, as usual, the government exempted itself from the laws everyone else had to follow.

Carl maintains that it wasn’t about having the prisoners do work to support their expenses of being imprisoned; it was about forcing labor for the profit of the state.

Carl mentions a fellow named Cesare Beccaria who in 1764 wrote a book called Of Crimes and Punishments. This book apparently did much to change views on the penal system and Thomas Jefferson followed his ideas closely. Carl says Beccaria’s ideas led directly to UNICOR, which is the name for the federal prison industry.

I did some research on UNICOR on its website and found out this program began during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. Why does that not surprise me?

The organization makes a big deal of saying they don’t want to compete with private business and labor. Throughout its history those private groups have criticized the program and one result was that UNICOR only sells to the federal government. Interestingly criticism continues because private groups would also like to sell to the government.

The most disturbing aspect I discovered while reading their history is that they played a big part in providing products for U.S. war efforts. So this program uses prison labor to make it easier to engage in war. Not a good idea.

The one piece of information I found that was even remotely positive was that apparently some of the inmate’s earnings go toward restitution. But what are they earning? In a set of minutes from 2005, it said the inmate wage scale had not increased since 1989 so we can be pretty sure they’re not being paid much, certainly not minimum wage which of course gives us yet another instance where government ignores its own laws.

All of this is a direct result of the consequences of government interference in arbitration and restitution. We put people in prison where they are idle. This causes lots of problems. So the government solution is to create a prison slavery program that causes more controversy and problems. But it benefits the state so it continues.

Finally, perhaps worst of all, if this system were not in effect, victimless crimes would be much more glaring and obvious to all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hanging Around In Political Bars

The final item in issue 7 of The Voluntaryist is a letter written to Carl by a fellow named Timothy Dove. Mr. Dove is another person who experienced first-hand what the government is all about (he got into trouble with the IRS) but in this letter he spends much of his time discussing his experience with the Libertarian Party in Alaska.

Mr. Dove, at least at the time of writing this letter, tells Carl that he’s not quite as anti-party as Carl. He believes that he owes a lot to the LP because it did introduce him to libertarianism.

I’ve noticed that people who say this often refer to various discussions they had with other individuals they met through the party. It appears that the benefit of finding the LP, from those who end up leaving it, is not about participating in the political process itself; it’s about finding people who helped them further develop their understanding of the philosophy.

Maybe the Libertarian Party is kind of like a bar where people can go to meet libertarians. But it’s dangerous because in a bar, you have to be careful about who you meet. You might meet someone who only wants to use you.

Just like a bar might not be the best place to find people if you are interested in long-term fulfilling relationships more than the excitement of short-term sex, the LP might not be the place to find people if you are interested in long-term societal change, rather than the excitement of short-term political gains.

Mr. Dove says he enjoyed participating when the goal was education and when the purpose was to “utilize the political forum to spread libertarian ideas.” but was disappointed as the party moved towards thinking the purpose is “to elect people to office.”

I wish I could have a dollar (no wait, make that a piece of gold) for every time someone said or wrote that to me whenever I questioned an action in the LP. This has become the standard line to any criticism and I guess it’s true. But it also shuts down any real discussion of libertarian thought and how, or if, it can apply in the political realm.

In his letter, Dove admits that based on that new purpose, the Alaska LP did have success by electing a fellow named Dick Randolph to the State House. But then he goes on to explain a few things Randolph did that, according to Dove, were in no way libertarian.

Here’s what Mr. Dove says in his letter after detailing some history of what Randolph did:

“Gone are the long philosophical discussions of a society without the state. Gone from the Party are all the radicals who created it. All that's left is a bunch of chamber of commerce types, empty rhetoric, and expensively purchased advertising hoopla.”

I looked up Randolph and discovered something that bothered me because I see a pattern whenever a state proclaims a big libertarian electoral success: he had already held office as a Republican. To me, this is not someone who is elected as a Libertarian. It’s just someone who uses the libertarian party to continue in politics.

It appears the state is still battling this sort of thing. I saw lots of news hits around a Republican Senator who lost in the primary and might possibly be running on the Libertarian ticket. A state Libertarian committee voted this idea down, but once again it shows how people want to use the LP doesn’t it?

Bob Barr is another example. Politicians gain their notoriety by using the Republican Party and then move to Libertarian Party when it suits their purposes. When they get mad, the LP provides them a place to go.

It’s even happened in Indiana with a city councilman. He was a Republican who just changed parties because the Republicans aren’t doing what he thinks Republicans should be doing.

This has nothing to do with consistent libertarian thought and I don’t consider these people to be elected libertarians. Just political hacks doing whatever they can to have some power.

I’ve decided I don’t want to be used anymore and am no longer hanging around the political bars. I now understand that I’ll have more success finding people who match my goals if I start looking in places where people are not constantly drunk and addicted to political power.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Playing The Political Expansionist Game

In Issue 7, Robert Lefevre has an article titled, "Cutting Government Growth." In this piece Mr. Lefevre discusses participation in the political process and how it helps government grow. In particular, he points out that elections cannot happen without thousands of people working as unpaid volunteers. (They might do it for some hoped-for benefits but they are not getting paid.)

He writes:
"Government consists of two types of workers: those who are paid for what they do; those who volunteer their services free of charge. Both groups work for the state. Every individual who begins working within the political system in an effort to accomplish anything enlarges the system by his own presence. When a group is organized and begins to seek reduction as a concentrated unit of pressure, a significant growth of the numbers working for government occurs in the process. This is always true even when the purpose of the activists is reduction in size and scope. The state invariably arranges its structure in such a way that its magnitude depends on the numbers of persons involved, rather than on the political direction taken."

Lefevre tells us that the first mistake made by anyone who finally gets fed up and wants to decrease government is to become a political activist. Going door-to-door, endorsing candidates, registering voters, petitioning, picketing and protesting for a cause that requires government action, etc. are all ways political activists end up working for the government. Even when the goal is less government. The Tea Party movement is the latest example.

Lefevre has a fine way of hammering down the point:

"Those entirely sincere individuals who labor endlessly for the reduction of governmental power are, without intending it, playing the political expansionist game."

Talk about unintended consequences!

Lefevre also discusses voting groups and vote percentages as they relate to legitimacy. In regards to voting categories, I had never really thought of adding to the voter base from the government’s side as a whole. But I realize now that the addition of new voters, (removing land ownership requirements, black males, women, lowering voting age to 18) merely strengthened the legitimacy of the system at large because just the fact that you CAN vote adds legitimacy.

This isn’t good enough though because we know there’s an uncomfortable sensitivity to voter participation totals. Everyone seems to understand that there’s a line where the vote just wouldn’t be accepted as legitimate. We may not know exactly where that line is, but it’s there nonetheless.

As a result we now have groups whose only purpose is to get people to vote. They don’t care who you vote for, just that you vote. Many individuals blindly repeat this message too. People are even rewarded for acting on their civic duty by getting a sticker to put on their shirt that says “I voted.”

(A sticker for good behavior. I guess our education system does a good job of training for this to be effective, doesn’t it?)

Lefevre gives us an example of how voter turnout can affect government action. In 1963, a special election was held in Colorado Springs and the weather affected the turnout which led to controversy (you can read the details yourself). In the end, Lefevre says the politicians were extremely careful about any action, so they mostly just "sat on their hands" because the case was effectively made that they did not have the sanction of the people.

Lefevre admits this is one small example but the main point is that politicians are extremely sensitive about legitimacy so not voting is a good idea even strategically. Who knows if others will follow but, on an individual level at least, as a non-voter I know I’m one person who is no longer playing the expansionist game.

He seems to imply that we will eventually hit that sweet spot where legitimacy is in question but I wonder if this is the case. Non-voters are the majority already and it appears to me that the government promoters have put the spin on their side by saying those people are willing to accept the results of the voters.

They have no evidence of this of course, it’s just their premise. But if they keep repeating it, people will just assume it to be true. Therefore, perhaps there needs to be a concerted effort to change the message.

A truthful message would be one that says we cannot know where those individuals stand. This could create unease about what the large group of non-voters, the real majority, actually think.

Would that do anything to persuade more people to not vote thereby hitting that sweet spot, wherever it may be, which makes the politicians “sit on their hands?"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Using Government To Demonstrate Voluntary Action

In Issue 7 The Voluntaryist continues to interview Carl about his ongoing experiment with the truth. You can read my post about the first interview here. This issue’s interview is titled “From the Bowels of the Beast,” and before I even made it through his answer to the very first question posed, I was already into ideas and philosophy that directly correlated with experiences I had this past week.

Last week in my newspaper column I decided to use the local mayors to make a positive point about voluntary actions.

Soon after posting a link on Facebook, I received a letter from an online Voluntaryist friend of mine. He took me to task on several points. You can read the column as well as excerpts of what he wrote in response to it here.

I was reminded of this when reading Carl’s interview. He wanted to differentiate his view of taxation from those who object only to specific ways some taxes are spent, for example someone who objects to taxation being spent on war. Carl’s objection goes deeper and to contrast his view, Carl says this:
“Government employees are the only group of people in society that regularly and consistently use physical force or its threat to collect funds to sustain themselves. It makes absolutely no difference to me how this group of people spends the money it coercively collects; my conscientious objection is opposed to their initiation of coercion or its threat.”

This is of course the argument my friend made and why he objected so strongly to my attempt to use government employee’s actions to demonstrate voluntary efforts.

I completely understand this point. Really I do. But the vast, vast majority of people out there simply do not get it. Or maybe more to the truth, they refuse to admit they get it. So, the question is, will it help people understand, or admit they understand, if someone makes correlations as I attempted to do in this column?

Don’t we need to just take people where they are and hope that by drawing such comparisons, perhaps some will start to think about things differently and perhaps gain an insight? Are we better off downgrading voluntary actions by government employees or should we say, "hey that’s a good start?"

We must begin the conversation somewhere. So is it valid to find an angle to a story that moves the conversation towards voluntary actions, even if there are issues with it?

Plus, in this instance, we are talking about the actions of individuals and these individuals are acting in a voluntary manner when they donate money, so is that a good start? Is that a difference worth using the pound the point of voluntary action?

Yesterday I would have finished this post here and said yes. But last night I read an essay in Creative Nonfiction magazine that sent my mind down a whole other road. The essay was written by a woman who was badly abused throughout her childhood by her father. At one point in the essay she goes into detail about how he beat her and then took care of her wounds afterward.

As I read this, I did not feel better about his actions. I felt even angrier at him, at the idea that he not only damaged her physically and psychologically with the beating, but he created even more psychological damage because he connected the two disparate actions in her developing mind.

I didn’t think anything he did after the beating, no matter how kind it looks made any difference at all.

So I had to wonder - Could I ignore the beatings and use his kind actions to point out how wonderful it is to take care of someone who is hurt?

I have to say, when I think of it that way, it makes me cringe.

So the next time I think it might be possible to put a positive spin on something someone does within government, I think I'll stop and consider the Voluntaryist insight that the end does not justify the means.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Facebook Paper Doll Experiment

NOTE: The Voluntaryist has a typo on Mr. Ken Knudson's name. The correct spelling is with an 'o.'

The final article in Issue 6 was written by Ken Knudson and is titled “Revolution: The Road to Freedom?”

This article continues exploring the idea of using violent means to achieve a peaceful end and the futility of such an effort. The article contains good commentary on the historical effects of violence as well as discussing the tendency of communistic anarchists to use violence and why he thinks this is the case and much more.

The only thing I really want to point out specifically in this article is a quote I found particularly juicy:

"Paper constitutions might work alright in a society of paper dolls, but they can only bring smiles to those who have observed their results in the real world."

Isn’t that great? I just love quotes that use good imagery to make the point. I like it so much that I thought it would be fun to do an experiment of sorts.

I hardly ever post quotes on facebook but once in a while I see one like this that is short and makes great use of imagery to help hammer down the point. Some quotes just strike me as facebook (and/or twitter) quotes and this is one of them.

So I’m going to do an experiment of sorts and put it on my facebook page and see if anything interesting happens.

If you like the quote and you also have a facebook and/or twitter page, then please do the same and let us know if anything particularly interesting happens.

Photo courtesy wikimedia commons

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tug of War Over Non-Violence

To defend George Smith against the continuing accusations that he somehow turned into a mystic or Gandhi-cultist, Issue 6 includes a portion of a letter written by George to Carl as they were forming the organization.

But this letter does much more than that, at least for me.

First of all, I can see that there was discussion and debate on whether they should put strategies down in writing. This letter even mentions platforms and planks so at some point they were discussing such matters.

When reading this excerpt, I noticed that Carl and George disagree on whether the Voluntaryist insight means the rejection of all violent acts. In this letter George makes a good case for not putting nonviolence forth as a necessary Voluntaryist strategy and he gives several reasons why:
1. To include a definite concept of strategy as part of our organizational structure will discourage investigation into other alternatives. It will appear as if we have finalized this issue, which we have not.

2. 1 remain uncomfortable with nonviolent strategy (i.e., nonviolent in the broad sense, e.g., a Gandhian theory). There are important insights here, certainly, but they have not been fully adapted (to my satisfaction) to libertarian ends. In other words, more work remains in this area.

3. To include nonviolence will "turn-off" many libertarians who tend to regard Gandhianism, etc. as somewhat cranky (as does Murray, for example). We want to attract all the anti-political libertarians, whatever their views of strategy, or however well formed they may be. We should cast as wide a net as possible.
George just wanted nonviolence to be one of the many strategies that would be investigated rather than being something that defines Voluntaryism.

He goes on to talk about self-defense as a legitimate moral act, not only against aggression, but also as a possible strategy to get the state to back down. The point for him is not to advocate it, but merely to acknowledge it as a valid strategy.

The one problem with using self-defense that he mentions that I think is worth noting is that it could get twisted up with those who aren’t really so much wanting to defend individual liberty as they are simply wanting to establish another government.

I think that is a big danger and I know I always get uncomfortable when I hear people talking about “taking up arms” against the state or whatever because it seems like that will always just end in another form of government, one that was ultimately created through violent means.

From the first time I found The Voluntaryist, I very much related to Carl’s favorite quote, "If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself," and if we can move towards freedom peacefully, then it seems to me that’s when we will be much more likely to actually keep it.

One more thing I discovered after reading this letter and seeing this disagreement is that The Voluntaryist Statement of Purpose is different now than it is in the current issues I’ve been reading. The difference comes in the first line. Here’s the first line in the current Issue:
The Voluntaryists are libertarians who have organized to promote non-political strategies to achieve a free society.
And here’s what that line says in the present day:
Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society.
I don’t know what this may mean as far as George Smith’s and perhaps others’ continued participation, but I guess I will find out as I keep reading and learning.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Experiment Away, Voluntaryists!

In Issue 6 of The Voluntaryist, the editors continue to find it necessary to explain basic ideas that shape their organization. Wendy McElroy writes an article titled “The Party Line on a Party Line,” and says once again that Voluntaryists are not promoting any specific strategy to reach the ultimate goal of individual liberty.

She expresses frustration at those who demand specific strategies. For her, it would not be so bad if she thought these people really wanted to see strategies so they could get out there and start experimenting with them. No, she thinks they are merely looking for another way to attack their attempt to move outside of politics.

Here’s one reason why Wendy thinks official strategy would be a mistake:
“First, nonpolitical strategy within libertarianism is largely an uncharted area which requires far more of a pioneer spirit than a doctrinaire censoring.”
So the Voluntaryists want to encourage lots of experimentation in strategy and also study past experiments. If you remember in the previous post Carl even described his current situation as his “Experiment with Truth.” They simply want the experiments in strategy to be through non-political means.

On a personal level, as one who homeschooled her kids, I can easily relate this to what I’ve seen in education outside of government control. There are and have been various groups who think that certain strategies and rules are necessary, but I have always come down on the side of encouraging experimentation and the pioneer spirit.

I personally think that homeschooling, and specifically unschooling, is the best strategy, but I also understand that there are other strategies for people to consider. I understand, as individual families experiment with what works for them, that education as a whole will improve and we’ll all benefit.

If there is one basic principle that I follow on education strategies, it’s that government should be completely out of the picture. But past that, I’m open to lots of experimentation as to what works for individual families. So in the same way, I’m open to experimentation in exploring non-political means to individual liberty as a whole.

Wendy mentions the need for flexibility in determining the paths Voluntaryist strategies can take and that can also be compared to homeschooling. I’ve said for years that one of the main reasons why homeschooling works is because of the flexibility that allows families to experiment, to see what works and what doesn’t.

We need people willing to experiment in many different ways. Then as we report and study successes and failures, we can all learn and eventually find strategies that work. Only by experimenting and studying results will we truly be able to create and develop innovative ideas in our ongoing quest for individual liberty.

So let’s get out our test tubes, beakers and goggles and experiment away!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Personal Experience As Teacher

So far, after 5 issues, we haven't heard too much from Carl. All we've seen so far in the publication are his book reviews. But now, in Issue 6, we get our first real look at Carl Watner.

In this issue, Wendy interviews Carl about his personal non-cooperation with the state that he began way before The Voluntaryist began. So, as far as the relationship his actions have on The Voluntaryists as an organization, Carl says this:
"As an organization, The Voluntaryists has nothing to do with this. My non-cooperation with the IRS goes back many years-long before George and Wendy and I conceived of the organization. While George and Wendy have expressed their individual support, we all consider it a personal matter. That is, none of us advocate going to jail as a strategy; it is more a matter of personal conscience. Our attitude is similar to how we approached Paul Jacob's resistance to draft registration. It is one of many strategies and we do not advocate it as something everyone should do. Not everyone could do it because of personal circumstances and mental outlook. Not everyone can be a Paul Jacob. How far one can oppose the government is a matter of conscience and circumstance. In short, neither I nor The Voluntaryists can decide this issue for anyone."
Carl calls his actions an "Experiment with Truth". He wanted to personally discover exactly how far the individuals working on behalf of the government were willing to go in order to get compliance from another individual who refuses to comply.

Carl says he did a lot of research before deciding to do his experiment so he knew what he was up against and what others had done in the past. The specifics of what happened at the time of this interview are in the issue and you can read about it yourself.

For this post, I just wanted to discuss some thoughts I had on the idea of personal experience as a method of learning and teaching. These thoughts came up because in the interview, Carl mentions a point Thoreau makes in his essay, On Civil Disobedience. Thoreau says that a person can more effectively and eloquently combat injustice if he has actually experienced it his or her self.

This Thoreau quote started me thinking about personal experience as a teacher. I think most would agree that to truly understand many concepts nothing can really replace actual personal experience for real insight and learning.

But the question I've been wondering about lately is how much one person's experience can help teach others. Does personal experience extend out to others or not?

Certainly an experience teaches the person who lives through it lots of lessons. But I'm not clear on how effective it can be in teaching others. I think that if personal experience does appear to do so then it's only because that person can directly relate it to their own personal experience.

Which means I've circled back to the core idea that personal experience is the key.

So if this is true, then doesn't that mean the best way to communicate and introduce an idea is to find and use a personal experience that will help another individual relate to the concept you are trying to convey?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Voluntaryists As Political Dropouts

Still relating to Issue 5, in the article Rothbard wrote on Gandhi and Voluntaryism, he says:
My observation is that many, if not most, Voluntaryists or their fellow-travelers do not arrive at this strategy from a studied conviction that political action is immoral. (Even if it were, non-violent resistance would still be an illusory, dead-end strategy). Instead, they begin with various forms of disillusion or exhaustion with LP activities. At this perhaps temporary moment of weakness, they seize on Voluntaryism for providing them with a cosmic rationale for dropping out of a commitment to the libertarian movement.
Maybe it’s because I found my way to libertarianism in large part from experiences around education, but Rothbard’s use of the phrase “dropping out” really caught my eye. Every time I see those words, I immediately think of THE TEENAGE LIBERATION HANDBOOK By Grace Llewellyn. (This is an excellent book on education and homeschooling/unschooling. It’s unique because it was written for the teenage audience in mind rather than the parents. Highly recommended reading.)

In this book Ms. Llewellyn speaks about the term “dropping-out” and the connotations that come with it. She points out that the term is not very useful, at least for those teenagers who are giving thoughtful consideration about leaving school. The term just loses its meaning when a teen makes a conscious move to something better.

For the individual teenage homeschooler, he is not dropping out of a commitment to education; he’s beginning on the most important journey he can and taking control of his own educational path. And in the end that will do more for the education movement than staying in school.

It’s the same for the individual Voluntaryist. She’s not dropping out of a commitment to the libertarian movement; she’s beginning on the most important journey she can, working on bringing one improved individual to the world. And in the end, this will do more for the libertarian movement than staying in a political party.

Rothbard may be right to some extent in that many people do leave because of burnout, disillusion or exhaustion. But I think he’s wrong if he thinks anyone who finds Voluntaryism is simply using it as a rationale to drop out of a commitment to the movement.

If anything, someone investigating Voluntaryism quickly understands there is hard work involved in one day reaching the goal of a voluntary society. It’s just that most of it needs to be on an individual basis first.

So to use a phrase I first heard from Grace Llewellyn, Voluntaryists who leave politics are not dropping out at all, they are “rising up.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Frankly, Murray Rothbard, I'm Unconvinced

Wow. I don’t even know where to start. Issue 5 consists of only a single article but man, it’s a doozy! It’s written by George Smith and is a response to an article written by Murray Rothbard in his publication, THE LIBERTARIAN FORUM.

In Rothbard’s article, published in the March 1983 issue and titled, “The New Menace of Gandhism,” he goes after the Voluntaryists and denounces their attempt at starting a new movement with new strategies by attacking their interest in studying Gandhi’s methods of non-violence.

After I read Smith’s article, I just had to go and read some of the original piece by Rothbard. Fortunately, the Mises Institute has them all available online as commenter “mudshark” told us in a previous post. (Coincidentally I mentioned as a resource in this week’s newspaper column, and received an email from someone thanking me for sharing that resource so I will consider that as “payment” to show appreciation and support of all they have made available online.)

While looking at the FORUM’S archives, I also found that Wendy published a response in the May-June 1983 issue, Rothbard had another response and even whines that an initial response from Smith was published in yet another publication named UPDATE. This was published by another wing of the party apparently led by Ed Crane and another group Rothbard was not so fond of. Carl even gets into the fray by writing an unpublished “Open Letter to Murray Rothbard which apparently made the rounds. There were even two letters published on the topic in the next FORUM. (Whew. Are you keeping this all straight?)

Apparently it was quite the controversy within libertarian circles for awhile.

The basics of Rothbard’s piece are that he accuses the Voluntaryists of practically worshiping Gandhi. His concern seems to be that they are leading themselves (and others who are investigating Voluntaryist ideas) toward non-violent action to the point of martyrdom. So to stop this, he uses Gandhi’s religious beliefs and personal life inconsistencies to diss the Voluntaryist movement. He wants to paint the Voluntaryists as worshiping Gandhi even to the point of mentioning the c word (cult). In response Smith has this to say:
Rothbard claims that the "nub of Smith's recently formed Voluntaryist movement" is an attempt to bring 'down the State by massive non-violent resistance." No evidence is cited to support this allegation because none exists. The "nub" of The Voluntaryists is twofold: first, to convince libertarian anarchists that electoral politics is an improper and ineffective way to attain anarchist goals; second, to explore various alternative strategies.

Nonviolent resistance is one strategy among many. We believe that libertarians should give it a fair hearing. We should approach it with the same open-mindedness and flexibility that Rothbard has traditionally demanded for his pet strategies. The fate of voluntaryism does not hinge on whether libertarians eventually decide in favor of this tactic. As future articles in this journal will demonstrate, nonviolent resistance should be investigated for its strengths and weaknesses.
Smith claims that Rothbard’s main concern is that the Voluntaryist movement will take people, particularly those of the anarchist view, away from the Libertarian Party. This would greatly affect Rothbard because he was part of the political anarchists in the LP through the Radical Caucus.

It is obvious that Rothbard saw “good” people (meaning political anarchists) leaving the Party and naturally he would be looking for something to use to convince them not to bail. I suppose he even thought he might convince some who had jumped ship already to return. [EDIT 9/19/2010: Originally, I wrote, 'including Carl, Wendy and George' which implies that they were at one time in the Party. I've since been told than none of them were ever actually in the Party, so I've edited that part out.]

All of this is so strange because I feel like it was Rothbard himself that moved me to the thinking needed to get away from party politics. He played a large part in convincing me of the logic and consistency of anarchism.

One of the things Smith says in this article to point out that Rothbard is merely using Gandhi as an easy target to bash the Voluntaryist movement because they are messing up his own plan is his seeming “flip-flop” on Gandhi. Smith tells us of a conversation he had with Rothbard about Gandhi during a 1975 California LP Convention. They were discussing a book, THE HEEL OF ACHILLES which had an essay about Gandhi that focused on his more crazy aspects. Here is how Rothbard reacted, according to Smith:
I vividly recall Murray's reaction. Stating that Gandhi was a "good guy" who was "sound" on British imperialism, Murray emphasized that one's personal life is irrelevant to one's political beliefs and accomplishments. A simple point perhaps, but it sunk in.
Now (in 1983) Rothbard uses the same Gandhi faults as a basis for his views of voluntaryism. Smith spends significant time on this idea of throwing out everything a person does based on inconsistencies in his life. He illustrates how this can be done with anyone by using a favorite historical figure of Rothbard’s, Sam Adams. He proceeds to do the same thing with Adams that Rothbard does to Gandhi. It’s a good read.

This is one of the more interesting aspects of this controversy for me. How do we learn and grow as humans? How do we learn and grow from other humans throughout history? Since we are all have faults and inconsistencies, how could we ever take anything good from anyone in the past if we disregard everything because of inconsistent and/or crazy behavior otherwise? Don’t we have to accept that there will be failings and inconsistencies, yet we move forward because we can study and analyze a person’s life and pull out what seems to be “good” about it?

I think of it as an evolution of sorts. Not of the direct biological kind, but in thought and action. I see the human race as slowly but surely evaluating itself, actions, lives, and beliefs and pulling out the good parts, which sometimes cannot be seen so well without the benefit of time passage and hindsight. Then we build on that, move forward and gradually improve as a whole. And those in the future will do the same with us and our actions.

This is important because I think that’s what the Voluntaryists were exploring at the time by studying Gandhi, his life and his methods of non-violence. Rothbard says they are worshiping the man and everything about him, but I don’t see it. Rothbard says they are heading down the road of martyrdom if they seriously consider non-violence as an action. (He even uses the image of standing in front of a tank, which I found interesting considering the Tianamen square protests had not happened yet.) But I don’t see it.

And of course all three are still with us, so even though I know some civil disobedience is coming up, none of them stood up in front of a tank and sacrificed their life for the cause.

A big part of the Voluntaryist philosophy is improvement of the individual. Educate yourself, improve yourself, become the best person you can be in word and deed. That is not a philosophy that will lead someone to “worship” another human being in total. What it will do is create a person who will seriously study and come to conclusions based on rational thought and consideration of all points necessary.

One more ironic thing about all of this is that as I watch Rothbard try to discount everything about Gandhi due to some of his beliefs is that I almost discounted everything about anarchism and Voluntaryists very early on when I discovered Smith and others were atheists. I almost discounted everything they said because of my irrational and bigoted views at the time on atheists and atheism. But I kept pushing on and found so much that made sense and none of the myths, but that’s a whole other story and it’s time to close this out.

I think you can study a person’s ideas and life and put it all in perspective as you consider how it may work for your own life and goals. You aren’t necessarily worshiping them as Rothbard says.

So, sorry Murray but, as you replied when the Voluntaryists tried to defend their views and actions, I remain unconvinced.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What constitutes membership in the State?

George Smith is back with Part 3 of his essay The Ethics of Voting. In this issue he begins to enter into the moral aspects of being involved with government. Here is a summary of what he’s doing in Part 3:
“I shall now explore how institutional analysis applies specifically to the State and to offices in the State. Then I shall move from institutional analysis considered descriptively to the normative” or moral implications of institutional analysis. To what extent are those individuals who work within an association morally and/or legally responsible for the institutional products of that association? This thorny area is undoubtedly the most complex and controversial aspect of the institutional analysis, yet it must be addressed if the moral implications of electoral voting are to be flushed out. Anarchist theory will never advance beyond a rudimentary level so long as this issue remains unresolved.”
Smith first discusses the institutional purpose of the State. Smith says minarchists maintain that the purpose is the “defense of individual rights” while anarchists think the real purpose is “territorial sovereignty.” Anarchists claim that “defense of individual rights” is just something that became necessary in order to legitimize the true purpose of territorial rule.

For me, this is just simple logic because if I can’t freely opt out of the State’s rule, then my rights are certainly not being protected. It’s impossible to say you are defending individual rights if you take away individual rights to do so. So if the purpose really isn’t territorial rule then I could opt out, just like I can opt out of any other institution if I do not wish to associate with it.

The rest of this third part moves further into the issue of what constitutes membership in the State and how membership promotes and sustains the purpose of the institution, even with no overt aggressive act on the part of the individual member.

If I’m a member of some institution or association, I get certain privileges and powers that those outside of the institution don’t have. Anyone who holds political office gets privileges and powers others don’t have, so they are obviously members of the State.

Unfortunately, this membership gives the office holder the power to fill the territory under his rule with loads of laws that we don’t really need.

Which is kind of how some people use their membership in Sam’s Club – by filling their house with way too much stuff that they don’t really need.

Of course, the politician is in a completely different category. As George says:
Such a person is a dangerous threat to innocent persons everywhere. Not only has he captured a position of immense power, but he also swears an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and accepts payment (i.e., stolen money) for "services rendered." When a person voluntarily seeks and attains invasive power, swears to enforce the rules that maintain his power, and receives a handsome salary to boot, the conclusion is inescapable: this person has become a full-fledged member of the State. He accepts its privileges, pledges his loyalty, and reaps its rewards. The protest of the libertarian office-holder — that he intends to use his power for beneficent ends — is beside the point. His actions speak louder than words. He has joined the "ruling class."
He goes on to discuss the issue of liability again and how political office supports State sovereignty. You can read more about the specifics for yourself but let me close with one more quote from part three:
The guardianship of State sovereignty is the most significant institutional role of high offices. They are designed to preserve and promote that sovereignty; and this purpose is served regardless of who occupies the office, so long as the occupant meets the demands of his job. (See the discussion of the auto worker in Part Two.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

How Far Are You Willing To Go?

I mentioned the short blurb about the Paul Jacob fund in a previous post and now the feature for The Voluntaryist Issue 4 is an interview with him. This interview was conducted by Wendy and published while Jacob was living underground as a fugitive from the FBI.

That sounds so dangerous and sinister doesn’t it? What was his crime, a crime so horrible he had to hide out and leave his family? He refused to register with the Selective Service.

Others also did this, but Jacob did it publicly and also encouraged other to do so. He wanted to make an issue of what he considered an unjust law. He decided to go to war over draft registration, so to speak.

I’m one year older that Jacob. When he served his 5 ½ months in prison, his oldest child was a year old. At the time this interview was published (1983), I was pregnant with my first child. Politics, war and injustice were far from being on my radar and the same can be said of my husband. And even if it was, I certainly would not have wanted him to go to prison at that time in our lives.

Mr. Jacob understands that it’s one thing to be radical in thought and another to be radical in action. This is where I guess I fail. And yet, isn’t there one more step in between thought and action? From my experience, lots of people are radical in thought because many people agree with a lot of what I say, but they won’t or can’t say it out loud. Maybe it’s rationalization but isn’t it at least a step towards action if I just speak my radical thoughts out loud, and also write them down for all to see?

I’m not a civil disobedience type of person. You already know that if you’ve read about my journey. For me, just speaking out can feel pretty “disobedient.” I still cringe slightly when I type the word anarchist because I’ve been trained so well by the powers that be who have worked hard to set it up as something that it’s not.

When I was involved in the Libertarian Party, I organized a couple of tax day protests, where we simply handed out brochures at the local post offices on April 15th. Those experiences were pretty far out for me even though I’m sure most would consider that so bland and tame.

Occasionally we’d hear from someone irritated at us or get into an interesting discussion but most people just smiled and either took our pamphlet or politely declined. However, one year a man came up to me and was very angry. He got right up in my face. I mean right up nose-to-nose and screamed at me.

I’m not really sure why he picked me out, but he really wanted me to know that he served in the armed forces and it was because of what he did that I was able to stand out there and protest. I was really taken by surprise and you probably already guessed that I didn’t say anything back; I just let him say his piece and move on.

I also remember having a discussion about tax protest days when I attended some statewide meeting of LP members. Some thought it was a pretty useless thing to do and others thought it at least garnered some needed attention.

This interview discusses Wendy and Paul’s perception that libertarians of the present are not nearly as likely to engage in real action and civil disobedience as those in the 19th century were. The two of them speculate as to whether libertarian involvement in politics has anything to do with this.

But it’s not just political libertarians. Whether or not libertarians are involved in politics, I see civil disobedience as another big rift in the movement. This is happening in New Hampshire and particularly in the city of Keene, I think. Also Brett Veinotte, who does an excellent podcast called School Sucks, became mired in some controversy when he did a podcast on the subject and this led to an interesting round table discussion on Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio show. All of these people are voluntaryist/anarchist types and yet there are ongoing debates and disagreement about civil disobedience.

Interestingly, as Jacob grew older he seemed to get more and more involved with the political system. He’s still been out there pushing the edge of laws, even very recently, but they are political laws about the political process. This seems kind of strange to me, considering all he said in this interview many years ago.

I would like to close this post with a quote by Jacob from the interview:
“Our [the libertarian movement] goal is not to take over the government but to stop the government from oppressing people, victimizing people, and we should never lose sight of that. It would be much better to never get anyone elected and yet to free one person from prison than to elect every official as a libertarian and leave that one person in prison.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Politics Is Seductive

This post will conclude my thoughts about Issue 3.


In this Voluntaryist editorial “Climbing Off The Bandwagon,” Wendy McElroy explains why there has been somewhat of a focus on the Libertarian Party so far. She tells us that until political anarchists understand that engaging in the political process is counter-productive, there is little use in discussing alternative strategies. Once they have said all they can say to make the case for political anarchists, then they will begin to write more about alternatives.

She tells us that
Politics is seductive. It offers the illusion of quick, easy victory within a respectable vehicle…In contrast, many Voluntaryist strategies, such as education and non-violent resistance, are long-term and demand courage and patience without always offering an objective measure of short-term success [such as vote totals].”
Later in the editorial she adds,
“I do not enjoy tearing people or institutions apart. It is because I understand the necessity of breaking the anarchist fascination with politics that The Voluntaryist editorials will repeat so often the same theme – government cannot bring freedom.”
SIDEBAR: Paul Jacob

In this issue, there is a boxed insert soliciting funds for the Paul Jacob fund. At the time, Mr. Jacob was refusing to register for the draft. He ended up spending 5 ½ months in prison for violating the Selective Services Act. Since then, he’s been very active in the political realm, even serving as the Libertarian Party National Director in 1987-88. Lately, he’s been involved in controversy surrounding ballot initiatives. I guess he decided not to move away from politics.

Carl Watner writes another book review in this issue, part 2 of 3 on Gene Sharp’s books. This review is on the Gene Sharp book titled Gandhi As A Political Strategist: With Esssays on Ethics and Politics.

According to Carl, this book goes into detail about Gandhi’s political strategies. This is even more intriguing since Gandhi never held political office. Gandhi understood that it is the cooperation of the people that makes it possible for governments to have power. If the people withdraw cooperation, the entire system collapses.

He also makes the point that for Gandhi, it’s not about seizing power; it’s about denying power through non-violent non-cooperation. This is apparently where the voluntaryists get the idea that “if one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.”

Whenever I read or hear about Gandhi, in my mind, I have images of the movie that Ben Kingsley starred in. As far as I know, this movie was a decent history of his life (as far as any movie can be), so if you like to watch movies over reading, this movie might be a good way to learn a bit more about the man and his life.


Finally, I noticed at the end of this issue that the Voluntaryists co-sponsored a one-day conference that featured Gene Sharp, Carl Watner and several other speakers on the topic of non-violence.

The conference included all of these speakers, reading material and even lunch for a mere $10! You can’t even get a large Papa John’s pizza these days for that price without a special coupon. Which reminds me, what do you think about cutting off a slice of Papa John’s slogan and turning it into a Voluntaryist slogan focusing on the importance of the means to the end:

Voluntaryism: Better ingredients, better societal change

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Robert Lefevre’s Lesson

Issue 3 begins a new series called Roots of the Movement, which is intended to highlight the more recent history of libertarian events and activism. This first one is called "How to Become a Teacher" by Robert Lefevre. In this article Mr. Lefevre details the process he went through to start the Rampart Freedom School.

If you read this article, you will learn a lot about the formation of this school, as well as about Lefevre himself, even some of his experiences and conclusions of his time spent in the military. (He enlisted in 1942.) This is interesting to learn since I think he’s well-known now as a pacifist.

One point he makes in this article is that his life circumstances gave him the opportunity to have time to read and study. I was fortunate to have time to do this as well, but so many others are too busy trying to make ends meet. Ironically most people don’t have time to even learn enough to understand how inflation is a tax.

Mr. Lefevre was very impressed with the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He made more than one visit to their location in New York.

(This reminds me; sometimes an organization’s acronym can sometimes just be too easy to use. I was at a meeting of local libertarian-minded people recently and mentioned FEE and when I tried to remember what the acronym stood for, I went completely blank. I knew the E’s were Economic and Education. I know, it sounds stupid now. Of course it’s Foundation, but I just kept drawing a blank. The only f-word I could think of was freedom. Well until I got frustrated enough, then I though of another one. I don’t think I said it out loud though.)

Anyway, Lefevre thought that FEE’s influence was just too small and he wanted others to learn what he was learning. He really wanted FEE to start a school, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. To find out the lessons Lefevre learned as he became involved in setting up the school, read his article.

Too bad I didn’t attend this school during my college years. I probably would have learned about Lysander Spooner much, much earlier than I did.

(Photo courtesy of Mises Institute by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who makes up the electoral audience?

This post begins my immersion in Issue 3 of The Voluntaryist. This issue begins with an excellent personal history by Burgess Laughlin, a fellow who was involved in the Libertarian Party from 1979 to 1982. His story is titled “Why I Quit the Libertarian Party.” He’s another person like me who just got the hell out once he realized the futility and inconsistencies involved.

(I found Mr. Laughlin online and he has written a couple of books since publication of this essay. He's also involved in a couple of blogs.)

In his introduction to the Voluntaryist piece, Laughlin mentions reading several authors who made him seriously consider a stateless society even before getting involved in politics. However, he still fell prey to the idea that he needed to “do something” and ended up in the Libertarian Party.

One of the authors he mentions reading early on was Lysander Spooner. My experience was the other way around - I got involved in politics before I heard about Spooner. Thanks to the internet age, at the time I did hear of him, I was able to download and read NO TREASON.

I was completely enthralled. I remember being so surprised that someone was writing this stuff in the 1800s. Why hadn’t I ever heard of these writings? Why didn’t anyone tell me about him? Why had no one else I knew heard of him either? How could a man with writings this interesting, this important and this intriguing be so completely hidden from my view?

This only added to my frustration about our educational system of course.

But back to Mr. Laughlin. In a section where he explains his insights into electoral politics, he talks about the inherent make-up of the audience for a political campaign. He writes:
“Electoral politics is an ineffective educational tool because the people in the electoral audience are most likely to be statists. They pay attention to electoral politics because they think they benefit from government coercion. The people who are disgusted with government in general and electoral politics in particular are unlikely to listen to campaign speeches and ads. Promoting libertarian ideas to most voters is like advertising milk to alcoholics.”
Yeah, and if they even go for the milk, they'll end up adding the government alcohol right back in so they can make White Russians. Sure they taste good, but they don’t solve the problem of the political alcoholic, do they?