Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bad Quaker's vision of activism

Ben Stone has released 2 episodes of his "Bad Quaker" podcast on the topic "Beyond Civil Disobedience." There will be more, but I'm already very interested. He brings up some stuff I've wanted to talk about, but also takes some wrong turns, IMHO.

The State is a Meme, Erase it and We Win.

Stone realizes that our enemy is an idea, not a group of people. I like this important insight. Yet his position on violence is confusing. You don't need violence to fight an idea, and using violence may defeat the whole purpose. Better to destroy the religion of the state, without harming any people. Harming the innocent makes us look bad. Harming the guilty, even it you think you can justify it morally, gives them a good excuse to round us up, or spread lies about us, with limited benefit. At this point in history, a movement that is large enough to succeed in violent revolution is large enough to succeed with nonviolence. I suspect that violent tactics, if successful in changing things at all, will likely result in a new boss same as the old boss, rather than changing people's ideas about what is possible and what is tolerable. Stone justifies retribution for specific crimes (as opposed to collective guilt, where cop x pays for the crime of cop y). It's not clear whether he thinks it is practical or not. Stone focuses on taxation and aggression as crimes worth worrying about, excluding tax consumers from moral culpability for cashing in on the government goodies. He might even be interpreted as encouraging everyone to cash in.

Insignificance of Civil Disobedience

Stone undermines the idea of civil disobedience as a tactic. For him, the true meaning of an act of civil disobedience translates as a criticism of a specific policy, never an attack on the basic legitimacy of the system. Clearly there are at least two sorts of law-breaking, the ordinary stealthy selfish lawbreaking of the common crook, and the brazen law-breaking of Gandhi with his crowd of followers and cameras rolling. But maybe there could be a third kind? How about Baochan Daohu, the method farmers surreptitiously used to end collective farming in China? How about the release of PGP, TOR, BitTorrent, Imule, bitcoin, and 3d-printed guns? These technologies all enable speech or action that the US government wants to forbid, while (mostly) leaving the identities of the participants obscure. Sometimes disobedience means rolling the cameras and defying punishment, and sometimes it means you roll your eyes and just get on with your life. The results of civil disobedience depend on your goal. Those who pursue policy change while respecting government legitimacy are limited by the goal they chose. Those who disobey because they want to walk their own path may stumble upon a naked emperor. Who knows what we may accomplish after that? 

No Such thing as Shared/Common Property

On his way to prove that government property is unowned, Stone attempts to prove that all shared or common property, such as a married couple's joint ownership of a house, lacks legitimacy. This is beside the point, but I couldn't resist stopping to scratch my head about that. Certainly such property raises more potential problems than the simple case does. But difficult is not the same as impossible. Am I missing something?

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Government

According to Stone, the US government currently uses control of the money supply, manipulation of the media, the complacency of the populace, and eternal war to legitimate and perpetuate themselves. Stone thinks that the movement should make money from government failure, educate people regarding the moral and practical shortcomings of government, and maybe do some discreet, indirect monkeywrenchinging. Won't it look bad for us to actively contribute to the government ineptitude and failure we criticize? 
And Stone speaks favorably of getting parts of the government to fight each other. If he means turf battles or legal battles, sure. But did he mean literal battles? I suspect we all face danger if government bureaucrats start shooting each other.

Overt and Covert Action Separated

Stone wants to learn from the historical example of the split between the IRA and Sinn Féin. One overt, peaceful branch to do PR and gather funds, the other covert branch to secretly loot and sabotage the government. This approach looks dangerous to me - it invites false flag ops, agents provocateurs, bad PR, unaccountable action, and hypocrisy. Perhaps he will give some details in future episodes, I do not see the big payoff yet. Stone twice mis-spoke in this regard, referring to the need for "deniable plausibility." I think this slip is a bit Freudian, in that, yeah, the plausibility is a bit deniable! (Maybe the covert branch should call themselves "anonymous.") Where is the payoff? Do we really need to encourage the loose cannon? Just the opposite. Once the movement gains a certain degree of popularity and the government starts to notice we exist, how do we prevent the FBI from setting up some green liberty recruits as the modern day Sacco and Vanzetti? We totally lack legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and I suspect the FBI could demonize us easily, unless we stick to a strict program of transparency, nonviolence, and accountability.

Minarchists vs. An-Caps

In a previous post I suggested a truce and alliance between minarchists and an-caps, that piecemeal liberty activism on specific issues provides benefits for both. Experience moving toward liberty gives us experience with what works and how to protect rights. Maybe I was wrong, and those who favor an ultraminimal state must oppose Stone's anarchist strategy? He seems to oppose anything that might reduce the stupidity or corruption of the government. He seems to theorize that government legitimacy falls as corruption rises, so anyone that actually reduces corruption delays the day of reckoning. Does this mean that anarchists should not support reform of any kind? This appeals to my natural laziness, but I don't think it can inspire a successful movement. Stone seems to say we should stand on the sidelines and do nothing except a) point out how stupid it all is to other observers and b) toss a monkeywrench into the works now and then when no one is looking. We should neither support reforming the stupidity nor prepare a replacement. I hope I'm wrong.

Transition: How?

I get the impression that Stone expects the transition from the status quo to liberty will follow a monetary hyperinflation and an attempt to form a world government. But even if government corruption has convinced a large number of people that the state lacks legitimacy, what will they do in a moment of panic? How will we manage a soft landing, with no preparations made other than education and sabotage?
I see a need to supplement education with actual alternatives to government services. If we have replacements ready, maybe we can manage a more gradual, smooth transition. 
There are two kinds of education: yakfest and hands-on. There is a limit on the power of the yakfest. If having a nice friendly rational talk with someone succeeded in convincing them, we'd be there already. But where words lose traction, a demonstration can still grab on. I can sympathize with people who doubted the possibility of airplane flight before the Wright brothers took off. After that, not so much. We need some demonstration projects, some businesses, clubs, charities, etc. that can jump into the gap as the state collapses (or preferably, as the state slowly evaporates). Let's provide alternatives now to:
  • Cops: Shield Mutual provides not-quite defense services. Mall cops. Home security. Mutual aid. The camera is the new gun, maybe the first DRO can have camera-toters instead of gun-toters.
  • Courts: arbitration services.
  • Public school: Unschooling, scholarships, Lancaster method, online autodidacticism.
  • Regulation and licensing: online reputation tracking.
  • Emergency aid: mutual aid
  • Welfare: charity, jobs, training
The concentration of liberty activists is too thin in most places for this to work. Maybe the FSP can concentrate enough of them in New Hampshire to make these ideas practical.

I like Stone's podcasts and I'm encouraged by some of the things he says. I hope that future podcasts will clear up some of my confusion about these points. 

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