More Power, Less Liberty

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“One Voluntaryist’s Perspective” is an original column appearing sporadically at Everything-Voluntary.com, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

(Originally written in May of 2012.)

I had some thoughts on something that I thought I’d put down here. Though people, especially young people, are becoming libertarians in great numbers, it seems that most people are quite comfortable with the size and scope of the myriad levels of government they are subjects of. And I think this has to do with a confusion people have between power and liberty. Let me explain.

Since the secession from Great Britain and the founding of the United States, the US federal government has usurped all sorts of powers and grown to never before seen or imagined size and complexity. In other words, liberty has slowly, and at times very quickly, declined. But I don’t think it’s commonly felt. And I think the reason is because of the growth in power that the average America has.

What I mean by power is personal power. Power to move, to do, to be what someone wants to be. We can travel anywhere in the world in hours, send a message anywhere in seconds, and meet someone in real-time thousands of miles a way. The power we have in these regards is a million times greater than even the generation before us had when they were our age. It’s almost unbelievable until you understand how the technology works.

Most people don’t try to start their own business, so they don’t now how onerous and costly government requirements can be. Most people budget themselves based on after-tax paycheck, so they don’t see and feel the sting of income and payroll taxation. Most people don’t care to consume illegal drugs. And a growing number of people don’t even produce anything of real value to others, as they work for the administration and maintenance of government. But what they all have in common is the greater and greater power they wield in their day to day lives, thanks to the growing technology industry.

So long as living and their pursuit of happiness continues to get easier and easier, I don’t think people will truly realize all of the freedoms and liberties they have lost. I’m not bemoaning technological progress. I love it, as anyone does. What I’m bemoaning is the lack of understanding in society to our politically depressing state. However, there is a silver lining.

That silver lining is what power that technological progress gives to someone to ignore or bypass their government. The Internet is a wonderful example. People can trade on the Internet for all sorts of legal and illegal products and services, with legal and illegal currencies, and many aren’t forced to pay tax. They can even trade “dangerous” ideas, the biggest threat to government. This is technological progress usurping government power.

So while technological progress may be blinding people to the liberties they’ve lost, it’s also seems to be helping them to see and work through the facade and irrelevance of government. And perhaps this is much more than just a silver lining.


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We All Acknowledge Rights

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“One Voluntaryist’s Perspective” is an original column appearing sporadically at Everything-Voluntary.com, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

I wanted to provide some more clarification on my recent writings on the concept of rights. I wrote in “On Rights II” that it has become fashionable among libertarians, et al, to proclaim that rights don’t actually exist – as if it were some sort of great advancement in thinking –  and that such libertarians contradicted their proclamation in their very behavior. In “Rights Don’t Exist? Bitch, Please” I expanded on that idea by first explaining the two perceptions of rights, followed by how our behavior shouts a belief in rights from either perspective. (And further, but unrelated to the rest of this essay, that rights exist as a mental construction with effects in the physical world.)

But what I didn’t really do was define the concept of rights. Some of the push back I received focused on this. I realized at the time that defining “rights” was very difficult if one wanted to avoid presupposing a universal conception of either morality or justice. But I think I’ve solved this problem and in doing so have found a way to make my argument, as linked in the two essays above, more clear, and maybe more defensible.

So what are rights? First we should distinguish between certain types of rights. Some rights are explicitly agreed to by the relevant parties. These I would call contractual rights. We each agree to do or to give something to each other, and so based on the conditions to the agreement being met, we each obtain certain rights to each other’s stuff. Other rights are one-sided, as in my giving my children permission to use my tech and to eat my food. Some would call these privileges, and they are, but while the privilege is in effect, my children have been granted the right to use or consume my stuff. Other rights are those which people simply claim out of thin air, however defensible they are, such as the right to life or to work or to keep your stuff or to take the stuff of others. And still other rights are those granted by ones calling themselves “authority” in a given area, ie. legal rights. Many are the types of rights that have been claimed on one basis or another throughout the history of not only mankind, but of most life, I’d say. (Animals defend their territories, too, after all. As do some plants.)

Those are types of rights, and there may be more that I didn’t mention, but the question remains, what are rights? What every type of right above has in common is the limiting or liberating of the behavior of people. So I think that’s the best way to define rights, keeping in mind that every right can be viewed from two perspectives, positive and negative. “Rights,” therefore, is shorthand, as most words are, for the broader claim that some behaviors may be justly limited, and others, liberated. Every type of right above is based on this definition in their own context.

Moving on, how does defining rights like this help my argument that we all acknowledge rights, even those who proclaim “rights don’t exist”? Because when a person does or does not do anything, that is, performs in action, or refrains from performing an action, they are necessarily acknowledging either a limit or a liberty on their own and/or others’ behavior. How so? Because to act is to use resources, starting with one’s body, in the way of one’s choosing, and if we are choosing between resources than we are acknowledging that we believe that we are justified, in some way (subjective), in manipulating the resources in question. We are engaging in a liberty when we act, and we are engaging in a limitation when we prevent someone (maybe ourselves) from acting, according to our own subjective conceptions of justice. Therefore, every actor presupposes some underlying rights-based structure, typically beginning with some theory of self-ownership, and often expanded into a theory of property.

To conclude I’d like to make one more point as clear as I can. I am not arguing that a particular conception of rights is universally acknowledged, or that rights exist outside of our mental constructions, or that rights as a mental construction ever enforce themselves naturally. What I am arguing is that to act is to acknowledge that the actor believes in rights in some subjectively conceived way. Nobody who acts can escape this without engaging in performative contradiction (their behavior contradicts their words). It simply can’t be done. Every limitation we impose on ourselves or others, or liberty we enjoy or allow others to enjoy, is an acknowledgement of rights. Because that’s what rights are: the claim, by word or by action, that some behaviors may be justly limited, and others, liberated.


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Rights Don’t Exist? Bitch, Please

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“One Voluntaryist’s Perspective” is an original column appearing sporadically at Everything-Voluntary.com, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

There are two ways to perceive rights, two perspectives, like looking at the concept from one direction and then another: positive and negative. Both are essentially limits on behavior. The positive: I have a right to life. The negative: Others have no right to kill me. Both perspectives are inseparable from the right in question. When one uses the language of one perspective, they are simultaneously using the language of the other.

This language is not limited to the verbal. Our behavior also has language. What we do with ourselves, our actions, our behavior, says something to the world about who we are and what we believe. Our verbal language may contradict our behavioral language, though. In the case of saying “Rights don’t exist,” those who say this are contradicted by their behavior.

How? Because their behavior shouts “I have these rights!” If they defend themselves in an attack, their behavior is shouting, “I have a right to be left alone!” and “You don’t have the right to attack me!” and “I have the right to enforce my subjective preference of avoiding harmful interactions!” and probably countless other claims. If the person truly did not believe in rights, then he would not defend himself from attack. That he does proves that he believes he may justifiably limit the behavior of his attacker.

Other behaviors, I think all behaviors, likewise shout “I have these rights!” To go deeper, as I hope is obvious, rights are a mental construct. When they are rights that we claim either verbally or behaviorally, they are an individual mental construct. When they are rights that we agree on with other people, they are a social mental construct. Either way, to Acting Man, they exist in the mind and guide and limit his behavior. Even Acting Wolf claims rights when he defends himself, his pups, his territory. Rights are a mental construct, yes, but they are very real in the sense that they guide real people and real actions, even of those who verbally deny them.

I see no point in shouting or arguing “Rights don’t exist!” Not only is it to contradict one’s behavioral language, but it serves no purpose. Rights do exist in the way explained above. It is far more effective to tease out what people verbally or behaviorally claim are their rights. Show people both perspectives, positive and negative. Usually when seeing what they claim is a right from the negative perspective, its true colors as something insidious like slavery or murder are revealed. Then they change their minds because slavery or murder are contrary to the values they hold. Their belief in rights is too deeply ingrained in who they are as a human being to be persuaded with a verbal claim that contradicts theirs and everyone else’s behavior. But we can help them see why the rights they believe in are incompatible with their values and with other more basic rights.


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Consent Under Deceit, or Why Fraud is Aggression

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“One Voluntaryist’s Perspective” is an original column appearing sporadically at Everything-Voluntary.com, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

My last column titled “Why Adultery is Rape and Robbery” created a lively and enlightening debate across Facebook, reddit, and Liberty.me. After so much back and forth I believe the central area of contention is on what constitutes valid consent. And because this blows major crosswinds into the general area of fraud, I thought I’d look at these things together. Keep in mind that what I write is never permanent and I am constantly changing my mind about things as I learn new information and hear new perspectives. Let us proceed in that spirit.

Consent Under Duress

I don’t think anyone would consider consent under duress as a valid form of consent. If I threaten to kill you or harm you in some way if you don’t consent to something, then the integrity of your consent has been compromised in a major way. That you meet my demand willfully and with volition cannot translate into legitimate permission because I have taken away your ability to choose freely. That you meet my demand can only show that you value whatever I’m threatening more than what I’m demanding, not that I have your genuine consent. The result is a form of aggression. You’ve taken or used my property or that of another without consent. Your trespass is illegitimate, and so is an act of aggression.

Consent Under Deceit

The validity of consent as a result of deceit is not so clear cut, but I consider it the basis for any argument that fraud is a form of aggression. Fraud is the intentional withholding of material facts in order to gain something of value. I want to sell you my car, but I withhold the material fact that the car has been in several major accidents and repaired again and again. I give you my word that the car has never been in any accident. It’s integrity has been severely compromised, and if you knew that you would rescind your offer to buy it. That you are unaware of this material fact means we proceed with the title transfer. You willfully and with volition give me your money. You have seemingly consented to my receiving it. But have you?

Your consent for me to receive your money (your property) was conditional. That condition being that what I am giving to you is what you believe it is (an accident-free car). Since I am not giving you an accident-free car, I have failed to meet the condition of your consent. Therefore, I don’t really have your consent to take your money. That I have taken your money not only makes me a fraudster, but also a thief. I have trespassed onto your property without your permission. That is precisely why fraud is a form of aggression.

Types of Fraud

That fraud is aggression I believe I have shown without error. But the analysis on fraud is incomplete if we don’t recognize that fraud is a broad category, and what makes fraud aggression is not the deceit, but what is done as a result of the deceit. When property is transferred as a result of fraud, it becomes theft. That should be clear by now. This is not the only type of fraud, however.

Another type of fraud would result in kidnapping. If I tell you that I own a big luxurious mansion on an island and I create an elaborate deception to get you on my boat, transport you to my island, send the boat and driver away from the island, walk you inland and reveal to you that I have no mansion, I have in essence kidnapped you. The result of my fraud, my deception, was an act of kidnapping. Why? Because your consent to be transported from where you were to my island was conditioned on the fact of my owning a big luxurious mansion. That I don’t own such a mansion means I have failed to meet the condition of your consent. Transporting people from one place to another without their consent is called kidnapping.

Here’s a type of fraud that would result in battery: If I tell you that I will give you $1,000,000 if you cut off one of your hands (your choice!) and create an elaborate deception to prove to you that I have such a sum of money, even going so far as to swindle in an escrow agent, and you then cut off one of your hands only to later learn of my grand deception, I have in essence battered you. The result of this fraud, this deception, was an act of battery, the cutting off of a part of your body. You would not have consented to this action, would not have performed this action, had you known that I was defrauding you.

This brings us to my last column. It is my contention that there is also a type of fraud that results in rape: that of an adulterous man or woman continuing to “share their bed” with their defrauded spouse. Monogamy is typically a foundational condition for continued marital copulation. If one spouse is intentionally deceiving the other about their extra-marital affair, the condition for their spouse’s consent has not been met. The result of this fraud, this deception, is an act of rape. Now, I don’t mean to demean or lessen the atrocious nature of rape as a result of battery (or drugs). Heavens no! But I think we do victims of rape from deceit a disservice when we fail to recognize it.

An additional thought on the idea of fraud as rape: Some have brought up the practice of women wearing makeup or push-up bras and men dressing nice or renting a nice car all in an effort to impress potential sexual partners. I see no reason to consider these practices as types of fraud or deception because they are all well known by all interested parties. Nobody is truly being fooled by first impressions. It’s the mating dance, and is not limited to humans.

Final Thoughts

As I said before, this is all written as an intellectual exercise and nothing is set in stone. My mind can be changed, but I can’t currently see how. The result of fraud is some form of aggression: theft, kidnapping, battery, and yes, rape. That’s why fraud is a violation of the libertarian “non-aggression principle.” Just as theft as a result of fraud doesn’t lessen the despicable nature of other types of theft, rape as a result of fraud doesn’t, or shouldn’t, affect how we view other types of rape. All acts of aggression are despicable and atrocious, from my voluntaryist perspective.


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Why Adultery is Rape and Robbery

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“One Voluntaryist’s Perspective” is an original column appearing sporadically at Everything-Voluntary.com, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

In my experience, when voluntaryists talk about adultery, it’s usually classified as a type of contract violation. One party broke the marriage contract, or covenant, and whatever the contract says about what should happen to either party in the case of adultery is all that needs to happen (divorce, restitution, etc.). But is adultery merely the violation of the marriage contract? Or is it something far more insidious? Let’s see.

Adultery Defined

But first, the obligatory defining of my terms. For my analysis, adultery is a bit more than simply having an extra-marital affair. Rather, adultery is the prolonged attempt at having both an extra-marital affair and maintaining one’s marriage through lies and deceit. In other words, adultery is continuing the affair or affairs while at the same time hiding that fact from your spouse.

Fraud Defined

Fraud is typically lumped in with force as a violation of the libertarian “non-aggression principle,” and for good reason. Fraud occurs when one party fails to meet the conditions of trade but is able to fool the other party, at least for a time. For example, I propose to sell you my apple for $1. Your expectation is that its a good apple, as is customary. You may ask, and I may tell you that it is. I give you the apple, and you give me your dollar. We leave each other’s company and as you bite into the apple you quickly learn that it is a bad apple. You have been defrauded out of your dollar. Why is fraud an act of aggression? Because your consenting to my receiving your dollar was conditional to my giving you a good apple. If I fail to meet that condition, I have taken your dollar without your consent. I have robbed you of your property. And there it is, fraud is robbery, and robbery is aggression (uninvited property border crossing, ie. property trespass).

Rape and Robbery

And now we return to the contention at hand. When one commits adultery as defined above, they are taking from and “sharing the bed” of their spouse without meeting the necessary conditions to assure spousal consent. As the adulterous partner continues to take their spouses property, they are doing so without consent, and so committing robbery. Likewise, and arguably worse, as the adulterous partner continues to share the bed of their spouse, they are doing so without consent, and so committing rape. Yes, rape. Having sex with someone without their consent is the textbook definition of rape. It doesn’t need to be violent. Slipping someone a rufie and then having sex with them isn’t violent, but is still rightly considered rape. Adultery is no different. Both the roofied partner and the spouse seem like willing sexual partners, but had either been cognizant of what was really happening, they wouldn’t be. Hence, rape.

Final Thoughts

All those celebrities and politicians and everyone else who is discovered as an adulterer is in reality far more. They have not only lied to their spouses about their activities, but have also robbed and raped them, over and over, for as long as the adultery continued. Such behavior cannot be tolerated in any society which values property and sexual consent.


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The Voluntaryist Vision

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“One Voluntaryist’s Perspective” is an original column appearing sporadically at Everything-Voluntary.com, by the founder and editor Skyler J. Collins. Archived columns can be found here. OVP-only RSS feed available here.

What does the voluntaryist see when his values and principles have been realized in larger society? What does the voluntaryist paradise look like? Here is my version of the voluntaryist vision, beginning in the home with the family.

Home and Family

Looking into the typical home of a voluntaryist paradise on weekday morning, one would see a baby suckling her mother’s breast as they lay next to each other in the same bed. Mother keeps baby next to her all night long, meeting her every need. Two other children asleep nearby, next to father, who’s now getting up to begin his day, quietly so as not to wake anyone else.

Leaving the family to continue their slumber, not needing to wake anyone before they’re ready, he does his morning business and routine, preparing for a day of applying his skills and labor toward the creation of value for others, as well as for himself.

One by one the children wake up peacefully, and decide what to do with their mornings. Perhaps they’ll play a little on the computer, or watch some morning cartoons, or offer to help mother with breakfast. Mother focuses on meeting everyone’s needs and when there’s conflict, she uses the arts of active listening and no-lose negotiation to see it through to resolution. She feels no inclination to ever raise her voice or get angry with those who are still learning to navigate the world, for she herself was never raised that way. Her parents, like her grandparents, understood the needs and capabilities of growing children, and always employed peaceful tools for conflict resolution.

The children continue their day, week, month, year, finding new and interesting things to do, sometimes with an adult’s help, sometimes not. Learning is a matter of interest, and every day brings new ideas that spark new interests that may eventually transform into passions. Every child around is raised this way, through free inquiry and free play, either alone or with each other. There are no limits nor controls on the pursuits of children.

Neighborhood

Family bonds are strong due to the children being raised with compassion, connection, love, and reason, in peace, and so in your typical neighborhood you would find groups of extended families living in close proximity, probably in duplexes and four-plexes, owned by the families themselves, having either built them or bought them at some point in the past, and expanding likewise into the future.

Since everyone knows each other intimately, no one ever locks their door, and rarely knocks before entering another’s house. Most resources are shared among close friends and family. Everyone is concerned with the well-being of everyone else, and so there’s no need to lock up resources due to the very unlikely possibility of an unknown thief sneaking by so many concerned and watchful eyes. Crime is also unlikely due to the fact that most people have all of their needs meet as children and youth, and when someone is “down on their luck” career-wise, they have an ample safety net in friends and family.

Markets

While neighborhoods see resources being freely shared among close friends and family, markets are the key to obtaining those resources cheaply and abundantly. New ideas and new technologies are continuously making production cheaper and more efficient. The market boasts several mechanisms for gauging the reputation of market participants and in resolving market disputes. Customary law (norms and conventions) develops in all sorts of directions through the peaceful trade and negotiation of self-interested and peacefully-raised individuals.

Markets are both local and global. As such, there is abundance at home and protection from aggression abroad. The decentralized nature of larger voluntaryist society prevents the creation of prime targets for foreign attacks, of which is very unlikely as there is an absence of trade restrictions with any other group of people. Global markets dominate the world landscape. There are very few weapons of war around the world as there is very little demand for them. Even so, the possibility of a galactic threat is realized and mitigated through the use of ever-advancing corporate-built munitions and, more importantly, corporate- and philanthropic-built avenues of space exploration and commercial advertisement.

Final Thoughts

As each area evolved and grew on the same planet, increasing the reach of global trade, so too will peoples across the galaxy expand and trade with one another. As everyone’s needs are met from birth onward, there’s never any need or thought on the use of aggression. Now, what I have described is the voluntaryist vision, the voluntaryist paradise. I do not believe it is Utopian, because Utopian, by definition, is impossible given human nature. Not so with the voluntaryist paradise. Preventing the future use of aggression by meeting people’s needs from birth onward is a very real possibility. It happens all over the place and all the time in our non-voluntaryist world. As these practices grow and expand, which is only a matter of time and desire, the voluntaryist vision will be realized and paradise achieved.


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