Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Even Libertarian History Repeats Itself

Issue 2 of The Voluntaryist is now completed. If they are all this chock-full of interesting items to relate to the present day, I don’t know if I’ll ever get finished with this project. But don’t worry, I am taking time to continue riding my bike.

Issue 2 contains the very first interview published. The interviewee is a person named Dyanne Petersen, who I had never heard of before. Of course in this day and age, it’s easy to find information about someone, particularly if they were out and about even peripherally in the world of politics. I learned she passed away in 2003 and here’s one link on Wendy McElroy’s blog from this year that mentions her, but other than that, you can do your own search to learn more. Or, if anyone reading this blog knew her, please share any stories or thoughts in the comments section.

This interview is titled FROM POLITICS TO VOLUNTARYISM and it sort of recounts her move from the Libertarian Party to anarchist/voluntaryist. In this interview, she referred a couple of times to the 1980 campaign which is when Ed Clark was on the ticket for President. In this year the LP was on the ballot in every state and this campaign still holds the record for having the highest vote total for an LP presidential campaign.

Ms. Petersen publicly resigned in August of that year from a position she held in the California LP which apparently caused a bit of a stir. What I found personally interesting is that she felt the need to just not quietly go away. I did something similar in that I wrote a letter to the party leadership and also put it on the discussion board I mentioned in My Journey. Dyanne and I both thought of the party as an educational vehicle so I guess it makes sense that we would try to go out in a manner that might educate others.

I find it interesting, and kind of sad, that many things she said in her interview are the exact things I said and experienced. This was 20 years later. History repeats.

She talks about how the LP was moving towards vote totals being the measurement of success and how that can automatically dilute the message. She gives two examples of how she thinks Ed Clark evaded questions instead of giving an all-out libertarian answer because he didn’t want to alienate voters. Votes were what mattered, as opposed to sharing the ideas.

Relating this to my experience, I remember being on an email list that was really for Arizona Libertarians and Ernie Hancock wrote something very similar to what she was saying about vote totals. I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but it was right after I had experienced my run for office and it really hit me hard.

This was one of several instances that were rapidly piling up where I suddenly saw the inconsistencies and futility involved in politics. Oddly, I think Ernie has stayed very involved in the LP and I’m not sure why but maybe it’s because of people like me, who might hear some things he says because we are involved and then we can move away easier. Perhaps Ernie will see this and give us his thoughts.

This brings up another issue: do we need the LP in order to bring more people to voluntaryism? Or does it chase more people away from investigating the ideas of freedom? I know from the interview that Ms. Petersen regrets her time in the party, she feels like she wasted a lot of energy on political issues that were not spent in directly communicating libertarian ideas with people, like working for ballot access. Of course the hope was that after that work was done, then lots of educational campaigning would occur, but instead it just moved everyone to using vote totals as the measure, which leads to diluting the message in order to get the votes.

One more item I wanted to point out from this interview is the discussion about other activities and groups outside of the LP. She points out that ex-Party members often want something to be involved in. Obviously when someone gets involved in the party, they are the kind of person who is interested in “doing” something. So I wonder if this is not part of the problem in so far as there is so much to do within politics and campaigning that it keeps people busy and feeling like they are accomplishing something for freedom. And then when you reject the whole institution of government, you’re kind of left with a feeling of “what now?”

I think there is a lot more going on now though. I know there is a lot of action going on in New Hampshire as a result of the Free State Project (but interestingly enough, I think there are still plenty of battles between the anarchists vs. the political libertarians there).

There are also loads of internet sites, podcasts, blogs, etc. that are promoting libertarian/anarchist/voluntarist ideas and, one item in particular that I’ve been seeing but not sure yet how it all relates, is something called agorism.

I guess I better stop this post now because if I keep going I may start repeating myself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

If Only People Would Listen to The Voluntaryists

More on Issue 1 of The Voluntaryist

Editorial: Neither Bullets Nor Ballots

I noticed that in this first issue Wendy McElroy is the editor. I’m not sure how long that lasts but we’ll see as I move through the issues.

In this editorial Wendy lays out the purpose and intent of the publication which is to reject the political process (electoral voting) and focus on non-political strategies. She states:

No one has the right to a position of power over others and that any man who seeks such an office, however honorable his intentions, is seeking to join a criminal band.

I bet when this issue first came out that this must have irritated a lot of folks who were trying to grow the Libertarian Party. Over the years, I’ve heard clever ways to describe the contradiction of using politics to get rid of the State. Someone just did this when commenting on my previous post by saying it’s kind of like drinking to cure alcoholism. Have you heard others? What’s your favorite?

Wendy makes the point that they are getting back to the original ideas of libertarianism, which she says was strongly linked to individualist-anarchism in the 1800s. Read her editorial yourself for more background and information.

One item I found particularly interesting when I read it is when she says:

Political offices ARE the state.

I have that exact line in a letter I wrote to my state’s LP leadership when I decided to leave the party and wanted to explain why. I now wonder if I came up with that on my own or if I somehow absorbed it. I don’t remember how much Voluntaryist information I had actually read before writing this letter.

I’m going to take the stand that I came up with it on my own, mostly because it makes me feel like I might just be a teeny-tiny bit closer to the intellectual ability of Wendy.

Books of Interest

In Issue 1, Carl Watner reviews three books by Gene Sharp, who writes about non-violent action. I am mad at Carl for writing these reviews because now I have even more stuff I want to read and I don't know if I'll ever have time to get back on my bike.

I was very encouraged to read these reviews because Carl describes how Mr. Sharp gives lots of details and examples of how non-violent action helped create major changes in the world. Many of us know about the bigger examples, such as the work of Ghandi, but in these books Mr. Sharp apparently goes into much more historical detail of other examples.

A method mentioned in Carl’s review that I found particularly intriguing was Lysistratic nonaction, which comes from a play where the women stopped war by refusing to have sex with their war-mongering husbands. And apparently there are two historical cases where this actually happened.

I’m glad my husband’s not a war-monger.

I also learned about a World War II resister named Corbett Bishop. I had never heard of him and as a matter of fact it made me realize that I never hear anything about World War II war resistance. As a matter of fact, in the past 10 years or so, there’s been so much glorification of it, especially after the term “greatest generation” started moving through our culture. The greatest generation idea always confused me somewhat because they always make it sound like there was not a draft and everyone just gladly went to fight.


I have one more item to discuss about this issue that hit me.

There is a little box at the bottom of page 5 that says this:

As Voluntaryists we unequivocally condemn the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the criminal acts which resulted. We look to other libertarian organizations, including the Libertarian Party, for similar condemnation of this brutal aggression.

After reading this, I looked it up and found out something very, very interesting in this article about Osama bin Laden’s 2004 videotape. Here’s an excerpt:

He said he was first inspired to attack the United States by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in which towers and buildings in Beirut were destroyed in the siege of the capital.

"While I was looking at these destroyed towers in Lebanon, it sparked in my mind that the tyrant should be punished with the same and that we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would be deterred from killing our children and women," he said.

"God knows that it had not occurred to our mind to attack the towers, but after our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this came to my mind," he said.

Who knows if the guy is BSing or not. All I can think of is wow, and it makes me wonder how history would be different if people listened to the Voluntaryists, not to mention the individualist anarchists that were saying this stuff in the 1800s.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Anarchist Insight

I’ve finished the first issue! I’ve discovered that this publication is not like reading the newspaper. Newspapers give me highly processed and pre-digested information, sugar-coated to make it go down easy, even to the point of telling me what to think. But when reading this publication, I have to really take time to chew on thoughts and ideas and so my brain can digest them and I can mentally process them to a conclusion.

Wow, look at all those eating metaphors. Who knew how much this project would actually mirror Julie and Julia?

This first issue contains a feature article written by George H. Smith called “The Ethics of Voting.” This is noted as part one, so there is more to come. So I guess we can consider this the appetizer.

In this article Mr. Smith wants to speak to the group he calls “political anarchists.” (And yes, he does mention the contradiction.) He uses this article to set up definitions and ideas for a discussion of whether or not voting is ethical according to the ideas that political anarchists hold.

He goes into a lot of detail setting this all up and I am not going to repeat it here. That’s not the intent of this blog. The intent is to share what I found interesting, what hit me, and why. Past that, you can choose to read the article yourself and/or discuss with me the points I bring up here. So to that end, here’s what I found interesting about this article.

* First of all, I was intrigued by the term “political anarchist” because I really never heard that term in the discussions I had over the years. In the groups I participated in, these types of debates were generally labeled as “purist” versus “pragmatist.” Same idea I suppose.

However, it did make me wonder if the anarchistic folks moved to the word purist because anarchist just really made what they were doing there look so much more obvious in its contradictions. I don’t know, but if I had heard the term political anarchist more often, maybe I would have moved through my process faster.

Eh, probably not, I’m a slow learner.

* Secondly, he discusses the idea of vicarious liability and how important it is for all libertarians, anarchistic or not. This is the understanding that people can play an important part in the aggression even when they are not the ones actually performing the aggressive act. You can probably see why he’s pointing this out as an important piece if he’s going to talk about voting and its possible implications.

Finally, what I found most interesting about this article is this:

Voluntaryists are more than libertarians; they are libertarian anarchists. They reject the institution of the state totally, and it is this element that is not contained (explicitly at least) within libertarianism.

This is the anarchist insight, recognizing the institution itself as invasive.

Libertarians in general do not necessarily analyze and reach the conclusion to reject the institution. This was an important point for me to understand because it helps to see how my communications with those in the party changed after I started realizing this to be the case. It was like speaking a different language after a point.

When someone knows something is wrong within an institution but does not reject the institution itself, what they naturally conclude is that the people in charge just aren’t running it “right” and if only the “right” people were in there, it would be okay.

One reason I think I was able to eventually reject the institution is that, over time, I had already done that with schools. I began to understand that real education could never really happen in an institution because they simply could not hand over enough freedom for that to occur.

So perhaps that’s one thing to consider for anyone who is interested in communicating these ideas to people: find the ones who have been harmed by institutions in some way and use that to reach an understanding. Has anyone else though of that and tried it? If so, what happened?

Smith says if an institutional analysis can get us to anarchism, then it can also get one to voluntaryism. I think I see where he is going and am curious to read what he says next in this series.

In other words, I’m hungry for more.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let's Get Started: Genesis of The Voluntaryist

Okay I think I need to begin by explaining the the last several days because it will help you understand how I do things.

After announcing this new project, I had to decide what to do first and here's what I came up with: get the hell out of town for a few days. See, I had to spend some time with my husband since I realized how much work I just set up for myself and I figured I probably won't be seeing him for about, oh, I don't know, maybe 3 or 4 years.

Now since I've returned, I had to write my column for the paper. And then the grass needed cutting. Finally, I ran out of ways to procrastinate so here I am.

In a recent correspondence with Carl, he sent me a little tidbit about the genesis of The Voluntaryist and I wanted to share it with you.

(By the way, for those of you who don't know what genesis means, you need to stop right now and go see that Star Trek movie, the one with the buff Ricardo Montalban sporting a 1980s mullet, which I guess we have to assume comes back sometime in the future. Genesis means the beginning, or origin and in this movie there is a product called the Genesis device that can create an entire new planet when detonated. It is so cool. For anyone reading this who still hasn't found their own personal voluntaryist project let me suggest right now that some of you start to work on developing one of those so we can create a planet for the voluntaryist society.)

Anyway, back to the topic. Here is what Carl sent me as to the origin of The Voluntaryist publication:

Genesis of The Voluntaryist

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Libertarian Party was getting lots of attentions from libertarians. George Smith and Wendy McElroy realized that electoral activity by little ‘l’ libertarians was inconsistent with their ultimate goal of abandoning the State. How could you do away with the State by taking over the reins of power? They had the idea of starting a newsletter and organization to promote non-political ways of agitating against the idea that “society needs a state.”

I met George at a libertarian scholars’ conference and he enlisted me in the program. Our first publication was NEITHER BULLETS NOR BALLOTS, and the first issue of THE VOLUNTARYIST appeared in October 1982. George and Wendy helped edit and publish a number of issues, but they dropped by the wayside after a couple of years. I continued THE VOLUNTARYIST as an outlet for myself and others of like-mind.

Now, I knew that Mr. Smith and Ms. McElroy were involved with this publication because I had read several articles from both of them. I mentioned Mr. Smith's LP Dialogue in my Self-Educated Chicken personal history.

In my internet travels, I've passed through Wendy's site over the last few years and have since corresponded with Wendy after Carl sent my article to her and she posted it on her site. But I do not know much at all about Mr. Smith. I'm sure I will learn more when I actually start reading the issues.

Which I'm going to start doing right now. Well, it is close to lunch so maybe after that. But then I'll start. Really. And then I will return with what I'm sure will be the most profound blog post ever written on that issue. Because it will probably be the first one.

In the meantime, go watch that Star Trek movie and check out the scene where the new planet is created.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Voluntaryist Project

So there I was, out on one of my long weekend bicycle rides in the Indiana countryside with my husband. We are usually riding side-by-side, but occasionally I drift ahead as I get deep in thought about one topic or another. At around 25 miles, I’ve usually solved all of the world’s problems.

This day was different though. This day I was thinking about improving myself.

I’ve been self-identifying as a Voluntaryist for several years now, yet I’m sure I don’t understand the philosophy as well as I’d like. I subscribed to The Voluntaryist publication when I first discovered it existed, but stopped after a few years.

Now I have some time again and want to get back to it, but what I really want to do is read all of them, from the beginning. I knew it was considered the longest running libertarian publication, since 1982, and I’ve been curious as to what is in each issue. I know an anthology has been published, but I wanted to understand it all in context.

I have questions I want to answer. How did the publication develop over time? What was happening in the world as each issue was published? What treasures of thought remain hidden in its pages? How could I kick myself in gear to actually sit down and start reading them and answer these questions?

Next, my mind trailed off to a movie I saw recently called Julie And Julia, where a lady named Julie decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and she blogged about it.

Not being one who is above copying a good idea, I yelled out, “Hey, I could do something like that with The Voluntaryist!” I almost swallowed a bug my mouth was so wide open.

So, at 30 miles, as I routed by bike around some road kill, I hit upon the idea that I could do this as a blog project. I could write about what I’m learning, what other questions come up as I read each issue, etc.

I was really pushing the pedals now and what really motivated me was that, unlike Julie, I could reach Carl. Would he participate, perhaps by giving me his thoughts and perspective, in real time, as I proceed? I contacted Carl and he liked the idea. He said he will participate if time and interest prevails. I’m going to try not to bother him much, but hopefully, we’ll get to hear from him here occasionally.

At 34 miles, when I told my husband about this project, and its comparison to Julie and Julia, he was at first very enthused, mostly because he was really hungry. But then he realized he wasn’t going to get any great meals as a result of my project.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “It sounds like I’m going to have to do all the cooking for a while if you’re going to be so busy.”

He’s probably right. Sorry honey, but I need to feed my mind.