Anarchist Colonization of Mars

I was on a recent episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast with the topic being Anarchist Colonization of Mars. Here are the pieces that I wrote for the intro and the editorial for this episode.


In 1974 Ursula K. Le Guin published the science fiction novel “The Dispossessed”, which told the story of a movement of anarchists who collectively left an Earth-like planet to go colonize a Mars-like planet, establishing there a new society organized around their anarchist beliefs. In 1992 Kim Stanley Robinson published the science fiction novel “Red Mars”, the first book of his “Mars Trilogy”, which told the story of people colonizing the planet Mars, including a number of explicitly anarchist groups, who then go on to become independent from the various authorities on Earth.

Then last Saturday, September 28th, Elon Musk held a press conference where he introduced the world to the “Starship” vehicle that he intends to use to send humans to Mars to begin the process of colonizing that planet. Musk’s company, SpaceX, has already shown the world that reusable rockets which are capable of going out into space can be made, and that a private company can make them. Prior to this only single-use rockets were made for space travel, and government agencies were seen as the only organizations capable of going out into space.

Taking inspiration from all of this, the question here becomes: How about we build some real-life anarchist colonies on Mars? Our current planet is fucked, in all kinds of different ways, so how about those of us who yearn for a completely different world go set up shop on a completely different world? How about we turn “the Red Planet” into “the Red & Black Planet”? Let’s become Martians!
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Editorial for Episode 39 – Anarchist Colonization of Mars

For a long time I advocated for a Global Anarchist Social Revolution. I said that everybody in the world can and should change the way that they relate to get rid of all hierarchy and domination, and instead have voluntary cooperation and sharing be the basis for all of social life. This would involve the elimination of all governments, capitalism and patriarchy worldwide, and the dawn of a beautiful new age of freedom and equality for all of humanity. I saw my role in all of that as being to help inspire people to move to unlock this latent potential to make this happen.

Over time, after a series of different heartbreaks and disappointments, I came to hold a belief that a Global Anarchist Social Revolution (or “GASR” for short) was most likely not going to happen and that it would be best to not be putting my time and energy into things assuming that it would. At around the same time as this, other anarchists were coming to these same conclusions, most notably with the widely circulated text called “Desert”. That piece took things a step further by saying that not only would an anarchist revolution not happen, but the sibling project of “saving the Earth” from ecological catastrophe was not going to happen either, and that we should adjust our plans and expectations to accommodate that. My anarchist goals became much more diminished and narrow in scope, shrinking from a global scale down to a more individualist scale, looking at just me and my own little life.

Then in more recent years a new and completely unrelated development has taken place. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX has publicly announced their intention and plans to send humans to the planet Mars, and they have developed some reusable rockets to help make this happen. SpaceX also has the advantage of also being a private company, not a government agency, thereby showing that these kinds of endeavors can take place outside of the purview of a government. If SpaceX can do this, what can other non-governmental agencies accomplish?

An idea then hit me, perhaps a new big grand world-changing mission can be adopted by anarchists to fill the void left by what was previously occupied by the “GASR” (Global Anarchist Social Revolution). Perhaps instead of focusing on changing this world, anarchists can focus on getting off of this world and settling on Mars instead? Both tasks are enormous, involving lots of work, resources, and would most likely take generations to accomplish. But if we are indeed writing off all hope for this planet, as far fetched as it may sound, there may be some hope in the planet Mars instead.

I would like to have a conversation that I have never had before, and that is to talk about the possibility of anarchists colonizing Mars. How can we conceptualize this project in a way that is in some sense realistic and tangible? How can we even begin to break down this massive undertaking in a way that we can make some progress with it? How would we need to re-organize our tiny little anarchist scene or subculture to be able to tackle such a big endeavor? Or perhaps this all is still a project that is ahead of it’s time, and is best left for a future “wave” of anarchism to take up?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Plus, there are a million other questions and variables to consider when considering something like a project on this scale. But I would like to talk about this, and in particular I would like to talk about all of this while using an anarchist lens. So let’s get going.

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Customer Service as a Way of Life

I’m sitting in a lab lobby waiting to get blood drawn. The receptionist is one of the rudest people I’ve ever overheard. Every time someone checks in, every word she says is edgy and nasty and she seems to have no tone except one that makes people feel like idiots.

It was like this last time I came here too. I don’t know what’s going on in her life or why this business allows her to keep her job, but it got me thinking about customer service. How is it learned?

I had several customer facing jobs when I was young, starting with door to door candy bar sales for little league and collecting payments from newspaper subscribers. I don’t remember being coached or taught but maybe I was. I do remember feeling nervous and awkward and reading people’s responses. I wanted to not make people unhappy, a tall order in door to door sales but easier when you’re 10. So I’d see what seemed to get the best responses and adjust. I wasn’t consciously systematic most of the time, just adjusting to the situation.

Over time, I learned lots of little things that worked every time. I got good at it. I practiced more running the concessions and pro shop at a small golf course then bagging groceries. Then I installed internet and phone systems at car dealerships and learned to deal with higher profile people in higher stress situations.

The apex of my customer service work was as a legislative assistant to a state representative. Most of the day was spent on the phone and email and physical mail between me (speaking in the voice of my boss half the time) and truly crazy, angry, or delusional people with an occasional nut job for balance. I turned it into a game and tried to find a way to make people happy while being disagreed with. I got good at it.

The ability to interact with lots of people and leave them feeling good after the interaction is really powerful. When I did fundraising for a non profit these skills with receptionist and assistants and gatekeepers worked magic on helping me get meetings.

I’m not sure why some people seem to learn customer service skills and some don’t. It really baffles me. I wish I could crack the code.

Oh, as an aside, say what you will about the U.S., but the customer service in this country is typically about ten times better than any other place I’ve been, save maybe heavily touristy places in Africa. Mises said under capitalism consumer kings rule. It feels so good to be made to feel like a king for merely existing. Vegas is probably the greatest example of this.

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Codifying Our Worst Impulses: The Ideas that Started World War II

 

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the deadliest violent conflict in human history.  Death tolls vary, but often reach 80 million souls.  What caused it?  Lists of proximate causes never end, but the only credible “root cause” is simply: ideas.  Three countries started World War II: Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union.  While popular summaries rarely list the Soviets as initiators because Hitler double-crossed Stalin two years later, Molotov and Ribbentrop’s  so-called Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a Treaty of Aggression Against Poland, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Romania.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What ideas led the leaders of Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union to war?  The obvious answer is extreme nationalism – the view any action is morally praiseworthy if it advances the interests of your nation-state.  Heinrich Himmler said it best:

For the SS Man, one principle must apply absolutely: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood, and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, the Czechs, is totally indifferent to me… Whether other races live well or die of hunger is only of interest to me insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise that doesn’t interest me. Whether 10,000 Russian women fall down from exhaustion in building a tank ditch is of interest to me only insofar as the tank ditches are finished for Germany.

…When somebody comes to me and says, I can’t build tank ditches with children or women. That’s inhumane, they’ll die doing it. Then I must say: You are a murderer of your own blood, since, if the tank ditches are not built, then German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. That is our blood. That is how I would like to indoctrinate this SS, and, I believe, have indoctrinated, as one of the holiest laws of the future: our concern, our duty, is to our Folk, and to our blood. That is what we must care for and think about, work for and fight for, and nothing else. Everything else can be indifferent to us.

Almost everyone understands that Japan and Germany grew extremely nationalistic during the 1930s.  Few realize that the same holds for the Soviet Union as well.  Under Stalinism, anything that advanced the interests of the Soviet Union was the moral imperative – starting with the reabsorption of all the breakaway territories of the Russian Empire.

By itself, however, extreme nationalism need not generate war.  Rationally speaking, the best way to advance the national interest is with peace and consumerism.  The leadership of Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union, however, all angrily rejected this bourgeois, “shopkeepers’” perspective.  Instead, they equated the national interest with the power and glory of the government – and angrily denounced Western “plutocracies.”

This was most obvious in the USSR, which deliberately eradicated the rich, business, and private property itself in order to build a totalitarian militarized society.  But Germany’s National Socialists had a similar vision.  Their goal was not to build an idyllic consumer society, but a mighty war machine.  Unlike the Soviets, however, the Nazis had the common-sense to harness the rich, business, and private property rather than destroy them.   As Hitler told Nazi defector Hermann Rauschning:

He had no intention, like Russia, of “liquidating” the possessing class. On the contrary, he would compel it to contribute by its abilities towards the building up of the new order. He could not afford to allow Germany to vegetate for years, as Russia had done, in famine and misery. Besides, the present owners of property would be grateful that their lives had been spared. They would be dependent and in a condition of permanent fear of worse things to come.

The same holds for Japan: Its leaders equated the national interest with the power and glory of the Japanese government, not the safety and prosperity of the Japanese people.  So while the Japanese government happily used the domestic rich and domestic business, it truly bled them dry during the war.  As Walter Scheidel explains in The Great Leveler:

Japan was once one of the most unequal countries on earth. In 1938, the country’s “1 percent” received 19.9 percent of all reported income before taxes and transfers. Within the next seven years, their share dropped by two-thirds, all the way down to 6.4 percent. More than half of this loss was incurred by the richest tenth of that top bracket: their income share collapsed from 9.2 percent to 1.9 percent in the same period, a decline by almost four-fifths.

However rapid and massive these shifts in the distribution of income, they pale in comparison to the even more dramatic destruction of the elite’s wealth. The declared real value of the largest 1 percent of estates in Japan fell by 90 percent between 1936 and 1945 and by almost 97 percent between 1936 and 1949. The top 0.1 percent of all estates lost even more—93 percent and more than 98 percent, respectively. In real terms, the amount of wealth required to count a household among the richest 0.01 percent (or one in 10,000) in 1949 would have put it in only the top 5 percent back in 1936. Fortunes had shrunk so much that what used to count as mere affluence was now out of reach for all but a very few.

What’s the right word for “equating the national interest with the power and glory of the government rather than peace and consumerism”?  There are many candidate labels  – “statism,” “romanticism,” “populism,” “communitarianism,” “anti-capitalism.”  But none is quite right, so we might as well stick with the label that activists who equated the national interest with the power and glory of the government have preferred throughout the 20th century: socialism.  Obviously, there are many kinds of self-identified socialists – including socialists who unequivocally seek a peaceful, consumerist society.  Historically, however, these are rare – and since I’m not a socialist, I say that “real socialism” equals “what most self-styled socialists do when they have power.” Whatever label you prefer, the key point is that all the regimes that started World War II praised the power and glory of the government to the skies – and brought traditional elites – the rich and business – to their knees.  Or their graves.

Before you join me in blaming World War II on nationalism and socialism, though, there’s an obvious objection: These ideas have been ubiquitous for ages.  My response: The emotional impulses behind nationalism and socialism – impulses like xenophobia and anti-market bias – are indeed long-lived and widespread.  Far more children dream of being warriors than merchants.  But the initiators of World War II turned these knee-jerk feelings into bodies of thought.  They codified humanity’s worst impulses into explicit, militant, self-conscious ideologies.  And they took their ideologies seriously enough to kill for them – and often to die for them.

Does this mean that every latter-day nationalist and socialist is morally comparable to the architects of World War II?  No; that’s absurd.  The reason for this moral non-comparability, though, is disturbing.  The rhetoric of modern nationalism and socialism remains grotesque.  Anyone who says “By any means necessary” is, by implication, saying, “If it takes 80 million deaths for us to win, then so be it.”  The saving grace of latter-day nationalists and socialists is that almost all of them are hypocrites.  They may say, “By any means necessary,” but thankfully few have the stomach for it.  As I’ve said before, if your ideas are bad, hypocrisy makes them less bad.

Still, I am dismayed by the renewed popularity of nationalism and socialism.  I don’t think World War III is coming this century.  If it does come, however, I will blame the nationalists and socialists who take their scary slogans to heart.

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An Anarchist Postive Program

Here are some things that I wrote for an episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast. The episode itself can be found online here.

Introducing An Anarchist Positive Program
Alright, enough with all the negativity, and time to get positive. Now, I know very well that we don’t want this, and we don’t want that. This is fundamentally corrupt and needs to be destroyed, and that is entirely oppressive and needs to be abolished. This is completely fucked-up and needs to be attacked, and that thing over there… well, let’s not even talk about that!

Instead, let’s get clear: what exactly is it that we DO want in terms of “anarchism” and/or “anarchy”? In other words, let’s say that all of the Big Bad Things are made to go away, through some means or another, then what exactly would our brave new anarchist world look like? What specifically would the people in an anarchist society (or “community”, or whatever) be DOING? What is our big End Goal? What’s the beautiful dream?

Back in the day, various books were written about this topic, both non-fiction such as Fields, Factories and Workshops and Bolo’bolo, and fiction such as “The Dispossessed” and “The Fifth Sacred Thing”. And of course there is the whole solarpunk phenomena that is floating around the interwebs. We can talk about these writings, if they describe the kind of anarchist world that you would like to live in. And if not, then fuck it. What’s important is your anarchist dream, your ideal world and what it would look like. Let’s go into it.

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An Anarchist Positive Program – Editorial
For me anarchism has always been a two-sided coin. There is the destructive “anti” side, the side that says that all forms of capitalism, government, hierarchy, authority, etc. should be completely destroyed ASAP. And then there is the positive side, the part that says that “another world is possible”, and that that world would look something like people coming together voluntarily as equals to cooperate, share and help each other out. My concern is that in recent years the positive side of anarchism has been overlooked, or even forgotten about, while the attack-and-destroy negative side of anarchism has become more of what people think about when they think of the big A-word.

I would like to see this change. I would like to see anarchism become more positive. Now, I know that I may sound stupid and hokey saying this, but I really do believe that positivity in some form really does serve a purpose. I believe that positivity can sustain & nourish people, that it can keep people going. And with a big social-political philosophy like anarchism, it also serves the purpose of providing a sense of direction, a way to orient yourself towards what it is that you do want, instead of just getting away from what you don’t want.

There is an Israeli anarchist guy I’ve known for a long time named Ilan Shalif who recently said this online: “If I had no vision of libertarian communist alternative for human society I would not have survived the full 82 years of my life.” Now, I am definitely not as old as he is, but I do feel the same way he does. Having a vision for what human beings are capable of, in the positive sense and on a large-scale global level, has certainly kept me going all these years that I have been alive. And with the anarchist scene being what it is these days, this positive sense of our human potential has kept me sticking with anarchism, even though there are a million and one reasons presented to me as to why I should leave it all behind.

Let me be clear here, just because human beings have the potential for great and beautiful things does not at all mean that these things will happen. Possibility does not mean inevitability. And likewise, having a wonderful vision for how human society can be does not mean that this vision will ever be realized. In some sense our visions for a future anarchist world are siblings to the fantastic worlds created in science fiction. The difference is that our anarchist visions are of worlds that we actually do believe can happen, and they are ones that we are ostensibly working to make into a reality.

So with this episode, I would like to hear what your anarchist utopia looks like. I would like to hear how your ideal society (or lack thereof) would function, what daily life would be like, how stuff would get done. Would your ideal society keep the old anarchist dream of workers’ councils, neighborhood assemblies and mandated recallable delegates within massive federation structures? Or would you go with more of a 21st century approach and make collective decisions via directly voting for things on your smartphone that is connected with a mesh network and uses heavy encryption? Or would you keep things really old school and instead have humanity be organized the way it was for most of its history, as small bands and tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers?

Speaking for myself, the centerpiece of my ideal anarchist society would be authentic heartfelt connection between people. So my ideal anarchist world would have people taking the time and effort to be honest with themselves and those around them, really taking the time to listen to and understand those around them, and working through the conflicts and difficulties that inevitably arise in human relationships. My ideal anarchist world would then have specific times and spaces set aside for people to do this kind of messy personal/interpersonal kind of work. And then with that foundation in place, the whole gamut of non-hierarchical meeting facilitation processes and organizational systems can be utilized to help the various “councils”, “assemblies”, “tribes” and “collectives” run more smoothly and harmoniously than a group of alienated antagonistic people using Robert’s Rules of Order or Formal Consensus would ever be able to.

And then, ultimately, we would have bad-ass anarchist colonies on Mars, the asteroid belt, and the rest of the solar system. That is my dream, anyway….

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Donald Boudreaux: Cleaned by Capitalism (49m)

This episode features a presentation by economics professor Donald Boudreaux from 2013. Legend has it that capitalism might deliver lots of convenient and wonderful material goods and services, but that one of the costs of these benefits is a more polluted and less agreeable environment. This legend is false. Capitalism is history’s greatest anti-pollutant — in ways that most of us take for granted. Purchase books by Donald Boudreaux on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (49m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntaryist voices”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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“Socialism”: The Provocative Equivocation

The socialists are back, but is it a big deal?  It’s tempting to say that it’s purely rhetorical.  Modern socialists don’t want to emulate the Soviet Union.  To them, socialism just means “Sweden,” right?  Even if their admiration for Sweden is unjustified, we’ve long known that the Western world contains millions of people who want their countries to be like Sweden.  Why should we care if Sweden-fans rebrand themselves as “socialists”?

My instinctive objection is that even using the term “socialism” is an affront to the many millions of living victims of Soviet-style totalitarian regimes.  Talking about “socialism” understandably horrifies them.  Since there are plenty of palatable synonyms for Swedish-type policies (starting even “Swedenism”!), selecting this particular label seems a breach of civility.

If this seems paranoid, what would you say about a new movement of self-styled “national socialists”?  Even if their policy positions were moderate, this brand needlessly terrifies lots of folks who have already suffered enough.

On reflection, however, this is a weak objection.  Yes, if a label’s connotations are – like “national socialism” – almost entirely horrible, then loudly embracing the label is uncivil.  “Socialism,” however, has long had a wide range of meanings.  Even during the height of Stalinism, plenty of self-styled “socialists” were avowedly anti-Communist.  The upshot: Even if you were a victim of Soviet oppression, assuming the worst when you hear the word “socialism” is hypersensitive.  And hypersensitivity is bad.

Yet there’s a much stronger reason to object to the socialist revival.  Namely: It’s far from clear that the latter-day socialists do mean Sweden.  While some (like John Marsh) plainly say so, others (like Elizabeth Bruenig) are coy indeed.  Which raises deeply troubling questions, starting with:

1. Are latter-day socialists unaware of the history of the totalitarian movement that shares their name?  Given widespread historical ignorance and the youth of the new socialists, we can hardly rule this out.  A troubling thought; isn’t it negligent to champion a radical idea without investigating its history first?

2. Are latter-day socialists ambivalent about the totalitarian movement that shares their name?  Do they look on the Soviet Union as a noble experiment with unfortunate shortcomings?  How about Chavez’s Venezuela?

3. Do latter-day socialists think of Sweden as a starting point, and something more radical as the ultimate goal?  Are there outright crypto-communists among them?  If so, do their comrades know?  Care?

4. Do latter-day socialists realize that being coy raises the preceding concerns?  Do they care?  Or is the raising of these concerns a “feature, not a bug”?  I.e., they enjoy making people wonder if they’re secret Leninists?

What’s the truth?  While I don’t personally know any latter-day socialists well, I do read a lot of articles in The Nation, which publishes a wide range of modern socialists.  So here are my best guesses about the preceding possibilities.

1. Older socialists (age 50+) know a lot about the actual history of socialism.  The younger ones (age 40 and under), however, know little and care less.  They’re negligent romantics.

2. Most historically-literate socialists are indeed ambivalent about the totalitarian movement that shares their name.  Very few will defend Stalin, but they just can’t stay mad at Lenin, Castro, or Ho Chi Minh.  Even the historically-naive socialists feel pretty good about Cuba today and Venezuela in 2015.

3. Yes, most avowed socialists have a more radical ultimate goal than Sweden.  In our Capitalism-Socialism debate, even the reasonable John Marsh mused about a future that realized radical socialist dreams without degenerating into a typical socialist nightmare.  How extreme, then, are ultimate goals of the unreasonable socialists?  While I really don’t know, videos like this make me strongly suspect that Bernie Sanders is literally a crypto-communist.  Even if I’m wrong, how many latter-day socialists would care if Sanders was a crypto-communist?

4. Latter-day socialists really do enjoy making people wonder about their ultimate agenda.  When you read The Nation, for example, authors almost never specify exactly what policy should be.  Instead, they focus on radical movement in a desired direction, with minimal discussion of their ultimate objective.  In particular, they almost never say what would be “too far.”  Of course, this describes most political movements; they want to rally the troops, not provide blueprints of an ideal world.  But when you cultivate a “radical” image but withhold specifics, you should expect critics’ minds to go to dark places.  Rather than try to calm the critics, the latter-day socialists court their disapproval.  In fact, most seem to positively enjoy the imagined intellectual trauma they’re inflicting on the unbeliever.

On reflection, then, the return of the self-styled socialist is indeed a travesty.  The reason, though, is not that the word is offensive, but that it is deliberately confusing.  If you really thought Sweden was a model society, you would just praise Sweden.  The “socialist” label, in contrast, is a provocative equivocation.  Latter-day socialists adopt it because they would rather insinuate their possible support for totalitarian horrors than earnestly promote an intellectually defensible position.

To what end?  In modern parlance, the latter-day socialists could just be trolling.  This is bad enough, but some socialists probably sincerely believe what they’re insinuating.  Or worse.  If all you want is Swedish social democracy, making common cause with such socialists is a grave mistake.

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