Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maybe I'm Not A Voluntaryist, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maybe I'm Not A Voluntaryist

This is the hardest blog post I’ve written during this project so far. I think I may not be as principled or as dedicated to my principles as I hoped. This realization has been creeping in as I’ve worked on this project but the article that prompted these current feelings is in Issue 31 titled, “I Don’t Want NOTHING from HIM!” written of course by the amazing and principled Carl Watner.

This article is about accepting benefits from the State and uses Social Security as the example. Let’s get the hard part out of the way first – I can see myself accepting Social Security when the time comes. (Of course, it’s a whole other blog post as to whether or not it will even exist when the time does come.)

Anyway, yes I find it very difficult to say I wouldn’t take it and still be honest and truthful. There are reasons, or perhaps we should call them justifications, that I use when I imagine myself accepting it. Many of them are directly addressed by Carl in this article and you will want to read how he answers them.

Social Security is one of those government programs where people have a more clear idea, or yes perhaps delusion, that they actually paid into it and therefore can justify taking some of it back - the idea that it’s perfectly moral to take back property stolen from you.

To answer this, Carl points out, rightly I’d say, that this is not the reality. If we accept that Social Security is not really an investment program, which any libertarian would have to do upon seeing the evidence, then the funds received are not recovery of your stolen property; the government has merely stolen from someone else to “pay you back.”

I must accept this as true. However, if not accepting SS is the correct moral action, then to be consistent wouldn’t we need to constantly analyze where the money from our voluntary trades come from? For example, if I sold a product or performed a service for someone who I know is living on Social Security, I am accepting stolen funds am I not? How is this different?

Am I justifying this so I can pretend I still hold to the principle of non-aggression? I suppose it’s easier to clearly delinate it when you actually get a check from the government. But still, there are times when we all know we are being paid for something with government funds and still accept it.

I also go back to what I said in this post that once the gun is pointed at you, it changes the morality of a situation.

I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to truly live by the principles I say are important to me. If I define a sacrifice as “too much,” I’m not going to do it. I know for a fact I would never go to jail on the principle that taxation is theft by refusing to pay taxes.

And yet, I think I understand the inner pull from those who do. I literally HAD to write this post. I HAD to be honest and tell the truth. I could not be comfortable in my own skin if I didn’t do that.

So what does it mean to say that on the other hand, I can justify taking SS? After all, I know it won’t feel good because I am not ignorant of the truth. But I can still see myself doing so.

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

And yet even that justification doesn’t quite match with some other areas of my life. For example, I’ve decided that I will not hold back when I see things going on locally through government. I’ve decided to point them out, to lay out the truth and not let people ignore those truths. Just this past weekend, I experienced some backlash from telling the truth and it was hard to get through. But after going through it, I’m almost even more dedicated to continue doing so. Even though it could even affect those I care about I know I will still do it because I have to do it.

Yes, that clearly contradicts with the justification I used about SS.

I guess in the end we all draw our lines in different places and then justify those lines. The question that needs answering then is where do those lines originate and what happens to make us move them, in either direction?

(Icon image courtesy of wikimedia)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Return to Voluntary Libraries

Issue 31 of "The Voluntaryist" contains an article by Carl Watner, “Libraries in the Voluntaryist Tradition" and as you can probably already imagine, there were many variations of voluntary libraries in the past.

Religious institutions formed private voluntary libraries. Ben Franklin started a subscription library, The Library Company of Philadelphia. There were specialized libraries formed by various tradesmen groups. Hospitals had libraries and private schools had libraries.

And let’s not forget the individual. After all, even if you own only one book, and loan it to a friend, you’ve just performed the same service that any other library does.

So how did we end up with the government-funded entities we see today?

As Carl explains the history, in part it just sounds like another example of that proverbial frog in boiling water because by the time the idea started, cities were already involved in providing many other services.

As a matter of fact, in Boston, which was the first major city to start a tax-funded library, proponents used the already-existing government schools to justify the idea. Here’s an excerpt from an 1852 report by a library Board of Trustees in Boston:

Although the school and even the college and the university are, as all thoughtful persons are well aware, but the first stages in education, the public makes no provision for carrying on the great work. It imparts with a notable equality of privilege, a knowledge of the elements of learning to all its children, but it affords them no aid in going beyond the elements. It awakens a taste for reading, but it furnishes to the public nothing to read. ...The trustees submit, that all the reasons which exist for furnishing the means of elementary education, at the public expense, apply in an equal degree to the reasonable provision to aid and encourage the acquisition of the knowledge required to complete a preparation for active life... . In this point of view we consider that a large public library is of the utmost importance as the means of completing our system of public education.

I find this ironic because I think the government schools do more to kill the enjoyment of reading than anything else out there.

When compared to government schools, libraries are a much better idea. People can come and go at will; no one is compelled to spend a certain amount of time inside a library. People can choose what they want to read. They can read at their own pace. Users can stop reading a book if they decide they don’t like it, or just read certain parts of it, or read it over and over if they wish, with no demands from any government library employee.

If it wasn’t for the government force used to fund them, libraries would be awesome.

Of course technology is changing everything. I’ve always loved libraries and have spent a lot of time in them but I almost never go anymore because so much is available on the internet. I can now access written works without the need to possess a ‘hard’ copy. The voluntaryist.com website is a perfect example.

It’s interesting that this issue of The Voluntaryist contained this article because libraries have really been on my mind the last couple of weeks. Even though I can access so much information online, I still want to read ‘real’ books, as do many others – but in order to get books I don’t think we need to fill huge buildings with them.

I ran into a really cool idea that to me seems like the wave of the future for those who want to sit down with a book in hand. It’s called the Little Free Library. People are building tiny libraries, mounting them on posts and filling them with books freely available for borrowing.

I love this idea - grass-roots, community-oriented and completely voluntary. I’m part a group of people who are working to grow the idea locally.

How about you? Maybe you want to build one of these babies and put one up in your local neighborhood. I’d love to see these Little Libraries popping up everywhere.

Just think, anyone, with a few pieces of wood and a couple of books, can own and operate his or her very own lending library, perhaps full of books like I Must Speak Out, the compilation of some of the best articles from “The Voluntaryist.” Or Carl’s newest book, Render NOT: The Case Against Taxation.

These little libraries are perfect examples of “libraries in the voluntaryist tradition.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is Fractional Reserve Banking Fraudulent? Part 2

The first post I published pondering fractional reserve banking resulted in a couple of comments and also further discussion with Carl, so I decided to write a part two.

I want to keep the focus on the question of whether or not fractional reserve banking is fraudulent. One commenter, Less Antman, makes the point that it’s not fraudulent if people knowingly enter into voluntary relationships with banks that practice fractional reserve banking. The bank never claims that the note is a warehouse receipt for property, it is merely a promise to pay.

In the original article from the first post, Carl agreed that “fractional reserves do not constitute a breach of contract when and where that practice is specified.” However, Carl has since reconsidered this view and pointed me to Issue 112 for further explanation.

The article he referred to is “Titles in Search of Property: Should Fractional Reserve Banking Come to an End?” Carl explains how his understanding of the issue was further developed after reading a Hans-Herman Hoppe article, “Fiduciary Media” published in 1998 in THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS.

Hoppe goes deeper into the nature and reality of property itself. Here are two excerpts from Hoppe that set up the relationship of bank notes to actual property:

Since, both B [the bank] as well as A [the depositor], count the same quantity of money simultaneously among their own assets, they have in effect conspired to represent themselves in their financial accounts as owning a larger quantity of money than they actually own: that is, they have become financial impostors, [pp. 26-27]... Fractional reserve banking does not increase the quantity of existing property (money or otherwise), nor does it transfer existing property from one party to another. Rather, it involves the production and sale of an increased quantity of titles to an unchanged stock of property (gold); that is, the supply of and the demand for counterfeit money and illegitimate appropriation. [Hoppe, et. al., p. 33]


[F]iduciary media represent new and additional titles to or claims on an existing and unchanged stock of property. ... They represent an additional supply of property titles, while the supply of property has remained constant. It is precisely in this sense that it can be said of fiduciary media that they are created out of thin air. They are property-less titles in search of property. This, in and of itself, constitutes fraud, .... Each issuer and buyer of a fiduciary note (a title to money uncovered by money), regardless of what he may believe, is in fact - objectively - engaged in misrepresentation for the purpose of personal gain. [Hoppe, et. al., p. 22]

Hoppe has framed the issue clearly in terms of property actually existing in reality. Hoppe says "two individuals cannot be the exclusive owner of one and the same thing at the same time." Therefore fractional reserve banking makes claims that contradict reality.

A person can certainly make a claim that something exists, such as Santa Claus, but that doesn’t mean it exists. Someone who says this is denying reality. This is why Hoppe says even a voluntary contract for fractional reserve banking is not legitimate. It makes the claim that a property title to something exists when it does not.

Now, of course (and Carl goes into this in the article) there is the fact that until people actually agree that this is true, the claim does “exist” as far as how people behave. The practice would only end once people understood fractional reserve banking as a fraudulent claim on property (just like we now understand slavery). But the point I’m focusing on here is the idea of whether or not Hoppe’s point is true, thereby making fractional reserve banking fraudulent.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yes, Government Does Get in the Way

Issue 30 of The Voluntaryist was published in February, 1988, and in it Carl reports on a new federal immigration law requiring employers to have a new government form on file for each employee. The form is titled “Employment Eligibility Verification Form” and is known as the I-9.

Oh, the I-9. In my family, this form is known as the infamous I-9.

It’s infamous because it’s a symbol of the government regulation that slowly sucked away my husband’s desire to continue growing his computer company. It just wasn’t worth the continued frustration.

You have probably read my story about life experiences that caused me to become a voluntaryist. Well, my husband, John, has his own experiences, which were running parallel to mine.

See, at the time I began homeschooling our kids, he decided to start his own business. So there we were as a family, basically starting a new life, doing our own thing in every way.

My story shows the wall I hit in dealings with the government immediately, but John’s experience was more like the frog in the boiling water - except that he knew the water was getting hotter and he was slowly being cooked.

As he became more successful, he moved from being home-based, found a site to lease and began hiring employees. He took more risks, had more success and hired more employees.

He worked long hours. I would call him sometimes at 9 p.m. and ask him when he was coming home and he would say the last time he looked at the clock was 6 p.m. He enjoyed his work and was having a great time.

But gradually the government regulations started piling on. Forms to fill out, taxes to pay, and oh, here’s another change in the law that will affect payroll, etc. Eventually the company reached a size where many more regulations kicked in and he was advised to send someone to a special class to make sure all the government regulations were being followed.

This is when he learned he was supposed to file the I-9 forms.

What really teed him off was that he could get fined for not having them on file. Not fined for actually hiring an “illegal,” which is bs in itself, but just for not having the proper form on file.

I clearly remember him coming home and talking about this form. He was so frustrated. He could literally see his productivity go down. He had to work even more hours to keep up with the requirements piling up on him.

Yet he kept pushing on. For a time he still felt like it was worth it. But eventually he just wore out and when he had an offer to sell, he took it. He worked for that company for a while and after a couple more stints in corporate world, he took a break and thought about what he wanted to do and is now back to running his own business again.

But this time it’s much different. He plans to keep this company a one-person business. He periodically turns down work. He does not want to get caught up in the government mess again that comes with hiring employees.

Issue 30 also contains “A Vignette from History: Rose Wilder Lane,” which describes how she changed her life in order to avoid supporting the New Deal. I shared that with a friend who said, “Oh, she ‘went 'Galt,’” When I heard that, I started to realize that my husband has essentially done his own version of “going Galt.”

How many other people are out there like him? How many other people are in a position where they could create jobs but simply won’t do so because the government gets in the way far too much?

I’m not sure I really want to know.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ratifying the Constitution Kicking and Screaming

Do you know people who really revere the Constitution? People who believe most of our current problems are due to not following the Constitution? People who say everything would be fine, if only the country would follow the Constitution?

If so, then you may want to show them Carl’s article In Issue 30 of The Voluntaryist, “To All Patriots and Constitutionalists: Some Critical Considerations on the United States Constitution.”

In this article Carl asks questions and makes several points about the Constitution in an effort to determine whether it actually holds any valid authority.

One of the more interesting tidbits of history I learned is that Carl says Pennsylvania did not have a quorum for a ratifying convention. When I did some searching to find out more about that I discovered that apparently supporters dragged Anti-federalists to the statehouse to get that quorum!

I knew the Constitution was controversial at the time, but I wasn’t aware that it actually came down to such literal knock-down drag-out battles.

It's interesting to hear such reverence about it now, considering how many people must have not been very hot to replace the Articles of Confederation.

Show this to the constitutionalists you know. Perhaps it will start something – I mean in terms of an interesting discussion of course, and not a knock-down drag-out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is Voluntaryism Treasonous?

Carl Watner asks this question in Issue 30, in an article titled “If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It!” and this excerpt shows how he answers the question:

“All of this leads me to ask: Is voluntaryism treasonous? Are voluntaryists guilty of treason and/or sedition? Is THE VOLUNTARYIST a seditious publication?

Undoubtedly the answers to these questions are "Yes," particularly if treason and sedition are viewed in their broadest scope. Although treason in the United States requires overt action (levying war or in adhering to the enemy) against the State - actions which voluntaryists and THE VOLUNTARYIST are clearly not guilty of – we are definitely guilty of attempting (through education and other peaceful, non-violent means) to weaken the power of statism in this country and every other country in the world. It is in this sense that we are treasonous and seditious: we oppose not only specific states, (such as the United States) but the very concept of the nation-state itself. Without the State there would be no compulsory institution to betray. One is not accused of treason when one quits Ford Motor Co. and goes to work for General Motors. But it is generally considered treasonous to renounce one's citizenship (as when one attempts to become a naturalized citizen of a country that your country is at war with) because allegiance to the State was historically deemed perpetual and immutable.”

When I think about the forming of our current nation-state, I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for the “founding fathers” and everyone else living at the time who supported the break from England.

There they were, working so hard to break free from King George and of course if they had lost, many would have likely been killed for treasonous acts. But they won. So what did they do? Well, they created their own nation-state and a document that specifically includes treason as a crime against the new nation-state.

This tells us that the battle was not really about liberty as a general concept; it was only about liberty from the King of England. Yet, we are not taught about it that way. We are told it was indeed about liberty in general – right after we are told to stand up and pledge allegiance to the nation-state.

Maybe they really had no choice. Maybe this was simply a necessary step in the evolution of civilization. After all, they did succeed in moving from the idea of a monarchy as legitimate rule.

But all they accomplished was to create a special class of people who still claim the power to rule over others. As a result they needed a treason clause to maintain and legitimize this aggression. Too bad they couldn’t see the truth that if your idea of a free society necessitates a treason clause, then something is not quite right.

This is why I’m drawn to voluntaryist ideas. Voluntaryism is working to develop community where people are free to voluntarily associate with others; where there isn't much need at all to even discuss the idea of treason. Sure, people may still hold personal allegiances and create contractual relationships but the difference is that everyone would be free from the (forced) rule of others.

So if you believe in the legitimacy of nation-states, then yeah, I guess that is a treasonous idea.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Fractional Reserve Banking Fraudulent?

Issue 29 of The Voluntaryist has a very detailed article titled “Free Banking and Fractional Reserves.” The article is basically a back and forth discussion between Carl Watner and Lawrence H. White over points White makes about fractional reserve banking in an essay titled “Free Banking and the Gold Standard.”

Carl’s intent was to investigate whether or not fractional reserve banking would play a part in a free banking system. If fractional reserve banking is fraudulent, the practice would be excluded in a free market.

One point White and Watner discuss is the idea of freely contracting on the matter. Some consumers may want to negotiate 100% reserves and others would go ahead and accept fractional reserve banking, perhaps as a way of avoiding fees for every service. Watner agrees that explicit contracts, even for fractional banking, would be legitimate but he also discusses what might happen in regards to property ownership if there is no explicit agreement between the parties.

So…much of the discussion centers on who actually owns the funds that are deposited in a bank. Is there such a thing as conditional ownership on funds deposited or held by a bank? Should a bank be able to hold less than 100% in that case? Or does that mean they are taking and using property that is not theirs?

Carl is very concerned that even explicit contracts agreeing to fractional reserves are a problem. Why? Because of the effect on third parties. He quotes Rothbard to explain:

“Commercial banks - that is, fractional reserve banks - create money out of thin air. Essentially they do it in the same ways as counterfeiters. Counterfeiters, too, create money out of thin air by printing something masquerading as money or as a warehouse receipt for money. In this way, they fraudulently extract resources from the public, from the people who have genuinely earned their money. In the same way, fractional reserve banks counterfeit warehouse receipts for money, when they circulate as equivalent to money among the public.”

Therefore, if fractional reserve banking is the same as counterfeiting, then even people who do not consent are affected by inflationary practices of fractional reserve banking.

I am confused in one regard here because it seems to me that in a free banking system, people who did not want to participate in fractional reserve banking could just refuse to use that bank or to trade with others who use that bank. So wouldn’t the problem take care of itself? Or am I missing something here?

Perhaps it's still a problem because banks and people will potentially get so intertwined with each other that it would be impossible to remain uninvolved in fractional banking practices.

I would be very interested in any comments from those of you more knowledgeable than I am on this topic.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Plan to Attain a Voluntary Society

Discussions about a voluntary society often arise from a discussion on a particular issue, for example, education, or maybe Social Security. If the discussion continues long enough, eventually someone asks for a plan - a specific plan to explain in detail how that issue can be solved or accomplished through voluntary interactions.

For many people, a plan validates an idea. They are used to plans because politicians are always offering plans. They don’t understand that the lack of a central plan is a free society’s strength.

The point is to not confine society to a singular plan, but to allow individuals the freedom to create and choose from a wide variety of plans that meet various needs and desires.

This is why I try to focus discussions not on plans but on principles.

In Issue 29, “What is Our Plan?” Carl shares an editorial, written in 1844 by slavery abolitionist Nathaniel Peabody Rogers for a publication titled HERALD OF FREEDOM where the author describes the focus on principles rather than specific plans:

“(T)o be without a plan is the true genius and glory of the anti-slavery enterprise. The mission of that movement is to preach eternal truths, and to bear an everlasting testimony against the giant falsehoods which bewitch and enslave the land. It is no part of its business to map out its minutest course in all time to come, - to furnish a model for all the machinery that will ever be set in motion by the principle it is involving. The plan and the machinery will be easily developed and provided, as soon as the principle is sufficiently aroused in men's hearts to demand the relief of action.”

During the closing of Libertopia 2011, Stefan Molyneux gave an interesting demonstration of what it would be like for someone offering a plan back in the days of slavery in answer to the question, “But who will pick the cotton?” At 13:44 in the video, you can see how ridiculous a real plan would sound to those living at the time:

The abolitionists knew it was not about providing a plan for who will pick the cotton, the point was the principle that slavery is wrong.

So, right now it’s important to spread the principles that provide the foundation for a voluntary society using any and all peaceful means available. Then, as society begins to understand, accept and universally apply these principles, specific (and varied) plans will follow.

Here’s another excerpt from Carl’s editorial section from Issue 29, “What are we for? – What Do We Believe” that lends some basic ideas worthy of passing along to others:

“THE VOLUNTARYIST is seldom, if ever, concerned with personalities; but we are concerned with ideas. Our interest is in the enduring aspects of libertarianism. Among these ideas we would include the concept that taxation is theft; that the State is an inherently invasive institution, a coercive monopoly, that war is the health of the State; that power corrupts (especially State power); that there is no service demanded on the free market that cannot be provided by market methods; and that the delineation and implementation of property rights are the solution to many of our social and economic ills. Nor to be overlooked is our insistence on the congruence of means and ends; that it is means which determine ends, and not the end which justifies the means.”

The absence of a singular confining plan is the entire point of a voluntary society, so rather than trying to come up with complicated plans to fit all needs, perhaps we should stick to the simpler task of clarifying basic principles.

Don’t be fooled though. Just because it’s simpler, doesn’t mean it’s easier.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Are You Always Responsible For Your Actions?

I have another question to pose and this one is a doozy, at least it is for me. It’s one of those morality questions that can tie your brain into knots.

This comes from reading the article "A Moral Riddle? in Issue 28" You can go to the article to read the situation posed there, but here’s the dilemma in general terms: If another person forces you to commit an immoral act, are you responsible for that act?

In the article Carl basically says yes, you are responsible:

“Based on the voluntaryist conception of "freedom is self control," each person alone is always responsible for the actions he or she takes, even if threatened by some outside force.”

After laying out the dilemma and his thoughts Carl then shares a series of exchanges he had with Fred Foldvary, who disagreed with Carl.

As I read those exchanges, I found myself coming down on the side of Mr. Foldvary. One point Carl makes that was particularly bothersome for me was this:

“In some instances, when pressed by violence, men ought to surrender their lives, rather than submit to acts of turpitude or ignominy for the sake of prolonging their existence. It is not a question of when we will die, for we shall all die sooner or later. The question is how we deport ourselves while we are here. To engage in murder of innocents is never right, even if we ourselves get murdered in the process of resisting.”
Of course I do not think killing an innocent person is ever right, but then again, I also would not go out and intentionally kill an innocent person. The point is that someone else would be forcing me to do so. I may or may not do it, but if I do, I don’t think I should be held responsible, I think the person who forced me would be responsible.

That’s also not to say that I would not suffer from extreme guilt and shame if I did perform the act. I could even see where those feeling could be so horrible that I might even decide to take my own life, but that would not be because I thought I was responsible, it would simply be that I could not live with what I was forced to do.

That’s different. I think. Isn't it?

Also, maybe there are reasons to do the act in order to remain alive that would be more than just saving my own life. For example, let’s say my children were still young. I could see myself performing the act so that I could remain alive because I think my kids would be better off with me alive than with me dead. Of course I could also make the argument that if I died in such a heroic manner, then my children would benefit somehow from knowing what I did.

But this is really such a back and forth game isn’t it?

In many ways, I think morality as a concept ceases to exist when another human being is forcing me to do something that is morally reprehensible. In those instances, I’m really not able to behave as a moral agent at all am I? I’m merely being used as a tool, a weapon for someone else to commit the immoral act. I am no more responsible at that point than an inanimate object, like a gun or knife would be.

I might choose to do things after the fact to try as best I could (if possible) to correct what the person made me do, but that still doesn’t mean I am responsible. It would just mean that what the person made me do was something I consider to be wrong and if I can’t make them correct it, then I may choose to try and correct the wrong that the other person did.

I don’t see how I can be responsible if I’m not free to act. Okay, yes it’s true that I am always free to choose to die in such a situation. But I would not be facing death were it not for the aggression of that other person.

I can see that in many ways, it’s a no win situation. If I do the act, then most certainly my life would never be the same and if I choose to die instead, then, well, I’m just dead. It’s simply a lose-lose proposition.

So to answer the question posed in my headline, “Are you responsible for your actions?” I would say yes and I would also say under the dilemma posed here that if I did do whatever it was the person was forcing me to do would not truly be “my” action. It would be his.

Now, please excuse me, I’m going to go untie the knots out of my brain.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Are You An Extremist?

How did you react when you read the headline to this post? Does it make you feel automatically defensive? That’s what it does to me. Even though I can’t be sure I even know what the term means yet.

I react this way because the term extremist is most often used in a derogatory manner and is meant to shut up an opponent or to get people to stop listening to what she is saying. This is ironic because the person doing the labeling is actually engaging in extremist behavior.

The article in Issue 27, “What is Political Extremism?,” includes a list of 16 points that characterize extremism according to the author Laird Wilcox. It is timely to the present day because I hear so many people applying the term to others, most often to people in the “Tea Party” movement. Are they extremists and if so, are they any more extreme than any other political movement?

The author understands that the first job to be done on an article such as this is to define the term extremism:

& Wang, New York, 1982) defines "extremism" as: "A vague term, which can mean:
1. Taking a political idea to its limits, regardless of unfortunate repercussions, impracticalities, arguments and feelings to the contrary, and with the intention not only to confront, but also to eliminate opposition.
2. Intolerance towards all views other than one's own.
3. Adoption of means to political ends which show disregard for the life, liberty, and human rights of others."

Wilcox goes on to discuss other ways people use and understand the term but the main thrust of his article is to discuss extremism in terms of style, or the communication of one’s message, and not the content of the message.

The critical examination of how we communicate is a worthwhile activity. As the author notes, we can all fall into habits that may not be the most effective way to get our points across. He adds, though, that true extremists constantly behave in this manner.

So in regards to the style characteristics, extremism can be faulty and you may want to read the article to see if you do anything listed as extremist behavior.

But what about extremism in terms of guiding principles? Certainly any Voluntaryist can be defined as extreme because there are clear principles one tries to follow and there is little if any room for compromise. Is that “bad?”

I don’t think so. I think anytime someone tries to live by clear principles, as long as they can be backed up by reason and logic and can be applied universally, it’s a good thing.

So, I ask again, are you an extremist?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Continuing Push For Freedom

I thoroughly enjoyed reading an article in Issue 26 by Butler Shaffer titled “Constitutions: No Authority.” This article was originally published in the Libertarian Party NEWS in 1986.

Shaffer shares an experience he had during a conference where he was speaking about the Constitution and its ability to protect human liberty. Shaffer believes that no constitution can guarantee freedoms because it’s impossible to hand over power and then have the ability to limit that power.

In describing what happened at the conference, I saw that his fellow participant reacted to his views in a manner that I think many of us have experienced before: if you challenge and criticize America’s government, then you must be equating our lack of freedom to the lack of freedom in other, harsher governments around the world.

You’ve probably heard the argument this way: “If you think it’s so bad here, why don’t you just go live in (insert any nation-state that is harsher than ours, preferably one that is making the news).”

Shaffer makes an excellent point that people such as this conference participant struggle with criticism of the U.S. government because they believe government is a necessary evil and the best you can do with such a belief is focus on which government is the lesser evil. Therefore, all that is left to say when people start criticizing even the “lesser evil” is to continue to compare it to worse alternatives, “greater evils.”

This paragraph in his piece is particularly awesome as Shaffer addresses the accusation that criticism of our form of government places it on equal footing with harsher governments:

“Of course America is a freer nation than the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, or Albania; of course I would rather live in America than any of these other tyrannical regimes; and of course I am more likely to prevail in a politically-motivated trial against me in America than in the Soviet Union. What does this obvious fact have to do with our understanding of what it means to be free? Even if the United States is the freest society in which to live today, ought that to relieve us of the task of increasing our liberties, of discovering how to abandon the political institutions—including our constitutional form of government —that restrict our liberty? Even if we have come further than other nations along on the road to a truly free society ought we to stop along the way and content ourselves with making favorable comparisons with those whose journeys have taken them along the paths to tyranny and oppression? It we can learn how to live without politics, without nation-states, without wars, without even the slightest restriction upon any of us, ought we to give up such a pursuit simply because others have chosen to remain locked in chains?”

I love that. For people who think we live in the freest nation on the planet, I would like to see a continuing open-mindedness to keep pushing and questioning in the effort to gain even more freedom. The people who founded the United States did not have it all figured out and we need to keep pushing on, critically analyzing the results of their actions and not stop because we may happen to compare more favorably than those in other parts of the world.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Mystique of Government

The feature article in Issue 26 of The Voluntaryist, written by Murray Rothbard, is an excerpt from an introduction to a reprinting of Etienne Boetie’s The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. (PDF link to the book on mises.org..)

The Politics of Obedience is considered to be one of the first books to note that coercive power cannot really be sustained without the consent of the people so all people need to do is withdraw that consent.

As Rothbard explains:

“La Boetie’s celebrated and creatively original call for civil disobedience, for mass non-violent resistance as a method for the overthrow of tyranny, stems directly from the above two premises: the fact that all rule rests on the consent of the subject masses, and the great value of natural liberty. For if tyranny really rests on mass consent, then the obvious means for its overthrow is simply by mass withdrawal of that consent. The weight of tyranny would quickly and suddenly collapse under such a non-violent revolution.”

This sounds like it should be so simple and easy and yet, it’s obviously not. After all, La Boetie wrote his thoughts in the 1500s and look where we are today. So why is it so hard?

One reason, Boetie points out, is that there are always a considerable number of people who benefit, directly or indirectly, no matter how tyrannical the rule.

But I think a second reason may be more important. People are not just dropped into society as full-fledged adults, we grow up inside them; we are trained throughout childhood to accept the situation. Our ability and desire to question authority is gradually and successfully shut down.

This is why I don’t think the problem can be defined so much as consent, but rather indoctrination. We have all sorts of ideas presented to us as absolute truths and there is rarely any opportunity to question authority or critically analyze these truth statements.

Rothbard thinks Boetie’s book helps modern libertarians to see that educating people should not just be focused on government “errors’ or inefficiencies, but we should also be pointing out who is benefiting from the state. In particular, pointing out those who benefit by pushing government propaganda.

I would agree with Rothbard on education but maybe it would be more clear if we said re-education. There is arguably more to unlearn than there is to learn.

The other strategy we get from Boetie is withdrawing consent by mass non-violent civil disobedience. I don’t understand how that happens though. A certain percentage of people have to be equally disillusioned at the exact same time, and also willing to act in a non-violent manner. That’s a lot to line up at a specific moment in time. Rothbard gives an example of a city in Connecticut where residents rejected the city budget 3 times, ending in a tax cut. But is this really withdrawing consent?

He’s also optimistic that in the post Watergate world, (his piece was written in 1975) more people are rebelling against the “whole, carefully nurtured mystique of government.”

I don’t know what he thought was happening at the time but right now we’ve been experiencing a good bit of mass discontent, and the only thing that has happened, on a mass level anyway, is the tea party movement, not a group I’d consider to be against the mystique of government, just against the current version of government.

So far, mass discontent seems to always focus on varying specifics of government, not on government itself. I don’t see this changing as long as we continue to pass along ideas and traditions to the young while stifling difficult questions.

When society stops indoctrinating the young to believe in the mystique of government, maybe one day a mass withdrawal of consent will actually occur.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Section on Voluntaryist.com

Back in June, I wrote a post about Carl Watner's desire to collect stories from fellow voluntaryists describing their individual paths to liberty.

The response was large enough for Carl to create a dedicated page to the topic which he's titled "How I Became A Voluntaryist." A couple of the stories are from past issues of The Voluntaryist and many of them are new.

If you click on the link, you will see the stories of some people you've probably heard about in some way, or maybe someone you know personally. You'll also see stories and snippets from people you may not know. I found all of them to be interesting.

I think this can be a great resource to share. Who knows, maybe a reader will relate or understand the ideas of voluntaryism in a way that didn't occur to him or her before reading the real-life personal experience of another individual.

So feel free to spread the link around to those you think may be interested. A big thank you from Carl and I to all of you who participated. And for those who haven't, it's never too late.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Property On My Mind

I clearly remember one of my “Oh, now I get it!” moments when learning more about libertarian ideas. It was when I read Murray Rothbard’s take on controversies surrounding burning and other kinds of flag "desecration." In his essay, The Flag Flap, Rothbard put the controversy and conflict into terms of property rights. If it’s your flag, then it’s yours to do as you wish. So simple!

I can’t tell you how much this helped to simplify and clarify issues and conflicts at the time. Well yeah, I thought, if we say people can own stuff, then we can’t also tell them how they should use their stuff. I don’t want them telling me. I shouldn’t tell them.

I even referred to this essay in one of my columns back in 2006.

It’s always amazing and fun to grasp an insight like I did when I read his piece.

So when I began to read Carl’s article in Issue 25, “Beyond the First Amendment,” and realized he was framing freedom of the press in terms of property rights, rather than words on a piece of paper (constitution and bill of rights), I knew I would like his explanation.

Carl points out that even though Americans think the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, there have been many times when it has been ignored:

“In 1798, seven years after the First Amendment's ratification, the Alien and Sedition Laws mandated punishment for printed or oral publications that promoted resistance to the federal government. The idea of postal censorship originated in 1835, when Southern lawmakers attempted to forbid the mailing of abolitionist newspapers into the South. During the Civil War certain newspaper offices in Missouri, Chicago and New York City were actually seized by northern troops and issues of papers suppressed. After the United States entered World War I, another Sedition Act was passed with the result that the government more widely interfered with the press than at any other time in American history.”

As Rothbard did with the flag issue, Carl simplifies freedom of the press by putting it in terms of property rights:

“Freedom of the press is simply a subset of the right of property, of the right of the creator to "express" himself by creating the product of his or her choice. The right of the creator is the right of the manufacturer, advertiser, book author, newspaper publisher, or any other productive person. Each is expressing him or her self without violating the rights of another property owner. Each creator's and productive person's right is just as important as the next. Therefore, to single out freedom of the press for special treatment is to obfuscate the basis upon which that particular freedom is based.

Viewing freedom of the press as a total property right allows it to accommodate itself to technological advances in the expression of opinion. The endless debates as to whether and how the First Amendment applies to radio and television would become instantly clear if property rights were respected in those spectrums. If broadcast frequencies were privately owned, rather than being operated under government license, then it would be apparent that each frequency owner and station owner would have the right to express whatever opinions he or she wished. The government would not be able to censor content or demand a certain amount of public programming time.”

Carl originally wrote this for an essay contest on the First Amendment sponsored by Phillip Morris Magazine and he explains how a government ban on cigarette advertising is an example of the property right violation.

(At the time, Congress was considering the Health Protection Act of 1986, which was intended to ban all cigarette advertising. I found a link to videos of the hearings here.)

It’s interesting that cigarettes are used as an example because that’s another area (smoking bans in restaurants/bars, etc.) where I (and many others) have tried to really focus on property rights as the issue.

But it’s been difficult to get people to accept the issue as one of property rights, many people now want to frame it as a health issue, as if people have a “right” to force business owners to ban smoking so they are “free” to patronize and work wherever they “choose.”

It’s amazing to me sometimes how people can twist issues around like that. But that’s exactly what you’d expect to happen if there is no focus and clarity on the principle of basic property rights.

If we can’t get this principle foremost in people’s minds, I’m afraid we’re going to be singing a sad song of loss like Ray Charles and it will be called “Property on my Mind,”

(Image Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Learning From Those Who Came Before

The feature article in Issue 25 has quite a long title, “Thinkers and Groups of Individuals Who Have Contributed Significant Ideas or Major Written Materials To the Radical Libertarian Tradition.”

This list, prepared by Carl is about, well, the title says what it’s about so I won’t repeat it. :)

I have of course heard of many of these individuals by now, but some of the people mentioned were new to me. And although the names of a few were not new, Carl included information about their contribution that I was unaware of before.

For example, I had heard of Bartolome De Las Casas. I could have told you he lived around the time of Columbus but that’s it. But Carl mentions that he and a fellow I don’t remember every hearing of at all, Francisco De Vitoria “elucidated a proprietary theory of justice by which they denounced the violent invasion and conquest of the New World and supported the rights of the native inhabitants.”

Gee, I don't remember hearing anything about this particular rights argument while I was in a United States government school.

Another person mentioned in Carl’s list was a John Lilburne (1614-1657). In Carl’s remarks, I noticed he was known as “Freeborn John” and this caught my eye because I had just recently come across that same name in a recent article I saw online that was written by Wendy McElroy. I’m glad people like Wendy are out there referring to people from the past who did hard work and/or went through truly trying personal times and helped grow libertarian ideas and philosophy.

Then in a paragraph about John Locke, who I know of already of course, there is the name of William Molyneux. The reason that caught my eye is simply because the last name is the same as that of Stefan Molyneux, a moral philosopher who currently resides in Canada and has been literally pouring out podcasts, videos, books, etc. on his site Freedomain Radio and in my view is one person I would say is currently contributing significantly to the “radical libertarian tradition.” I wonder if they are related. I guess they are.

The reason Carl mentions William Molyneux is because he was a friend of Locke and “insisted on a literal interpretation of Locke’s ideas on consent of the governed and proprietary justice.”

Carl quotes Molyneux, “To tax me without consent, is little better, if at all, than downright robbing me.” Whether they are related or not, I can say that Stefan and William both agree that taxation is theft!

Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) is a fellow whose name I’ve heard before but I didn’t know prior to reading this article that he was “the first economist (1849) to suggest that all legitimate services provided by the monopolistic State could be performed by competitive protection agencies on the free market.”

I was surprised it’s been that long ago that someone actually started thinking about competitive protection agencies. But then again, I’ve been surprised that a lot of ideas I’ve run into since embarking on my libertarian educational path are actually ideas that have been presented to society a long time ago.

I think we can learn from the past and from those who came before us. But we have to actually be informed that these thinkers, writers and interesting people in the past even existed.

So spread the word.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

If You Want Rules You Can Have Rules

Many people have a hard time imagining the idea of a voluntary society because they worry that it means there would be a lack of rules which would lead to a lack of order, or chaos. They think that rules would not exist if coercive governments did not exist.

Yet we already constantly live by rules in our daily voluntary interactions. These rules work because people who do not want to abide by those rules are free to opt out.

In Issue 24 this point is made is an article by Joseph Dejan titled “Open Systems vs. Closed Systems,” discussing the differences between voluntary and coercive entities. Open systems are voluntary in nature and closes systems are coercive.

The author divides open systems into three categories:

“Three natural open systems exist that derive from man's nature, not requiring coercion or force. They are based on biological, economical and aesthetic necessities. They are: the family, business and voluntary associations (clubs, fraternities, etc.). Man by nature needs a mate to reproduce. The result of this system is a family relationship. Laws need not to be passed to compel people to organize business, anymore than for the creation of families. Voluntary associations are also open systems to organize human energy based on sharing human values. They depend on voluntary choice to join and freedom to withdraw.”

He then makes the point that within each of these categories you can find various types and degrees of rules whose purpose is to create order. Different groups will have different rules generally guided by the people in the group and if someone decides they no longer want to accept the rules, they can opt out.

Then he takes it one step further:

“It is interesting to underscore that any open system is not only characterized by its voluntary nature, but by the limitation to the application of the rules. A family does not pass rules for other families in their neighborhood. One business does not seek to force another business to follow the rules established for itself. The charter and by-laws of the Science-Fiction Club are not binding on the members of the Chess Club. The rules in all open systems follow the lines of property-ownership and control.”

So if you want rules you can have them. Just don’t push them on to those in other groups.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Individuals Pay Taxes, Not Corporations

I have one more item I want to mention from Issue 23. It’s called “Voluntary Musings: A Column of Iconoclasms” written by Charles Curley. One reason I wanted to mention this piece is that I just really got a kick out of the tone of the article. Curley writes in a sarcastic manner and inserts cutting humor which I found to be entertaining.

This column reports on a mix of items of interest to Charles in 1986 such as not showing “proper” respect to the flag, The Meese Report, The Challenge Disaster and what he refers to as Bonzonomics, a reference to President Reagan’s tax policies.

As Curley explains Reagan’s manipulation of the income tax, and a corresponding increase in the corporation tax, he notes that the lowering of individual tax rates will certainly get people all excited because they can “see” their tax bill go down.

But Curley points out that a tax on corporations is merely a way to hide the taxes individuals pay. Corporations are not some entity separated by individuals. Corporations are made up of individuals and he explains how this will only shift the tax in ways not easily seen:

“The taxes won't be paid in the form of money shelled out directly by the individual. Instead, the shareholder will see smaller dividends than otherwise, or a lower capital value on his or her assets. The employees may see a lower pay, but this is not likely.
Far more likely is that the employee won't see profits invested in new products to sell later on, profits invested in new capital equipment to make the employee more productive or profits invested in new company infrastructure to make the venture as a whole more productive.

No, the employee and shareholder won't see any of this. And what one doesn’t see taken away one doesn’t miss. Just as the purpose of income tax withholding was to make the payment of income taxes less painful, so also the real "reform" of this tax bill is to shift the tax burden of the federal government to make it less apparent, and so less painful. And once again the American people are engaged in an anatomical feat as they swallow this nonsense hook, line and form 1040.

But you'll be happy to know that Parliament has recently repealed the tea tax on the North American colonies.”

What I hate most about manipulation of tax policy is how politicians use it to put people into groups and classes which creates and “us” and “them” and enemy imagery among neighbors. There are “evil” corporations who don’t pay enough, there are “evil rich” people (anyone who makes more money than you do) who don’t pay their “fair share,” etc.

One other point Curley makes in his column that never occurred to me was about the economic effect of the income tax. He says at the time the income tax was being proposed, the very wealthy really just faked their resistance because an income tax isn’t really about the rich paying more because if you already have wealth, it’s not income. It’s real effect is on those less fortunate who work hard to accumulate new wealth.

I wondered if Mr. Curley was still around writing so I did a google search and found him. Gotta love the internet. He occasionally writes for a freedom-minded organization in Wyoming, The Wyoming Liberty Group.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paper Is Not Gold

I hit a jackpot of sorts as I prepared this blog post for the article in Issue 23 titled “Hard Money” in the Voluntaryist Tradition because my related research led me to a couple of future issues of The Voluntaryist.

This article discusses the history of coined money as a medium of exchange in the United States. Carl explains how entrepreneurs came in to supply the market for coinage just as they do for any other product or service that is in demand.

Of course gold was the main metal used to create the coins and I learned that private gold coinage began during a gold rush in Georgia and North Carolina in 1828. (I didn’t even know there was a gold rush in those states, did you?)

Then the story moves to California after gold was discovered there in 1849. The use of coins there is quite a story. Since California wasn’t a state yet, there was no settled government which meant it was even more of an opportunity for someone to fill the market demand for a medium of exchange so people could conduct business.

California seemed to be doing just fine with this until the Civil War. The U. S. government issued paper money and California had to now figure out how to deal with this new situation. These new “greenbacks” had no gold backing so it makes sense that Californians would have little use for them. A lot of people had no interest in “greenbacks,” they liked their gold.

As a matter of fact, the tax collector of San Francisco even refused to accept them as payment!

In addition, many people did not want to be in a situation where they had contractual relationships built on payment in gold and end up receiving paper money, so the state passed the Specific Contract Law which basically said payment had to be made in the form stated in the contract.

I know I always recommend reading the articles for yourself but this one is of particular importance to Carl as he concludes the piece:

“Given the demise of both private and government gold coinage, it is difficult to imagine how commodity money will once again assert its dominance in market exchanges. Yet there is a natural law at work which assures us that paper is not gold, despite all the statist protestations to the contrary. Both voluntaryists and "hard money” advocates need to be aware of the monetary history related in this article, not only is the moral case for private coinage laid out, but its very existence just over a century ago proves that such a system was functional and practical.”

Now, to get back to what I said at the beginning about hitting the jackpot, as soon as I started reading this article, I immediately thought of the Liberty Dollar. I knew practically nothing about it specifically, only that people in libertarian circles were upset at how the government came in and shut them down and I also was aware that their offices were in Evansville Indiana, a mere two hours from where I currently live.

So as I was reading a bit on the Liberty Dollar, I discovered that Carl was never very enthused about it. He wrote about his concerns in Issue 110, one being that they used the term dollar, which Carl says is a statist term, “a government unit of accounting.”

This then led me to Issue 65 where Carl wrote about a bad experience with another private coinage firm, Gold Standard Corporation, which was accepted as payment for The Voluntaryist subscriptions up to that point.

Carl’s remarks on both the Liberty Dollar and Gold Standard Corporation reference the questionable character and actions of people inside those businesses. Carl warns us that “free market rogues can defraud you just as bad as government ones” so you should always be careful and skeptical.

This is true of course but if they were indeed fraudulent in some way, at least both of those businesses do not exist anymore. The Federal Reserve, government minting and printing however, still remains.

One last point I need to bring up on this topic is bitcoin. I have looked into bitcoin. I have watched videos on bitcoin. I have read articles on bitcoin. But I don’t get it.

Since my husband is in computers, when I saw people working with bitcoin at Porcfest, I had someone explain it to him in the hopes I can understand it better. He seemed to understand it better, but I still don’t. I am completely confused about it.

I have noticed a lot of excitement in libertarian/anarchist circles around bitcoin and I have seen several skeptical views about it as well. I don’t know what you think but I guess the smartest thing for me to do, since I don’t get it is to just stand back and see what happens.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

So Says Thomas Szasz

Voluntaryist Issue 22 contains an article called, “The Psychiatric Will,” that introduces fascinating theories and ideas about mental illness that I have never heard previously.

I had heard of Thomas Szasz before in passing, but did not really know much about him at all. Just reading the Wikipedia entry about his views gives me many new things to think about in regards to society’s views on mental illness as a “disease.”

Szasz does not believe in mental “disease,” and he says it is a myth and a metaphor which has (and I presume still does) caused a lot of damage in the past. As I understand it, he says the disease concept developed at least partly because of a desire to control the behavior of others that some found to be undesirable or uncomfortable.

Two historical examples that helped me understand what he means are “hysteria” as a mental problem for women who were not behaving in the way men wanted them to and homosexuality, again as a mental disease for not behaving in the way some in society wanted people to behave.

I’m not sure how I feel about mental “illness’ and “disease” but I do wonder how our continuing efforts to learn about the brain will affect Szasz’ theories.

Szasz has written many books and articles so you can access plenty of information if you want dig deeper into his views but let’s discuss the purpose of this particular article. In this piece Szasz is proposing an idea intended to address the conflict that results from involuntary hospitalization and treatment due to a diagnosis of mental disease.

He wants to respect both the “psychiatric protectionists,” individuals who believe mental illness exists and fear consequences and problems as a result of psychosis and the “psychiatric voluntarists,” who don’t necessarily agree with current psychiatric premises and practices and do not want to see forced hospitalization and compulsory treatment.

Here’s how Szasz describes the two opposing viewpoints:

Psychiatric protectionists
“Many people (and virtually all psychiatrists and other mental health experts) fear the danger of a "nervous breakdown or psychotic illness." These persons believe that mental illness exists, that it is like any other illness, " that it is amenable to modern psychiatric treatment, and that the effectiveness and legitimacy of such treatment are independent of the patient's consent to it. Accordingly, such persons seek protection from life-threatening mental illness and support the use of involuntary psychiatric interventions."

Psychiatric voluntarists:
“On the other hand, some people (including a few psychiatrists and other mental health experts) fear the literal danger of psychiatry more than the metaphoric danger of psychosis. Some of these persons also believe that mental illness does not exist and that psychiatric coercions are tortures rather than treatments. Accordingly, such persons seek protection from the powers of psychiatry and advocate the abolition of involuntary psychiatric interventions.”

Szasz’ solution to this conflict is the creation of a Psychiatric Will, similar to traditional wills and living wills. So to protect the desires of the individual who wishes to prepare for a possible future inability to state his or her desires concerning the possibility of psychiatric problems, the competent individual can state their wishes and desires in writing, which would avoid conflict and indecision of those left to deal with the situation.

Szasz believes individuals have the right to determine their possible future treatment of “mental disease,” just as they do for physical disease and should not be coerced into any treatment.

Of course we can see that individuals wouldn’t necessarily even consider such a possibility. I certainly didn’t before reading this article. So Szasz takes this one step further by saying that society should accept that any individual who does not specifically say he or she WANTS psychiatric coercion in the case of mental problems, would automatically be assumed to prefer liberty over psychiatric coercion.

I really like how Szasz worked to develop an idea that respects everyone, no matter where they stand on the issue of mental illness:

“The use of psychiatric wills might thus put an end to the dispute about involuntary psychiatric interventions. Earnestly applied, such a policy should satisfy the demands of both psychiatric protectionists and psychiatric voluntarists. Surely, the psychiatric protectionist could not, in good faith, object to being frustrated in their therapeutic efforts by persons competent to make binding decisions about their future —specifically, decisions to prohibit personally authorized psychiatric assistance. Nor could the psychiatric abolitionists object, in good faith, to being frustrated in their libertarian efforts by persons competent to make binding decisions about their future—specifically, to authorize, under certain circumstances, their own temporary (or not-so-temporary) psychiatric enslavement.”

As usual, the article itself goes into much more depth that I do here, so if you are interested, read the entire piece.

I think it just might blow your mind, but in a good way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How Would (Insert Issue Here) Work in the Free Market?

The last item I want to mention from Issue 20 is a short piece titled "Meeting Practical Objections to the Free Market." Everyone who wants to move away from government coercion eventually gets asked questions about how ___________ (name your issue) would work in a free society. This article by Carl points out how helpful it is to respond by asking the person how he or she thinks it could work.

I can think of many reasons why this is a good idea, one big one being that asking questions gets me to just shut up and listen.

But I really like this because it puts both people in the conversation on the same team, working together instead of trying to refute the other person's points.

What could likely end up as another dead-end argument now has the potential to turn around into a discussion where both parties end up brainstorming together on possible ideas. And society is not going to change until we start working together to formulate possible alternatives to using government coercion.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robert LeFevre: Truth-Seeker

(Holy Moly, it's been almost a month since I've written a post for this blog. I've been busy with various other projects and I've also been traveling. My husband and I went to New Hampshire, partly to attend the Porcfest Freedom Festival. We really didn't do the Porcfest thing right though, we stayed at Rogers Campground Motel for one night and though we did get to attend a few activities, we did not really "feel" the experience. The setup is more tailored to campers. Also the weather was horrible during the time we were there. I was glad to meet a few people I had only interacted with online, so that was cool. Anyway I'm back and will be posting more often.)

In Issue 20, dated July 1986, we learn that Robert LeFevre died in May. I've written about him several times already as I've moved through the issues because had a big influence on the libertarian movement. (Here's one I wrote last September.)

Interestingly, LeFevre died while on a return trip home after attending Carl's wedding to his wife Julie.

Carl considered him one of his closest friends and LeFevre even asked Carl to write his biography. He gave Carl a 2000 page manuscript which Carl pared down. LeFevre was able to comment on the first 3 drafts of the project before he passed away. Carl did end up publishing the biography which is titled Truth Is Not A Halfway Place: The Story of a Freedom Philosopher.

I found a review of the book on FEE website. It's not particularly flattering but it is interesting and the reviewer also knew LeFevre personally, though mostly as a student of his from what I can gather. One interesting tidbit I discovered when reading this review was that LeFevre ran for Congress and lost in the Republican Primary to Richard Nixon! What might be different today had he beaten Nixon in that race?

Carl shares highlights of LeFevre's life in this issue and both the review mentioned above and Carl's article mention LeFevre's deep involvement in a religious movement known as "I AM" which is described in both writings as a cult. I found this news somewhat disturbing and yet I know that it is often the total result of all of our life experiences that make us who we are in the end. Carl notes that there was a good message from this group: the understanding that each individual controls himself.

In his article, Carl also shares two paragraphs that he read at a memorial service, which includes the following:

"Bob was a truth-seeker, one of those rare people one meets, oerhaps a few in a lifetime. Part of his greatness was his ability to stand alone intellectually; another was his consistency. He insisted on thinking ideas through to their conclusions. If there was a choice between being popular and holding to the truth, he always chose the truth. He knew that truth is not a half-way place."

July 14, 2011 update: I received this additional information from a reader:
"Dear Debbie,

Perhaps you were not aware that Bob also published an autobiography of his life. I have a copy. It is much more extensive and detailed than Carl's version, and for that reason I found it more interesting. It is called "A Way To Be Free" and consists of two volumes. He also published a summary of his philosophy called "The Fundamentals of Liberty" and left behind a set of video tapes of his last presentation of the lectures he delivered at the Freedom School in Colorado. Bob had worked for a traveling company of actors during his youth and had obtained training as an actor, and I think this helped make him a good speaker. He also was involved with real estate in San Francisco for a time. He had quite a colorful life.

Lewis S. Coleman"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Voluntaryists, What’s Your Story?

As readers of this blog already know, I wrote an essay describing my personal path to libertarianism and then more specifically to voluntaryism called A Self-Educated Chicken.

Now Carl Watner has recently completed the first part of his own personal path to libertarianism. He was specifically drawn to write down his story after reading Walter Block’s I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians (2010). Although Carl highly recommends this book, he does say this:

“Mildly irked by the absence of any significant number of voluntaryists, and pleased by the opportunity to discover what environmental and/or hereditary factors have influenced others, I determined to write down my own story of how I became a libertarian.”

Carl wants you to do the same. How did you become a libertarian? When did you start identifying more specifically as a voluntaryist?

Maybe you experienced what politics is like early on, like Carl did when he served as his 9th grade class president for the 1962-63 school year and swore to never hold elected office again.

Maybe you accidentally found something interesting, like Carl did when he flipped through his father’s Wall Street Journal and read a 1963 editorial about a guy by the name of Ludwig von Mises.

Maybe someone gave you an interesting book to read, like Carl’s mother did when she gave him a copy of Atlas Shrugged in the summer of 1963.

So this is a call out to all voluntaryists out there. What’s your story?

Carl would like to compile as many stories as he can gather of voluntaryists telling the story of their individual paths to liberty.

Your story doesn’t have to be long. Just a few paragraphs will do if that’s all you want to write. (Of course you are free to write more if you want.)

So, come on, please take a minute to share your story so we can all discover the various ways individuals have reached the conclusion that humanity is best served when our interactions are through voluntary means rather than force.

Email your stories to Carl here: voluntaryist (@) windstream.net.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Voluntaryist Issue 19: Miscellaneous Mutterings

Up to now, I think I have taken nearly every item in each issue of The Voluntaryist and written a post exclusively for that item. However now that summer is here and I’m well into my bicycle riding stupor days again, I’ve realized at the rate I’m going, I’ll never get this project done if I continue in this manner. Particularly since Carl continues to churn out issues as I go!

I started last August and am now on Issue 19. If I get finished with Issue 20 by this August that’s 20 issues a year and at that rate I’ll be doing this for 7 and ½ years. And that’s only counting what’s been published so far. I am enjoying this project but I’m not sure I want to do it for 7 more years.

So from now on, I may just pick one item to post about separately and then post another entry that consists of the other items in an issue. I guess that means I’ll pick the one that interested me the most, or hits me in particular in some way.

At any rate, I hope to be moving at a faster pace through the issues. Below is a compilation of comments on the rest of the items in Issue 19.

The Value of Institutions

In Issue 19 Carl Watner reviews a book by Butler Shaffer, Calculated Chaos, Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.

Butler Shaffer is a law professor at Southwestern Law School and before reading this issue of The Voluntaryist, I had already read many articles he penned on Lewrockwell.com. I clearly remember, after reading only one or two, that his viewpoint resonated with me so much that I clicked the archive button to see all of his writings.

And in this review Carl mentions that Professor Shaffer was an instructor in the Freedom School, which we’ve discussed here before. No wonder I found his writings so intriguing and interesting. (Sometimes I feel like I’m putting together a puzzle of people promoting a voluntary society.)

But back to Carl’s review of Shaffer’s book. This book is about institutions and their effect on human interaction. Apparently, Shaffer is no fan of institutions in general. Carl is somewhat neutral on the value of institutions and as you might expect, the important consideration for Carl is whether or not the institution is of a voluntary nature. In the end Carl recommends the book and leaves it for each reader to decide whether or not even voluntary institutions are valuable.

Coffee Communism?

Issue 19 reprints an article that was published in 1986 in The Wall Street Journal. “Who Makes the Coffee in Your Office?” was written by Jane S. Shaw and she describes what happened in an office where she worked after the company decided to supply free coffee to the employees.

Microfiche: Lost In Technology?

This issue contains an article, “A Modest Revolutionary Proposal: John Zube and Microfiche,” where the benefits of microfiche are touted as a way to store and disseminate information. Although I believe microfiche is still being used as a way to store data, I wonder how useful it will be now that pages can be directly scanned right onto a computer. This article does contain some interesting points on how it is getting easier and easier to spread information and ideas, which we all hope will one day lead to an improved society, one that understand voluntary interactions are the best means of human interaction.

L. Neil Smith’s “A New Covenant”

Finally this issue contains a document that libertarian science fiction writer L. Neil Smith sent to Carl. It’s titled “A New Covenant,” and seems to be Smith’s attempt to write a document of libertarian principles.

Unfortunately in 2010 this document became part of a strange controversy when The Shire Society, a group of people in New Hampshire’s freedom movement used this document as a basis for creating their own covenant. It led to Smith accusing them of stealing his property which led to the issue of copyright and intellectual property rights. To see a link-filled history of this controversy, go to this link at mises.org.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Political Legitimacy: The Appearance of Goodness

Issue 19 of The Voluntaryist, dated June 1986, begins with the feature article “Legitimacy and Elections.” This piece, written by Theodore J. Lowi, a professor at Cornell University, was originally published in The Baltimore Sun.

The current event trigger for this article was Ferdinand Marcos’ struggle to maintain his power in the Philippines. He desperately needed legitimacy. But what does legitimacy mean? Here’s what Mr. Lowi has to say about it:

“First of all, legitimacy is not mere popularity, although popularity helps. Legitimacy is not mere acceptance; acceptance is an outcome of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not the mere absence of disorder, although the presence of disorder can be taken as an indication of illegitimacy. And legitimacy is not the same as goodness or virtue, but that does point us in the right direction: Legitimacy is the next best thing to being good or virtuous. Legitimacy is the appearance of goodness.

In government, legitimacy is the establishment among the people of a sense of consistency between government actions and some higher principles that the people already accept. Because appearing to be good is easier to accomplish than being good, we tend to speak of legitimacy rather than of goodness in government.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea of goodness in relation to legitimacy and voting and it does help explain beliefs surrounding the idea of voting. People who vote are considered “good.” They are “good” people, performing their “civic duty” by this form of participation in government which of course means that the government they vote for must also be "good." No one who votes could ever think of the government as something "bad."

Many don’t want felons, the “bad” people, to be able to vote. This makes sense because that would dilute the appearance of the goodness of it all.

However, there have been moves in states to change this and give felons the right to vote. Why do you think government officials are willing to do this? Certainly it means more people available to bribe in order to get more votes in general for any individual candidate, but could it also be the need to keep the voting numbers up in order to keep up the appearance of legitimacy?

Then we have more "bad" people, the nonvoters. They are very troublesome to those who want to maintain our government’s legitimacy which is why we see “get out the vote” campaigns. Presenting the message that it doesn’t matter who you vote for just as long as you vote is a clear attempt to maintain legitimacy. (There are many people who say this who don’t really think too much about it though, they are just being the “good” citizen and parroting the message.)

There is one voting option that I don’t think the rulers would ever go for though, even if it creates more voters and that is a “none of the above” option. That would just careen too close to the cliff of losing legitimacy. I’m sure it would scare the bejeezus out of them to have a “none of the above” option after doing a strong get out the vote campaign.

Of course the push to get nonvoters to vote doesn't work on everyone so government supporters still have to figure out what to say about them so they are automatically considered to be apathetic. Apathy is an important characteristic to attach to these folks because it implies that they are willing to accept any of the candidates and this gets us right back to legitimacy.

This is why I think it’s important for those who don’t vote for principled reasons to say so. I will no longer voluntarily trudge down to the voting booth because I don’t want to legitimize a system that depends on the acceptance of the initiation of force upon my neighbors.

To me, that’s just not a “good” thing to do at all.