Friday, January 28, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Political Action

Hey George Smith is back! We haven’t heard from him since Issue 6 and now in Issue 14, dated February 1985, he writes “An Introduction to Voluntaryist Strategy.”

Based on the second paragraph in this article, I believe the timing of this article directly relates to the 1984 presidential election. The Libertarian Party’s presidential vote totals plummeted from the previous election, so I’m sure the Voluntaryists hoped that this experience would lead libertarians to learn from this and take a closer look at non-political action.

So, Smith takes this opportunity to try and reach political libertarians by applying the theories and insights of free market economics to political action.

If you recall, Smith previously went into painstaking detail to give us an institutional analysis of the state in order to explain Voluntaryist principles. He believes this institutional analysis is vital to understanding why it makes no sense to use political action, because the state is “invasive per se.”

Smith shows us that political libertarians already clearly understand and use institutional analysis when it comes to economics and then makes this point:

"From our theory of the market there emerges a "strategy" of what to do. We respect justice in property titles and leave the market alone. Our theory "predicts" that this strategy will produce optimal results, but it cannot tell us precisely what these results will be. "Optimal," in this context, is a relative term. It means that the results of nonintervention will be better than any other alternative."

George wants us to see that this is the same thought process Voluntaryists use when analyzing the state itself. As a matter of fact, I could change a few words in the above paragraph to demonstrate this:

From our theory of the non-aggression principle there emerges a "strategy" of what to do. We respect peaceful voluntary interactions and leave individuals alone. Our theory "predicts" that this strategy will produce optimal results, but it cannot tell us precisely what these results will be. "Optimal," in this context, is a relative term. It means that the results of nonintervention will be better than any other alternative.

Although George warns that economic theory and strategic theory differ in some ways, there is an important lesson:

When developing "strategy" which involves complex institutions (the market in one case, the State in the other case), libertarians should ground their policy recommendations in theoretical insights concerning the relevant characteristics of the institution(s) involved.

This proposition seems uncontroversial in economics. Why it is ignored by political anarchists when it comes to strategy remains a mystery, at least to me.

It does seem like a mystery to me, but as I wrote this I started to wonder how much it has to do with how political anarchists apply the specific theory of unintended consequences.

See, at some point, all political libertarians came to understand how intervention in the free market creates negative unintended consequences.

Then some go on to consistently apply this same theory across the board and come to understand how government intervention in all aspects of our lives creates negative unintended consequences. They become political anarchists.

But there is one more application of the unintended consequence theory that they seem to ignore at this point, which is to apply this theory directly to their own behavior and actions.

I know that once I did, I reached the same conclusions as when I applied it in the first two instances. I came to understand how my political involvement was only helping to create the unintended consequence of adding legitimacy to the state.

So if political anarchists could just take one more step in the consistent application of the unintended consequence theory and analyze the consequences of their own actions, will they then begin to see the futility and danger in participating in politics?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dormant Seeds of Freedom

The final item I want to refer to from Issue 13 is a letter to the editor by a fellow named David Jacobson. The author of the letter is glad he found The Voluntaryist, glad to see the commitment to non-violence and closes his letter on an optimistic note:

Perhaps, just perhaps, there are many more people such as I, and you, who haven't allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into accepting a watered-down definition of freedom. Perhaps, just perhaps, many others also will reject the sordid notion that freedom is conditional upon the state. Perhaps, just perhaps, the dormant seeds of freedom will yet bloom. Perhaps we can live as human beings after all.

At the time this was published, I was still a product of brainwashing. Yet there was obviously a dormant seed of freedom, of an understanding that we don’t need a state, somewhere in my being.

But at the end of 1984, when this issue was published, my husband and I had a 15 month old and I was also 7 months pregnant with our second. We were busy. Surrounded by spit-up and diapers, there was no time to take a shower, let alone stop long enough to re-consider whether what I had learned about the dangers of life without a state were true or not.

But then again, there I was busy living a daily life without the state, a daily life of anarchy. And it worked. Sure, there was what one might call chaos in our lives, but it was good chaos, it was loving chaos, it was life.

We were perfectly fine. We needed no government authority mandating what diapers to use, when to begin solid foods, or explaining to us that our first born was failing the subject of mobility because instead of crawling, she moved about from a sitting position. (She would straighten her legs, dig her heels against the floor, and then slide her butt up to her heels. Repeating this motion over and over, she could go anywhere.)

Can you imagine what a state-licensed government expert would have done if we had a situation where the state controlled the mobility education of babies? They would have deemed her completely crawling disabled and put her on meds or on some program to try and force her to develop her mobility skills in the manner the state deemed proper.

But living in our state of anarchy, we simply watched with fascination and decided she was a genius because her method had lots of advantages. She could move about easily AND hold objects in her hand at the same time. She could hold two things if she wanted because both hands were free. She was fast too! Pure genius I tell you.

The dormant seed of freedom and the desire for independence is born in all of us. Under the right conditions, it will germinate and bloom.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Roots of Big Love

It was oddly coincidental to read “The Second Relic of Barbarism: The Crusade against Mormon Polygamy, 1862-1890” because my daughter and I have been watching the HBO series Big Love.

This is a fictional story about a Mormon polygamist family, and we just finished with season one. Yeah, it’s an exaggerated soap opera but it does make references to the origins of Mormon polygamy so the background in this article helped me learn more about it.

In this article Carl explains the history of the government’s attack on the Mormons in Utah. Mormon religious practices weren’t really the problem, the problem was that they had a lot of power in the Utah territory and the government wanted the power. As noted in the article:
“The crusade against polygamy was in essence a crusade against Mormondom because the United States government perceived it as a powerful rival and competitor in the Utah territory. There was not enough room for two governments, when at least one of them wished to exercise monopolistic control. Even though only 2% of the Church membership practiced plural marriages during the era, polygamy was used as the major focus of attack. Time and again, authorities within the federal government made it plain that what they were really after was the power of the Mormon Church.”
Those in power merely made good use of the bigotry people had against those who chose to practice polygamy. As is usually the case in matters like this, the hypocrisy of the control freaks reeked. The Mormons caustically (and rightly) pointed out that the objection to polygamy was "not to a man's having more than one woman, but to his calling more than one woman his wife."

The libertarians spoke out against the government’s persecution of the Mormons and added that the state had no business interfering in marriage at all. In 1882 Lysander Spooner wrote an editorial in Liberty, where he said:
"If Congress were really waging an honest war against unchaste men, or even unchaste women, or even religious hypocrites and impostors, they would not need to go to Utah to find them. And the fact that they do go to Utah to find them—passing by hundred of thousands of vicious persons of both sexes at home, and the religious hypocrites that are not supposed to be very scarce anywhere—is the proof of their hypocrisy; and of their design to make political capital for themselves, by currying favor with bigots and hypocrites, rather than to promote chastity on the part of either men or women."
Also in Liberty, Gertrude Kelly (a female individualist anarchist I have heard of for the first time) said the Mormons "have a right to any system of marriage that suits them, that they maintain at their own cost, and that they do not force upon others."

Libertarians also pointed out that government legislation is not the moral way to go about changing people’s minds. Gertrude Kelly again:
"The Christian rushes to the ballot, and, if necessary to the bullet, to force his system down the Mormon's throat."
I like this lady.

You can read the details of the 30 year battle between the Mormons and the government in Issue 13.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go watch what happens to Bill Henrickson and his crew in Season 2!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Government Censoring of Pornography Degrades Women

In Issue13, Wendy McElroy helps us understand Voluntaryist philosophy using a very controversial issue: pornography. This piece, titled “Pornography Peril” is a transcript of Ms. McElroy’s presentation from a 1984 debate held in Madison, Wisconsin, where an anti-pornography ordinance was being proposed.

Her presentation is full of intelligent, clear thinking on an issue that is often discussed only in the emotional realm, which can lead to ignoring basic principles. Wendy makes clear from the outset that this discussion is not about our personal reactions to porn or what pornography may do to promote certain cultural views about women. It’s about using government to censor:
“The question under debate is: at what point are we justified in translating a personal reaction into a legal process which limits the material other people may hear or see? When is censorship justified? My opponent and other members of Women Against Pornography believe censorship is justified whenever pictures or movies debase and humiliate women, especially when those movies or magazines depict violence against women. I believe censorship is never justified. Under any circumstances.”

She also helps clarify the focus by accepting certain viewpoints that come up in all debates concerning pornography, such as how pornography is to be defined and whether there is a direct correlation to other behaviors.

Then, setting up the main point she says:
“So, what has all this assuming and conceding and forgetting left me with? On what grounds can I possibly oppose banning pornography? I oppose such a ban for one reason and one reason alone. Pornography is a voluntary activity.”

(Wendy adds that there certainly are cases where voluntary consent is not given, but points out that those are crimes worthy of restitution and of course laws already exist for those aggressive actions.)

What I find most interesting in this presentation is how she counters the argument that voluntary consent is not really possible because of cultural attitudes regarding women and sex. In other words, the women who participate are in essence coerced by societal pressures.

McElroy contends that this point is absolutely degrading to women because it asserts that women have no ability to work within societal pressures and make independent judgments before acting.

Cultural attitudes and pressures exist in many areas of our lives, not just around sex. So to say that cultural pressure affects a woman’s ability to make a decision to participate in pornography is to say that women are weak, that women are unable to think things through, to come to their own conclusions, to make their own decisions and then accept whatever consequences come with those decisions.

This viewpoint is saying that women need government protection because we are incapable of giving informed consent.

If a woman decides to participate in pornography, whether as a model, or selling it in her store, or buying it, or whatever, she must at least be respected as an individual capable of making her own decisions as she sees fit, for her own life.

The argument that women are damaged by societal pressure and therefore need extra protection, as if we are not strong enough to make our own decisions in these matters is not only ridiculous but dangerous. If women aren’t free to make decisions about their own lives in all areas, then who will decide?

The transcript contains much more, including voluntary actions you can take if you want to change degrading stereotypes of women. I trust that you are capable of reading, understanding and thoughtfully pondering her arguments.

Even if you’re a woman.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cooperation Can Happen Anywhere

In “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,” Carl Watner uses the development of the “live and let live” system that developed in the trenches of WW1 as an example of how cooperation between individuals can happen under all sorts of conditions.

Warring soldiers who were stuck in the trenches figured out that this mutual cooperation increased the chances that everyone would get what the soldiers really wanted, which was to return home. Alive.

Of course their off-scene commanders didn’t think too much of this and they used various schemes to stop this behavior. I’m sure they hated this. How dare these soldiers make their own pacts with their opponents instead of following orders. How embarrassing to see peace breaking out, right in the middle of their war.

Of course war tactics are much different nowadays because many of those doing the damage never even get close to seeing the people they are maiming and killing.

Even so, this example shows what individuals can accomplish, even under the most horrid circumstances, to cooperate with others.

Final note to Issue 12

This issue contains a short piece by H. L. Mencken, written in 1930 called “What I Believe.” He sums up his life philosophy with a string of paragraphs that begin with I believe. This is my favorite:

“I believe in complete freedom of thought and speech, alike for the humblest man and the mightest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent with living in organized society."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interacting With People Who Have Shiny Badges

The article in Issue 12, “You, Your Rights, and the FBI” uses a question and answer format to explain how to deal with the FBI. It is a reprint from another newsletter, The National Sanctuary.

This article focuses on the FBI as an information gathering organization. I don’t know if any of the points and advice given in this article would be different now since 9-11 and the Patriot Act but one basic idea certainly remains the same: it’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer first.

At any rate, we’re all more likely to come into contact with the police rather than the FBI, so I wanted to take this opportunity to pass on this interesting video produced by Flex Your Rights called 10 Rules for Dealing with Police.

I also found this link to a forum held by the Cato Institute which includes the entire video plus discussion.

Also, you may be interested in some sites that are out there working to keep police accountable. Here’s one call Cop Block, which is a “decentralized project supported by a diverse group of individuals united by their shared goals of police accountability, education of individual rights and the dissemination of effective tactics to utilize while filming police.”

And just today I ran into this twitter feed. It is part of The National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP), established in April of 2009, which is a “non-partisan, non-governmental project” devoted to resolving the problem of police misconduct. “The NPMSRP gathers data on police misconduct through reports of misconduct made available through the media and generates statistical and trending information based on those reports.”

Please note that my passing along this information should not be misconstrued that I have any particular axe to grind with police officers. They are in the same category as any other government official as far as I’m concerned. Police are individual humans like the rest of us and should expect to be held accountable as much as anyone else.

Well, okay, to be honest, there is one problem I have with the police. I’m jealous of those shiny badges. I want one too.
(photo from Wikimedia)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is Civil Disobedience an Effective Means of Education?

Issue 12 of the Voluntaryist relays the story of George Meeks, who was charged with civil contempt for not supplying records to the IRS. He said he did not have the records they requested and claimed 5th amendment rights as protection from further questioning.

Meeks was jailed for a couple of months at the end of 1980 and then released on appeal. The government then appealed but that court did not hear the case, saying they already ruled in a similar suit (U.S. v. Rylander). This ruling backed up the government so Meeks’ was jailed again in 1984 under the original contempt order.

(I found a couple of links related to this case from the United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit. Here’s a link from an appeal in April 1981. And I found this link that appears to be the judgment based on Rylander.

After 6 months of imprisonment, his attorney requested a jury trial, but this never happened. At the time this issue was published, Carl thought he was still in jail but in Issue 13, we learn that he was released in early December.

The story about his release is in Issue 13, which explains that it may have had something to do with media attention because he was released soon after being contacted by the television news show "60 minutes."

In the original article Carl explains that he spoke with Meeks a couple of times and also sent him Voluntaryist information. According to Carl, Meeks claimed he was coming closer and closer to a Voluntaryist outlook, particularly in regard to using constitutional arguments as a defense against the state:

"Although George started out defending his position by reference to the U.S. Constitution and limited government, he admitted to me on the phone that he was coming closer and closer to a voluntaryist outlook. The government refers to the 5th Amendment as a privilege and not a right and it treats it as such. A privilege can be revoked at the command of the government, whereas an inherent right cannot be. I think George realizes that people should look more towards their natural rights as individuals and rely on their distrust of governmental power rather than anticipating that laws and constitutions will secure their liberty. It is certain (and history has proven it time and again) that if we allow government to "guarantee" our rights for us, we will most likely end up losing them. Any government that is strong enough to "guarantee" rights is automatically suspect and probably already strong enough to violate them. As Voluntaryists realize, the State is no less an invasive institution whether it is bound by a Constitution or not. Constitutions are window-dressing, nothing more."

As I usually do when I read about someone in this publication, I was interested in what happened to George Meeks after this experience. Did Meeks continue to study the principles of Voluntaryism? Did he move toward non-political action? Here are some links I found that may answer that question though I understand they do not necessarily tell us everything there is to know:

Wow, I have to say that last link was interesting. I’ve never been to a Libertarian Party event where the pledge of allegiance was recited. It makes me wonder if any of these people have since moved to the Tea Party so they could “get something accomplished.”

I don’t mean to be annoying to those involved in politics, I’m just trying to understand how people move towards a non-political viewpoint and also what are effective means to help educate others.

Some believe that civil disobedience and openly fighting the state is an effective way to expose the truth because people can observe the state in action. This is supposed to help them better understand the force involved which makes sense to some extent.

But what lesson can be learned from Meeks’ story? I can’t help but wonder how much the observation of civil disobedience can help to educate others when it appears that an actual experience itself didn’t seem to do it for Meeks when he was the guy who was jailed for not complying.

There must be more to it.