Politics is LARPing

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Many have reached the conclusion that the state and its political processes amount to nothing more, in reality, than an organized criminal gang. The oft-repeated cry against anarchism that, without government, ruling gangs would battle for power until one controlled everything, is rendered uniquely ironic by this realization. Congratulations! The state itself is the criminal gang that took over. The very penultimate fear you expressed as being the result of the absence of the state is… the state!

What is it, however, that obscures this reality from most people’s realization? Like any ruling gang that has accomplished total rule, the state can not simply operate by crude tactics that smaller criminal gangs use. Governments have met their need to convince entire populations of their validity with a very effective public relations scheme.

Unlike a street gang which is incredibly exclusive (of necessity) to participation, modern governments have adapted to the reality of their situation by preserving (and refining) a unique version of LARPing.

For those unfamiliar with the vernacular, “Larpers” are those who participate in Live-Action Role Playing. They are the nerdy people who dress up like they’re going to a renaissance fair and go out into the woods to do battle based on a system of damage point with assumed characters. By assuming this shared system of combat rules, and donning their character roles, they create a fantasy world within which they spend huge amounts of time and which becomes very important to them.

I certainly have no desire to poke fun at Larping. I have my own nerdy pursuits, which include the electronic variations of such “role-playing” games. The Larpers’ unique tendency to bring classic role-playing games out of the digital realm and act them out in reality has earned them a place of “nerdiness” even among nerds, but it is growing in popularity. This video trailer for the film “Knights of Badassdom” provides an entertaining glimpse into the world of LARPing.

It is this same desire to assume fictional roles and immerse oneself in an arena of exclusive rules and knowledge that the state has come to depend upon, and to which it appeals. After all, the state itself is nothing more that a giant fiction that provides roles for certain individuals (government) to assume when taking actions. It provides a framework of complex rules and rituals by which one can become absorbed, and the application of which obscure obvious morality surrounding individual actions, such as violence. Participation is also encouraged by the availability of jobs, contracts and by the generally accepted notion that one’s obsession in this political fiction is a “noble duty.” Thus the political hobbyists reinforce their obsession with a healthy derision for all of those who share no such desire to be involved. Wikipedia’s entry on LARPs provides a unique insight that, in my estimation, is as good a description of politics itself as I could ever write:

“While most LARPs maintain a clear distinction between the real world and the fictional setting, pervasive LARPs mingle fiction with modern reality in a fashion similar to alternate reality games. Bystanders who are unaware that a game is taking place may be treated as part of the fictional setting.”

As a completely, and proudly, apathetic bystander to the political fiction we see being acted out around us my message to the political junkies is this: Do the world a favor and get a copy of “Grand Theft Auto V” to act out your violent fantasies, or a good role playing game so you can learn the complexities and rules of that system and have a different time-consuming hobby. After all, video games are a lot more entertaining, exciting and immersive than boring city council meetings and political debates! Wouldn’t you rather go kill legions of digitally-rendered dragons and orcs than pound a bunch of lawn signs into people’s yards? If that isn’t convincing enough, please realize your role-playing game called politics is killing us… literally.

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The State is an Illusion, Ignore It

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Why should we ignore the government? Because ignoring is the proper way to avoid perpetuating a perception. As we have identified in earlier columns, the power of the state ultimately lies in a mere perception. A passage I read recently in George R. R. Martin’s popular “A Song of Ice and Fire” series illustrates this very well:

“If it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father?”

“Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords.”

“Then these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they? Whence came their swords? Why do they obey?”

Varys smiled. “Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or . . . another?”

Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my headache worse?”

Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”

“So power is a mummer’s trick?”

“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”

My point here is not that we should ignore any aspect of reality, or act based on an unrealistic assessment of potential dangers. My point is that we need to be devoted and stubborn about ignoring what does not, in fact, exist… the contradictory conceptual umbrella under which all “government” action is taken. This conceptual characterization which is applied by most people to what are really just individual actions, invokes the application of a moral double standard based on nothing more than a widespread fictional conception.

Another very illustrative illustration of this is in the movie “Labyrinth” with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. Jennifer Connelly’s character gets sucked into a trap of trying to navigate a labyrinth to recover her baby brother from the Goblin King by midnight, otherwise the baby would belong to him forever. In the end, she realizes that all she needed to do was to say “you have no power over me” and he didn’t. His power was all an illusion, and lost all viability once she no longer acknowledged it. This is a perfect analogy to our “relationship” with the state. We give it viability, credibility and ultimately operating power by the very presumption of the validity we convey in our efforts such as voting and political activism.

What is the answer then? One brilliant gem from Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, the application of which it seems even she failed to fully comprehend, is a piece of strategic advice given by Francisco D’Anconia to Hank Rearden;

“If you want to defeat any kind of vicious fraud—comply with it literally, adding nothing of your own to disguise its nature.”

Since this battle ultimately is about a perception, we can be most effective by participating in the battle for or against that perception, instead of taking steps that presume its validity in the hopes of reducing the acts of violence it facilities.

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NCAA Football and the Attack on Self-Ownership

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Normally my column is devoted to deeper philosophy and general principles, rather than commentary on news and current events. Every so often, however, an issue in the news comes up which is so illustrative of the philosophical ideas I am articulating in an area of my own personal interest, that it presents an irresistible opportunity to apply these ideas.

Over the past year or so the controversy over the restrictions and practices of collegiate football players, and the NCAA’s regulations preventing them from profiting from their role as highly-visible “student-athletes” has grown to a steady chorus of regular arguments among sports commentators and sports talk radio call-in segments.

The controversy began to grow when legendary coach Steve Spurrier raised the issue in the 2012 spring meetings of the South Eastern Conference, suggesting that players should get some sort of pay for their efforts. Though his proposals were modest, suggesting stipends of $3,500 – $4,000 per year, they have served to raise the larger issue and brought into question the core principle of whether a player competing at such a high level of athletic performance and profitable entertainment should be entitled to benefit monetarily from their efforts.

More recently, star Texas A&M quarterback, and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has come under suspicion of soliciting cash payments in exchange for autographs. This is yet another example of the NCAA and our larger culture’s attack on the application of a basic principle: the idea that a player should be able to profit from the value created by his own abilities and reputation.

Spurrier’s exact terminology when questioned by reporters is very illustrative of the deeper problem:

“We as coaches believe they’re entitled to a little more than room, books, board and tuition,” Spurrier said. “Again, we as coaches would be willing to pay it if they were to approve it to where our guys could get approximately three-, four-thousand bucks a year. It wouldn’t be that much, but enough to allow them to live like normal student-athletes. We think they need more and deserve more. It’s as simple as that.” (Edward Aschoff, ESPN.com)

What this statement seems to accept as a presumption, is that the argument for players being paid must be need-based. Instead of accepting the anti-profit presumption inherent to such an argument, the second part of Spurrier’s statement should be asserted and examined.

They deserve more, it’s as simple as that. Or at least they, like any of the rest of us does, deserve to choose to sell their efforts as a player to a buyer whose willingness to compensate them monetarily is not restrained by regulations and misguided altruistic notions. It’s not that they “deserve” it because of their need, but because they are creating value for which millions of people pay, and from which universities make millions in revenue every year.

Right now, players choose to make this exchange, to varying degrees, based merely on a promise of compensation with education in areas other than athletics, and the potential for a future career as a professional. This is because the NCAA functions in cooperation with National Football League regulations to operate essentially as a monopoly. As Robert Barro pointed out in his 2005 list of most effective monopolies in the US, the NCAA is uniquely effective at maintaining their monopoly because of the cultural presumptions and moral stigma they utilize toward doing so.

“The NCAA is impressive partly because its limitations on scholarships and other payments to athletes boost the profitability of college sports programs. But even more impressive is the NCAA’s ability to maintain the moral high ground. …the athletic association has managed to convince most people that the evildoers are the schools that violate the rules by attempting to pay athletes rather than the cartel enforcers who keep the student-athletes from getting paid.”

They provide the only sanctioned and accessible path to a career as a professional football player, and thus distort the terms of the exchange any college football player is making in return for his efforts.

The NCAA system, and the outdated “student-athlete” tradition is attempting to preserve, requires players to participate in what is (to varying degrees based on the individual player) often a farce of pretending to be a “student athlete” playing the sport on the side while primarily being devoted to a full schedule of University academics. Many of these athletes excel at academics, and this is to be expected because they tend to be the type of individuals who push themselves for excellence in everything that they do. However, for many players this is an annoyance and a diversion from their focus on the career they would like, and are actively pursuing.

They are the ones taking the risk of injuries to their bodies, and perfecting their craft with intense work and focus to reach the amazing levels of ability for which we pay to enjoy to the tune of billions per year. It is a deep and fundamental injustice that they should be the only participants in that industry not entitled to bargain for monetary compensation.

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False Burdens of Voluntaryism: The Utopian Presumption

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

In this week’s column I’d like to address the criticism that anarchism (voluntaryism) implies or requires a Utopian or overly optimistic view of man’s nature and tendencies.

To an extent, this is a variation of the fallacy we laid to rest last week… the utilitarian burden of anarchism. It presupposes an overall utilitarian net analysis, and calculation of collective “good” as abstracted apart from the “good” for any specific individual (the only determination of “good” which can really be held as operative and assessable in any given situation).

This variation holds that because anarchism must be presupposing such a net analysis, and that overall conditions would be an improved or perfect society of individuals governing each other without harming one another, that anarchism thus fails in light of any demonstration of humans behaving coercively or harmfully to one another. This false burden should be rejected, instead of accepted in a line of discussion that might be intended to demonstrate the many ways in which people do in fact cooperate peacefully.

What is Anarchism?

We have to remember what anarchism is, at it’s core. It isn’t all of the leftist baggage that got tacked on to anarchism through a couple of centuries of its being extolled primarily by anti-property socialist anarchists. It isn’t a managerial counter-plan for all of society to be plugged in and switched on via already-existing, and a presumptively-operative apparatus for rule. In its strictest, definitive sense, anarchism is not a systematic philosophy, but a singular conclusion about government. It is nothing more, nor less, than the conclusion that the state is morally invalid and that every instance of its operation therefore warrants reduction. That conclusion has been reached from a variety of ethical foundations, that are often completely contradictory. The anarchism for which I argue, and anarcho-capitalism and voluntaryism as I understand them, contend this on the basis of the non-aggression principle. Therefore anarchism in this context means nothing more than the idea that using aggression against rights to accomplish something is wrong, and thus government must, for moral reasons, be “off the table” as an option for accomplishing anything.

Anarchism as Non-Utopianism

Part of the “Utopian” criticism comes from a failure in understanding what a “stateless society” would be, and what is being asserted as attainable at the societal level by an anarchist. Anarchism isn’t the idea that the total absence of aggressive force is possible, it’s the idea that institutionalizing it and legitimizing it for a select few (government) is wrong. When people engage therein, they should face the same risk of reprisals as any non-governmental individual would for doing so.

Anarchism is properly seen as the least Utopian of all approaches to the state. This is because it recognizes the true nature of the state as being merely a group of those same flawed humans whose nature is supposedly so bad that we must control them with the state. This idea that the people labeled “government” immediately shed those flaws, or somehow become limited by the pieces of paper which pretend to grant them their power merely by virtue of that label or capability, is itself a Utopian presumption. It is also one that runs counter to all historical evidence, since history demonstrates fully that humans empowered as government don’t obey the written limits of their power, and that they tend toward greater abuses of power when thus empowered.

Anarchism does not depend on the contention that people are good by nature. If people are bad, that’s all the more reason for them NOT to be governing other people. After all, government is just people, but people with a specific duty and who think they’re obligated to do things that they would never deem moral without such a title.

Anarchism, or statelessness, would limit the damage that any one human can do in the act of “governing” to governing his or her self, instead of creating an apparatus and moral duty for them to go beyond that sphere with a societal presumption of legitimacy. It also exposes all human beings to the same risks or reprisals by their victims and would-be collaborators when they do commit aggression.

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False Burdens of Voluntaryism: The Utilitarian Presumption

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Now that we’ve systematically come all the way from self-ownership, its underlying philosophy, and arrived at it’s inevitable conclusion in the non-legitimacy of the state, I’d like to address one of the more prevalent reactionary arguments lofted at the proponents of fully-applied non-aggression (anarchism).

This argument often takes the form of many different questions or assertions such as;

“How are people’s rights protected in a voluntaryist society?”

Or

“This is just too utopian of an idea… people will never be perfect enough to live without some basic amount of government control on their actions!”

Whatever form of consequentialism in which it is packaged as a hypothetical, these arguments begin with a false premise surrounding the idea of “protection.” The unstated premises contained in both of these questions above are as follows:

  1. The “protection” being sought and referred to is, in fact, accomplished by the existence of the state, thus creating a void of a desirable result to be filled by some alternative in its absence.
  2. The determination of whether to accept a method of social organization based on something other than institutionalized aggression (a.k.a. the state) is to be made on which approach accomplishes such “protection” more effectively in a consequentialist analysis. In other words, there is a presumption of utilitarianism involved.

Proponents of voluntaryism or market anarchism (for purposes of this discussion I see these as synonymous) often proceed forward in discussions accepting these unchecked premises, and by so doing doom themselves to hours of frustrating discussion or paragraphs of Facebook posts. They find and relate the litany of historical manifestations in which such protections have (and thus can) be provided by means other than government. They do this, all the while having accepted the burden of demonstrating, based on future hypotheticals, the superiority of statelessness in a utilitarian analysis based on an unchecked and contradictory notion of “protection.”

I have partially addressed premise 1 in a prior column, which explained that if the very means of a group of people’s capability to protect you depends on an act that is by definition the opposite of your protection (theft, taxation and threats of aggression), then it is impossible to accurately characterize that ongoing condition as one of being “protected.” The other refutation in this presumption is to examine the literal reality of what the state is, and what it does, and ask whether the overall net “benefit” of order that is always assumed is a reality, or merely presumption filling a psychological need. A society-wide “placebo effect,” if you will (more on this in later columns).

Is the state really the particular variable in the equation which accomplishes the degree of protection from harm by others which we currently enjoy?

A careful analysis of the real reasons that cause the average person to refrain from a criminal act (and by “criminal” I mean harmful to legitimate rights, not simply illegal) is what is needed here. Ask yourself why you refrain from a criminal act? It doesn’t take much introspection or research into criminal psychology to reach the conclusion that on the whole, people don’t refrain from a harmful act to another because of their immediate awareness of the existence of a statute against it, or as a corollary, that they don’t commit it because they were unaware of a statute against it. The vast majority of us refrain because we have adopted a rule for interaction with others that would preclude such an act. The Greek term for foundational societal rules is “nomos.” It is a notion of law which transcends and is independent of legislative edicts, often even contradicting them. For a more systematic view of such a concept of “law,” I would refer the reader to Hayek’s writings on the subject. So yes, it may be correct to attribute pervasive societal co-existence to rules for behavior, but it is wrong to view these operative rules as synonymous with statutes and edicts.

The reason I focus here on the awareness of a statutory edict itself as determinative, is because this is the only aspect which government adds to the equation. Government is not unique in it’s capability to resist aggression with defensive force in any specific instance. Such could be accomplished by any individual or individuals equipped, motivated and disposed to assist another with protection. Many instances could be cited to show a lack of motivation on the part of government operatives, in fact. So it would be a fallacy to say that those sociopathic few of us who would only refrain from a crime for fear of protective reprisals, would be free to “run wild” in a condition of statelessness. Such reprisals would still be operative in the absence of the state… and possibly more operative given that there would not be an institutional monopoly claiming the sole prerogative of exercising such defensive or restitutionary force and thereby restraining the actions of victims themselves and their would-be assisters.

The question then becomes whether, despite all of the weight of habit and tradition behind an answer we are already presuming, do we ever really get out of anarchy? In answer to this, Alfred Cuzan wrote what was probably the single most influential essay in taking myself (and many others I’ve encountered) from a minarchist to a voluntaryist position.

In next week’s column I will address the criticism that anarchism implies or requires a utopian or overly optimistic view of man’s nature and tendencies.

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Undermining the Perception that is the State

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“The Self Owner” is an original column appearing every Wednesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Spencer W. Morgan. Spencer is a husband and father, and has studied History and Philosophy at the University of Utah. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

Last week I addressed the act of voting, and political participation in general, from the standpoint of the specific morality of the act. I concluded it to be fruitless (in all but rare convergences of circumstances) and ultimately antithetical to the larger goal of societal liberty, though not an act which contains a specific consent for aggression as many voluntaryists contend. I’ve also addressed in a prior column the question of whether a duty of activism itself is a correct burden or a necessary response to the principles of self-ownership and liberty, and concluded that it is not.

Despite my having concluded that such an obligation is not implicit, many still desire to take steps to hinder the state in more immediate scenarios as well as to apply long-term strategies toward its reduction and/or demise. This week I’d like to address some of these approaches

For overall strategic value, especially from a long-term perspective, tactics like non-compliance, expanding state-evading market transactions (see agorism) and obstructive actions in court hold much more potential in terms of reward/effort ratio. This is especially true when one understands that the result to be sought is not necessarily the immediate reduction of state interferences, but the undermining of the perception of legitimacy that the state enjoys. Along those lines, I favor Marc Stevens’ “double-bind” approach in courts or public questioning of agents of the state, and jury nullification efforts.

What About a “Liberty Candidate” Like Ron Paul?

Ron Paul has been, from an enactments point of view, a complete failure both during his career in Congress and in his presidential campaigns. His greatest value has been as an instrument for exposure to a larger philosophical tradition. He is often referred to as the “gateway drug” for liberty. This value must and should be accounted for, but all too often it is mixed with an internally praised and self-reinforcing form of activist self-delusion regarding the viability of achieving liberty through a political candidate.

Putting together mass movements every four years just to have a possibility at getting someone who won’t increase the tyranny, much less pull together the sweeping consensus required for congressional change to begin rolling it all back, is not going to be how a voluntary society or any prevailing condition of greater liberty is achieved.

What is the “Plan” for Accomplishing Liberty?

This question, posed often by those both sympathetic and hostile to full human liberty and it’s implications, is one that sadly reveals to a great degree the success of our societal collectivist conditioning. Even after the realization of the moral incumbency of free action by each individual, we still habitually think in terms of imposing such a condition through hierarchical edicts from the top down. Since liberty is, itself, the absence of any such coercive external imposition, this makes going about it tricky and counter-intuitive.

Undermining the Perception

It is important to understand that the operating capability of the state does not rest purely on implemented or threatened force. If it did, it would be very limited in the scope of it’s effective control and it would have to operate out of the public eye. The real “lynch-pin” for the state is that it rests on the widespread perception of its legitimacy, and the expectations of the people all around us in our churches, businesses, and families. They spring into its service as enforcers (knowingly or not) with social reprisals against anyone who questions not just a particular government action, but the validity of our being subject to it’s rule at all.

That’s why the path to complete liberty is to undermine this concept and perception. We can do so slowly until it becomes the same as a “flat earth” idea. Like the truth-based advances in human progress that preceded this one, it is a huge uphill battle against all of the weight of tradition and institutional inertia.

That understanding presents a much different long-term strategy. The point at which, in society, when the average person faces more social backlash from agreement with state aggression than they do for openly questioning it will be a major tipping point and one which we all have in our power to hasten in small ways.

To move the evolution of humanity forward toward liberty in a lasting way, we can all do a great deal without ever stepping in a voting booth or holding a campaign sign. People’s relationships with others are incredibly important to them. We can point out tactfully and calmly the reality of government force in a very personal way. We can explain to them that the schemes of state solutions with which they agree, are being imposed upon millions who do not… at the barrel of a gun. We can point out that among these millions is the person with whom they are speaking at that moment and profess to care for. Does this friend or family member really believe men with guns should be permitted to force you to fund their solution to a problem, or to put you in a cage if you refuse?

Historically it is usually external pressure and economic reality that collapse these huge parasitic empires, and that’s ultimately the opportunity I anticipate. When that window of opportunity comes, things will get very fluid. The less pervasive the perception of the state’s legitimacy (meaning government in general) is at that point in time, the better. For small examples of this, we can look at what is happening in Detroit right now. As local government and services shut their doors, will people turn to private, voluntary cooperative efforts or market solutions, or will they clamor for a larger more solvent governments to assume control? The reaction in that critical moment, played out across what may be dozens, hundreds or thousands of instances of government failures, will be the critical thing.

Convincing someone in an immediate conversation is rare and antithetical to human nature, so don’t measure your efforts by that goal. Exposure to voluntaryism, or the non-legitimacy of the state, is an effort in “shifting the window” of acceptable ideas. It will produce an emotional backlash 20 times for every one time that it produces a thoughtful acknowledgement or agreement. This is because of the way the person has been presented in their inner psychological dialogue with a contradiction of a deeply-held emotional investment. Take this as a sign that you have succeeded, because now that they are aware they will be constantly recognizing the manifestations of that contradiction and may later choose to begin reconciling them.

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