Posts Tagged ‘ dawning of a bright future

The Bikecast Episode #53: Which Virtues will Flourish in a Free World?

A gross misconception exists about the nature of a free world. Actually, a large number of misconceptions exist, and usually I find myself talking to people who believe that a free world would be swarming with Roving Bands of Armed Thugs who will systematically and perpetually victimize everyone else[1].

Lately, I’ve begun to sense another hypothesis in the ether, this from the libertarian camp itself. I haven’t heard anyone come right out with it, so this is kind of a patchwork of implied narratives.

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The world envisioned is mostly peaceful sparsely populated by wise, intelligent and strong men around whom industry and civil society forms. These men are not to be trifled with and disputes among them, if they can’t be settled by peaceful means can sometimes involve the judicious use of arms–perhaps modelled after the gentlemans’ duels of ages past.

These occasional clashes, though, needn’t be common because of the nobility and virtue of these men of merit. They don’t pursue selfish ends nor those destructive to others, so there’s no reason to challenge their will–which is a good thing because they are strong, quick, and well armed.

These men (both those of the imagined future and those that imagine them) could be described as consumate “porcupine pacifists”–the analogy speaks for itself–because they want to be sure that it’s understood that, although they won’t attack anyone, they will kick (or kill) your ass if you mess with them. They will also let you know about all the other people whose asses they will kick or kill if those people mess with them–the list is often long.

I have a couple of issues with this narrative–a couple posts worth at least. One related to the above bikecast is around my strongly held opinion that in a free world the virtues that will thrive and reproduce are mostly the opposite of those held by the honorable men in the above narrative.

To caveat: it’s of course impossible to predict the future with much reliability. It’s quite possible that, in the future, humanity abandons the standard of living produced by a thriving and tightly interwoven network of market relationships in favor of more isolation and simplicity. It’s possible that somehow that the armed and vigilant men never cross a line and threaten or bully a weaker person. I don’t know what long and transformative path would have to be tread for humanity to find itself in such a place, but as I say, the future is unknowable and this particular libertarian fantasy might play out somewhere down the line.

That said, I think a far more likely scenario is a society founded on something similar to the day-to-day relationships most of us enjoy now. These relationships aren’t based on fear of reprisal from some third party authority, but rather on trust, respect, empathy, and reciprocity. Flourishing in this possible future depends on skill at maintaining peer-to-peer relationships and a reputation for fair dealings instead of a strong right hook and good aim.

In this imagined libertarian world, understanding and anticipating the motivation and needs of others will be a highly valued and much sought after skill. Cooperating, negotiating and nurturing long term, win-win partnerships will be foundational to accumulating the social and physical capital to be a leader whose judgement others will voluntarily trust and defer to (without dueling).

In the fast paced and constantly adjusting economy that will be the engine of a global society that allows billions of people to thrive and prosper, guns will, I forecast, almost never be brandished. This is not to say that people won’t carry firearms for personal safety. I assume they will as they do now–sociopaths will always be with us, I fear. They will be used for this purpose very rarely. Even now, many people go a lifetime without needing to use lethal force to defend themselves (at least from strangers, assaults by spouses and family members remains very common).

That the very idea that empathy, cooperation, and relating to others as peers strikes some libertarians as weak, feminine and maybe sorta pinko (if you’re old enough) gets to the heart of the issue.

The virtues that will provide value to the future are frequently denigrated by self-labelled liberty lovers. Those that are antithetical to a free and prosperous world–primarily centered around the prominence of defensive or redemptive violence–are simultaneously given much attention.

There are universally positive qualities around independence, free thought, determination and other traits expressed historically in “free men” because their position in the social hierarchy allowed them to express these traits and society rewarded their expression. It’s an error to blend in physical size, strength, and martial ability–the traits that kept men atop the hierarchy–with the others and label these as masculine virtues.

In the same way, there are universally positive qualities around cooperation, empathy, ability to communicate and to maintain a complex web of social relationships–the traits expressed historically by slave classes, primarily women. It’s an error to blend submissiveness, humility, and self-deprecation–the traits that kept the slave alive–with these others and label them feminine.

The future belongs to the courageous and independent free thinker, the empathetic communicator and the social negotiator. These characteristics have no gender or race and are the cornerstone of a free and prosperous society. The martial virtues, physical strength (beyond what improves health and vitality), and a belief in redemptive violence have very little use in any popularly desirable free future world and yet they seem to play such an core role in the current libertarian movement. I believe that, going forward, it will be increasingly important to examine and question this tendency and those who hold it.

  1. [1] I always like to point out, usually to poor effect, that there already are Roving Bands of Armed Thugs systematically and perpetually victimizing everyone else, but apparently national militaries and police don’t count).

The Bikecast Episode #48: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Bikecast listeners. A million thanks for listening, commenting, emailing, engaging with the ideas I’m relaying and for your encouragement, both on and offline. The Bikecast has suffered a few setbacks, my studio was stolen forcing me onto the bus for a few weeks and my equipment is malfunctioning at the moment. This brief episode of the Bikecast was created entirely at my in-home media center.


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I’m unsure if I’ll prefer podcasting from a stationary position inside my house, or if I’ll start putting up audio-less posts until I can reassemble my mobile recording rig. Who knows, maybe I’ll do both.

Yesterday, the 12th day of Jadmas[1] marked the end of the Jadmas holiday season. I just turned 36 which is one of those highly divisible numbers that leads me to compare the first 18 years of my life to the second, the third 12 year span to the first two, the fourth 9 years to the first 27, etc. I intend to put up some more personal stuff that you may or may not be interested in along these lines. I’ll tag all those posts with Jadmas if you want to follow up on that thread.

During the holidays, I watched the first couple episodes of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos for the first time. His enthusiasm and his ability to capture the wonder of existence is infectious[2] and I’m feeling inspired to seek out latter day Sagans of various stripes and engage them in conversation. If it works out, I might try to record the chats and present them here. I’m also considering doing a review of Cosmos, though I imagine it’s been reviewed nearly to death.

The last thing on my radar, and perhaps the most impactful is something I encountered late last year. It’s a process called non-violent communication or NVC outlined by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. I heard about it on the Complete Liberty podcast (episodes 126 – 130) and it incorporates alot of material that I was interested in towards the beginning of my journey out of leftist politics and toward various ideas around non-violent social structures.

At first glance it may not seem like much of a departure from the positions I’ve taken throughout the last year, but it challenges a major tenet of what I consider the leading edge of the effective revolution: that people are inherently driven by notions of good and evil. I think there might be a clarifying synthesis between the clear natural tendency of humans to cooperate and to be repulsed by violence and the slippery and historically dangerous concepts of good and evil. I’m still thinking this through and plan on studying up on the details of NVC in the near future (and reporting back, of course). I’ll mark these future posts Non-Violent Communication for your future perusal.

Thanks again for your support. As always, let me know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see/hear in the jVerse or on the Bikecast. I think 2011 is going to be a year of growth and increasing clarity. I look forward to sharing it with you.

  1. [1] Jadmas falls on December 27
  2. [2] This is an even more impressive feat given the technology of 1980 and Sagan’s penchant for leading his tour from a glass bottomed space ship

The Bikecast Episode #26: From Here to There, The Unimaginable Future

All manner of blueprints exist for future societies in which human interactions are governed by a principal other than might-makes-right. While these are brilliant in their own right and demonstrate the human capacity for problem solving, they are the tip of the iceberg of ideas and models of human social and economic relations. As alternatives to violence are explored, the number of people who have experienced a life free from domination will increase. At the same time, the ways in which people can communicate are growing ever richer. We can’t even imagine the scope and nature of the solutions that groups of increasingly healthier humans will generate to approach social and economic problems.

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The transitional model that seems to be the most developed with the greatest number of practicing adherents is agorism. To oversimplify, agorists aim to replace the current economic system piecemeal by developing alternative relationships. As the state recedes, these alternative economic arrangements become the foundation for the future society. Obviously, “alternative economic arrangements” covers alot of territory: communes, cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, as well as more traditional business/property models insofar as they don’t require violence to conduct their affairs.

The Free State Project was an effort to overwhelm a political region (New Hampshire was eventually chosen) with sufficient “liberty minded” people to take over the government. While that effort has largely failed, a secondary effect has been the attracting of a large number of anarchists to the region. These non-political activists have had a much larger effect and are constantly spinning off new projects and media outlets. They openly commit crimes against the state (victimless crimes) and then refuse to participate in the legal process–this would be difficult or impossible except that they have sufficient numbers to fully support jailed activists.

Other, slightly more fantastic scenarios include the foundation of “free cities” which are exempt from the legal system of the larger political structure. Free cities could also result from secession or other decentralizing processes. The advantage of numerous social structures in a small geographical area is evidenced by the free cities of the renaissance, the Hanseatic league, and the modern city-states of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Monaco.

Finally, along the same lines, Sea-steading promises to, essentially, create additional geographical areas where governance structures can be crafted from scratch.

As brilliant as these ideas and experiments may be, I doubt we would even recognize the proposed forms that will exist at the end of our lifetimes. We are currently trapped in an iron age paradigm of social organization, and are unable to see the kinds of solutions that will seem obvious to future generations freed from arbitrary hierarchy. The fundamental inequality of human beings is an axiom of governance. It has been for 5,000 years. In every conceivable way, we have blown past the primitive tools and technologies of antiquity, except with regard to social organization.

The primary value of the current ideas, in my opinion, is not that they will provide us with the long term patterns that human society will trend towards. They may get us started, but more importantly, they will seed the next generation of models and experiments for social and economic interaction. These in turn, along with the current blueprints, will seed the next generation, and all of these ideas will collectively seed the next.

Each subsequent human generation will be raised in a world that is increasingly aware of alternative means of social organization and increasingly intolerant of the violent, historical forms of human interaction.

The result will be a Cambrian explosion of ideas, models and experiments for social organization and an explosion in the number of humans who’ve lived lives free (or nearly so) of institutional violence. This rapid proliferation of ideas is the analog to the rapid spread of understanding of the natural world and increase in technological innovation during the recession of religion during the enlightenment.

With the creativity of billions of minds working independently and collaboratively, locally and globally, on addressing–really addressing–the problems of human society, the greatest problems will fall beneath thousands of competing and cooperating solutions.

We can’t even begin to imagine how fantastic that world would seem to us.

The Bikecast Episode #21: Once and Future Anarchistic Societies

Another nice setup from a previous correspondence:

Is there any example of a stateless, non-hierarchical society? Or are these purely thought experiments and hoped-for utopias?

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This is a classic shut-the-fuck-up argument that one runs into frequently when talking about statelessness. Like most STFU arguments, it’s entirely vacuous.  The limits of human vision do not a convincing argument make.  An analogous human living at the time would, no doubt, deny the possibility of agriculture without slavery in the 17th century, or marriage without ownership in the 18th, or inquiry into nature without the supernatural in the 14th. 

It’s not as though anarchists are proposing a world in which humans inhabit the oceans breathing through their newly evolved gills.  Human societies instantiating circumstances as mundane as non-ownership of people or reliance on the physical reality for explaining natural phenomenon didn’t exist at some point in the primitive past. The idea of society not organized around the brutal and archaic principle of might-makes-right will, in the future, be judged as natural as a universe without deities or the moral equality of races and genders is today*.

More scholarly advocates of statelessness have compiled lists of anarchistic societies in human history. I’ve created a Sqworl page that I will add to as I come across resources related to this argument. The one I heard about most recently are the Zomia. Frankly, while I think the historical examples are interesting, and they do provide examples of non-hierarchical societies, anarchism of the future will not resemble any of these past societies.

Statelessness based on a superstitious cultural system can be overturned by the introduction of a new religion. Statelessness based on tribalism can be overturned by contact with the “outside” world, or by increased population or industrialization. The stateless society of the future will be one growing from the humane treatment of children and the corresponding abandonment of sadistic religious ideologies and willing subjugation to a violent, privileged elite.

Anarchism will grow around each person who refuses to use violence, emotional manipulation and bullying in their relations with other humans and refuses to associate with those that do. Already, most of us go about our day almost every day without using violence to navigate the social realm. We work, date, play, socialize, and engage in any number of activities with any number of people in a peaceful yet organized manner. On the flip side, we, to varying degrees, accept as legitimate the use of violence by parents, police, husbands, and soldiers against their victims–some of these are increasingly seen for the barbarity they are, others are still honored and protected from scrutiny. Once this paradox is seen for what it is, and we demand the extension of the principle by which we wish to live our lives to include the victims of violence, anarchy will be at hand.

Children that develop in loving environments, free from violence, in which their material needs are met empathize with victims of violence. Without the fairy-tale narratives of God’s just vengeance and the wisdom and nobility of governments, they see violence for what it is, a breaching of the one principle that absolutely must not be breached in a civilized society.

I don’t believe we have any notion, as the children of a broken world, of what is possible in a world in which violence is no longer held up as a just and moral way of dealing with other humans. Humanity has witnessed changes that were unimaginable to our ancestors, changes that were warned against as portending the end of civilization societal collapse and a return to barbarism. I find it exceedingly small minded to retreat behind the same warnings of calamity and chaos to defend against the idea that society can be organized around a principle other than violence. It’s parochial, magical thinking to believe that a non-hierarchical society will somehow spell humanity’s doom. As reason and justice gain ground, the justifications for the protection of wealth and privilege behind a line of guns and prisons will cease to find purchase in the minds of an evolving society.

* I realize that some of the human race longs for a return to human ownership, the subjugation of women. I’m still confident that these primitive types are increasingly irrelevant socially and economically. There is no place in the modern world for such barbarism. We have already a society that shuns such people–of course, they’re still able to achieve their ends politically, providing another argument for the end to legitimized social violence.

The Bikecast Episode #4: Oklahoma City and Moral Equivalence

Sound quality in this episode is the best yet. I spliced together both directions of my commute–it’s fairly seamless, though a word or two got dropped by my silence truncation filter (one of the words is ‘it,’ let me know if you notice). This podcast, touches on Episode #3. Here’s the NPR story that got me thinking about it.

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Show Notes:
Another wandercast about state and “anti-state” violence. The quotes result from a thought I was having towards the middle of the trip that there is no anti-state violence. Successful anti-state violence is termed a “revolution” and results in a new gang of thugs, bankers, and aristocrats declaring themselves to be the state. In this sense, no violence is anti-state. Rather it’s a would-be ruling class competing for the monopoly of violence with the existing regime. IOZ expresses a similar sentiment: “terrorist” as trustbuster.

All that is around 3 minutes in. Our verbal journey begins with the Oklahoma City bombing–yesterday, 4/19, was the 15th anniversary. Today, 4/20 is the 5000+ year anniversary of people getting high on 4/20, but that’s neither here nor there. The OK city attack was carried out by a U.S. trained, gulf war veteran who claimed to be retaliating for the murder of the branch davidians in Waco the year before.

Blowback isn’t just for Muslim jihadists, it’s a general human condition. On the margins of mental health are people who will, when fucked with, feel justified turning around and fucking up somebody else’s shit–often by blowing them up. Of course, violence doesn’t solve any social problems, but that’s equally true for the thugs that gassed, assaulted and torched the people in Waco.

How can sane people applaud one and abhor the other? What about burning a persons flesh with hot tar? What about napalming hundreds of villages in of south-east asia?

With four events–the siege at Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, the American Revolution, and the genocide in Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia–it would be fairly easy to find defenders of violence in all four, any three, any two, or any one of them. People have extraordinarily convoluted logic to defend their positions in such matters, all backed by rank bigotry and in a disturbing number of cases, religion.

I have high hopes for the future. I believe it’s inevitable that a critical mass of people will reach a level of consciousness that makes state sponsored murder impossible. Preceding this will be an exponential decay in the size and power of religious institutions and an increasing skepticism to claims that flagrant violations of human decency carried out by the ruling class is somehow essential for the cohesion of society. Granted this shit is taking a long damn time.

Updates: James Bovard weighs in mightily: http://www.counterpunch.org/bovard04202010.html
Reviewed by Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque and incorporated into (another) must-read Arthur Silber article.