The Bible Reloaded is a Youtube channel, in which hosts Hugo and Jake review films, kids shows, religious comics and more from an atheistic, secular humanist perspective. Their work tends to be humorous and the targets of their criticism are often religious films. They watch these Mystery Science Theater style and comment on bad acting, low production quality or mixed up moral messages. On August 21st, the duo posted a review of the film Audacity by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort. The film, in short, encourages anti-gay Christians not to compromise their bigotry.
Comfort, who is most well known outside of religious circles for arguing that Bananas prove the existence of God (in part because of their pointed tip for “ease of entry”), also has a reputation for using copyright claims to take down works criticizing his output. The intended purpose of copyrights and patents, namely suppressing competition through the creation of government granted monopolies, is harmful enough. However, the use of intellectual property laws also serves the devious purpose of stifling free speech and criticism, as seen in Comfort’s case. Jake and Hugo knew this when making their review, and they took the precaution of using hand-drawn images and stock photos instead of visuals from the film. They explicitly state this at the beginning of their review, and note that while their usual technique of using film clips for a review is protected under the fair use doctrine, it is simply not worth the risk associated with being accused of copyright infringement.
This is particularly important for YouTube users. YouTube deletes channels that receive three copyright strikes, effectively meaning a loss of income for content creators. Even a single strike revokes a channel’s live broadcasting privileges and its ability to post videos over 15 minutes long. YouTube takes copyright claims seriously, and they can hardly be blamed as copyrights are enforced through government coercion. Unfortunately, anyone can file a claim against a YouTube Channel, and the company largely treats the accused as guilty until proven innocent.
Ray Comfort’s company Living Waters Publications chose to make a Digital Millenium Copyright Act complaint against The Bible Reloaded’s review of his film, causing YouTube to take down the video and issue a strike against its creators. Hugo and Jake took to Twitter to publicize the matter. Friends of theirs in the atheist blogosphere such as JT Eberhard of What Would JT Do? and Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist also got involved. As a result, Living Waters Publications received widespread public criticism. To quote Hugo and Jake, “This got resolved pretty much through the community, almost as quickly as it happened.” Ultimately Ray Comfort was contacted and he reversed the claim, stating he did not know why it was filed. Whether he did this out of fear of the legal penalties for making a fraudulent DMCA (perjury), personal benevolence, or simply due to the pressures of bad publicity is open to speculation. Thankfully, it was resolved without the threats of violence that often characterize internet related conflicts.
While the state’s copyright policies stifle the free flow of information and create ugly abuses, closely-knit online online communities allow victims of the abuses to fight back. The relatively free flow of online information does much to keep bad behavior in check. Hopefully this incident will open people’s eyes to the problem with copyright in general, as well as YouTube’s reactionary IP policies.
Donald Trump may think the media stenographers are out to get him, but if they were really doing their job, his head would be spinning. He doesn’t know how good he has it. Or maybe he does.
One need only think about the questions Trump is not asked to see what I mean. Take Trump’s position on trade. He’s given a forum to spout the hoariest fallacies without even a raised eyebrow from Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, et al. Maybe they don’t know any better, or maybe they think that challenging Trump’s crackpot economics is not their department. Either way, they do their audience a disservice.
How great would it be if some reporter asked, “Mr. Trump, didn’t Adam Smith refute all this in 1776?”
Or: “Mr. Trump, show me where Henry George erred when he said, ‘What protection teaches us is to do to ourselves in time of peace is what enemies seek to do to us in time of war'”?
If that is too highbrow, they might ask: “Mr. Trump, if your import taxes force Americans to pay more for cars and other foreign-made products, won’t they have less money to spend on other things or to invest? How would that help make America great?”
Trump says American presidents have been played for chumps by foreign countries in trade (and all other) matters. His proof? Americans send the Japanese corn and wheat, and the Japanese send Americans cars in return. To him this is — on its face — an outrage. Strangely, he adds that the Japanese don’t want the corn or wheat. No one bothers to ask him why, then, they accept those commodities. I thought Americans were the ones being taken advantage of.
Before we get to the core of the matter, let’s point out that Trump’s story is rather oversimplified. No American pays for a foreign car with corn or wheat. Americans use dollars. Car dealers also use dollars. So do wholesalers, etc. True, at some point, Japanese handlers of cars are paid in yen, or if paid in dollars, they convert them to yen (if they do not invest the dollars in American stocks, bonds, or real estate). Eventually, someone in Japan buys American wheat or corn (or something else), but those commodities are not bartered for automobiles. At any rate, what would be wrong if they were? In fact, what would be wrong if the Japanese refused to accept the commodities and sent the cars to us for free? Would greatness lie in rejecting free cars? Would free cars free up resources and labor for things we can’t afford today because we have to pay for cars? Trump needs to read Bastiat.
Let’s ignore, at least for now, that “the vast majority of the cars and trucks made in North America are still produced in the U.S. for domestic consumption and export to other countries” and that many foreign cars have American parts. Let’s also ignore the rather key fact that foreign automakers long ago built factories in the United States. From the way Trump talks, you’d think it was 1980, but you don’t hear reporters mentioning that to him.
Those are relevant facts, but they are not critical to exposing Trump’s protectionist snake oil. So let’s assume that Americans import all their cars from Mexico, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and South Korea.
As long as the government does not subsidize or penalize consumer choice either directly or indirectly, we have no reason for concern about Americans’ auto-buying. (If the government were distorting the market — which of course it does — the proper response would be to eliminate the interventions, not to micromanage us, as Trump would do.)
The purpose of production is not job-creation; it’s consumption. If Americans find foreign-made cars a better value than American cars, so be it. To the extent they save money, they have more discretionary income with which to buy other things or to save and invest. For those who (needlessly) worry about jobs, this new ability to buy and save ought to be comforting. If Americans’ direct auto-making talents aren’t valued in the marketplace, Americans will make other things that consumers (here and abroad) will want. That’s the law of comparative advantage in action. (Again, this assumes no government distortions, such as those created by subsidies, taxes, occupational licensing, zoning, central banking, intellectual property, and other special-interest political mischief.)
Under these circumstances and contrary to Trump, it would be wrong to say, “Americans don’t make cars.” Of course they do. What does it mean to “make cars”? It surely does not mean to produce cars out of thin air, like magic. No one does that, not even Detroit in its heyday. Rather, it means to use labor and the forces of nature to transform raw and semi-finished materials into cars, converting a pile of matter from a less-useful form to a more-useful form from the consumers’ perspective.
In economics we have the fable of the mysterious factory that turned wheat into cars. Farmers would deliver the wheat to the door on the left, and a few days later cars would roll out from the door on the right. How could this be? It turned out that the factory was located at a harbor. Foreign ships docked at the factory, where they unloaded cars and loaded wheat. Voila! Cars from wheat. This is not a verbal trick. The process of production consists in a variety activities, and trade is one of them.
So an American who grows wheat and trades it to an automaker for a car (as if it happened that way) has indeed produced a car — indirectly to be sure, but he produced it nonetheless. From the consumer’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if the car seller made the car or acquired it through trade, as long as he sees a net benefit in the transaction.
But this is old news. It was spelled centuries ago by David Hume, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Frederic Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, and others. No doubt the late Spanish Scholastics had figured it out before them. Most economists today accept it, including Paul Krugman. I guess Trump never got the memo.
We don’t need a deal-maker in the White House. We need the freedom to trade with anyone we please, anywhere in the world, on any terms we find agreeable. Government should butt out. Hear that, Mr. Trump?
Trump traffics in the stalest of stale trade fallacies, just as he traffics in the stalest of stale immigration fallacies. It’s what demagogues do. When will a reporter call him on it?
…Mutualism is a social system based on reciprocal and non-invasive relations among free individuals. The Mutualist standards are:
Individual: Equal freedom for each — without invasion of others.
Economic: Untrammeled reciprocity, implying freedom of exchange and contract — without monopoly or privilege.
Social: Complete freedom of voluntary association — without coercive organization…
The libertarian ideal is the only concept that paves the way for the operation of Mutualism. Perfect Mutualism could not exist under any form of authority. It would be thwarted and emasculated at every turn. Just as today every social and economic evil that serves to enslave humanity is the result of some form of governmental interference with freedom and with natural processes, so would the same or similar forces tend to nullify and counteract, to all extent, the advantages to be derived from the application of the principles of Mutualism. It is a plant that requires the fertile soil of liberty in which to make its unimpeded growth…
So, just a reminder as electoral season resumes: If you want to say that I am obliged to support Bernie Sanders’s campaign on the grounds that, however much it may offend my purist sensibilities, I need to speak to real-world practical gains, then you need to show me how, practically, me being invested in this campaign is going to advance any of those real world goals, under realistic political conditions, before you can claim the high ground of practical politics.
I’m not even going to worry you with explaining how we can be confident that a Bernie Sanders presidency would be significantly better than the status quo. That’s a tedious argument and one that is actually a lot harder to sort out than it might seem.
So let’s set that aside, for the sake of argument. Take it for granted. But now at a minimum, it is still actually on you first to demonstrate how my “supporting” Bernie Sanders is even going to contribute to Bernie Sanders being elected president in the first place. I don’t think anyone doubts that that outcome is still a long shot at best. And whether it is a long shot or a sure thing, once again, I live in Alabama, and no matter who I vote for I can predict with 99.989% confidence right now that this state will break 60-40 in favor of whomever the Republican Party happens to nominate, and all of the electoral votes will go to that Republican. If Bernie Sanders has a shot at winning, I cannot possibly improve that shot by swinging my vote. Even if I convinced 100% of my neighbors in a fifteen mile radius to vote for Bernie Sanders, I still couldn’t improve that shot. If Bernie Sanders has no shot, I certainly can’t do anything to chip away at that impossibility from where I am.
Telling me to support the Sanders campaign is not, as far as I can see, practical politics in any way. It is only a fetishistic imitation of “practicality” which cones from the ritual form of electoral participation. In real-world terms it doesn’t matter how great you think a Sanders presidency would be; it is not an outcome I can practically contribute to by my actions. What you are asking for is a futile, purely symbolic gesture from me in support of an idle hope.
And hey, I am an anarchist after all. I have no problem with futile, purely symbolic gestures for the sake of unrealistic idle hopes. I indulge in them all the time. But if I am going to hold out for an unrealistic, utopian dream, I would like to at least hold out for an unrealistic, utopian dream that I actually believe in, not the hypothetical lesser-disaster of another Progressive Democrat presidency.
Until you have some concrete way of improving on those odds, my view is going to remain that social protest, direct action, honest debate and day-to-day little pushes on the margin towards radical cultural change are not just more idealistic or “pure,” but more immediate, immensely more practical outlets for whatever activist energy I have than cheerleading for yet another long-shot presidential campaign. Practicality doesn’t come for free with a ballot. Ignoring that doesn’t make you a hardnosed realist, it just makes you another dreamy devotee of American civic religion.
…Left-libertarians share with other leftists the recognition that big businesses enjoy substantial privileges that benefit them while harming the public. But they stress that the proper response to corporate privilege is to eliminate subsidies, bailouts, cartelizing regulations, and other state-driven features of the legal, political, and economic environments that prop up corporate power rather than retaining the privileges while increasing state regulatory involvement in the economy — which can be expected to create new opportunities for elite manipulation, leave corporate power intact, stifle upstart alternatives to corporate behemoths, and impoverish the public.
Three and a half years ago I wrote an essay about why Americans should stop participating in the presidential election — either as voters, as supporters of one candidate or another, or as participants in the endless social media and conversational back-and-forths. In short, that they should pay as little attention as possible to the election campaign and should revel in and take pride in their ignorance of the horse race and the candidates and their “positions.”
A couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted this on her Facebook wall:
I feel bad because I feel like I should listen to everything they have to say but, I just had to turn off the Republican Debate. I just couldn’t handle it. Even while looking at pictures of puppies and kittens.
So I decided I should dust this essay off and polish it up a bit in the hopes of helping her and other people who feel guilty about ignoring politicians. This election is shaping up to be the best one in my lifetime not to vote in, so I hope my essay will ease many unnecessarily troubled consciences.
It’s still 2015, isn’t it? The presidential election is fifteen months off and the party conventions are still almost a year away. These days campaign season seems to never end. You’re probably already being inundated with tweets and status updates and comments and op-ed pieces forwarded from family members and blog posts and video clips of indignant pundits — almost all designed to deride one candidate or boost another.
There are some rare, mature, and sensible ones that urge you to carefully consider the important issues, resist the distortions of propaganda and the news cycle, and look at the big picture before you vote. But above all, to vote! Vote as if it were the most important decision you were going to make this year.
I hope you will indulge a different point of view. I’m going to urge you not to vote. Further, I’m going to ask you not to encourage your friends and family to vote for anyone, or at all. Even better, I’m going to suggest that you cultivate a studied ignorance of the candidates and their positions so that even if you were forced at gunpoint into a voting booth next November you wouldn’t have any idea which lever to pull. And not only that, but I’m going to tell you how, by (not) doing all these things, you can be of greater service to your country, your community, your loved ones, and yourself.
There are two main reasons why I expect you to follow this heretical advice. One of them is utterly rational, logical, and easily demonstrated: your vote is utterly unimportant to the outcome of the election, and whether you carefully consider your vote and cast it wisely or whether you just flip a coin in the voting booth or whether you instead make other plans entirely, the effect you have on who becomes president will be the same. It doesn’t matter for whom you vote in the privacy of the booth, and so there is no reason to become an informed voter, and indeed no good reason to vote at all.
The second reason requires a little more imagination but amounts to this: presidential elections are harmful, and they become more harmful the more that people care about them and the more attention they devote to them. Most anything else you can imagine doing with your time other than paying attention to politicians for the next year and change would be more beneficial to you, to your loved ones, and to your community.
Then there’s the dessert — almost the best reason of all: if you decide now that you aren’t going to vote in November, you can stop paying attention. You can let all of the squabbling rattle on without you, and you can ignore the impassioned partisans and the indignant commercials and the breathless commentators and your earnest and tireless relative who forwards everything. You’ll thank me.
Voting is Pointless
Your vote, should you fail to heed my advice and decide to cast one, will make no difference in the result of the presidential election. If you cast your vote for the candidate whose stated positions most closely match your views, whose image is most sympathetic to your self-image, who seems wisest and most well-advised — or if you devilishly succumb to a whim to do exactly the opposite — it doesn’t matter, because your vote will not make any difference in who becomes the president.
This is not because American elections are corrupt and error-prone, though certainly they are. True enough: because of poor interface design, the ease of malicious hacking, politically-motivated voter roll manipulation, and other such reasons, there is only a dim resemblance between the vote tally and the actual intended preferences of the voters. Also true: your well-considered, researched, intelligently-selected vote may easily be swamped by the haphazard votes of dozens of morons or by flipped bits in the slapdash voting machine or by snafus at the post office. It also cannot be denied that if the vote totals are by some chance close enough to matter in any important precinct (e.g. Palm Beach in 2000), the results will quickly be taken out of the hands of the voters entirely and left to the chad-wrangling of political operatives or partisan judges.
But these are not the reasons why voting is pointless. Even if none of these things were true, the sheer size of the electorate makes any individual vote mathematically worthless. Even if every vote were counted, only once, and actually represented the real, informed intention of a real, live voter, and even if every eligible voter were indeed permitted to vote, and even if the weird electoral college were abolished or replaced with something more sensible – even then, you would be wasting your time to vote.
Simply as a matter of scale, as the size of the electorate increases, the likelihood that any one vote will matter quickly, asymptotically approaches zero. At the current scale, at the width of the finest pen with which we can draw this asymptote, it is indistinguishable from zero.
But, you may be thinking, although my vote individually may not have any effect, our votes (you and me, and our right-thinking friends) in the aggregate just might – if the aggregate is big enough. If it is true that it is completely irrational and worthless to vote, and if rational people act on this knowledge, doesn’t that mean that our elections will necessarily be decided by the opinions of people who are too irrational, mathematically illiterate, or unwise not to refrain from voting? Can we risk that?
The answer to this objection is that, yes, tautologically, to the extent that our presidential elections are in fact decided by the expressed aggregate will of the voters, they are decided by the expressed aggregate will of those too unwise to know not to vote. No, we shouldn’t risk such a crazy thing, but we cannot change it by voting, because by voting you immediately become part of the problem you hope to solve.
It’s like looking at a sidewalk 3-card-monte game and saying to yourself that you’d better throw down a bet, because otherwise that unscrupulous dealer will be able to successfully con all those unsophisticated people who are playing without knowing the trick. If you play, you become the sucker.
But aha! Here is a reductio that beats my argument cold: “If my vote is so darned worthless, why are so many people spending so much time and energy and money trying to obtain it?” This is indeed a nut that needs cracking, but it will have to wait until the next section.
If participating in the electoral spectacle were merely pointless, I wouldn’t be writing this screed. Lots of things that people do aren’t really good for anything, and that’s nobody’s business but their own. However…
Voting is Harmful
If you put the dread judgment of mathematics aside, elections might be worth getting excited about if they were actually what they sometimes pretend to be: our way of choosing qualified people to take necessary and important policy-making and -enacting jobs, in such a way that those people best represent the considered judgments of the citizenry.
But these parody elections like the one being inflicted on us today are nothing of the sort.
For one thing, elections like these effectively select some of the worst people among us by perversely rewarding the sort of charming mendacity and amoral ruthlessness that characterize sociopaths. If you watch a political debate or stump speech or what-have-you, you’re watching an extended act of dishonesty. You’re watching someone whose every word is being chosen (or, more often than not, has been carefully chosen earlier) to manipulate you. Honesty – that is, the genuine motivation to inform someone accurately about what they want or need to know – never enters into it for a second.
I’ve met people like this, and you probably have too – people who seem to think that the only purpose of speech is to tell self-serving stories that trick other people into doing what they want — but when we meet them in real life we warn our friends about them and speculate as to how they became the monsters they are. But when they put on power ties and try to get us to vote for them, many of us lose all of our good sense.
“Well, that’s the way the game is played,” I sometimes hear. “If you don’t fight dirty, you aren’t going to win, so even the good ones have to fight dirty. An honest candidate couldn’t win.” But if you have accidentally (let us hope) established a political system that excels at elevating psychopaths to positions of power and authority, maybe the answer is not to hope for a flock of honorable people who can impersonate psychopaths long enough to climb into power, but to stop propping up a process that installs psychopaths as your rulers, and, once these psychopaths have been successfully identified by their success in the electoral process, to stop giving them so much power to do evil.
Sometimes people respond to criticisms like this by saying that there is no point in holding out for an ideal democracy, but that the sorts of imperfect elections designed by mortal men, of which the American presidential election is one variety, are better than none at all. Would I rather have a hereditary monarchy or a communist one-party state?
But these elections aren’t just “imperfect” incarnations of democratic decision-making — they’re not democratic at all in any important sense, that is in the sense of being an instance of people ruling themselves rather than being subjected to the decisions of others. It’s as if your dad promised to take you to a baseball game and instead took you to a junkyard where nine mannequins were stood up against a wall wearing baseball caps. “Well, it’s not an ideal baseball game, I’ll grant you that, but we can’t expect perfection. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Besides, you told me you hate football. Want a bag of styrofoam popcorn?”
Those who exaggerate the importance of elections (usually as part of their campaign pitch about how important it is for you to vote, and in a particular way) also tend to exaggerate the power of office-holders and the abilities (and propensities) of the politicians who hold office. This has the unfortunate effect of getting people accustomed to the idea that these offices ought to have great powers concentrated in them, and ought to be looked on to solve our problems, create miracles, provide for our needs, and so forth. This in turn makes the psychopaths in power more dangerous.
These elections also degrade the honesty, decency, and community solidarity of ordinary people who are induced to participate in them. They turn otherwise good people into spin doctors who see half of their fellow-citizens as enemies to be defeated and who annoy the rest of us with their email forwards and arguments at parties. These elections harm our communities, waste our resources, and embarrass us in the eyes of posterity. The best way we can confront them is to refuse to fan the flames or provide fresh fuel.
Earlier I raised the question of why so much money and effort is being spent to chase down votes that I claimed weren’t worth anything at all. The simple answer is that your vote is of no worth to you, but it may under some circumstances have some tiny worth to those who want to harvest it. Let me explain:
Your presidential vote (assuming your state is even “in play”) may be a tiny bit important and a tiny bit valuable to vote harvesters — though only as a fraction of the aggregate votes in your state (this makes intuitive sense). But to you, your vote is not even worth that fraction (this, people have a harder time understanding).
It’s kind of the same way that Coke & Pepsi spend an enormous amount of money, creative talent, and personnel to try to influence people to choose one of two almost identical products. Imagine how eagerly they would be trying if, by convincing 50.1% of Americans to choose one or the other, they could force 100% of us to drink nothing but for the next four years. In such a case, your vote — even your wee little vote — might indeed be worth something for Coke & Pepsi to pursue in the course of pursuing a larger percentage… but how much would it be worth it to you to cast that vote? Nothing at all.
(And as with the campaigns for Coke and Pepsi, the campaigns for president have little to do with the actual merits, if you can call them that, of the products. People cast their presidential votes not for the person and policies that eventually may occupy the office of president, but in a popularity contest between carefully market-tested candidate/brands. Witness all of the people who are angry at Obama because he did not behave in office at all like the president he had successfully convinced them to Hope for in order to win their votes. What were they voting for? A president or a brand identification? Blaming Obama for failing to usher in Change is like blaming Coke for failing to Add Life.)
If you pay attention to this charade, you give it more media market share – more “eyeballs.” You make the aggregate a little bigger and the election that much more expensive (if you’re buying it) or profitable (if you’re selling the tools to win it) – slightly increasing the amount of money, time, and attention necessary, and thereby also the various harms, including of course the endless corrupting pursuit of campaign cash by the politicians.
Also, in order to convince yourself to vote, or more specifically to vote “correctly,” you must tell yourself a story in which your vote is actually important or influential. This reinforces the illusion that the subjects of the U.S. government have meaningful democratic influence over its policies, and therefore this reduces the chances that you will look honestly at the real state of politics or will work for genuine change.
When you exaggerate the importance of voting for president – by urging people to vote one way or another or by making a big deal about anything the candidates are doing — you reinforce the illusion that voting for the right thing is anything like doing the right thing. The problems with our country aren’t caused by what people vote for on their ballots one day in November every four years, but by what they vote for with their actions on the 1,460 days in-between.
What You Can Do Instead
Well, then, what do I suggest? It is important, isn’t it, who the president is? We have to do something to make our influence felt, and, unless you’ve got the sniper chops of a Lee Harvey Oswald, election season is the time to do it, right? After all, even if the saying is true that “if voting could change anything, it would be illegal,” isn’t that also true of not voting?
Don’t slip back into superstition! Just because there isn’t an actual way for citizens to exercise reasonable democratic guidance over their government doesn’t make the fake ways any less fake. Just because you can’t win the lottery by crossing your fingers doesn’t mean you should knock-on-wood twice as hard.
I’ve got a better idea: Every time you feel tempted to click on that headline about the latest debates, every time you’re tempted to unmute the campaign commercial or click “play” on that dreadful gaffe posted to YouTube, every time you find yourself on the verge of forwarding some news about the campaign to your friends… get up, walk calmly to the bathroom sink, and floss your teeth.
Most people don’t floss their teeth nearly often enough. I know I don’t. But flossing can prevent painful tooth decay, embarrassing and off-putting bad breath, infectious disease, and apparently even (through mechanisms still under investigation) heart disease. By flossing, you practice inexpensive preventative medicine that will contribute to your better flourishing while at the same time it reduces the likelihood that you will need expensive medical care.
Make a disaster preparation kit. Check your smoke detector batteries. Read a good book. Bake cookies for a neighbor. Any of those things would be better for you and your community than participating in the Election 2016 fooferaw. I bet you’ve got some even better ideas.
But please don’t vote. And encourage your friends and loved ones not to vote as well. Don’t feel like you have to participate in discussing the foibles of the candidates or comparing their “positions,” and don’t be afraid to be utterly ignorant of the horse race. Be proud of it! As it is, I couldn’t pick Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee or Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson out of a photo lineup, but I’d be even happier if I’d never heard their names.
If you decide now that you’re not going to vote and that you’re not going to encourage other people’s political baloney either, you are immediately freed from any obligation to follow the campaign trivia. You’ll be happier, more productive and helpful, and less of an annoyance to your friends and family. Heave a sigh of relief. Get your “Delete”-clicking finger ready, and start daydreaming about what you’re going to do with all of your extra time, mental energy, and social capital.
… We on the Libertarian Left consider it utterly perverse that free market libertarianism, a doctrine which had its origins as an attack on the economic privilege of landlords and merchants, should ever have been coopted in defense of the entrenched power of the plutocracy and big business. The use of the “free market” as a legitimizing ideology for triumphant corporate capitalism, and the growth of a community of “libertarian” propagandists, is as much a perversion of free market principles as Stalinist regimes’ cooptation of rhetoric and symbols from the historic socialist movement was a perversion of the working class movement.
The industrial capitalist system that the libertarian mainstream has been defending since the mid-19th century has never even remotely approximated a free market. Capitalism, as the historic system that emerged in early modern times, is in many ways a direct outgrowth of the bastard feudalism of the late Middle Ages. It was founded on the dissolution of the open fields, enclosure of the commons and other massive expropriations of the peasantry. In Britain not only was the rural population transformed into a propertyless proletariat and driven into wage labor, but its freedom of association and movement were criminalized by a draconian police state for the first two decades of the 19th century. …
…They [anarchists] spring from a single seed, no matter the flowering of their ideas. The seed is liberty. And that is all it is. It is not a socialist seed. It is not a capitalist seed. It is not a mystical seed. It is not a determinist seed. It is simply a statement. We can be free. After that it’s all choice and chance.
Many libertarians say the traditional Left/Right political spectrum has become meaningless and useless. But to the extent that this is true for them, this is only because they have allowed themselves to be befuddled by political fraud and, perhaps, by a weak background in political history. The spectrum is just as useful and meaningful as it always was, which is very. It is necessary only to clarify one’s thinking about the past century in American politics to see that this is so.
But let us begin at the beginning — with what the left/right spectrum meant when it was created during the French Revolution. Murray Rothbard has written that 18th Century “liberalism” was “the party of hope, of radicalism, of liberty, of the Industrial Revolution, of progress, of humanity; the other [party] was Conservatism, the party of reaction, the party that longed to restore the hierarchy, statism, theocracy, serfdom, and class exploitation of the old order.” And according to Will and Ariel Durant in their book The Age of Napoleon, it was in the French Legislative Assembly in the fall of 1791 that the terms Right and Left were first used in this political sense. As the Durants tell it, when the assembly convened, the “substantial minority dedicated to preserving the monarchy … occupied the right section of the hall, and thereby gave a name to conservatives everywhere.” The liberals, meanwhile, “sat at the left.” Some fifty-odd years later, after another French Revolution (the one that took place in 1848) had unseated the last French king, Louis Philippe, the same seating arrangement was revived for the newly elected legislative assembly of the Second Republic. As has often been noted, two of the newly elected legislators who sat together on the left side of that assembly in 1848 and 1849 were the free market economist and publicist for free trade Frederic Bastiat and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first man ever to publicly declare himself an anarchist.
This conception of the Left/Right political spectrum also guided the political understanding of the 20th Century libertarian activist and writer Karl Hess, who wrote forty years ago that on “the far right […] we find monarchy, absolute dictatorships, and other forms of absolutely authoritarian rule,” while the Left “opposes the concentration of power and wealth and, instead, advocates and works toward the distribution of power into the maximum number of hands.” Just as the farthest right you can go is absolute dictatorship, Hess argued, so “[t]he farthest left you can go, historically at any rate, is anarchism — the total opposition to any institutionalized power, a state of completely voluntary social organization.”
Now, if we take this model of the Left/Right political spectrum and apply it to the politics of today, what follows from that? First, that all dictatorships, whether they are called communist or fascist, are on the Right. This is, of course, contrary to the doctrine set forth a few years ago in a ridiculous and unfortunately somewhat influential book called Liberal Fascism, in which the author, Jonah Goldberg, attempts to prove that fascist dictatorships like the one Adolf Hitler ran in Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s were and are Left-wing dictatorships, because they were socialist and socialism is a Leftist phenomenon). In fact, exactly the opposite is the truth of the matter. Fascism and socialism are the same thing, but they are both products of Right-wing thinking. Socialism has never really been on the Left. The original socialists, in the early part of the 19th Century, were advocates of the ideas of Henri Saint-Simon, a former monarchist and thoroughgoing conservative, a Right-wing defender of the ancien regime who had decided that the industrial revolution and the end of monarchy in France had to be taken into account by those who wanted a big government to run everyone’s lives as the kings of old had done. In effect, they transferred their allegiance from the king to a hoped-for technocracy, which could engineer the perfect society by applying “scientific” ideas to the job (but only if it had unlimited power to do so).
Two brief quotations from Ayn Rand seem relevant here. “Fascism and communism,” she wrote, “are not two opposites, but two rival gangs fighting over the same territory … both are variants of statism, based on the collectivist principle that man is the rightless slave of the state.” And, again Ayn Rand: “There is no difference between communism and socialism, except in the means of achieving the same ultimate end: communism proposes to enslave men by force, socialism — by vote. It is merely the difference between murder and suicide.” And fascism, socialism, and communism are, quite evidentally, all “forms of authoritarian rule,” to refer back to Karl Hess’s words. So all three belong on the Right side of the traditional Left/Right political spectrum. Adolf Hitler was a Right-winger. So was Joseph Stalin.
And so are today’s self-proclaimed “progressives.” As Richard Ebeling pointed out recently, these “progressives” are, ideologically speaking, “the grandchildren” of Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Imperial Germany in the last two decades of the 19th Century. As Ebeling writes, “Bismarck persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm to initiate a series of government programs and controls to gain political support of the ‘working class’ population that became the basis and inspiration for the modern Welfare State around the world.” As Bismarck himself put it, “My idea was to bribe the working class, or shall I say, to win them over, to regard the state as a social institution existing for their sake and interested in their welfare. … Life insurance, accident insurance, sickness insurance … should be carried out by the state.”
Sound familiar? It should. For this is the song that has long been sung by both Republicans and Democrats. These two parties, widely and absurdly believed to represent Right and Left, respectively, in American politics, are in fact no more different from each other than are Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They differ only on which Bismarckian welfare state programs should be given the most money and on how much any given Bismarckian welfare state program should have its budget increased in any particular year. That all Bismarckian welfare state programs should enjoy annual budget increases is taken for granted by both Republicans and Democrats. Today’s America is really governed by a single conservative party with two wings: the Republicans and the Democrats; if we choose to vote for a major party candidate at all, we have no real choice but to elect someone who wants to expand government and reduce individual liberty, that is to say, a conservative, a Rightwinger. “Statism” is a synonym for conservatism. Statism is the politics of the Right.
But if both Republicans and Democrats, both conservatives and modern “liberals,” as well as self-styled “progressives,” are on the Right, who is on the Left? The answer is: libertarians. Libertarians are almost the only true leftists left in this country. When I interviewed the longtime anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin for Reason magazine back in 1978, he made some comments on the Left/Right political spectrum that are well worth rehearsing today. “The American left today as I know it,” he told me, “is going toward authoritarianism, toward totalitarianism. It’s becoming the real right in the United States. We don’t have an appreciable American left any more in the United States.” Before our conversation was over, however, Bookchin acknowledged that there was, after all, an American Left worthy of mention. “People who resist authority,” he said, “[people] who defend the rights of the individual, who try in a period of increasing totalitarianism and centralization to reclaim these rights — this is the true left in the United States. Whether they are anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, or libertarians who believe in free enterprise, I regard theirs as the real legacy of the left, and I feel much closer, ideologically, to such individuals than I do to the totalitarian liberals and Marxist-Leninists of today.”
Bookchin was convinced, he told me, that Marxism was “the most sinister … form of totalitarianism. … I don’t think,” he said, “that the Soviet Union and China are accidents, aberrations; I think they follow from Marxism-Leninism. I think that Leninism comes out of Marx’s basic convictions.” Still, he said, “I believe in a libertarian communist society.” On the other hand, Bookchin added quickly. “I believe that any attempt on the part of a libertarian communist society to abridge the rights of a community — for example, to operate on the basis of a market economy — would be unforgivable, and I would oppose the practices of such a society as militantly as I think any reader of your publication would. If [a libertarian communist society] assumed any totalitarian forms, any authoritarian forms whatever, I would oppose that. And not only that: I would join your [free market] community in fighting it. … If socialism, which is what I call the authoritarian version of collectivism, were to emerge, I would join your community. I would migrate to your community and do everything I could to prevent the collectivists from abridging my right to function as I like. That should be made very clear.”
In other words, what Bookchin was calling for was voluntary communism.
Some libertarians are in the habit of saying, “We libertarians are neither Right nor Left; we are libertarians.” But no matter how emphatically they thump their chests while saying this, they’re wrong. They have allowed themselves to be deceived and misled by a political confidence game foisted on the American electorate beginning in the 1930s, when an opportunistic demagogue named Franklin Delano Roosevelt began passing off as the newest kind of “liberalism” a package of homilies and government programs that had traditionally been presented to the American public by the Republican Party, the party of big business, the party that was in favor of capitalism but opposed to the free market. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” consisted mainly of government programs introduced by his Republican predecessor, Herbert Hoover, laced with a generous dose of the bribery of the electorate first popularized by Otto von Bismarck. Some will object that conservatives have historically been for individual liberty and free markets, but this view is uninformed and ahistorical. The Republicans who opposed the New Deal opposed it mostly because they weren’t running it themselves; they took their libertarian rhetoric from true liberals, the classical liberals who are labeled “the Old Right” today by the historically confused. These people, many of them publicists like H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, and Isabel Patterson, had joined the Republicans after being forced out of the Democratic party, apparently in the belief that only by doing so could they oppose FDR’s policies. The party adopted their rhetoric, but they employ it only to dupe that subset of the electorate that cares about such things; then, once in power, they do as FDR did, the precise opposite of what they claimed to believe in.
Many of the same libertarians who say the traditional Left/Right political spectrum is now meaningless and useless also say that, beginning in the 1930s (or, according to some, beginning around the turn of the 20th Century), the terms Left and Right changed their meaning. But in fact they did not. What happened is that popular usage of these terms changed, as more and more citizens with less and less education decided to follow the lead of confidence men in public office.
As it happens, while I was beginning work on this podcast episode a few days ago, I was reading the American philosopher Susanne Langer’s three-volume work, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, her swansong, an altogether remarkable discourse on problems in theoretical psychology and what you might call speculative anthropology. And in its pages, I ran across Langer’s remark that “popular usage … commonly confuses and degrades the real sense of words.” Yes, yes, I understand that popular usage ultimately determines the correct meanings of words. At the same time, however, there are numerous words whose popular usage is so confused and degraded that serious students and teachers of the disciplines in which those words need to be used have specified more precise meanings for them in their professional work. “Anarchy” is one of those words. “Capitalism” is another. “Selfishness” is a third. My advice to serious students of and writers on fields like political theory, economics, and ethics is to do just that — be precise with the meanings you attach to the words Right and Left as they apply to political theory. Follow the guidance of the traditional Left/Right political spectrum. Abjure the foolish attempts of people like Noah Goldberg to make sense of a modernized spectrum that puts Barack Obama and Rand Paul at opposite ends, with totalitarian communists and anarchists (who are nothing but fully consistent libertarians) to the left of Obama and with both Adolf Hitler and Gary Johnson to the right of Rand Paul. Clarify your thinking about this spectrum.
Just the other day, a libertarian wrote on Facebook that he couldn’t imagine what a Left libertarian would be since the left favors big government so the concept of a Left libertarian is a contradiction in terms. This is what the confusion and degradation that come with popular usage of ill-understood words leads to. Be clear in your own mind, at least, about what Left and Right actually refer to. Understand that we libertarians (along with those ancoms who favor a purely voluntary collectivist society) are the Left in the America of the early 21st Century. It is not the concept of a Left libertarian that is a contradiction in terms; it is the concept of a Right libertarian that is a contradiction in terms, that is logically incoherent, that is, in fact, laughable on its face.
…Many libertarians in this century have been, in my view, insufficiently sensitive to the perspective of the poor, of laborers, of women, of minorities. But I view this as a historical aberration, brought about by the fact that a) the triumphant advance of socialism pushed libertarians into a century-long alliance with conservatives, and some aristocratic, patriarchal, un-libertarian attitudes rubbed off; and b) when the libertarians did re-emerge from the conservative movement in the last quarter of this century, they did so under the influence of Ayn Rand’s hard-edged ethic of rugged individualism. But these distorting influences are, I think, starting to fade, and the day of a “kinder, gentler,” green-spectacled libertarianism, truer to its historical roots, is beginning to dawn.
The new libertarianism, then, must take more seriously the left’s concerns, for in many ways they are its own concerns also.
… So we see, even assuming an “anarcho-capitalist” property regime, anything recognizable as “capitalism” to anyone else could not exist. In fact the society would look a lot like what “anarcho-socialists” think of as “socialism”. Not exactly like it, but much closer than anything they’d imagine as capitalism.
However, under anarchism, even such a strict property regime is not guaranteed. There is no way to impose it on a community that wants to operate a different way. I predict there will be lots of different communities and systems that will compete for people to live in them and whatever seems to work the best will tend to spread. There’s nothing the anarcho-capitalists could do to prevent people from agreeing to treat property in a more fluid or communal manner than they’d prefer. Nor is there anything the anarcho-socialists could do to prevent a community from organizing property in a more rigid or individualistic manner than they’d prefer.
For, just as anarcho-capitalism is impossible, anarcho-socialism is also impossible (depending on how you define things). In reality all of us who are opposed to the state, as that great fiction that some people have a special right to do things that anyone else doesn’t, are anarchists. And what will happen under anarchy? EVERYTHING.
For the next few weeks, C4SS will be publishing and hosting copies of Volume 20, Number 1, of the Journal of Libertarian Studies. This particular volume contains the Symposium on Kevin Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. The articles on and selections from Carson’s book you can look forward to:
- “Editorial to Symposium on Mutualist Political Economy” by Roderick T. Long
- “The Marshallian Synthesis” by Kevin A. Carson
- “Rothbard versus the Marshallian Synthesis” by Kevin A. Carson
- “The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economist’s View” by Murray N. Rothbard
- “The Labor Theory of Value: A Critique of Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy” by Robert P. Murphy
- “Spooner on Rent” by Roderick T. Long
- “Kevin Carson as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Walter Block
- “Freedom is Slavery: Laissez-Faire Capitalism is Government Intervention: A Critique of Kevin Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy” by George Reisman
- “Land-Locked: A Critique of Carson on Property Rights” by Roderick T. Long
- “Carson’s Rejoinders” by Kevin A. Carson
This image tweeted by Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has a lot of people upset. Is it supposed to be Barack Obama holding a gun to his own head?What if it is? The picture is hardly threatening or aggressive in any way. After all, it’s not a picture of Khamenei holding a gun to Obama’s head.
And look at the text:
We welcome no war, nor do we initiate any war, but if any war happens, the one who will emerge loser will be the aggressive and criminal U.S.
That is not aggressive in the least. On the contrary, it rejects war. Who’s been threatening war against whom? The U.S. government (along with Israel) has been threatening war against Iran. Even after the nuclear agreement was signed, Secretary of War Ash Carter reiterated that war against Iran is still an option. So all Khamenei is saying is that if the U.S. government starts a war, it will lose. It will be as though Obama had pointed a gun at himself and pulled the trigger.
In the past, Iran’s pledges to retaliate if attacked have always been presented by the news media and politicians as though they were threats to initiate war. This is happening again.
When will the media and the hack politicians be straight with the public? Iran has threatened to attack no one, but the U.S. and Israeli governments, both with nuclear weapons, routinely threaten to attack Iran. Who is the criminal?
Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black parishioners because they were black has been charged by the central government with committing hate crimes. Words cannot adequately express the evil of Roof’s actions at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and no decent person would want to say anything that be could possibly be construed as sympathetic to this despicable human being. Still this must be said: the concept thought crime has no place in a proper system of law.
That you should get extra punishment because of what you were thinking is too Orwellian to accept. People should not be punished for thinking bad thoughts. The focus should be on what a perpetrator did and not what was in his head. (This is not the place to expound on the nature of punishment. See my article “Crime and Punishment in a Free Society.”)
Roof killed nine innocent people and tried to kill others. We all know that he said he wanted to ignite a race war. Charging him with hate crimes in addition to murder and attempted murder has nothing to do with bringing him to justice. It’s about scoring political points.
Hate-crime legislation is a method by which the national government may preempt the states in the prosecution of aggression against persons and their property. It’s not as though South Carolina was not prosecuting Roof; that machinery is now in motion. He’s been charged with murder and other offenses, and he will stand trial if he doesn’t plead guilty. In South Carolina he faces the death penalty (which is one way that governments commit crimes).
Why should he face more prison time (than life?) or the death penalty at the hands of the feds when murderers with attitudes toward their victims not designated as “hate” do not face those extra penalties? To repeat, in a free society people would not be punished for what they think. Do we really want to suggest that killing for reasons other than race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender is less evil than what Roof did? Hate-crime legislation violates equal protection under the law.
* * *
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez’s July 14 killing of four Marines and one sailor, and wounding of a Marine and a police officer, at a recruiting center and a naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, raise two issues the news media are unwilling to touch.
First, as Glenn Greenwald points out, violence directed at military personnel has not traditionally been thought of as terrorism. Regardless of what U.S. law may say, people have generally used the term to mean violence against civilians, or noncombatants, for political or social purposes. “Whether one is targeting civilian versus military sites,” Greenwald writes, “is a central aspect to how we talk about the justifiability of violence and what is and is not ‘terrorism.'”
But the U.S. government and the war party’s intellectual vanguard have worked hard for many years to distort the meaning of terrorism so that it signifies, essentially, any violence committed, even against a U.S. invasion force, by a Muslim; the corollary is that any violence perpetrated by the U.S government or its allies, most especially Israel, by definition cannot be terrorism.
Greenwald goes on to make an important related point:
The argument that even attacks on military bases should be regarded as “terrorism” rests on the proposition that soldiers who are not actively engaged in combat when attacked are not legitimate targets. Instead, it is legitimate only to target them when engaging them on a battlefield. Under the law of war, one cannot, for instance, legally hunt down soldiers while they’re sleeping in their homes, or playing with their children, or buying groceries at a supermarket. Their mere status as “soldiers” does not mean it is legally permissible to target and kill them wherever they are found. It is only permissible to do so on the battlefield, when they are engaged in combat.
That argument has a solid footing in both law and morality. But it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone who supports the military actions of the U.S. and their allies under the “War on Terror” rubric can possibly advance that view with a straight face. The official framework that drives the West’s military behavior is the exact antithesis of that legal and moral standard. When it comes to justifying their own violence, the U.S. and their closest allies have spent the last 15 years, at least, insisting on precisely the opposite view.
Indeed they have. The U.S. and Israeli governments reserve the “right” to kill “illegal combatants” anywhere anytime. American policy regards the whole world as a battlefield. A target need not be a proven identifiable guerrilla in the process of committing an attack. For Obama the target need only be a military-aged male in a place the United States wants to strike. For details see the drone program and Israel’s operations against leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah and Iranian scientists. If that does not constitute terrorism, how can Abdulazeez’s violence be classified as such?
Greenwald concludes, “To question whether something qualifies as ‘terrorism’ quite obviously is not to say it is justifiable: All sorts of violence is wrong without being ‘terrorism.'”
The other noteworthy point about Abdulazeez’s shooting spree is the media’s continued mystification about how and why an American Muslim would become radicalized and wish to commit violence against Americans here or abroad. What is the attraction of the Islamic States and al-Qaeda? The media have no problem finding terrorism “experts” to speculate on the psychological reasons for and how proactive government measures can prevent it: for example, retired general Wesley Clark, who said, “If someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.” Thus,
If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. [Emphasis added.]
“We have got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized,” Clark continued. “We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning. I do think on a national policy level we need to look at what self-radicalization means because we are at war with this group of terrorists.”
While the news networks have no trouble finding tough guys like Clark to call for illiberal changes in our “domestic law procedures,” they apparently can’t find anyone to give the most reasonable answer to why someone might “self-radicalize”: namely, the decades of U.S. hegemonic violence against Muslims in the Middle East and the unconditional financial and moral support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Government studies acknowledge this. People convicted of terrorism acknowledge this. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I propose an experiment. Let the U.S. government withdraw from the Muslim world entirely and cease all material and rhetorical aid to Israel. After 10 years we’ll see if our society is at risk for “domestic terrorism” from self-radicalized Muslims.
* * *
The tragic death of Sandra Bland, 28, on July 13, three days after a traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas, is another in the recent and fast-growing series of incidents in which police bullying led to the death of individuals who posed no threat to anyone. Maybe Bland committed suicide, as the autopsy apparently shows. What we know with perfect certainty it is that she should never have been in that Waller County jail cell. State trooper Brian Encinia pulled her over when she changed lanes on a quiet street without signaling. She told him she moved over to get out of his way when his car came up behind hers. He had no need to stop her. This was a de minimis infraction — no harm, no foul. But even with the stop, Encinia could have prevented any serious confrontation. All he needed to do was give her the written warning he held in his hand and let Bland go on her way. Instead, he patronized her about her being irritated a the stop. (See the transcript.) But even that could have been the end of it — had Encinia’s intentions been good. The key moment occurred with this:
Encinia: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?
Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?
Encinia: Well you can step on out now.
Bland: I don’t have to step out of my car.
Encinia: Step out of the car.
Bland: Why am I …
Encinia (yelling): Step out of the car!
From there it was all downhill. He insisted she get out of the car because she was under arrest, threatening to “light [you] up” with his taser, which he had drawn like a gun. She demanded to know what she was being arrested for, but Enicinia would not answer. Later Encinia’s report said she was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting him, but those things happened after he ordered her out of the car because she was under arrest. It makes no sense.
I think we have a pretty good idea of what happened here. Encinia was offended that his “authority” was not respected without question, as shown by Bland’s refusal to put out her cigarette in her own car when the traffic stop was about to end. At that point, in his view he had to escalate as far as necessary to put her in her place. Maybe race had something to do with his — he’s white, she was black — but race is not a necessary element in the story (though it might been an aggravating factor for Encinia). As I wrote about the Eric Garner case, the cops didn’t intend to kill him, they “intended only to show him who’s boss on the streets of Staten Island — and show him in a way he would never forget.” They showed him, but in a way he’ll never remember, and the same can be said for Sandra Bland.
We gotta fix this cop problem.