Posted in philosophy | 26 Comments »
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours explaining some of the basics of anarchism to a friend. Let’s call her “Jana”, since that’s a very common name in Slovakia.
That conversation was face-to-face, so there’s no record. Here, though, is the record of our instant messaging conversation earlier this evening, in its entirety but minus some personal irrelevancies and with typos and whatnot fixed up a bit. This may all be old hat to most of my readers, but who knows?
[6:44] Jana: Oh, you know what?
[6:44] Mike: tell me
[6:44] Jana: I thought about the stateless world some more.
[6:45] Jana: And I’d like to know if you assume that by getting rid of government everyone will miraculously become all peaceful and, you know, good.
[6:45] Mike: certainly not
[6:46] Mike: there is an interesting way of thinking about this issue
[6:46] Jana: Because if there are no laws and no prisons…
[6:46] Mike: chaos, rampant crime, etc
[6:46] Jana: What’s gonna stop the baddies from robbing or killing me?
[6:46] Mike: well, stand by now
[6:47] Mike: there are a couple of questions to answer
[6:47] Jana: Okay.
[6:47] Mike: the first, and which I tried to dig into the most yesterday, is “Is the state morally justifiable?”, and along the way point out a number of reasons why it is not.
[6:47] Mike: the other question is, “Is the state necessary, and if not, what alternatives are there?”
[6:48] Jana: Okay, so the answer to question 1 is no.
[6:48] Mike: another way to look at the first question is “Is there any way to have a state which doesn’t fail at its primary mission of protecting people and property? Is there a way to constitute a state so that it simply can’t be evil?”
[6:49] Mike: that leads to this:
[6:49] Mike: there are many ppl in the world
[6:49] Jana: Yes.
[6:49] Mike: are they good or are they evil?
[6:49] Mike: well, there are some options
[6:49] Jana: Both.
[6:49] Mike: 1: all ppl are good
[6:49] Mike: 2: all ppl are evil
[6:49] Mike: 3: more ppl are good than are evil
[6:49] Mike: 4: more ppl are evil than are good
[6:50] Mike: now, in case 1, everyone’s a saint… why should a state even be necessary in such case?
[6:50] Jana: Wait!
[6:50] Mike: and, since we know that 1 isn’t true, we can discount it anyway
[6:50] Jana: There’s 5: about the same number of people are good as there are bad
[6:50] Mike: fine, can be, but 3 and 4 turn out to be equivalent propositions anyway
[6:51] Mike: and the statistical probability of that is miniscule, assuming a mix of “good” and “evil” human natures, against present world population
[6:51] Mike: so case 1 is out, because if everyone were saints, there would be no need of a state for crime prevention/investigation/punishment — there would be no crime
[6:51] Jana: Exactly.
[6:52] Mike: now for case 2. if all of us are evil, then will not the MOST evil people try to obtain control of the state, so that they can use its power to aggrandize themselves?
[6:52] Jana: Probably!
[6:53] Mike: seems a bit like giving a blank check to those who’d screw us, even though we might do the same in their position, being as we’re evil and all
[6:53] Mike: remember now that being PART OF the state means that you can do things which are disallowed to ordinary citizens
[6:54] Mike: like: if a police car has a hundred kilos of cocaine in the trunk, the presumption is that it’s evidence, and that’s okay.
[6:54] Jana: Right.
[6:54] Mike: but if you had a hundred kilos of blow in your trunk, you’re a criminal, because you don’t have a fancy uniform, etc.
[6:54] Jana: Right again.
[6:54] Mike: so, even a society comprised entirely of evil people ought to recognize that having a state is too dangerous
[6:55] Mike: now, unless we’re going to include ourselves in “everyone is evil”, #2 doesn’t really operate anyway
[6:55] Mike: I don’t feel particularly evil
[6:55] Mike: and I doubt you are either
[6:55] Jana: Me either.
[6:55] Mike: so we are left with the two mixes
[6:56] Jana: Okay, now what?
[6:56] Mike: in case number 4, more people are evil than are good
[6:57] Mike: well, unless we want evil to triumph here by sheer force of numbers, certainly the GOOD people in that world don’t want the state, because it’s bound to be comprised of a majority of evil people with uniforms and official documents — even forgetting that evil people will TEND to try to become part of the state, so that they can commit crimes with official permission
[6:57] Jana: No, we don’t want evil to triumph.
[6:58] Mike: we have a preference for the good, and tend to reject philosophies which promote evil
[6:58] Mike: so what about case number three, where most people are good, but some are evil?
[6:59] Jana: That’s where we’d probably want the state.
[6:59] Jana: And hope not too many evil people would become part of it.
[6:59] Mike: need I remind you at this point that Adolph Hitler was democratically elected?
[6:59] Mike: that George W Bush was democratically elected?
[6:59] Mike: etc?
[7:00] Mike: and sorry, it’s not good enough to say “they cheated”
[7:00] Mike: the evil people will ALWAYS cheat to obtain the levers of unaccountable power
[7:00] Jana: I’m just saying that in this case we might be interested in having a state.
[7:00] Jana: Because we want the protection.
[7:00] Mike: we might be, if we could find that it was both necessary and morally defensible
[7:01] Jana: I think something is necessary.
[7:01] Jana: What are the alternatives then?
[7:01] Jana: I asked you yesterday but we didn’t get to that part at all.
[7:01] Mike: we made the observation earlier that having a state results in the division of people into two classes: those who can commit crimes with impunity, and those who may not.
[7:02] Mike: even if most people are good, if we have a state, we create a vehicle for the evil people to commit their crimes without facing any consequences.
[7:02] Mike: seems like a rather risky proposition, especially in light of the historical record of what states’ agents have actually done
[7:03] Jana: But some did end up in prison.
[7:03] Jana: Or executed.
[7:03] Jana: Or something.
[7:03] Mike: yes, that’s true. but how did that help their victims, both living and dead?
[7:04] Jana: Those who were victims already probably not much, but at least there were no more victims.
[7:09] Mike: so, we probably both agree to the proposition that crime is not desirable, and should be eliminated or at least minimized.
[7:10] Jana: Yes, please.
[7:10] Jana: And how do we go about that?
[7:10] Mike: so let’s think about crime for a sec
[7:10] Jana: (think)
[7:11] Mike: if you believe, as I do, that taxation is theft, and therefore no more honorable than a robbery in the street, and that the killings done by soldiers and police in uniforms are generally murders, then you realize there’s a whole shitload of crime out there that is legally defined otherwise.
[7:11] Jana: Okay, yes.
[7:12] Mike: so by simply getting rid of the state and the privilege that attaches to states’ agents, a huge amount of evil acts are prohibited straight off
[7:12] Mike: in addition to this, there are HUGE numbers of peaceful acts which are defined by states to be crimes, even though they really aren’t
[7:12] Mike: the cocaine in the car, for example
[7:12] Mike: no victim, no crime
[7:13] Mike: failing to pay taxes leads to being classed as a criminal
[7:13] Mike: operating a business without a license
[7:13] Mike: immigrating without state permission
[7:13] Mike: and on and on
[7:13] Jana: Right.
[7:14] Mike: real crimes, the ones that all of us rightly fear and wish to eliminate, are those which violate the life, liberty or property of one or more other persons
[7:14] Mike: one cannot commit a crime against oneself, by definition (despite this, suicide is illegal in many places)
[7:14] Jana: Illegal?
[7:15] Mike: so, once again by getting rid of the state, we see that a huge part of the “crime problem” simply evaporates
[7:15] Jana: So if you kill yourself, you can be charged, too?
[7:15] Jana: Yes, a huge part, but the part we really care about doesn’t.
[7:15] Mike: well, some people who have attempted suicide have been charged, yes… doesn’t happen often, but the laws are on the books in places
[7:16] Jana: The real crimes that violate the life, liberty and property.
[7:16] Jana: Crazy, man.
[7:16] Mike: right: murder, theft, arson, extortion, rape, kidnapping, enslavement, etc.
[7:16] Mike: and fraud
[7:18] Mike: now let’s think a bit about what’s usually called “justice”
[7:18] Mike: if someone comes and robs you of your money, or burns down your flat, or kills your dog, what benefit is it to YOU if that person is caged in a concrete and steel box for a period of years as a punishment?
[7:19] Jana: I don’t know. I’d rather get my money or my flat back. Or kill him back for killing my dog.
[7:20] Mike: now you’re onto something
[7:20] Mike: you’d like to have your situation restored to be at least as good as it was prior to the crime
[7:20] Jana: Exactly.
[7:20] Mike: you’d also probably like to be compensated to some degree for the bother and hassle of having to go through that
[7:20] Jana: And maybe get some cash as compensation for my trouble.
[7:20] Jana: Yes.
[7:20] Mike: punitive damages or something, right
[7:21] Mike: now, in the law, when we get to acts like these, we find there is a big difference in how those cases go to the courts, versus the cases like, say, your tree fell on my house and I want you to pay damages
[7:21] Mike: those are “civil” cases, where it’s “Mr. White vs. Mr. Green” in the court documents.
[7:21] Jana: Right.
[7:22] Mike: alleged victim and alleged perpetrator come to court, and in theory the process should determine if a harm (a “tort”, in the legal language) occurred, and if so, how the victim of that tort can be made whole again
[7:23] Mike: if, instead of Mr. Green’s tree falling on Mr. White’s house, Mr. Green goes and burns Mr. White’s house to the ground, the court documents are not going to be able “White v. Green”
[7:23] Mike: they will be “THE STATE v. Green”
[7:24] Jana: Because Mr. White burned to death?
[7:24] Mike: Mr. White was away on holiday in this case
[7:24] Jana: Oh, good.
[7:24] Mike: or escaped, whatever
[7:24] Mike: yes, lucky for Mr. White, eh?
[7:25] Mike: so what happens is that the state takes Mr. Green into court and charges him with the crime of arson
[7:25] Mike: and some prosecuting lawyers get on the case and work to prove that Mr. Green is guilty of the crime of arson, and if so, how long he should spend in prison for that.
[7:25] Mike: the interests of the real victim, here, Mr. White, are largely pushed to the side.
[7:26] Jana: Oh!
[7:26] Mike: the fact that Mr. White was threatened or inconvenienced by Green’s action is not really under consideration. What must be proven is that Mr. Green *broke the law*
[7:26] Jana: Well, great.
[7:26] Mike: all kinds of problems, here
[7:28] Mike: among other things, it means that the victim’s interests are not really being represented in the search for “justice”
[7:28] Mike: in terms of penalties, what the state seeks is punishment of the criminal (in order to deter others from committing crimes), rather than recompense for the victim(s)
[7:29] Jana: Well, this side effect of the punishment is actually quite welcome.
[7:29] Mike: deterrence is necessary, sure
[7:29] Mike: what Mr. White really wants here is a new house and some money to compensate his inconvenience and stress
[7:30] Mike: that money ought to come from Mr. Green, or, perhaps, from some sort of insurance that Mr. White purchased against such an eventuality.
[7:30] Mike: what we get into next is a topic that has been done at book-length by several authors
[7:30] Jana: What’s that?
[7:31] Mike: assumption: there’s no state, but there’s still some crime
[7:31] Mike: what are you gonna do about it?
[7:31] Mike: Well, as I said yesterday, you can go buy a bunch of guns, and defend yourself, or try to extract compensation from people who commit crimes against you by force.
[7:32] Mike: that works, to some degree… if a robber sees you walking alone in the woods today, his estimation of the likelihood you’re carrying a pistol is probably close to zero, because the state makes it very difficult for you to do that
[7:33] Jana: And I don’t really want to carry a gun anyway.
[7:33] Mike: well, if there were no state and no alternative, I think you might rapidly change your mind about that
[7:33] Jana: Probably.
[7:33] Mike: fair enough
[7:34] Jana: But that’s why I still think having a state is more convenient than having none.
[7:34] Mike: first of all, in the absence of states, a lot more people would take matters of personal self-defense into their own hands, as is their right. I myself would almost certainly carry a pistol nearly everywhere I went.
[7:35] Jana: As would a lot of psychos.
[7:35] Mike: well, that is precisely WHY we want to be well armed
[7:35] Mike: we don’t need to worry about normal people with weapons
[7:36] Mike: so there’s one idea. if the would-be rapist or robber had to contend with the fact that his intended victim very likely has the ability to quickly put a bullet in his brain, well, that’s a massive crime deterrent
[7:36] Jana: True.
[7:36] Jana: But what about gangs?
[7:37] Mike: purty young thangs like you might choose to carry a pistol on each hip, and maybe a fully-automatic rifle just to be sure
[7:37] Mike: gangs are just groups of criminals — like states
[7:37] Mike: okay, but this is not a complete answer yet
[7:37] Jana: Yes, but a lil’ ole me with one or two guns wouldn’t stop a gang from gangraping me.
[7:38] Mike: and it’s not a basis for a peaceful society, either — it’s not desirable that everyone should walk around armed, and it’s not desirable that many conflicts gets resolved through gunfire
[7:38] Mike: no, that’s true.
[7:38] Jana: So how do we get to have a peaceful society?
[7:39] Mike: what has been envisioned by those book-length writers can be described as Private Defense Associations or Dispute Resolution Organizations
[7:39] Mike: PDAs or DROs
[7:39] Mike: same thing, different wording
[7:39] Jana: How would they work?
[7:39] Mike: today if a crime is committed against you, you can only go to THE state for help
[7:40] Mike: and if you believe that the one-and-only state doesn’t do a good job with prevention, prosecution, or recompense, you have no alternative… you can’t cancel your subscription to the local police department
[7:40] Mike: it has been widely recognized in both economic and moral terms that monopoly providers of services are undesirable
[7:41] Mike: they’re inefficient, lack of competition makes them fat and lazy, and they’re unaccountable because customers have little voice
[7:41] Jana: True.
[7:41] Mike: what might be better is a world in which we have crime prevention, dispute resolution and justice-mediating organizations in free market competition with one another
[7:42] Mike: i’d like to know that i’m getting good value for my policing-and-investigating dollar
[7:42] Mike: and i’d like to be able to switch to a different provider of those services in the event that someone else can do it better, faster or cheaper
[7:43] Jana: Yeah, that’d be great.
[7:43] Mike: so, we go back to Messrs. Green and White
[7:43] Mike: White comes home one day from Ibiza to find his house has burned down
[7:43] Jana: :O
[7:43] Mike: he rings up his DRO, which is also an insurance company of sorts, and he has 2 questions:
[7:44] Mike: 1: Why didn’t you prevent this?
[7:44] Mike: 2: When do I get my money?
[7:44] Jana: What answers does he get?
[7:44] Mike: well let’s say White’s DRO does some investigation. They determine that arson was involved.
[7:45] Mike: White’s contract with his DRO covers this sort of thing, like a property insurance contract does today. White and the DRO both agree it was arson, the DRO immediately pays White enough to rebuild his house.
[7:46] Mike: if they don’t do this, then White and all of that DRO’s other clients would have switched to a service provider who will provide that level of service
[7:46] Mike: let’s imagine White’s DRO is called ABC Corp.
[7:46] Jana: ok
[7:46] Mike: ABC now has a problem
[7:47] Mike: they just had to buy White a new house, so they’re out the cost of the house
[7:47] Mike: they know a crime was committed, so they begin investigating
[7:47] Mike: after a time, they determine that Green was responsible for the arson.
[7:47] Mike: so they go to Green and ask him for the money
[7:47] Jana: Just like that?
[7:48] Mike: and a bit more, to compensate for their efforts and White’s inconvenience
[7:48] Mike: well, it’s more complicated than that, of course
[7:48] Mike: So, they come to Green’s house with all their evidence, and ask Green to pay up
[7:48] Mike: Green says “fuck you, I ain’t gonna pay”
[7:48] Mike: fine
[7:48] Mike: turns out that Green, too, was a subscriber to ABC Corp’s personal defense and dispute resolution services
[7:49] Mike: well, not anymore he ain’t!
[7:49] Mike: his policy is canceled
[7:49] Jana: Was there a clause about committing crimes?
[7:49] Mike: (assume there was — would YOU subscribe to a DRO that allowed its customers to commit crimes with impunity?) additionally, ABC sends a letter to all the other DROs in the area
[7:50] Mike: “Dear other DROs, Mr. Green did a bad thing, we canceled his policy and we’d advise you not to cover him either, until he pays compensation to Mr. White”
[7:50] Jana: Oh, okay, that would work.
[7:50] Mike: or, Green was a customer of XYZ instead of ABC
[7:51] Mike: ABC already beleives he did the crime
[7:51] Mike: Green says “call my DRO!” and slams the door on the ABC guys
[7:51] Mike: so ABC and XYZ get together and review the evidence.
[7:51] Mike: perhaps they both agree that Green did the crime
[7:51] Mike: in that case, XYZ cancels green’s policy and sends that letter to the other DROs
[7:51] Mike: or, they fail to agree
[7:52] Mike: the two DROs then have two choices: they can go to war over the matter, or they can find a peaceful way of resolving the dispute
[7:52] Mike: and so they take the case, perhaps, to the DRO re-insurance company they both subscribe to, or, perhaps, to an independent arbitration company, which has a great reputation for honesty, fairness and thoroughness
[7:53] Mike: like a court, except without the fancy imperial costumes and bowing before the judge
[7:53] Mike: ALL of those 3 parties (ABC, XYZ and the third-party arbitrator) are keenly interested in getting the facts right
[7:54] Mike: if the screw up the investigation and smear Mr. Green for a crime he didn’t commit, they lose reputation in the marketplace, leading to loss of customers and eventually loss of their business entirely
[7:54] Mike: if they decide they’re going to favor White at Green’s expense, same thing
[7:54] Mike: and so on
[7:55] Jana: Interesting.
[7:55] Mike: the market forces playing upon them compel them to be honest and to do the best job they can in determining the truth
[7:55] Mike: and keep in mind, White has ALREADY been paid for his burnt-down house, according to his contract
[7:56] Jana: Hm.
[7:56] Jana: Okay.
[7:56] Mike: so, we’re not *quite* finished here
[7:56] Mike: remember that ABC and XYZ both agreed that Green did the crime
[7:56] Mike: they both come to Green and demand payment
[7:56] Mike: maybe they arrive at an installment plan with interest, which Green can repay over time, who knows
[7:57] Mike: If Green actually pays, okay. Justice has been done in that Mr. White’s situation was restored to what it was before, plus a bit extra for his trouble, as you said
[7:57] Mike: What if Green refuses to pay now?
[7:57] Mike: Well, first of all, ABC and XYZ both inform all of their trading partners of what Green’s done, and say they’ve canceled their coverage of him.
[7:58] Mike: Green then tries to go on a holiday, to get away from all this shit he’s created.
[7:58] Mike: phones up the airline to book a flight to Cuba, or something
[7:58] Mike: the airline asks Green which DRO covers him
[7:58] Mike: Green says that he has no cover
[7:58] Jana: Uh-oh.
[7:59] Mike: the airline refuses to do business with Green … it’s too risky to carry an un-covered passenger on an intercontinental flight
[7:59] Mike: or, perhaps the airline has found it beneficial to its market position to refuse service to un-covered people, because that brings it more customers
[7:59] Mike: huh, so Green can’t go on holiday now, because he refuses to compensate
[8:00] Mike: Well, maybe he’ll rent a car and go someplace nearer, instead
[8:00] Mike: nope, no DRO cover, no car rental
[8:00] Mike: hmmm
[8:00] Jana: Wow!
[8:00] Mike: “public” transportation, of course, does not exist
[8:00] Jana: See where a little arson can get you?
[8:00] Mike: wanna get in my taxicab? show me your DRO card
[8:00] Mike: want to ride my bus, my train? whose gonna pay me if you destroy my property? No dro card, no service
[8:01] Mike: maybe it even becomes more severe than that
[8:01] Mike: there’s no “public” property in this world, either.
[8:01] Mike: there is private property, and property that is owned by nobody
[8:02] Jana: Oh yeah, property is something I wanna talk about, too. But in the next episode of this discussion. I kinda need to get ready to go out soon.
[8:02] Mike: ok
[8:02] Mike: anyway, what you get to here, is a comprehensive, networked, profit-driven form of ostracism
[8:03] Mike: in the ultimate extent, Green can’t even LEAVE his house
[8:03] Jana: Yeah, I like that.
[8:03] Mike: he doesn’t own the road in front of his house
[8:03] Jana: Really?
[8:03] Mike: the road operating company doesn’t permit people on the DRO blacklist to use the road
[8:03] Jana: Well, but he CAN walk on it, can’t he?
[8:03] Mike: remember: someone OWNS the road… maybe Mr. Black down the street built it, and he owns it
[8:04] Mike: if Black owns the road, he can refuse service and access to anyone, for any reason
[8:04] Jana: Man, poor Mr. Green – he probably just found some matches and wanted to play with them…
[8:04] Mike: but he’d be a fool to do that except in the most extreme of cases, where this is a risk to his property or business — which Mr. Green, being an arsonist who refuses to pay damages, clearly represents
[8:04] Mike: hehe
[8:05] Mike: So Green becomes a prisoner in his own house until he at least agrees to start working to pay off the debt to White’s DRO, and rejoins society that way.
[8:05] Mike: hell, maybe he can’t even get food delivered…
[8:05] Mike: maybe the three different companies that compete for the water-supply business in his area learn he’s on the “bad” list with the DROs and stop delivering water
[8:06] Jana: We don’t want him dead, though!
[8:06] Mike: no, we’d like him to pay
[8:06] Jana: Yeah!
[8:06] Jana: (flex)
[8:06] Mike: but we certainly have no DUTY to continue providing sustenance or service of any kind to such a criminal, do we?
[8:06] Mike: Green can live and grow vegetables in his garden and collect rainwater
[8:07] Mike: in a cave, effectively, apart from society
[8:07] Jana: You’re cruel! He can make his own mobile phone out of a chunk of wood, too, right?
[8:07] Mike: he can try, but who’s going to allow him to connect to their mobile phone network?
[8:07] Mike: who’d give him credit?
[8:08] Jana: Oooh, he’d have to start his own network, too!
[8:08] Mike: a network requires at least 2 nodes…
[8:08] Mike: anyway, that’s most of the outline
[8:08] Jana: Cool, thanks.
[8:08] Jana: That’s some food for thought.