Sunday, April 13, 2008

Who am I? (The Journey the Shaped Me)

I am a 22 year-old straight Caucasian male who happens to be a mutualist anarchist and atheist living in a small town within the state of Alabama. I know, it definitely doesn’t sound like a place you would expect to find an anarchist. For the most part I am still in the closet concerning my atheism and anarchism. I sometimes feel surrounded by way too many religious conservatives who would probably maul me if they ever knew what I really think. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but living in the Bible Belt definitely makes you tread lightly so that the wrong people don’t catch wind of your unorthodox beliefs. There isn’t much of an outlet around here for me to express my anarchist beliefs, and I would probably move away if I didn’t have a loving family and friends keeping me here. I would say that my road to anarchy began when I started becoming an atheist towards the end of high school. I went to a private high school in Alabama and was a really quiet loner. I don't know for sure, but it is possible that my detachment from society allowed me to more readily turn a critical eye towards things. Being largely an outsider may have helped me become more observant and inquisitive. Since I wasn’t looking to impress others or become accepted by anyone, I did not have to worry as much about coming to unpopular conclusions.

Anyways, I was never really religious. I had never really questioned the things around me that everyone else just seemed to accept. I would just nod and say that I believe in God without really taking the time to understand what that meant. My curiosity was eventually peaked by religious imagery in movies, music, and on TV. I set out to become a religious person of some kind, but I quickly found myself becoming an atheist. After rejecting the Christian God I almost became a Gnostisc and then later I almost became a Buddhist. However, the more I looked, the more illogical all religions seemed. Ultimately, I ended up the atheist that I am today. The Internet was definitely an invaluable tool in helping me investigate and discover who I am.

After becoming a atheist and a skeptic, I began turning my eyes towards politics. The whole World Trade Center incident probably contributed to my increasing interest in the political realm. I had always considered myself a Republican because of parental influence. Like religion, I hadn't really taken the time to give politics much critical thought. I had just assumed that figures of authority, like my parents, knew what they were talking about. I even started out supporting the War in Iraq and rigorously defending it against people I talked to. Luckily my support didn't last too long. I shudder to think about who I was and who I could have become. However, I was never much of a Republican, so after some research I found that my own ideas lined up closely with US Libertarianism. College economics classes and a particular professor helped further cement my right-libertarian ideas. I was always pretty liberal socially and conservative economically.

Essentially, what happened was that through my atheism I happened upon a site called Hell Bound Alleee. It was one of the many of websites I would frequent for atheist views. Francois Tremblay and Alison Randall hosted this amateur radio show, and I would listen on occasion. The both of them were minarchist Libertarians at the time I started listening, but they eventually moved towards anarcho-capitalist market anarchism. I believe that it was through their website that I first noticed a website containing articles and podcasts from an anarcho-capitalist perspective. It was a site called Freedomain Radio, which is hosted by Stefan Molyneux. Curious about learning about an even more radical libertarian perspective than my own, I began listening to Stefan's shows. I was never expecting to agree with anarchism, and went in with the attitude that I would easily be able to find glaring flaws. I went in with a very skeptical attitude, but I eventually found myself agreeing more and more until I concluded that I had become an anarcho-capitalist. In my opinion it does become evident that anarchism is the logical conclusion when one consistently applies libertarian principles.

Through Stefan Molyneux's message board and podcasts, I was guided to a social networking site called Essembly. I joined the site along with an infamous influx of anarcho-capitalists. We were all curious about what we would discover about other people and what kind of impact we could have through such a social networking site. Our views are certainly not aired anywhere in the mainstream media, so we were searching for a way to reach out to people. Anyways, I started having conversations with an anarcho-syndicalist on essembly. Thus, I began more vigorously researching the left side of the anarchist spectrum. I looked at things such as An Anarchist FAQ. I began slowly drifting leftward until I eventually became very confused about which anarchist label I could use to best describe myself. Today I consider myself a mutualist anarchist, which could probably be considered somewhere between left and right, but it is definitely left of center. Kevin Carson’s great blog has had a huge influence on my current beliefs. I am no longer a fan of anarcho-capitalism and am very shaky about their classification as anarchists. However, to remain a consistent anarchist I don’t deny people the ability to organize along capitalist lines as long as they don’t interfere with those of us who desire libertarian socialism. The ideas of Agorist anarchists also fascinate me and overlap with some of my own beliefs. Agorism can interestingly be considered a form of leftist anarcho-capitalism or Left-Rothbardsim. I definitely still have plenty more to learn about anarchism. Ultimately, I support the idea of anarchism without adjectives. I believe that anarchists with passionate disagreements can find common ground, work together, and co-exist peacefully while creating a more free and equal world.

14 comments:

Belinsky said...

Keep 'em coming, sir!

Silent Radical said...

Thanks, Belinsky! I just had a look at your blog as well. Good stuff!

Jeremy said...

Congratulations on the new blog, and thanks for sharing your journey with us! Let me know if you're interested in being syndicated at leftlibertarian.org

Silent Radical said...

Sure! I would be honored to be syndicated at leftlibertarian.org. I've always enjoyed reading the stuff posted on the Social Memory Complex.

Cork said...

Interesting post.

If you don't mind me asking: what, specifically, led you to switch to mutualism over anarcho-capitalism? Where do you think mutualism is right and anarcho-capitalism is wrong?

Furthermore, why are you "shaky" when it comes to calling anarcho-capitalists "anarchists?" In what way are mutualists more anarchistic?

Silent Radical said...

Hello, Cork. The thing that led to my switch over from anarcho-capitalism to mutualism was my coming to the realization that capitalist property rights entail hierarchical concentrations of economic power, which is incompatible with individual liberty. Consider these two simple scenarios:

In the first scenario imagine a shipwrecked man washing ashore upon an island that is owned by one man. The island-owner says that the shipwrecked man is trespassing on private property and claims the right to threaten the desperate man with deadly force if he does get off his island and back into the sea. The island-owner has much more bargaining power and could even make an unfair deal with the shipwrecked man. In the deal the desperate shipwrecked man would “voluntarily” become a slave (from which the fruits of labor are stolen) in order to stay on the island where he can survive.

In the second scenario consider that there is nothing within anarcho-capitalism that says it would be wrong for one person or a small group of individuals to privately own all of the land on earth as long as it was accomplished through “legitimate” capitalist market transactions. The owners of the earth would essentially have a dictatorship over everyone else. If you are not an owner, you have little to no say in the running of your own life. The owners extract rent from those residing on their private property. Such rent is indistinguishable from taxation and thus represents theft from the fruits of productive labor. If you are not an owner you are dependent upon the property-owning class for your livelihood.

Such scenarios shed light on the coercive nature of capitalist property rights. The reason why I am shaky about calling anarcho-capitalists “anarchists” is because they do not understand how economic power over others is incompatible with a complete conception of individual liberty. Anarcho-capitalism affirms negative liberty (freedom from) while denying positive liberty (freedom to). This means that under anarcho-capitalism individuals are free to run roughshod over the individual liberties of others through the private accumulation of economic power. Here we see that there is failure to recognize that freedom also requires equality. Anarcho-capitalism recognizes that equality must be present for freedom when observing the political relationship between the state-government and the citizens, but becomes inconsistent when rejecting the same type of equality between individuals in an economic context. I am shaky about the status of anarcho-capitalists as anarchists because they don’t take their attack on hierarchical authority far enough and instead espouse an impoverished definition of individual liberty.

Cork said...

Silent Radical,

I appreciate the response. Look, I am trying to stop you from making the same mistakes I have, because I have been in the same boat. I don’t want you to spend your whole life miserable believing these kinds of things.

“The thing that led to my switch over from anarcho-capitalism to mutualism was my coming to the realization that capitalist property rights entail hierarchical concentrations of economic power, which is incompatible with individual liberty.”

Let’s stop right here. Mutualism, at least the Tuckerite version, is not opposed to capitalist property rights (unless you’re talking about landlord property). Tucker was not against private ownership of the means of production by someone who employs wage laborers—which is capitalism, by today’s definition. He just thought that wages would/should absorb profits, or that there would at least be a strong trend in that direction. I realize the “Anarchist FAQ” claims he was opposed to capitalist property rights, but that’s simply nonsense.

As for your island example: the guy could be screwed under any system, including if a commune owned the island. I think it’s pretty improbable that someone could even homestead an entire island, but let’s assume someone did. It would be in the interest of the island owner to trade with the person. Even if the owner of the island only traded with the guy on exploitative terms, the guy would gradually accumulate wealth and the more he got the higher his bargaining power would be. But real life isn’t like the island example, because there is always competition; more than one guy to deal with. The only way someone could come to own all the land in the world was if he was really, really, really satisfying consumers. I don’t think it’s even possible, for the same reason it would be impossible for one corporation to own an entire economy. The central planning would fail.

Your comments on rent being theft and the property owning classes being evil are based on the Marxist exploitation theory, as far as I can tell. You might be interested in Rothbard’s article, “Syndical Syndrome.” (http://www.mises.org/journals/lf/1971/1971_06.pdf p.2 ) It addresses the arguments of anarcho-syndicalists.

For the record, I am a left-Rothbardian and deeply concerned about many of the same problems you are. If you want to consider anarcho-capitalism a branch of libertarianism instead of anarchism then that’s fine with me.

I am sure you are a good person but I think your views are mistaken and don’t want you to live a crappy life because of it

Cork said...

Looks like the address got cut off. Here it is:

http://www.mises.org/journals
/lf/1971/1971_06.pdf

Cork said...

BTW, Silent Radical, we are very similar. I'm about the same age, close to getting a business-related degree, and am a total loner. ;)

Silent Radical said...

Cork, I can assure you that I am not spending my whole life miserable believing these kinds of things. Just because there are some things in life that bother me does not mean that I let them become life crippling. Instead I try to turn those feelings into productive action. I am not going to change my mind about anything solely on the basis of how it makes me feel. I try to accept the truth even when it is uncomfortable. It is interesting that we are so similar. I have vehemently believed the exact same things you are telling me now. Hopefully this dialogue will help us correct some of our errors, build some mutual understanding, or strengthen our current convictions.

First off, Benjamin Tucker was no capitalist. He could hardly even be considered a friend of capitalism. People who make such claims often have not read much material directly from Tucker himself and have instead received their information from biased second-hand accounts. Tucker openly proclaimed himself to be a socialist and roundly denounced the usury of interest, rent, and profit. In Benjamin Tucker’s own words: "Interest is Theft, Rent Robbery, and Profit Only Another Name for Plunder." Those are all pretty much the cornerstones of capitalism. Therefore, when Tucker speaks of a “free market” or “private property” he has in mind conceptions of these things that are very different from the ones held by capitalists. His free market is devoid of capitalist private property. If a mutualist is talking favorably about “private property” then he or she is referring to a form of property based on personal occupancy and use. To make these distinctions more clear it is often necessary to conceptually separate capitalist “private property” from libertarian socialist “possession.” The key is that "possession" is rooted in the concept of "use rights" or "usufruct" while "private property" is rooted in a divorce between the users and ownership. Both “private property” and “possession” can be called forms of “property rights” but they are very different from each other.

The Anarchist FAQ is correct when it explains:

Benjamin Tucker asserted that anarchism is meaningless "unless it includes the liberty of the individual to control his product or whatever his product has brought him through exchange in a free market — that is, private property." He acknowledged that "anything is a product upon which human labor has been expended," but would not recognize full property rights to labored-upon land: "It should be noted, however, that in the case of land, or of any other material the supply of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities, Anarchism undertakes to protect no titles except such as are based upon actual occupancy and use." Tucker opposed title to land that was not in use, arguing that an individual would have to use land continually in order to retain exclusive right to it. If this practice is not followed, he believed it results in a "land monopoly."

From my own reading of Benjamin Tucker’s “Instead of a Book” I can assure you that what An Anarchist FAQ has reported is far from nonsense. You even mention Tucker’s very anti-capitalist property rights stance while somehow trying to claim that he was not opposed to capitalist property rights. His whole stance on “landlord property” means the subsequent rejection of capitalist interest, rent, and profit. It means that capital ownership does not receive a return or tribute, which is the fundamental aspect of capitalism. Tucker’s “absorption of profits” is extremely anti-capitalist. Notice that the whole point is that productive labor should be the source of bargaining power in a free market and not capital ownership. This understanding was developed by people like Adam Smith and David Ricardo before becoming tainted by Karl Marx’s authoritarian state communism. I consider myself a free market socialist. Also, Benjamin Tucker is not the end-all authority on mutualism. He may have been inconsistent at times. I am having trouble remembering if it is true or not, but even if Tucker inconsistently claimed not to be fully against the employment of wage labor, the logical consequence of Tucker's proposals would be a system equivalent in most important respects to the kind of system advocated by other left libertarians - a system without wage slavery (and so exploitation) and with "the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty."

Sure, humans can always screw other humans over within any system. However, if in my island example the island was owned by a commune or co-operative societal form, it is much more likely that the desperate shipwrecked man would not be screwed. Property rights should not be placed above human life. Doing so is blatantly incompatible with individual liberty. If the island commune bases property rights on personal occupancy and use, then the shipwrecked man would be fine as long as there is still enough land and resources for him to personally occupy and use. The problem here is with the artificial scarcity created by capitalism for the benefit of the wealthy economic ruling elite. The island scenario is very much like our current situation. In actuality there is enough land and resources on the planet for people not to be screwed over by capitalist property rights. Like the island, the problem here is that we are denied access to the means necessary to manage our own lives and provide for ourselves. It is not improbable that one person could come to own an entire island even though they didn’t personally homestead it in its entirety. Capitalist property rights don’t actually require an individual to personally homestead the necessary land and resources. The amount of land and resources you can own in accord with capitalist property rights is hypothetically unlimited. We are constantly seeing small businesses gobbled up by big bureaucratic businesses. Note how a large corporation could simply move in and buy out other individuals’ homestead claims. Furthermore, many of the land titles floating around were not founded upon homesteading but violent conquest and state-government fiat.

Yes, it is in the interest of the island owner to trade with the shipwrecked man because a relationship of exploitation can be formed. Instead of getting rid of the man, the island owner can use him. The island owner has an opportunity to gain at someone else’s expense. Exploitation is good for business! Your assertion that the desperate shipwrecked man could gradually accumulate wealth to increase his bargaining power to a point equal to or above the island-owner is sadly false. It is in the self-interest of the island-owner never to let such a thing happen. Are you familiar with the situation of African Americans who became sharecroppers after the Civil War? Landowners took measures to keep the newly freed slaves in a state of perpetual debt. Instead of blatant physically forced slavery, now there was economic slavery. Real life really is just a much more complex version of the shipwrecked island scenario. It doesn’t matter if one or a few individuals can come to own an entire economy, the results are still the same.

“In the United States the richest 1% of the population (the capitalist class) owns more wealth then the bottom 95% of the population combined. It is physically impossible for that one percent to work harder than the other ninety-five percent. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. The average American worker works around 50 hours a week; for the capitalists to work ninety-five times more than the average worker he would have to work 4,250 hours a week! There are only 168 hours in a week; it’s not possible for this wealth disparity to be the result of capitalists working harder” (Source Found Here). Furthermore, most of the capitalists who are wealthy enough that they don't have to work merely inherited their wealth without contributing anything valuable to society.

It is very easy to see how capitalism leads to a hierarchical centralization of economic power that is incompatible with individual liberty. This idea that it would somehow be okay to own the entire world by means of “really, really, really satisfying customers” in accord with capitalist “free” market transactions is truly horrific. It would be a dictatorship worse than any we have ever known. A capitalist world is one privately owned and managed by a few people who deny everyone else any say in the running of their own lives. It is about squeezing as much out of people for the lowest amount of compensation possible. It is authoritarian beyond the telling of it. If I owned the entire world, I would not have to work to sustain myself and could instead live off the productive labor of others. It is not working to satisfy others. It is working to satisfy yourself at the expense of others. Either we want a system where people receive compensation in accord with a merit-based consideration of productive labor-added value or we want a system where compensation is based on the power and prestige wielded by mere capitalist ownership over the means of production/survival. Either compensation is based on the bargaining power of labor or it is based on the bargaining power of capital—merit or privilege. The relationships involved in taxation are the same as the ones involved in rent. Taxation results in a bureaucratic ruling class receiving an unearned income, while rent enables a propertied economic ruling class to receive an unearned income. If you believe in the merit and value of hard work, then you should be against capitalism.

Cork said...

“People who make such claims often have not read much material directly from Tucker himself and have instead received their information from biased second-hand accounts.”

With all due respect, I suspect that you’re getting you’re getting your own information from second-hand sources (the Anarchist FAQ).

“Tucker openly proclaimed himself to be a socialist and roundly denounced the usury of interest, rent, and profit.”

I didn’t say he supported profit, I said that he supported capitalist property rights. I explicitly noted that he wanted wages to absorb profits. This doesn’t change the fact that he still supported capitalist property rights. By “capitalist property rights,” I am referring to private ownership of the means of production.

And despite his personal opposition to interest and rent, he still supported an “untrammelled right to take usury.”

“His free market is devoid of capitalist private property.”

Again, you’re mistaken. Tucker did not oppose capitalist private property.

“If a mutualist is talking favorably about “private property” then he or she is referring to a form of property based on personal occupancy and use.”

Tucker’s “occupancy and use” schtick was for unused land, not private ownership of the means of production.

“His whole stance on “landlord property” means the subsequent rejection of capitalist interest, rent, and profit.”

You’re still not getting it: Tucker was not opposed to private ownership of the means of production or to wage labor (regardless of his views on profit). I only point this out because you made “capitalist property” the main reason you opposed anarcho-capitalism.

“if Tucker inconsistently claimed not to be fully against the employment of wage labor”

You just made my point. And Tucker went far beyond not being “fully” against wage labor: he argued that literally everyone should sell their labor.

I will respond to the rest of your post later.

Cork said...

“If the island commune bases property rights on personal occupancy and use, then the shipwrecked man would be fine as long as there is still enough land and resources for him to personally occupy and use.”

Occupancy and use is still a system of property ownership. If someone was occupying and using every part of the island, I don’t see how it would change the guy’s circumstances much. If you’re going to respond that it’s unrealistic to assume every part of the island would be occupied and used, I don’t see why I can’t say the same thing about someone homesteading an entire island.

So how are hotels going to work in this occupancy and use system? Parking lots? College dorms? Roads? Recreation centers?

“We are constantly seeing small businesses gobbled up by big bureaucratic businesses.”

If the bigger business is satisfying consumers better, I’d say this is a good thing. In any case, many big businesses would be less successful without having the state to tax and regulate their smaller competitors to death.

“Your assertion that the desperate shipwrecked man could gradually accumulate wealth to increase his bargaining power to a point equal to or above the island-owner is sadly false. It is in the self-interest of the island-owner never to let such a thing happen.”

How? If the other guy is accumulating wealth (even as a result of the other guy exploiting him), I don’t what the island owner could do to stop it from happening.

“Are you familiar with the situation of African Americans who became sharecroppers after the Civil War? Landowners took measures to keep the newly freed slaves in a state of perpetual debt. Instead of blatant physically forced slavery, now there was economic slavery.”

Anarcho-capitalists don’t support slavery, so it’s a moot point. Besides, are all African Americans still debt slaves?

“In the United States the richest 1% of the population (the capitalist class) owns more wealth then the bottom 95% of the population combined.”

Even though we do live under an awful state-capitalist system, statistics are extremely slippery things, and often very easy to take out of context. I would link you material showing some of the flaws in this data, but am not going to because I don’t want to defend (or give the impression that I support) the current system.

I just don’t see how you can run a modern industrialized economy with a bunch of dinky little co-ops that have no division of labor or economies of scale. Without profit, you couldn’t even have retailers. It is simply hard for me (and most other ancaps) to picture how this system could really work.

Cork said...

“This idea that it would somehow be okay to own the entire world by means of “really, really, really satisfying customers” in accord with capitalist “free” market transactions is truly horrific.”

Like I said, such a thing wouldn’t even be possible. Nobody could ever get enough money to buy every single piece of property and land on the planet. And you can only expand the amount of property you have by offering your customers/tenants more and more value.

“I can assure you that I am not spending my whole life miserable believing these kinds of things.”

Trust me: if you believe these things, it will be impossible for you to live a happy life. You will be pessimistic every single day of your life because you will hate and rebel against everything around you that exists. Every day you will have to wake up, go to work, and live in a system you despise that never can and never will go away. It’s impossible to be happy when you spend all your time thinking about how everything is completely wrong and backwards.

“I am not going to change my mind about anything solely on the basis of how it makes me feel.”

I’m not saying you should. But if your beliefs are flawed, in addition to making you unhappy, it wouldn’t hurt to change them.

“Hopefully this dialogue will help us correct some of our errors, build some mutual understanding, or strengthen our current convictions.”

Well, I hope so too. I hope nothing I have written comes across as antagonistic to you personally, I just take issue with some of your ideas.

Silent Radical said...

Cork, I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to respond to you in the form of a blog post. I am having trouble posting some HTML in the comments section for some reason.