Birthright Citizenship II, Radical Rhetoric, & Bigotry (23m) – Editor’s Break 107

Editor’s Break 107 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: the value in granting birthright citizenship in order to reduce the amount of coercion leveled at people by governments; the challenge in tailoring your rhetoric, written or spoken, for a broader audience; what libertarianism has to say about bigotry, such as racism and sexism; and more. (Apologies for the audio quality.)

Listen to Editor’s Break 107 (23m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Why I Didn’t Vote

November 2018: I read this essay and added commentary for Editor’s Break 110 of the EVC podcast.

The first Tuesday after the first Monday every November is Election Day in the United States. Every election season, many organizations attempt to rally voters to the polls. The “Go vote!” message is everywhere these days. As a principled non-voter, I find it incredibly annoying, but such is life under statism.

People are aghast when they learn that I do not participate in electoral politics and voting. I have a lot to say about political philosophy, for sure, but it does not follow that I should be politically active. I have only ever voted twice since my 18th birthday, the first was during the Bush-Kerry election, in which I voted, quite ignorantly, for John Kerry. The second was during the Obama-McCain election, and I wrote myself in for President. It was a joke, because it is a joke.

How does one become a principled non-voter? It was an evolution that occurred alongside my journey toward voluntaryism. I know plenty of libertarians and voluntaryists that still vote, however, so I don’t believe it’s inevitable that this journey will result as it has for me. So here it is, the step-by-step guide to explain exactly why I didn’t vote this November.

Campaign Promises

My first realization was that campaign promises made by candidates are incredibly difficult to keep. What’s the point in allowing a promise to persuade you toward supporting a candidate if it’s obvious that they are either lying to get votes, or promising what is not theirs to promise. The most a candidate can effectively promise is to not do something, such as voting to raise the level of coercion leveled at society by government. And how many popular candidates are doing that?

Tax Burdens

My second realization was that I have no right as an individual to push for the implementation of a tax increase on my neighbors. Very few Propositions on the ballot are to decrease taxes, but what about voting against tax increases? A defensive measure, to be sure, but keep reading.

Increasing Coercion

My third realization was that I have no right as an individual to push for an increase in the amount of coercion leveled at society by governments. Most Propositions necessarily have this effect, not only those that are concerned with tax levels. Again, voting against? Defensive, but keep reading.

Statistical Value

My fourth realization was that my individual vote is statistically worthless. It is an incredibly rare event for a candidate or issue to be decided on the basis of 1 vote. Probabilities tell us that virtually all elections are decided by no fewer than a few hundred votes. Statistical value is lessened even more when you consider the margin of error and the possibility of voter fraud. Every morning after Election Day I wake up and perform a little thought experiment while viewing the election results: I ask myself, would my vote have changed the outcome in any of these elections? To date, the answer has been a decided NO.

Rational Irrationality

My fifth realization was that, after considering the statistical worthlessness of my vote, spending any amount of time on researching the candidates and issues was irrational. How many people spend more time researching elections than researching buying a house? Arguably, the election is far more important, and the knowledge required to make an informed decision is far more vast, than for buying a house. Yet, our vote does not get us what we want in the same way that buying a house does. The house is certain, the vote is not. As economist Bryan Caplan wrote, it is rational to be ignorant when voting, and irrational to be informed. Therefore, most voters are ignorant on the issues, and their vote is worth as much as mine.

Quiet Dissent

My sixth realization was that elections are a very effective way to give people the feeling that they’ve had their say. As long as people feel like they have some effect in the process, that their “voice” has been heard, they are more likely to shut up about their dissent toward government and its policies. I find the idea of voting as voice to be ridiculous on the bases described above, but also, there are far better alternatives to being heard than voting. I’ve been writing and discussing for ten years and podcasting for five, and in all that time I have affected more people to change their thinking, their lives, and their parenting for the better than I ever did in the election booth. Elections are meant to quiet dissent, and I will not allow my dissent to be silenced.

Criminal Gang

My seventh realization, one that was evolving along the way, was that governments are just better organized criminal gangs. Sure, some election issues to increase coercion can be stopped, and some candidates promise to protect your liberties, but every election to date has had the result of increasing the size and scope of government overall. Libertarian-minded candidates and liberty-protecting issues are simply not popular, and probably never will be. Criminal gangs attract the criminal minded. Elections are allowed by government, and are unlikely to affect their existence in any positive direction. Plus, as George Carlin put it, governments were bought and paid for a long time ago. My vote won’t change that.

Culture and Technology

My eighth realization came when considering the effects that culture and technology have toward the actions that people who call themselves “government” take. Governments don’t make progress in front of culture. Quite the opposite. Culture changes first, and forces government policy to follow. So what’s the point in participating in elections if the candidates and issues are several steps behind culture? Consider also the effect that technology has on forcing governments to change the way they do things, or become obsolete. The very real forces of culture and technology toward combating governments are effective and occur without any regard to elections.

So there you have it: why I didn’t vote on Election Day, and why I never will.

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When Anarchists Get Scared

I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve seen arguing that ideally, we would have a voluntaryist, stateless society, and ideally they would advocate non-aggression, but that things are so scary right now, that they just have to try to empower some authoritarian collectivist, to keep some other authoritarian collectivist out of power.

Imagine how happy the control freaks have to be when they see that: people who know that statism is evil, being scared into enabling and legitimizing it anyway. All the puppet-masters have to do is keep giving the rabble two megalomaniacs to choose from, and even a bunch of people who know better will end up supporting one of them.

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Propping Up State Violence

Classical liberalism was always a cosmopolitan doctrine. It supported the free movement of goods, capital, and people. It recognized states as propagators of destructive collectivism, as oppressors at home and war makers abroad. It sought to chain governments and limit their power and reach.

Its cosmopolitanism was not only preached, but embodied in some of its leading expositors. Two of the twentieth century’s greatest classical liberals, Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, were themselves international migrants. Milton Friedman was born in the USA, but his parents had migrated there from eastern Europe. These icons and their followers recognized that division of labor, specialization according to comparative advantage, and free trade, along with unrestricted migration and capital flows on an international scale, offered the best prospect for the greater prosperity and personal freedom of all the world’s peoples.

Libertarian anarchy, which grew out of classical liberalism and pushed it to its logical conclusion in favor of the complete privatization of economic life and the phasing out of the state, continued for a long time to be as cosmopolitan as its antecedent doctrine. But in recent years some anarchists have been misled by twisted and fantastical constructs to suppose that so long as states persist, they ought to employ their powers to keep migrants out and preserve some sort of imagined national cultural purity. This is a tragic turn, and it is having highly pernicious effects on efforts to oppose the state across the board and ultimately eliminate its evils altogether.

Classical liberalism and libertarian anarchism were never meant to prop up state violence against unoffending people in general, and certainly not against those whose only offense is peacefully crossing a state’s established border. I pray that the recent ideological wrong turn will prove transitory, that the fever will abate, and that all who cherish human freedom will again recognize that it can never be the exclusive property of any tribe, but must always be upheld as the rightful heritage of all human beings.

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Freedom Has Unlimited Potential

Those who clamor for excessive details on how a stateless society would operate have accepted the fallacy that good outcomes require central planning. While we can speculate endlessly about what private entities might arise in the aftermath of the state’s abolition, such speculation has little chance of accurately capturing the diversity and depth of an unbridled free market.

The fundamental evil of statism is coercion and, free of that anchor, billions of ideas and goals will be put to the test in a competitive yet voluntary laboratory. Freedom has unlimited potential! Removing the state from the equation will unleash that potential like never before in human history.

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Train Your Mind Using the Puppy Method

The mind can be trained to do almost anything.

It can be trained, for example, to get used to any situation, like sitting in silence for a long time, or concentrating on a task.

However, usually we’re training our minds to do what we don’t want: be distracted, give in to cravings and urges, complain, avoid discomfort, procrastinate. We do this by rewarding our minds for these behaviors — if we do any of these things, we give the mind something pleasurable or comfortable. That’s exactly what we’d want to do to reinforce these behaviors.

Think about it: you’re not feeling like doing a task, and the ideal behavior would be to open up to the task, see its importance, and stay focused on it. But the behavior we normally do is put it off (procrastinate) and head to our favorite distractions. The distraction becomes its own reward, so this behavior is reinforced.

We do this all day long. Every day.

What if we wanted to train our minds to do something different?

The Superpower of Training the Mind

We can get the mind used to anything:

  • To enjoy eating healthy foods
  • To shun junk food
  • To not need to have alcohol, coffee, sugar, cigarettes, drugs
  • To not need to have video games, Youtube/Netflix, news or blogs, porn or social media
  • To stay present and mindful
  • To turn towards feelings instead of avoiding them
  • To be perfectly OK in discomfort

This then becomes a superpower. We spend so much of our time and energy avoiding things we don’t like, and trying to get things that comfort us. What if we could train ourselves to not need to avoid uncomfortable things, and not need to run to comforts? We’d be gods.

If you go to an uncomfortable social event, instead of needing to avoid, hide, or find a comfort zone … you could just stay in the discomfort and talk to people you don’t know. It wouldn’t be a problem, because you trained your mind to be fine with the discomfort.

If you normally have to have your comforts (coffee, sugary foods, soda, TV, alcohol, pot, cigarettes), you’ll spend a lot of money on them, and in many cases worsen your health and your bank account. You might avoid going places where you can’t get these things, and spend a lot of energy to make sure you could have them every day. But what if you trained your mind to not rely on them for comfort and relaxation? You could slowly get the mind used to not needing these, one at a time, so that it would be free.

It’s possible, using training methods used to train puppies.

The Puppy Training Method

The mind is like a little puppy. It responds to rewards, but needs to be trained a little at a time, until you get it doing what you want it to do consistently.

Now, I’m not saying we can 100% control our minds. Just that we can apply some reinforcement methods to get it to adjust to whatever we’d like, over time.

So let’s look at this puppy training method, and how it can be applied to our minds:

  1. Decide what your target is. If you want the puppy to do a behavior, you have to decide what that behavior is, exactly. The same with the mind: do you want it to focus, to stay in discomfort in social situations, to turn towards feelings, to be present with bodily sensations when you’re stressed, to be compassionate when someone complains? Pick one target at a time.
  2. Define a reward. What does you mind enjoy? If you like having a cup of tea, or watching TED talks on Youtube, or reading Zen Habits blog posts … pick one of those for your defined reward. Try to pick something relatively healthy (don’t pick donuts), that you can give yourself immediately after you do the behavior.
  3. Train yourself in small doses. It’s unrealistic to expect your mind to stay focused all day long. It gets tired. Trying to be perfect all the time is a good way to set up failure. So instead, pick small doses — 10 minutes of meditation once or twice a day, focused work in 20-minute intervals (and only do 3 intervals) with breaks in between, 30 minutes a day of complaint-free time, for example. Once you’ve done this training in small doses, you can expand it slowly, and have confidence that you’re able to do at least small doses. Gradually, your mind will be trained to do more.
  4. Reward yourself when you hit the target. If you do 20 minutes of focused work, give yourself a small reward. For example, you get to look at your favorite social media for 2 minutes after 20 minutes of focused work. I like to drink a certain kind of coconut water after doing yoga. It’s a treat that reinforces the behavior you just did.
  5. But for difficult targets, have intermediate targets. If you want the puppy to do something complicated, you have to figure out an intermediate target. For example, if you want him to go to a certain spot, first reward him for going to the right room, then the right area of the room, then the spot. You can do the same with your mind — if the target is too difficult (a week of meditation), have a smaller target first (10 minutes of meditation) and let yourself slowly move to the target. Reward yourself for the smaller target at first, but then after that gets easy, only reward yourself for hitting the next harder target (20 minutes of meditation).
  6. Don’t punish bad behavior. But don’t reward it either. If you give in and do the negative behavior you don’t want to do (smoke pot, for example), don’t give yourself the reward. But beating yourself up isn’t helpful either. It used to be a common practice to smack the dog with a newspaper, but trainers today believe that doesn’t work as well as positive reinforcement. What do they do instead? Either ignore the bad behavior entirely (seeking to reward behavior that’s at least close to what they’re looking for), or making it clear that the bad behavior is not wanted, with a firm “No” or a firm but gentle hand interrupting the bad behavior. With the mind training, this might look like a simple firm interruption of the bad behavior (“Nope, we don’t want to keep doing that”), and then trying to go do the good behavior, and getting a reward for it. So mostly ignore the bad behavior or be firm that it’s not good, but don’t beat yourself up about it.
  7. Train one behavior at a time. Most people are tempted to try to train everything at once. That’s more of an advanced training, once you’ve trained individual behaviors. For example, if you want to stop watching Youtube, try going half a day without it (rewarding yourself with something else, not Youtube), then after you get good at that, do a full day, then two days at a time, and so on. Then you can do similar training for video games or porn, then social media. But don’t do all of them at once, unless you’ve done them all individually before.

As you can see, this isn’t as simple as just flipping a switch. This kind of training can be messy — you’ll mess up, and it won’t be simple and clear. But if you stick with it, you’ll be amazed at what you can get your puppy of a mind to do.

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