Saturday, May 3, 2014

Defeating the religion of the state, while defusing libertarian hot-heads

Ben Stone thinks some hothead libertarians will inevitably seek to fight the state directly. He thinks this strategy courts disaster, and he used his podcast series "Beyond Civil Disobedience" to try to channel that energy into more productive directions. I appreciate his contribution and agree with his concern, but important parts of his approach seem likely to hold us back. We don't want hotheads flying off at the handle, but Stone's advice is too vague.

In this series and in other episodes of his podcast, Stone has made clear that disrupting the "religion of the state" will bring our goals within reach, that changing a critical mass of minds on the issue of legitimate authority will guarantee our success, and no other measure can bring success so long as people persist in current beliefs. Yet the "Lego brigade" he discusses does not attack the basic ideas and practices forming the religion of the state. By distracting his listeners from the primary goal, he undermines his own effort.

Stone lists 4 goals for libertarians: 1) educate others on the moral illegitimacy of the state, how it delegitimizes it's own authority, harms citizens, betrays their loyalty, defiles the ideas of the Enlightenment upon which it was supposedly founded, and unfairly oppresses the weak; 2) point out the practical failures of the state in fulfilling their monopoly functions; 3) make money in general but also in particular make money by cheating the government; 4) assist government indirectly to destroy itself. Clearly, educating people about the moral and practical faults of statism does take aim at the primary target. But these do not address the hotheads. The actions he reserves for the hotheads, baiting and cheating the government, expose our cause to great risk.
Stone encourages the Lego brigade to exploit government corruption and inefficiency to gather funds for the movement by cheating the government. The benefits to the cause presumably include a source of funds for other projects and a reduction of the effectiveness of government. Plenty of pigs are feeding at that trough already, but do we want to associate with them? Ironically, if this idea succeeds, it undermines the educational effort. When scandal erupts, Statists will spin government failure as the result of a vast anarchist conspiracy, making us look like hypocrites and parasites. We want people to think of us as builders of society, not scammers of government. Government  consists entirely of conmen already, why should we corrupt ourselves by joining in? I think scamming the government is a pretty competitive sector of the economy, do we have any innovations to offer there? I mean, that is why we are libertarians, right, because we know that government attracts inefficiency and corruption?

Stone describes the actions intended to "assist the state in its self-destruction" with ambiguous and violent metaphors. The state should die of 1000 tiny cuts. David should bean Goliath with a sling stone and use Goliath's own sword to cut off Goliath's head. Our hotheads should place Legos at the top of the stairs, where the dragon can trip over them. But who is Goliath? What is the dragon?

You cannot trip an idea with Legos. You cannot kill an idea with 1000 tiny cuts. "Civil disobedience does not expose the religion of the state" and neither does embezzling or "homesteading" government property. David cannot cut off Goliath's beliefs with a sword or smash them with a sling stone. None of our substantive objectives stand vulnerable to violence or stealth. Just the opposite - we must make people think consciously and voluntarily choose to engage in our project, or at least to tolerate it. They must respect our ideas enough to let us try them out. We need a P.R. blitz and some viral videos, not skulduggery. Yet Stone does not list any psychological objectives or tactics for his Lego brigade, and if he had, secrecy would not offer an advantage.

The lego brigade, as imagined by Stone, must operate in secret. Secrecy brings with it accountability and transparency problems. Secrecy undermines accountability, which leads to corruption. Hence, the Lego brigade risks harm, while offering no clear benefit. 

Stone imagines a cell of libertarian hackers freeing political prisoners. I must admit I was amused by the antics of lulzsec and antisec, and the idea of having political prisoners start disappearing from federal prisons would please me even more. But what price am I willing to pay?

Stone wants to deal with hotheads who can't resist the temptation to "do something." If we are going to have an underground, I suggest they just join the existing black market, and use agorism and counter-economics to build society and satisfy the enormous and expanding market for forbidden or over-regulated goods. Better yet, we should find some legal, aboveground forms of activism that satisfy their need for accomplishment in a constructive way. 

The real heroes of our movement include people like Satoshi Nakamoto, Gavin Andresen, Phil Zimmerman, Whit Diffie, Cody Wilson, and Bram Cohen; people who have succeeded in changing society for the better, in spite of government opposition. Although they all showed courage, none of them is a hothead. 


voluntaryist said...

I agree. While violence and secrecy are justified as self defense against institutionalized violence (govt.), they are not a good primary strategy. Voluntarism is best defined as constructive self expression and self responsibility thru self governance. I do not want to be seen primarily as fighting a particular administration, or even as "anti" something. I am "pro-freedom", pro-sovereign individualism, pro-properity thru property rights. Of course, all this implies anarchy. But I do not wish to emphasize the negative implications of my positive philosophy. This is reactive, not proactive. Every revolution except one, the American, has been futilely reactive. And even the American Dream (ideal?) of individual rights has been forgotten by most, despite being the first truly revolutionary change in politics. This is probably due to the violent nature of that revolt, e.g., a standing army cost more lives than would have been lost with a militia only and was used by the new govt. to enforce taxation without representation. How ironic. But not unexpected if you understand the nature of conflict. Read: "Power & Struggle" by Gene Sharp or anything he has written.

voluntaryist said...

The "force of reason" is society's only means of survival. "Brute force" (govt.) only survives by support from a non-violent society, but even then only until the violence grows and grows until it consumes its host. Attacking govt. is futile. Strike the root of the problem: A lack of confidence in reason. Where reason is the primary value, initiating force is rejected as irrational and counter to peace and prosperity.

David Burns said...

Voluntaryist, thanks for your comments. We need to keep our eyes on the prize, emphasize building alternatives, not attacking obsolete ideas.