Sunday, September 29, 2013

The criminal state

"States are criminal organizations. All states, not just the obviously totalitarian or repressive ones. The only possible exceptions to this sweeping claim are those mini–states that are, in effect, swollen bits of private property, such as the Vatican. I intend this statement to be understood literally and not as some form of rhetorical exaggeration. The argument is simple. Theft, robbery, kidnapping and murder are all crimes. Those who engage in such activities, whether on their own behalf or on behalf of others are, by definition, criminals. In taxing the people of a country, the state engages in an activity that is morally equivalent to theft or robbery; in putting some people in prison, especially those who are convicted of so–called victimless crimes or when it drafts people into the armed services, the state is guilty of kidnapping or false imprisonment; in engaging in wars that are other than purely defensive or, even if defensive, when the means of defense employed are disproportionate and indiscriminate, the state is guilty of manslaughter or murder.
"For many people, perhaps most, these contentions will seem both shocking and absurd. Some will immediately object that taxation is clearly not theft. They may say as Greg Duncan does that since you don't have legal title to all your pre-tax income the state commits no crime in appropriating that part of your income to which it is entitled. The problem with this objection is that it completely begs the question – is the state entitled to part of your income?"
Gerard Casey

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The State is a Unicorn

"A parable: Behold the unicorn. Now the unicorn is the ideal pack animal. It can carry large amounts of cargo. It eats nothing but rainbows. And it's flatulence smells of fresh strawberries. It's clearly the ideal pack animal, save for one thing: it doesn't exist. 
"The state is a unicorn. There is no such thing as the state. [...] There's no such thing as the collective, the Uber-mind that has all the information that markets are assumed to lack. So I would hope that before you say "Markets fail," that is, the first pig is ugly, and therefore I want the unseen pig, in this case a unicorn, to solve these problems for me, substitute in this: next time you say I want the state to do x, say I want politicians I actually know to be in charge of this, because they're better informed, because they have a longer time horizon, and I think you'll see that that's nonsense. Politicians are looking for the next election; if they lose, they're done. Now it's perfectly true that people in markets (stockholders, managers) have very short time horizons. But so do politicians. We're in a situation where we have two pretty bad choices. And the idea that we're going to pick one over the other means that we're doomed to continue to make the mistakes that have gotten us to this point in the first place."
Mike Munger, econtalk, about one hour and six minutes in.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

NVC Niff Clotes: Chapter Thirteen: Expressing Appreciation inNonviolent Communication

Rosenberg regards "praise and compliments to be life-alienating." The praiser sits in judgement. Some use flattery for manipulative purposes, but even an honest compliment can misfire. Rosenberg wants to make sure that expressions of appreciation celebrate gratitude. Then when we receive such expressions we can choose something other than egotism or false humility. We can receive joyfully.
More cultural conditioning: "We tend to notice what's wrong rather than what's right." We can improve our lives by noticing what others do to enrich our lives, and taking time to appreciate it.
NVC-style appreciation has three parts: "We state (1) the action that has contributed to our well-being, (2) the particular need of ours that has been fulfilled, and (3) the feelings of pleasure engendered as a result."
"We are often uncomfortable with simple giving and receiving."

Previous chapter 

NVC Niff Clotes: Chapter Twelve: Liberating Ourselves and CounselingOthers

Rosenberg wants to help us overcome damage done by our cultural conditioning. We've learned to play the game by rules that don't get us what we want, even when we win. If we gain consciousness of our feelings and needs, we gain the tools we need to break out, to gain a measure of self-knowledge, to overcome depression. "Depression is indicative of a state of alienation from our own needs."
Does Rosenberg really give us the insight we need to find self-empathy? Is it possible to live in NVC, to use it all the time? If not, is it possible to switch it on when we need it?
Rosenberg asks us to recognize our conditioning, bring our emotions to consciousness, and identify our needs. Can we? If we do, will it work?
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NVC Niff Clotes: Chapter Eleven: The Protective Use of Force

"The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury or injustice, never to punish or to cause individuals to suffer, repent, or change. The punitive use of force tends to generate hostility and to reinforce resistance to the very behavior we are seeking. Punishment damages Goodwill and self-esteem and shifts our attention from the intrinsic value of an action to external consequences. "
This chapter conveys a simple, brief message, acknowledging the necessity of the use of force in rare and specific circumstances. Rosenburg differentiates between protective and punitive uses of force. He neglects the coercive use of force, but what he says about punishment works for coercion, too.
Rosenberg includes the use of certain sorts of language under the category of use of force. This includes using blame to discredit another person or withholding gratification such as a parent taking away driving privileges and or withdrawal of caring or respect. He considers this a very powerful threat. 
Punishment is ineffective because we want not only to change what people do but also to influence why they do it, remaking respectful and empathic towards them. If people do things for the wrong reasons they may sabotage the ultimate goal. If we coerce people into doing our will, we undermine our long-term interests. 
At one point Rosenburg mentions the difficulty of clarifying the difference between NVC and permissiveness. Unfortunately he doesn't elaborate at this point. A permissive parent or teacher neglects their own needs. Rosenberg would have us keep listening and using NVC until we achieve empathy. At that point when we see the other's needs and our own, and we both feel heard, we may be able to negotiate to a win-win solution. 

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Seeking Liberty in the Second Realm

 "Second Realm" describes a strategy for achieving liberty. The authors (pseudonomously known as smuggler and XYZ) want freedom very soon, and because only a small minority of society currently loves liberty, they concentrate on approaches that small groups can use. They want to find or create a territory (similar to Hakim Bey's TAZ) where they're hard to harass or spy upon, so that the so-called authorities may decide to tolerate them.
It's hard to summarize what I liked about this small free online book. Books on "how to get there" rarely show up on my radar, and I liked their focus on small groups in the near future, before the ancap rapture turns on the light for all the Statists. They describe the first steps we could take toward a more open society, willing to learn from experiments rather than impose solutions from the top down. If something can start small and grow, without asking any one's permission, that seems more doable than grand political visions.
Unfortunately, I can easily think of weaknesses in the book. Their strategy depends on obscurity to evade interference from the so-called authorities, but obscurity brings costs of its own. Transparency enables  accountability, so secrecy provides fertile soil where corruption can grow. Obscurity may cause problems among group members, or between members and neighbors, or P.R. problems.
Despite the focus on immediate, small scale action, the book provides no practical examples of a group that has succeeded with this approach (perhaps one exists, but succeeded in remaining obscure). The authors mention the mafia and biker gangs as examples of separate cultures that sometimes succeed in this approach. While those sorts of groups indeed manage to establish a second realm for themselves where they can impose their own rules, they hardly seem like good candidates for emulation. Even ignoring their reputations for violence, the mafia centers on operating related businesses, and bikers center on biking. What analogous unifying characteristic could liberty lovers find that would unite them? Everyone knows that organizing individualists makes cat herding look easy.
What about drug users, prostitutes, gamblers, black market sellers, and black market customers? The dominance system has forced them to adopt obscurity. Do they have safe places, a second realm? Could they live their lives there if they chose to do so? Could we just infiltrate these existing groups? Radicalize them? Organize them? Their social potency derives from their lack of any sort of organization, unification, or connection as a group. They seem mostly to accept the culture's moralistic judgement against them, and do not see their own marginal status as evidence of the illegitimacy of the dominance system. What has happened to them as the cost of surveillance dropped and it's pervasiveness increased?
Perhaps the Quakers, or the Amish provide a better prototype. Libertarians could form a philosophical gypsy goth Quaker tribe. They might embrace radical openness, sacrificing privacy for transparency. Instead of hiding in obscurity, they could fight corruption with sousveillance.