I Dream of Anarchy

Literally.

Last night I dreamt (whoa, spellcheck doesn’t like “dreamt”. This prompted Googling. Apparently some do not accept this spelling. Weird.) that I was at some event somewhere, and some guy showed up. He was there either as a maintenance man to fix some kind of large trailer, or he was there to interview the attendees. It was a dream, so maybe he shifted between both roles.

Anyway, he made some comment about libertarians being recalcitrant. I asked what he meant. The rest of the dream was a discussion between us. I told him the classical liberal tradition is long and broad. You might begin at Hesiod, then Aristotle. You might include interesting figures most have never heard of, like Auberon Herbert, as well as luminaries like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

As any good conversation about liberty ought to, it turned to the question of anarchy. Not in the positive, bomb-throwing sense. Anarchy simply meaning society without a political ruler, or without the initiation of violence. I shared with him a deep and rich body of thought, from Linda and Morris Tannehill, to Lysander Spooner, to Frank Chodorov, to Roy Childs, to David Friedman (Milton’s son), to Spencer Heath MacCollum, to Murray Rothbard, to Leo Tolstoy, to Leonard Read, to Randy Barnett, to John Hasnas, to Bruce Benson, to Robert Higgs, to Edward Stringham, to Peter Leeson, to Jeffrey Tucker and more.

Then we discussed the lived experience of a great many societies at a great many periods in history – some long, some short. We talked about the Hanseatic League. We talked about free market money in Scotland. We talked about the not so wild, wild West in the U.S. before government and military arrived to “civilize” it with violence. We talked about the nearly three-hundred years of peaceful anarchy in Iceland.

We talked about every major function of the current government – from police, to courts, to rule-making, to defense, to infrastructure, to money, to education, to health care – and discovered how every one of them emerged as a market function that was only co-opted by violent monopolists late in the game, and that the monopolized version is in every way morally and practically inferior to its voluntary foundation.

I haven’t had an ideological debate or attempt to persuade anyone in years. I’ve moved into the world of action through entrepreneurship, trying to build a freer, better, more peaceful world through voluntary exchange instead of arguments. But this dream was a ton of fun. I woke up with my mind reeling through all the other stuff we didn’t even touch on. My intellectual and experiential journey to anarchism took nearly a decade and thousands such arguments, books, lectures, observations, points, and counterpoints. It felt like I crammed a few years worth into a single conversation in a dream. It was kind of a rush!

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The Artists Who Are Challenging The Education Status Quo

On a recent weekday morning, the first floor of Tiffany Pierce’s home in Queens, New York, was abuzz with activity. Six children, ranging in age from five to 12, were making art, learning about mathematical asymmetry and digging deep into topics ranging from geography to science. Pierce runs an art-inspired, micro-learning homeschool co-op, bringing together local families who want a more personalized approach to education for their children. Together, the families hired a teacher four days a week to craft an inviting and intellectually-engaging learning environment, while Pierce volunteers her space and support.

Challenging the Status Quo

An artist with a master’s degree in teaching and prior classroom experience, Pierce was thoughtful about her son, Liam’s, education. He went to a small, private preschool nearby,Artists have historically played a crucial role in challenging dominant systems and inspiring change. but when Pierce sent Liam to a public school for kindergarten, she realized it wasn’t a good fit for him. “It was a high-performing school,” Pierce recalls, “but when I visited I saw his back turned and him just looking out the window. His affect was so low, his confidence was shot, he didn’t want to play. I knew it wasn’t just kindergarten blues. This wasn’t his fit. Then he said: ‘Mommy, will you teach me at home?’”

The timing was right, as Pierce happened to be between jobs and she and Liam’s dad thought they would give homeschooling a try. “We like the freedom of choices and options,” says Pierce. “We like to have a say in how our child operates. This person is so precious to us.” In the beginning, says Pierce, she simply replicated school at home and it became a power struggle between getting her son to do things and him resisting. She was also busy running art classes and doing graphic design work for various clients.

Pierce knew she needed a different model and began posting to neighborhood Facebook groups about launching a co-op out of her home. The response was positive, with many parents expressing interest in alternative learning options for their children. Today, eight-year-old Liam learns with other children in the co-op, along with his mother and their teacher, Mary-Lynn Galindo, who provide structure while emphasizing self-directed learning and ample outside time. According to Pierce:

Homeschooling, micro-learning and co-teaching as a small neighborhood-based co-op allows for us to be fully involved with our kids’ learning experience and we weave it through our neighborhood, community, borough and city.

Pierce sees hybrid homeschooling models and the larger micro-school movement as a harbinger of education innovation: “I see us moving towards education that is self-directed,” she says. “Education does not have to be seen as coming from four walls in a conventional, traditional way.” To that end, she launched a mobile arts studio and is working on purchasing an art bus, to help others to view art and education differently. Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, and in particular the Harlem Community Arts Center that sprouted from it and nurtured African American artistic talent during the late-1930s and early 1940s, Pierce envisions her mobile studio as a modern off-shoot of the center.

It is my mission for the mobile arts studio to serve as a 21st century version of a neighborhood-based arts studio where art is mobile and meets children and adults where they are to create, express and connect,

she says. In art, education and the intersection of the two, Pierce is looking to challenge longstanding conventional settings and practices and design something new.

An Art Apprenticeship Model

Designing something new is also what drives Gabriel Valles, a professional artist and entrepreneur in Austin, Texas who runs an art apprenticeship studio. Like Pierce, Valles homeschools his children and works closely with other local homeschoolers, while building an innovative art education model. He also began his homeschooling journey by trying to replicate school-at-home and witnessing how coercion had a detrimental effect on his children’s learning and their family relationships. By granting his children more autonomy and opportunity for self-direction, their learning flourished. His older son, now 15, has a passion for stop motion animation and has a successful YouTube channel with over 50,000 subscribers and almost 32 million views.

As Valles observed how his children’s creativity and competence grew when they were allowed to drive their own learning while being supported by adults, he decided to launch an art studio, MentorWings, that would run on a self-directed apprenticeship model for aspiring young artists. “Our program is principle-based and self-directed,” says Valles.

Students come in with their particular interest, such as superheroes, anime, fantasy art or cartooning, and we meet them where they are. There is no curriculum. Instead we focus on building upon foundational art principles, such as shape, form, design and color.

Valles sees how young people quickly build their skills, and become highly competent, doing college or professional-level work as teenagers. “We need to give kids more credit than we’re giving them and acknowledge that they can be doing real-world work before or instead of college,” says Valles. He says that art school is too expensive and often doesn’t lead to the kind of career in-roads that can result in fulfilling work.

This work is increasingly in-demand, says Valles, as digital content development and marketing become ubiquitous and new mediums emerge. “I am trying to make it less expensive to attain professional-level competence and also build bridges into the industry,” says Valles. He has established an endorsement system for young artists based on their portfolios that can provide an alternative signaling mechanism for employers.

That endorsement versus a general degree really means a lot. It doesn’t guarantee a job, but it shows confidence in a particular student and becomes a much more powerful signal to the people who are hiring,

he says.

Artists have historically played a crucial role in challenging dominant systems and inspiring change. It’s not surprising that today some of them are building unconventional education models and imagining new possibilities for learning. As Valles says:

My passion is experimenting and inventing things. Art is just the medium that I do that through. Creating educational structures that are a little more just for kids is the problem I am really trying to address.

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Mao Is Murder

 

Mao Zedong’s most famous aphorism could well be, “Revolution is not a dinner party.”  But perhaps he should have said, “Revolution is a dinner party where the main course is human flesh.”  Here’s one gripping episode from Frank Dikötter’s The Tragedy of Liberation.

In April 1948, the communists advanced towards Changchun itself. Led by Lin Biao, a gaunt man who had trained at the Whampoa Military Academy, they laid siege to the city. Lin was considered one of the best battlefield commanders and a brilliant strategist. He was also ruthless. When he realised that Zheng Dongguo, the defending commander in Changchun, would not capitulate, he ordered the city to be starved into surrender. On 30 May 1948 came his command: ‘Turn Changchun into a city of death.’

Inside Changchun were some 500,000 civilians, many of them refugees who had fled the communist advance and were trapped in their journey south to Beijing after the railway lines had been cut. A hundred thousand nationalist troops were also garrisoned inside the city. Curfew was imposed almost immediately, keeping people indoors from eight at night to five in the morning. All able-bodied men were made to dig trenches. Nobody was allowed to leave. People who refused to be searched by sentries were liable to be shot on the spot. Yet an air of goodwill still prevailed in the first weeks of the siege, as emergency supplies were dropped by air. Some of the well-to-do even established a Changchun Mobilisation Committee, supplying sweets and cigarettes, comforting the wounded and setting up tea stalls for the men.

But soon the situation deteriorated. Changchun became an isolated island, beleaguered by 200,000 communist troops who dug tunnel defences and cut off the underground water supply to the city. Two dozen anti-aircraft guns and heavy artillery bombarded the city all day long, concentrating their fire on government buildings. The nationalists built three defensive lines of pillboxes around Changchun. Between the nationalists and the communists lay a vast no man’s land soon taken over by bandits.

On 12 June 1948 Chiang Kai-shek cabled an order reversing the ban on people leaving the city. Even without enemy fire, his planes could not possibly parachute in enough supplies to meet the needs of an entire city. But the anti-aircraft artillery of the communists forced them to fly at an altitude of 3,000 metres. Many of the airdrops landed outside the area controlled by the nationalists. In order to prevent a famine, the national­ists encouraged the populace to head for the countryside. Once they had left they were not allowed back, as they could not be fed…

Few ever made it past the communist lines.  Lin Biao had placed a sentry every 50 metres along barbed wire and trenches 4 metres deep.  Every exit was blocked.  He reported back to Mao: ‘We don’t allow the refugees to leave and exhort them to turn back. This method was very effective in the beginning, but later the famine got worse, and starving civilians would leave the city in droves at all times of day and night, and after we turned them down they started gathering in the area between our troops and the enemy.’

What was the point of this cruelty?  Victory:

By the end of June, some 30,000 people were caught in the area between the communists, who would not allow them to pass, and the nationalists, who refused to let them back in the city.  Hundreds dried every day.  Two months later, more than 150,000 civilians were pressed inside the death zone, reduced to eating grass and leaves, doomed to slow starvation.

[…]

Soldiers absconded throughout the siege.  Unlike the civilians who were driven back, they were welcomed by the communists and promised good food and lenient treatment.

And victory was indeed achieved:

Hailed in China’s history books as a decisive victory in the battle of Manchuria, the fall of Changchun came at huge cost, as an estimated 160,000 civilians were starved to death inside the area besieged by the communists.  ‘Changchun was like Hiroshima,’ wrote Zhang Zhenglong, a lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army who documented the siege.  ‘The casualties were about the same.  Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months.’

Victory, however, was the basis for decades of tyranny and tragedy.  Why?  Because the Maoists, devoted followers of Lenin, only practiced “By any means necessary” when trying to gain and hold power.  Otherwise, their motto was, “Whatever strikes our fancy.”

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Glad to See Space Escape Government

I admit it: I’ve always been a bit of a space geek. Or, would that be “space nerd?”

Whatever the term, I love space flight, and am especially excited to see it beginning to escape the stagnant, innovation-crushing monopoly of government.

I’ve enjoyed watching the recent rocket launches and the tests of the experimental vehicles. I am pulling for humans to walk on Mars in my lifetime; thinking it’s looking more likely all the time.

I resent government agencies pretending to have some political authority over space flight and the companies practicing it, but the nature of government is to get in the way. Government offices are filled with hordes of people unqualified to do anything but issue or deny permits, and they are going to keep asserting control — fighting the future — as long as they can get away with it.

I also realize when people move to another world — whether a planet or a moon — they’ll probably pollute the place with some sort of government.

I wish they’d establish a society instead, but since most people mistakenly conflate society and government they’ll probably make the wrong choice.

The most foolish thing they might do would be to accept an Earth government’s attempt to govern a colony on another world. And you know they’ll try. Gotta keep milking those “tax cows” and make sure the Earth laws are being enforced. Can’t allow liberty to get a foot-hold anywhere, or it might give Earth inhabitants dangerous ideas.

I’ve thought for decades that unless a new, attainable frontier opens up soon, the human race is doomed. Some people are fine with being jammed together in a politically controlled environment, but some of us aren’t. This is why humans have always journeyed over the horizon.

The first church steeple or courthouse was enough to make some frontiersmen decide it was time to pack up and move to freer spaces. This option has been closed off for too long now, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

I doubt I’d go to Mars or the Moon, even if I had the opportunity. Especially not for a one-way trip. I like uncultivated plants, wild animals and free air too much.

Will space, “the final frontier,” open soon enough to salvage humanity? Will it be a place of liberty or oppression? I don’t know for sure, but it’s finally looking a little hopeful for the first time in decades. We aren’t there yet, but we’re going. It’s just a matter of time.

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Universal Basic Income is a Totalitarian State’s Dream Scheme

Andrew Yang’s small but solid polling in the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination race shows that “Universal Basic Income” has gone from a fringe idea to an idea with a foothold in the popular consciousness.

Supporters of a basic income span the political spectrum and the economic upheavals of the 21st century — especially fears that automation will increasingly replace human workers — are likely to fuel its journey to the center of policy discussions over the next few years.

A guaranteed income for the masses isn’t here, but it may well be coming. That’s a bad thing.

Let’s assume that the problems a UBI seeks to address are real, vexing, and intractable: That this generation of automation, unlike past iterations, will destroy more jobs than it creates and lower rather than raise wages.

Let’s also assume that a universal income guarantee at, say, the poverty line would cost less and address those problems more efficiently  than expanded versions of existing welfare programs.

Those assumptions, correct or not, leave out one major problem that a UBI would create rather than solve. The problem, put simply, is that a Universal Basic Income would quickly turn into an iron-fisted tool of social and individual control by the entity writing those monthly checks (the government).

A Universal Basic Income wouldn’t be “universal.” Some exclusions (for example, prison inmates) would almost certainly be baked into it from the start. Others would quickly follow. Are you a FORMER felon? Is your name on a sex offender registry or no-fly list? Are you behind on child support or late filing a tax return? Do you make “too much” money above the UBI? Did you fail a random drug test?

Suppose you don’t fall into any of those categories. You’re an upright citizen. The UBI hits your bank account reliably every month. You come to depend on it, even if you’re otherwise employed. It takes the edge off poverty or covers the little extras you’ve become accustomed to.

Then your paymasters in Washington announce that unless Policy X is implemented, the UBI will regrettably have to be eliminated, or cut, or a cost-of-living increase skipped.

Policy X might be one of the exclusions mentioned above. Or it might be something seemingly only tenuously, if at all, related to the UBI itself. A trade war, even a shooting war, premised on an economic downturn being another country’s “fault.” Another housing crash, necessitating another bailout of banks and investment houses with cockamamie trading policies.  You name it, politicians will figure out a way to weaponize an income guarantee to get you on their side of it.

So, do you Support Policy X and the politicians advocating for it, or risk that monthly income guarantee to support what you really think is right?

Maybe you’re a person of principle. Maybe you’ll stand up for what’s right even if it costs you. But will your neighbors?

The cost of a UBI would be total state power. And that would be a terrible deal to take.

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Three Generations of Manhood in Homer’s “The Odyssey”

Today I finished reading The Odyssey, that complex, brilliant, violent, old, relevant epic poem about the journey home of Greek hero Odysseus.

I have many thoughts about this book (“why is the ending so abrupt?” “Wow, Odysseus is wily and violent.” “These feast descriptions make me hungry.” “Athena is one super-cool lady.”) here at the ending, but one scene in particular stands out.

(READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE THE STORY SPOILED.)

Odysseus and his son Telemachus, having slain the abusive suitors of Odysseus’s wife Penelope, flee Odysseus’s home in Ithaca and come to the home of his father, Laertes. Laertes has missed and then mourned his son for 20 years, so the reunion is one of the most touching of this book of reunions.

Later, when some men of Ithaca come in pursuit of Odysseus (wanting to avenge their fallen sons and brothers), all three generations of Greek heroes suit up for battle: Odysseus, Telemachus, even old Laertes. A friendly banter of bravado strikes up as Telemachus and Odysseus prepare for battle, prompting Laertes to celebrate:

“What a day for me, dear gods! What joy-

My son and my grandson vying over courage!”

Then the goddess Athena grants Laertes strength and skill beyond his age and he:

“. . . Lifted a mighty prayer to mighty Zeus’s daughter

brandished his spear a moment, winged it fast

and hit Eupithes. . .”

Laertes, after 20 years of waiting and many years of decrepitude and aging, comes back into his own (even if briefly) and fights alongside his son and grandson in the final battle of the story.

It is a beautiful thing when three generations of men can experience their manhood together. We see in this scene something that must have been especially valued and especially rare in the ancient world. Even if the violence is not so attractive now, the cooperation of three generations is still a magnificent thing.

Laertes of course makes me think of my own grandfather, who would have turned 92 yesterday. I did have the chance to let him see me come into manhood, but I do wish that we could have been men together: him, my father, and me. We would have been a formidable team, not fighting vengeful Greeks but certainly in making things grow, keeping up our farm, and taking care of others in our lives with our full energies and powers.

I hope that my father lives well enough to work alongside me and his grandson(s) one day. This was a fitting ending to The Odyssey and a fitting plot point to any good life of men.

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