“Theoretical”? “Utopian”?

Anarchy* is neither theoretical nor Utopian.

It’s a way to live among others without violating them. Probably the only way. It works in real life, every day, in the real world in which we live.

You already know this, I’m sure. If you don’t know it yet, experience will drive the point home if thinking it through isn’t enough for you.

*Or you can call it Voluntaryism. libertarianism, or abolitionism. Same deal.

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The Classical Liberal is a Dreamer

Classical liberalism does not disavow the state. Indeed, it embraces and celebrates it, but only, the classical liberals insist, in the form of “limited government.” This regime, sustained by taxation, includes legislators who enact rules, executives who control police and armed forces to enforce the rules, and judges who settle disputes between persons and between persons and the state. In many versions it also includes active engagement in the construction and maintenance of public works (now often called infrastructure) and a system of government schools (now often with compulsory attendance). The classical liberal imagines that this setup will support free markets and more generally a free society and that it can be sustained indefinitely.

Yet, upon reflection, one sees that this regime has everything a state needs to function as an authoritarian or even a tyrannical system of rule. Legislators can enact tyrannical rules; executives can employ the police and the armed forces to enforce compliance with these rules; and judges can rule in favor of the state in disputes. Public works can be used mainly to serve state purposes, and the government schools can dispense indoctrination along with the academic and practical subjects. Moreover, notwithstanding admonitions of the need for eternal vigilance, nothing ensures that a classical liberal version of limited government will stay limited, and many considerations indicate that it will expand its size, scope, and power over time, especially during real or imagined crises.

In sum, the classical liberal is a dreamer. He places his faith in a setup that has little chance of persisting and may in fact be hostile to the people’s rights and liberties from the outset. He is the true utopian, the one who imagines that the viper can be not only tamed but transformed into the essential guardian of a free and flourishing society.

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Is Honesty a Virtue?

I have been thinking about honesty in the philosophical/psychological sense recently. I think there are a lot of false virtues that initially and intuitively seem correct, but often distracts from greater issues. I tend to view honesty in this category.

I have been dishonest in many realms in past relationships, and I have been very honest in more recent relationships. The irony about this is … in the past I used to find honesty a virtue, while more recently I haven’t.

Everyone desires human connection, and we are able to get a higher quality connection the more honest we are. So, it seems insane that people would desire to lie to anyone they would have a relationship with. Sure, people who want to use people to get something in the short run would be incentivized to lie, but why would someone lie to someone they desire to have a long term relationship with?

The first question to ask in delving deeper is, fairly obvious, why do people lie in relationships? Are we so cynical to think that everyone just wants to manipulate and control people? I don’t think it is that simple, but there is a small kernel of truth here.

Reason 1 – Shame

When we can’t accept something about ourselves, it is impossible to believe that others can accept those things about us.

I used to believe that I had weird sexual desires. The world told me in a million different ways that I was freaking weird, and should be ashamed of myself. I heard it from religion, teachers, parents, etc. I was indirectly told that my sexuality was predatory, and I believed them. Of course, when I got older and discussed the topic with other guys and girls I realized that I was pretty freaking “Plain Jane” in my sexual desires. I also learned that almost everyone had similar shame regarding sexual desires.

Due to all of this I lied to my earlier girlfriends about my sexual desires. I couldn’t accept these things about myself, so I figured, how can they accept these things about me? For me to open up about these sexual desires I have to expect that they will be okay with something that I wasn’t even okay with about myself.

Was I a bad guy for being dishonest? No … I just lived in a horrible system that shamed me from a young age.

While sexuality is often a big reason for lying, there are many other things also… however, this is usually the best example since most people can easily relate.

Reason 2 – Intolerance from Others

Even if someone is able to accept something about themselves … that doesn’t mean that he will believe the world will tolerate that about him, or specifically, a friend or girlfriend.

To this day I am only selectively honest with people. This is why I have regularly cut my Facebook friends down. I surround myself with people who offer me empathy and root for my success. However, many people haven’t found the ability to surround themselves with empathetic people for a myriad of reasons.

Lets say you are a gay guy in rural Alabama. You might have come to terms with your sexual orientation … but it is probably a good idea to lie to people about it. (It is also probably a good idea to move to somewhere else when you can). The same thing goes in a romantic relationship … a guy might be okay with his desire to masturbate thinking about having sex with multiple elderly women (random example) … However, he might not be able to perceive that his girlfriend would be empathetic and understanding of it. He might end up having to lie to his girlfriend about why he has a boner when they went to help out at the old folks home on Jello Wrestling night.

Some people might say that this guy needs to be honest anyway! He is being a liar! He should be honest and maybe just find the people that are right for him. To me, this sounds a bit Utopian.

There are many people in the world who are controlling jerks. As an individual I need to navigate through the world of controlling asses to find happiness with people I choose to associate with. Selectively giving accurate and inaccurate information will help defend against being attacked or targeted by people who wish to hurt you. Next, many people don’t believe they can find understanding from others. There aren’t many girls out there admitting to being sexually turned on to the concept of rape in certain moods, and so the girl who is honest about it will feel like everyone will see her as a whore with no self-respect. So they wont articulate why they have damp underwear while reading The Fountainhead, “Ohh, ummmmm, I think I just accidentally peed a little ….. Yeah.”

Living in the world we live in most people feel alone around people, and they don’t think other people will understand. The reason for this is that people hear from controlling people vastly more than from people willing to be vulnerable and to offer empathy. So many people are left with their perceived dilemma … honesty and loneliness, or dishonesty and companionship? While I think this is a false dilemma, I think it is reasonable conclusion given the evidence.

Reason 3 – Blatant Manipulation

This one is the one that people most often figure people lie, to be a controlling dick. However, in relationships, I tend to find it is rare.

While there is an argument to be made that lying for the other two reasons is manipulative, it doesn’t have the same intent as someone who is just trying to manipulate people into getting something out of them.

There are people who will say anything to get what they want with no regard to another persons feelings or thoughts. If you date a person like this, there isn’t much to be said for you. You likely lack any self-esteem and have no trust in your judging abilities. We all run into people like this (car salesmen, lawyer, hobo, etc), but very few of us want to date these kinds of people.

Conclusions

I don’t think honesty is a virtue. It is a condition that emerges out of empathy for one’s self, and out of empathy for others. There is no way to have it otherwise, to try to force it is impossible, and will merely spurn a list of unintended consequences. If you want a friend or partner to be honest with you … make sure they are incentivized to by being empathetic, accepting, and friendly about the “weird” stuff that will pop up.

If you want someone to be honest, but you want to remain a condemning asshole … fuck you … you merely want people to be honest as a tool to further control them. You are the reason so many people lie.

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Good Always Wins, But You Still Have a Job To Do

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

You don’t have to be pollyannish to believe that good always triumphs over evil.

Oh, sure, it may take a long time for the good to win. And all the ends of life won’t tie themselves up neatly. But most evil is an attempt to thwart reality. And reality is not something to be thwarted.

This is true on a personal scale. Liars end up being discovered. Thieves end up being stolen from. Murderers lose their lives. Injustice collapses in on itself.

It’s true at a macro scale, too. Communism was an attempt to thwart self-interest, a pretense that a society could be built on violence and sacrifice and the utopian dreams of a small group of intellectuals. Fascism was the lie that an amorphous, invisible concept (the state, the volk) was more important than flesh and blood people (plus all the lies of communism, for good measure). If something else doesn’t destroy these things, they just end up destroying themselves in the end.

Evil like this always fails. The universe always restores its own balance, and reality has its own inexorable sense of justice.

We can learn something from this about our own place in the world: it doesn’t come down to us to determine whether or not the good wins out in the end. The world will be saved whether we participate or not.

But there is a choice for us nonetheless.

It’s very much up for grabs whether justice comes in our lifetime. We get to decide whether that justice comes sooner or later. We can decide whether justice comes with healing or with pain. We can decide whether we will bring justice or injustice to others.

We get to participate in the unfolding story of how exactly good triumphs over evil. Or we can choose to delay the inevitable.

That’s the nature of our choice.

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Social Coercion, Rights, Thin Blue Line, & Utopia (34m) – Editor’s Break 043

Editor’s Break 043 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: social coercion and voluntaryism, rights in the negative sense and as a social convention, how markets, and not governments, increase peace and tolerance in society, using force when persuasion fails, the negative aspects of the so-called “thin blue line”, what Utopia is and why the free society is not Utopian, the foolishness in treating celebrities as authorities on politics and economics, and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 043 (34m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Radical Ideals Aren’t the Same as Utopian Visions

I come at questions about policy from a different angle than most. I don’t believe in policy or politics at all. Specifically, I don’t believe that some humans (“rulers”) should get moral sanction to use violence against other people (“the ruled”) to get what they want.

If that doesn’t sound controversial to you, you either 1) agree with me or 2) aren’t paying close enough attention to how politics works.

Force is the essence of all governments from top to bottom. Whether we’re talking about Louis XIV funding the palace of Versailles, George III raising an army to crush a revolt, Vladimir Lenin redistributing confiscated land, or your local police officer enforcing a drug law/tax law/business law (or else…), you’re talking about people who rely on violence or the threat of violence to get compliance for their plans. They ultimately do not ask or require your consent. Their authority ultimately rests on the implied threat that they will beat you up if you don’t do what they say.

It’s a long story, but somehow we came to believe that this was a normal state of affairs.

I don’t believe in violence. If I have one ethical ideal for how human beings should relate to each other (“politics”), it’s that – non-violence. There’s a lot more to say about ethical societies and ethical human behavior, but when it comes to politics, I’m really not much more complicated than that. My views are actually pretty mundane.

But my views are also pretty radical, because a consistent commitment to non-violence means I don’t think “governments” as we know them should exist. Governments are easily the most organized and pervasive violence-users on the planet. 

Radical ideals aren’t “utopian”

Ideals like mine often get confused with utopianism. We’ve all been there. We’ve all heard the refrains:

  • “The world has always been like that.”
  • “Human beings are violent by nature”
  • “Human beings always create violent systems/governments, though!” 
  • “But that’s utopian!

These critiques miss the point entirely.

I’m not against violence because I believe that the world was once perfect or peaceful or whatever. If I didn’t recognize that the world has a violence problem, I wouldn’t make getting rid of violence a main focus.

Human history is bloody beyond belief, and we only get better at devising new ways to use violence to kill and manipulate each other. Those stakes and our harsh reality only make a non-violent ideal more important to hold.

I’m not against violence because I believe that the humans are inherently good or bad, peaceful or violent. I tend not to think that humans are either. But it really doesn’t matter much (for this question at least) what humans are. It matters what the action in question is.

Whether humans are prone to violence or not doesn’t say much about whether violence is good for human flourishing. If it’s not, why should I not oppose violence regardless of our tendency to use it? And if humans are indeed corrupt by nature, how much more should I want to limit their access to violence and violent tools like government?

I’m not against violence because I believe I could somehow create a society without violence. Human beings will always be able to turn to violence (and therefore to governments) to get what they want (as far as I can tell). But if violence still gets in the way of human flourishing, I’m going to fight to stop and reduce it. I’m going to fight to stop it even when it comes in the form of government policy.

None of my opposition to violence is contingent on me getting a fairy-tale wish fulfillment of a society free of violence. 

There are plenty of things we choose to consistently oppose on ethical grounds: murder, rape, theft, etc. All of us realize that these crimes will never go away completely. But none of us makes an ethical exception for these acts. None of us is slow to condemn these acts.

So my question is this: why should we not condemn violence even if we can’t get rid of it? Why should we not then condemn violent governments even if we can’t get rid of them?

I bloody hate utopianism

The accusation of utopianism misunderstands both utopianism and nonviolence.

The actual utopians we’ve seen in history are social planners. They have a vision for a world they will build, usually from the top down. The communists and the Nazis were by-the-book utopians, as have been the social organizers and religious leaders of hundreds of social experiments and colonies. The really earnest utopians love to use violence (or the threat of violence) to get the magical new world order they want.

These utopians are not likable guys. They make life hell for everyone.

A political ideal like “don’t do violence” is perhaps the most anti-utopian one you can find.

“Don’t do violence” is not a vision for what a society should be. It’s not a plan for how millions of people should make their billions of daily decisions. It’s only a prohibition on one way – the destructive way – to relate to other people. It’s a humble way of living with other humans, and it’s effectively a prohibition on utopianism.

Realistic optimism

I hope I have a pretty sober view of the world through history. The world is full of darkness and violence. It’s also full of peace and creativity.

I have a pretty sober view of human nature. It doesn’t really change. But it also has a broad range.

And I think I have a pretty good idea of violence and political violence. It won’t go away, not easily. We’ll probably always have authoritarian systems (governments, gangs, warlords, what have you) in some form. But just because something won’t go away doesn’t mean we don’t fight it.

When I ask people to join me in condemning politics, I’m asking them to do the same thing.

I have no desire to plan a society or create a new human being from scratch. I see no utopia ahead, only a long, slow chain of ethical decisions I have to make. Individual people choose in every moment of their political lives whether they will use violence, participate in violence,  or cheer on the “popular” violence done by someone in a government promising them safety/wealth/etc.

As for me, I won’t sanction it. Maybe you’ll decide that you won’t either. And hell, if enough of us start doing things differently, we might just make the world better. I am a hopeful guy. I do think we can live in a world with 95% less violence. But regardless, we win any time we stop violence from happening. 

But whether we succeed or not (in our lifetimes or a dozen generations from now), we still have to make a choice for ourselves. I choose non-violence, and I guess that means I’m a radical. But I sure as hell am not a utopian.  

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