The Bikecast Episode #27: The Roving Bands of Armed Thugs Argument

The Roaming Bands of Armed Thugs argument is common when discussing the nature of the state with people who “get it,” but are still convinced statelessness is impossible. They “get” that the state is an institution whose sole purpose is the protection of privilege, wealth and power from just distribution. They get that U.S. foreign policy is a long series of mass murders for the benefit of a handful of wealthy oligarchs. They get that the justice [sic] system is racist, sexist, pro-business and reactionary and that all efforts to check state power only increase the predations against the powerless. Still, they cling to the necessity of the state because they claim, in its absence, Roaming Bands of Armed Thugs would take over everything.[1]

Download this episode of the bikecast

From a recent email conversation:

“You will soon find you are on your own, if you haven’t already. If you do nothing, you will suffer the predations of gangs, militias, and corrupt bureaucracies that will fill the void left by retreating nation-states. If you want to avoid this fate, you can build resilient communities that not only allow you and your family to survive intact, but to thrive.” — John Robb

And where are these armed thugs? In our military, police force, private security forces, and jails. And the very reason for the drug trade being so lucrative is the existence of the War on Drugs, perpetrated by federal governments. Without it the drug trade would not be so lucrative, and without that kind of profit those thugs would have to seek other employment…such as shaking down the powerless, perhaps.

The logic of this doomsday scenario is that, as the state implodes and is unable to continue to pay it’s armed minions, they will form into gangs roaming the countryside pillaging the weak and helpless. Despite the various disadvantages of the state, continues the reasoning, we need it to keep the police and army “on our side” and to protect us from the unscrupulous poor who would rise up and overwhelm us when the police vanish.[2]

This post/bikecast and the next comprise two solid arguments against the concern for RoBATs.

My primary argument is that the thugs in the police and military are already engaged in thuggery against the powerless. RoBATs can’t take 20-50% of the fruits of your labor at the point of production, they can’t put you 250,000 dollars in debt.[3]. The state, backed by the police, the military, and the prison system, can and have done this to you and to each of your children born and unborn.

There’s an important difference between RoBATs and the uniformed thugs of the police and military. Thugs without badges are universally despised. We understand them to be terrible people and a blight on society. Even the most sympathetic mugger or burglar is not to be praised and not to have their deeds honored and lauded. Nobody will argue that you are acting inappropriately (or “illegally”) when you defend yourself against a thug–most people will probably offer to help you.

Uniformed thugs, on the other hand, are beloved by the political class. They are called public servants and heroes. Their most disturbing crimes, too numerous to count, are covered up, excused, and ignored. Anything that can be done to praise and honor badgecarrying thugs can and will be done, forever and ever, amen. If anyone defends themselves against official thuggery, they become candidates for summary kidnapping or assassination. Regardless of the circumstances, the defender will be universally condemned by political society.

For this reason, thugs as thugs are few in number and their lives are complicated, dangerous and short. Thugs with badges are exploding in number and variety because their lives of crime are honored, praised and completely subsidized.

Why are we better off with thugs that can hide behind a collective illusion of goodness, or at least necessity, than with thugs that everyone recognizes as parasites on civil society?

There’s a two prong fallacy that plagues leftist-authoritarians with regard to this issue:

  1. They incorrectly believe themselves to be members of the ruling class. They believe that they will be the future targets of robbers and thieves where today their lives and possessions are protected by the police.. This, despite the evidence that the modern police state stops few murders and almost no property crimes.
  2. They believe that there are teeming hordes of would-be thugs that are held in check by the state. If freed from the police state, rather than exploiting the millions of new opportunities available to them, they will form RoBATs and begin looting.

The source of these misperceptions are manifold, and I don’t want to belabor the point since the next bikecast addresses this issue in some depth. In this bikecast, my best guess was that it was to do with public education–12 years of daily worship of state agents. It’s a cultural plank that can’t be easily dislodged since it’s put into place and protected universally by authority figures as we grow up. More on this in the next bikecast . . .

  1. [1] I know it sounds odd, but very smart people have voiced this concern.
  2. [2] Yes, it’s equally implausible on the second telling too.
  3. [3] Assuming no further deficit and no further expansion of the money supply
    • SirenSandwich
    • July 19th, 2010

    So in the future the RoBATs will be able to take my aluminum unitard and there won’t be any police to call?

  1. Assuming we are clad in aluminum unitards, you have precisely captured the RoBAT argument.

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