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