There is No “Do” Either

Markets and Motivation

Guillaume Paoli’s Demotivational Training (2008, Cruel Hospice) is a tough egg to crack. I spent days of my time putting off reviewing this book, partly because I felt demotivated, but also because Paoli’s writing is fairly dense and hard to fully grasp at first. It’s the sort of book that requires a reread or at the very least a careful first reading with some notes. Being usually demotivated myself, I chose the latter.

The book is split into six different sections. The first section focuses on motivation, the second is a critique of markets, the third is a look at the internal organization of companies, the fourth details how work can be like an addiction, the fifth tackles marketing and advertising and the sixth discusses how we might move away from work, capitalism and the state.

In the interest of whatever sense of brevity I’m able to muster, let’s take it two chapters at a time per section.

The most fascinating part of Paoli’s book is the first chapter which is mostly dedicated to what motivates and demotivates ourselves. Appropriately enough, Paoli is at his strongest in the book whenever he actually focuses on what the title implies he’d be focusing on: motivation.

Paoli begins his discussion of motivation through the concepts of carrot and stick. The carrot is a psychological tool that, to be effective, must encourage blinders in the subject. That is, the subject must not think that there is anything they want besides what the person has dangled in front of them. Now, if they don’t go after the carrot then this is where the stick comes in. The stick isn’t there as a physical weapon, but more so as a bludgeoning tool to likewise dangle near the subject. Eventually the stick becomes more like a symbolic threat and less like a physical punishment incurred upon the subject whenever they feel brave enough to disobey and find their own motivations.

The stick is then a fairly simple object to try and get people to be motivated while the carrot is more complex. Here we have a simple stick and a complex carrot because as Paoli explains, “There’s not an option, but rather a dialectical relation between the two terms.” In other words, you are not going to have a carrot without a stick or a stick without a carrot. A “beaten mule will snort, reluctantly take a few steps, but then stop moving at the first opportunity” (1).

But if you give this mule a carrot and are able to get their attention you have to somehow reconcile the desire to reach the carrot with the desire of the carrot-holder to have the individual move forward in the first place.

The way to reconcile this difference is to have the individual (a donkey, a person, whatever) to subjugate their internal interests or goals for external ones. It’s even better to have this identification (as Paoli puts it) to come with the belief that they are doing this freely and voluntarily. But as Paoli puts it, they only view it as such because the carrot is being used like a blinder towards their other internal goals.

It’s much harder to know what you want when you are in a situation of limited choices (or “a desert”) so the desert must be constructed for the individual.

This is related to what Kevin Carson has called “The Subsidy of History” whereby the state has systematically and historically privileged certain classes of people to the detriment of others:

In the Old World, especially Britain (where the Industrial Revolution began), the expropriation of the peasant majority by a politically dominant landed oligarchy took place over several centuries in the late medieval and early modern period. It began with the enclosure of the open fields in the late Middle Ages. Under the Tudors, Church fiefdoms (especially monastic lands) were expropriated by the state and distributed among the landed aristocracy. The new “owners” evicted or rack-rented the peasants.

The Old World then became a “desert” for the peasants. The new carrot was the wage that they’d now be able to make through their “gracious” employers, while the stick of poverty and starvation gnawed at them constantly. Thus the peasants become interested in taking those steps forwards with the guarantee of a wage. Paoli would argue that in large part this was because of emulation. They see that other peasants are doing it and feel like they have no choice to do it as well. Paoli tries to mock the concept of “free competition” by including it within this metaphor but I don’t agree that it belongs.

I’d wager that Paoli and I would agree that the notion that “free competition” exists in a fundamentally constrained process controlled by organizations that you have little control over is a huge misnomer. Further, I’m not sure Paoli understands that markets don’t need capitalism to function as markets. Markets are a larger term that can actively involve the existence of free exchange, while capitalism is a system that denies such a relation between individuals and groups.

And when markets are freed from the restraints imposed by the state and its cronies they primarily involve, as libertarian writer Charles Johnson explains, “…respect for individual property, consensual exchange, freedom of association, and the freedom to engage in entrepreneurial discovery.” Such a market would lead us towards the “maximal consensually-sustained social experimentation…” possible in a given society.

Paoli however does see the appeal of markets and illustrates that appeal in a historical example,

Of course, both dirty tricks and falsification are as old as commerce, and the chronicles of the Middle Ages are filled with arguments over wine cut with water and bread made with sawdust that frequently ended with people at daggers drawn. But that’s simply because the buyer-seller relation took place face to face. It was possible to unite the crowd against an insensitive street vendor and to challenge his reputation. It was also possible to bargain—more often than not it was the rule. Prices were not determined by some objection and unquestionable truth, but were an uncertain result of verbal jousting that did not go beyond the limits of practical calculation, but was rather a source of amusement. The souk merchant despised the buyer who refused to bargain. The refusal to discuss price was an insult to his humanity and a clear sign of barbarism.

Once the purchases were completed, the townspeople met to socialize over a glass of wine. Buying and selling were opportunities for exchange in the former (and dated, unfortunately) sense of this word: to be friendly and to trade ideas. This was the moment when city life was debated when politics took center position. The agora and the forum were marketplaces. In sum, the circulation of commodities and money overlapped with the circulation of decisions and information. Incidentally, traveling salesmen were often the communicators of new ideas and heresies. And naturally it was on market day when street protests and riots broke out since that was where both townspeople and farmers could air their grievances.

As opposed to this historical market that was more sensory orientated Paoli calls the current market place “World Trade Inc.” But how did the historical existence of markets as a celebration cede so much to begin with?

In Johnson’s article “Scratching By” he argues that the main perpetrator of this historical trend towards over-commodification, over-commercialization, centralization, increasing the cash nexus to the detriment of things like gift exchange and barter is the state’s doing.

He lists many of the artificial barriers to entry that hold the poor back from creating their own vibrant markets. These barriers include things like zoning laws, lack of accessible credit or capital and unused or vacant lots and buildings seized by governments. To add insult to injury, the ways that the poor use to undermine these barriers such as shared living spaces can often be prohibited under building codes.

This can lead to police raids where their property is seized for “improper use” and ends up making these people live out on the street. Here, they are much more likely to be harassed (again) by the police for “vagrancy” or “loitering” in non-public places and sometimes in so-called “public” places that, once again, actually belong to the government.

For his part, Paoli correctly identifies this current deformity of the historical market as a “usurpation” of what markets originally meant. Paoli calls for an end to “compulsory markets” that make us have to work jobs we often hate.

In my view, this usurpation revolves around markets being reduced down to a base notion of a “cash nexus”. An economic situation whereby our ability to engage in commerce and trade are severely limited by the barriers to entry Johnson mentions. In addition, it’s also restricted by the prevailing notion in our culture about what it means to havefree market. For many people the term free market often translates to the free reign for the powerful rather than a free expression of economic relations between equals.

None of this is to play a game of semantics with Paoli or anyone else but I think the case for markets is strongest when we make World Trade Inc. distinct from actually freed markets. And within that context, capitalism, the system whereby the owners of capital are privileged over those who labor under them, is a condition that undermines the ability of many of us to actually engage in trade freely.

As libertarian writer Clarence B. Carson wrote:

One dictionary defines [capitalism] as ‘a system under which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are in large measure privately owned and directed.’ On the face of it, the meaning may appear clear enough. We can come in sight of the difficulty, however, if we turn the whole thing around and look at what is supposed to be signified, shutting out of our minds for the moment the word used to signify it. Suppose, that is, that we have a set of arrangements in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange of goods “are in large measure privately owned and directed.” I am acquainted with such arrangements, both from history and from some present-day actualities.

But why should we call such arrangements capitalism? So far as I can make out, there is no compelling reason to do so. There is nothing indicated in such arrangements that suggests why capital among the elements of production should be singled out for emphasis. Why not land? Why not labor? Or, indeed, why should any of the elements be singled out?

Indeed, the market doesn’t just naturally inordinately privilege the holders of capital at the expense of the rest of us. It acts instead, as the individualist anarchists following in the tradition of Benjamin Tucker would suggest, as a bulwark for labor to meet capital on much more equal terms.

So long as capital’s privilege from the state and the cultural environment of ideas remains intact markets shall continue to be deformed.

As Johnson says,

Where markets are valuable, they are valuable precisely because of basic respect for human-scale ownership and evolving patterns of trade, and the people-powered, decentralized, informal and adaptable sorts of relationships like those that emerged around raising and keeping creole pigs — not because of engineered commerce, or the formalized, centralized, high-overhead, government-driven models of industrial agribusiness hog-production.

We know other marketplaces.

Postmodern Taylorism and Work as Addiction

With chapter III we’re immediately confronted with a puzzle. The title states that companies want what’s best for us but that we shouldn’t give them that. What does this mean and look like in practice?

Understanding the “what’s best for us” part entails examining the history of Taylorism or the “scientific organization of labor” (45) that tried to mitigate man’s so-called natural laziness. As Paoli succinctly puts it, “the machines are rational and the individuals are mechanized” in a Taylorist factory.

In other words, the workers are strung up and held by standards that supposedly uphold the benefits of “rationality”. But this rationality isn’t neutral, it comes from the ruling class or those who are more likely to either play a part or benefit in some notable way because of it. This version of “rationality” deems that if workers know what’s best for them (and they don’t, according to Taylor himself) then they’ll follow what the bosses want and work for the wage they are given despite themselves.

Once again we see work as a subordination of the self and its own interests. We must subsume many of our most important values, activities and things to this one process in a given day. And we do so in many situations because we have to and not because we actually want to.

And to make a point Paoli does, the very idea of a labor market obscures the fact that laborers are often not in possession of the means of production or having much say in which way the market goes. Thus, capitalism obscures exploitation by making it seem like rigged market forces are actually constrained in some meaningful way by workers. This is not the case.

Kevin Carson has also talked about Taylorism as a “rule by experts”and a form of progressivism saying:

The implications, as James Scott put it in Seeing Like a State (about which much more below), were quite authoritarian. Only a select class of technocrats with “the scientific knowledge to discern and create this superior social order” were qualified to make decisions. In all aspects of life, policy was to be a matter of expertise, with the goal of removing as many questions as possible from the realm of public political debate to that of administration by properly qualified authorities. Politics, Scott writes, “can only frustrate the social solutions devised with scientific tools adequate to their analysis.” As a New Republic editorial put it, “the business of politics has become too complex to be left to the pretentious misunderstandings of the benevolent amateur.”

Progressivism was a branch of what Scott called the “high modernist” ideology, which “envisioned a sweeping, rational engineering of all aspects of social life in order to improve the human condition.” High modernism carries with it an aesthetic sensibility in which the rationally organized community, farm, or factory was one that “looked regimented and orderly in a geometrical sense,” along with an affinity for gigantism and centralization reflected in “huge dams, centralized communication and transportation hubs, large factories and farms, and grid cities. . . .” If you’ve read H. G. Wells’s “Utopias” or looked at Albert Speer’s architecture, you get the idea.

In such situations humans are reduced to their most mechanized, repetitive and servile parts all in the name of “science” and “reason”. These approaches make us servile through attempts to “rationally” organize the workers when reason just confers to whatever the bosses want. The workers usually have little say in what’s “best” for them and whenever it is spelled out Paoli is probably right to advise you to not act in accordance with their expectations.

Paoli also notes that the idea of a man-machine is false for a host of reasons but most of which boil down to incentive and knowledge problems. He says that no matter how “scientifically” organized a firm is or how bureaucratic it simply can’t replace the active involvement of the employees. Part of the underlying reason for this failure is because the workers have much more direct access to the results of the ongoing policies that the bosses have implemented. They are more likely to know first-hand how the bosses policies are affecting the customers and how they’re affecting their own wages as well as the prices.

But those same workers often don’t have the correct incentives to speak quietly let alone freely about these things. That’s because the hierarchical chain of command makes it more likely that the worker could be fired for simply speaking out against policies that harm most involved. Those policies are often reinterpreted and practiced differently in each part of the firm. The workers in particular will have to bear the biggest burdens as they are front and center in actually trying to make these policies work for themselves and the customers.

There’s also a problem of trying to organize work as if it’s just another simple technology. Acting as if  once you program work correctly it will make most problems go away. Nor do the people up top hold some sort of omniscience that could be used to predict, much less always adapt to, the mildest of mistakes. The people up top often have the least incentives to admit they were wrong and that new polices should be enacted. And even when they do that doesn’t actually strike at the root of the problem which is the hierarchical orders they will continue to perpetuate.

The issue of technology also gets some much needed discussion periodically throughout the book:

What is important here is that in fact, the notion that profit can be create through entirely automated production is false, even if there are enough solvent consumers … In the Manifesto of the Happy Unemployed, we cite Aristotle (“if each tool could execute its proper function, the factory owner wouldn’t need assistants nor the master slaves”) and we added:

“Automation has always been a dream of humanity. Today the dream has become a reality, but it has taken shape as a nightmare for everyone because social relations have not evolved as quickly as technology.” (2006)

This formulation was, on our part, deliberately naive. We only intended to cast doubts on the motives behind rationalization. With the fantastic technological advances of the last decades, as a result of which not only do robots execute increasingly complex tasks but also build other robots, the old utopia of the land of plenty would seem close at hand. But it remains a utopia as least so long as World Trade, Inc. continues to exist. (pp. 51-52, emphasis mine)

Having new technology that makes work easier and less intrusive on our limited energies is great. But unfortunately most of the benefits are being seized by those who have more privilege than the workers do. People who have enough material and social capital and know the right people in the right industries or companies can get their hands on these technologies sometimes much sooner than the general populace. They’re then much more able to find ways to use these technologies to their benefit rather than the benefit of society as whole.

This is what Paoli means when he says that social relations haven’t evolved as quickly as technology has. As great as it is to have smartphones and all of these labor-saving devices they’re often just used as an excuse for us to do more. Now that you have such a great tool why don’t you work twice as hard and for double the amount of hours!

This is exactly the opposite of what these technologies are supposed to be used for and what the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted would occur with advances in technology. That mankind would solve the economic problem that has plagued us for so long and eventually lead us to a society where we would only need to work 15 hours per week to thrive. Kevin Carson has recently written a book review on similar themes of technology and unemployed (see also here).

The social relations involved now are marred by what Paoli deems an “addiction”:

The dependence on work doesn’t come from national or individual character; it stems from a pathological phenomenon that is a socially produced sickness. … It was only gradually that addiction evolved into its current meaning; mania, the indulging in morally reprehensible passions. Thus the word conserves the memory of a primordial act of constant, which has since been internalized in a process by which suffering is made tolerable by making it worse. Moreover, as opposed to dependency, which is always dependency on something, addiction is a generic term, a structural matrix shared by diverse expressions that include toxicological dependency, compulsive consumption, bulimia, etc. (pp. 69-70)

The symptoms often include things like over-extension through meaningless gestures and chronic joint pain all of which are usually classified under “personal problems” for the workers and not a result of the system in place. The “reigning principle” according to Paoli is that when the environment doesn’t suit the worker you make the worker conform to the environment and not the other way around. And if this still doesn’t work, well it’s still just the worker’s personal problem, right? They should suffer in silence in that case and try to deal with their own inner demons as much as possible.

This addiction for work is furthered not only by external blinders that obscure other possible options but also people’s internal motivations. Sometimes its a matter of impressing the boss with all of your hard work or other times its a matter of trying to get that “high” of getting praised. But this doesn’t last long and eventually the worker is desperately trying to keep climbing the ladder even at the expense of once loved coworkers.  They’ll push them out of the way and make sure only they are able to ascend to the top.

Unfortunately, once you’re at the top, there’s not a places left to go except down.

Consumerism and The Cancellation of the Project

One of the biggest parts of World Trade Inc for Paoli is the existence of commodity culture that involves fetishization of objects.

This same fetishization of objects could likewise be expressed in the terms Voltairine de Cleyre, a late 19th and early 20th century anarchist without adjectives gave, thing-worship:

We dabble in many things; but the one great real idea of our age, not copied from any other, notpretended, not raised to life by any conjuration, is the Much Making of Things, — not the making of beautiful things, not the joy of spending living energy in creative work; rather the shameless, merciless driving and over-driving, wasting and draining of the last lit of energy, only to produce heaps and heaps of things, — things ugly, things harmful, things useless, and at the best largely unnecessary.

To what end are they produced?

Mostly the producer does not know; still less does he care. But he is possessed with the idea that he must do it, every one is doing it, and every year the making of things goes on more and faster; there are mountain ranges of things made and making, and still men go about desperately seeking to increase the list of created things, to start fresh heaps and to add to the existing heaps.

Verily, if the vision of the Medieval Soul is painful in its blind staring and pathetic striving, grotesque in its senseless tortures, the Soul of the Modern is most amazing with its restless, nervous eyes, ever searching the corners of the universe, its restless, nervous hands ever reaching and grasping for some useless toil.

These nervous eye movements are twitches for whatever we think we need next. World Trade Inc. does its part in advertisements, subliminal (and not so subliminal) messages about how our bodies and what they mean are inherently tied up in what we buy. This is not to crucify buying, selling or trading itself, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these actions in of themselves. The context of commerce as Paoli, Johnson and others have pointed out has been around far longer than any wacky fast food commercial.

Past that observation there’s also the danger of treating people as if they’re just too stupid to realize an advertisement when they see one. Most people I know and perhaps even most people in general seem to realize when they’re watching a product being sold and when they are the ones being sold. That is to say, that they are being treated as mere means to the ends of others.

Luckily Paoli himself recognizes that this anti-consumerist critique must itself be critiqued for it claims to come from “disabused origins” (102) and obscures the real forces behind work more than it enlightens.

For Paoli in the first place there is a naivete in thinking that your lack of “going with the program” is really going to change anything. Do you really think the people in power care whether you listen to the billboard or not? I’ve noticed obnoxious billboards and advertisements in train stations that cover almost everything that can have an advertisement on it.

Is it obnoxious? Definitely. And my first impulse is, “fuck them, I won’t buy it and that’ll show them!” but I quickly realize they don’t care whether I buy their product or not. I’m usually not their target audience anyways. I’m not likely to be in the market for whatever they’re selling for starters and even when I am I’m often not interested enough to either spend the money or not use it on something else.

There’s also a certain hypocrisy, unbridled moralism and Puritanism involved in this pursuit of opposing consumption on the whole.

As author of A Renegade History of the United StateThaddeus Russell has wrote:

A host of progressive academic studies of working-class spending habits aimed to determine the exact degree of material wealth—and not one dollar more—that would provide, as one put it, “the power to ensure one’s primary faculties, supply one’s essential needs, and develop one’s personality.” The conclusion of most of these studies was that to avoid socially harmful “excesses” the “minimum amount of goods and opportunities” should also be the maximum amount.

Typical wasThe Standard of Living Among Workingmen’s Families in New York City (1909), written by Robert Chapin, the son of a college president, which labeled “visits to cafes, ale houses,” tobacco, gambling and lotteries, “ornaments (personal),” “theater and “public festivities,” and even candy, soda water, and ice cream for children as “luxuries” and “extravagances.”

Through the 20th and into the 21st centuries opposition to consumerism remained almost exclusively the domain of well-born do-gooders, often finding its voice in claims that advertisers create in common folk “artificial” desires for “useless” luxuries and “mindless” entertainment.

Although I’d argue Thaddeus’ qualms with Lorde in particular and I’m not sure of his particular application of his premises in general, those premises by themselves seem pretty spot on to me.

The anti-fetishist opinion also seems to lack substance for many of its conclusions often appear to boil down to buying, trading and selling but with no logos on anything. But as Paoli points out state-socialism already tried this over fifty years ago. The result was that there were piles of monotonous looking shoes that were left unworn.

But hey at least they didn’t look gaudy.

There’s something that’s been bothering me for awhile about this attitude that, “life is amazing and no one is happy.” This is the sort of line that comedian Louis CK likes touting while he talks about mechanical birds in the sky and that you should just be constantly amazed by life.

But what good is this attitude?

Why should I constantly be amazed by what happens in life? What good does this do for me, exactly? It just makes me think I’ll reach amazement burnout in amazing amount of time. Should I feel amazement about that as well?

We could just keep going back through time and think about how cavemen didn’t have wheels or cars or tractors or whatever huge percent of the things we have now. So should we be amazed at fireplaces in houses? Chimney’s? Horse and buggies? Why aren’t people like CK excited about those things when they’re so modern compared to the cavemen era?

The bottom line is that our lives are going to involve disappointment and as Paoli points out this is crucial to understanding consumers and how they work. We’ll always have some sort of disappointment in our lives and for at least me there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

The guy who says that the hi-speed Wi-Fi doesn’t work on the plane and says “that’s bullshit!” at first glance seems petty, yes. But it’s also a legitimate gripe. If you get promised something then aren’t you owed it in some respect? If plane companies advertise that they have fast and reliable internet on the plane then isn’t it reasonable on some level to say bullshit when it doesn’t work?

Now, you could counter that the guy shouldn’t presume that it’ll actually work because having access to hi-speed internet on a plane is fairly recent. But if he’s irresponsible for believing the advertisement then aren’t the people who made the advertisement and approved it irresponsible too? Don’t they share the blame in this “petty” situation as well?

Ultimately the anti-consumerism movements that claim we’re just zombies are making us all into perfect victims who have no real agency, motivation or say-so in the relationship. So what then is the movement to do? To magically get people to stop buying things? Why would that work and how would it happen?

And more to the point why should we buy nothing?

Consider the “Buy Nothing Day” which Charles Johnson thoroughly rebuked:

Stop for a moment to just look at what the theory of consumerism says about the origin of social problems — the delusions that the unwashed masses are allegedly duped into — and what it recommends as the solution — Gnostic liberation from the dirty material world.

This is not Leftist critique; it is Romantic misanthropy.

Look at how it is cashed out in action: ridiculing ordinary people going about their business by portraying them as mindless zombies, pigs, sheep, or cattle; harassing workers who have done nothing worse than show up for their jobs. This is not Leftist politics; it’s empty lifestylism and a display of personal purity. What it expresses is contempt and what it does is attack ordinary people — workers and women in particular.

So what must we do? Hey, it’s the holidays; let’s enjoy ourselves — even, yes, buy something, if we feel like it — and ignore or ridicule guilt-tripping anti-consumerists who haven’t got anything better to do than hector us. And when we get back to work, shouldn’t we remember that we’re all in this together, and that that the answer is to empower people instead of berating them?

Nonetheless, holiday or not, consumption surely plays a strong part in the functioning of World Trade Inc. and our participation (and especially those who directly and actively contribute to the system) likely don’t help us in the long run.

So what will helps us in the long run? What does Paoli suggest so that we may cancel “the project”?

Paoli’s answer naturally lies in demotivation or inertia within systems. To me it seems like this inertia is purposefully created with the thoughts of subverting the system. But that may not be necessary if capitalism and the state tend to create much more dissatisfaction then satisfaction anyways. The answer then may be not to inspire hope or to try to get people to be more satisfied with their environment.

On the other hand we should always be wary when reproducing the strategies of the enemy so we don’t become them ourselves. In this case it’s treating the environment as the person and ourselves as the environment. We are merely an object to be twisted, bent and shaped “correctly” until our environment just so happens to better our lives.

Instead, we should seek to make the environment to fit ourselves as much as possible. And part of that tactic is letting inertia thrive in capitalism’s main places of operation. Including but certainly not limited to work. Asymmetric warfare is particularly what Paoli has in mind when he talks about the invasion of Iraq and how a lot of it wasn’t undone through just violent means such as terrorism.

But it was the utter indifference much of the population had towards the western ways which earlier Bush seemed to think they needed so badly. If you’re not going to kill the population that is deeply indifferent and you can’t leave them either (at least not completely) then you’re eventually going to be overrun by the inertia. What replaces this conflict (or lack thereof) is hard to say and won’t always be positive. But in the end the invading force is repelled not by sheer military might but the apathetic might of the populace.

What stands in the way of our weaponized inertia?

In one of the most interesting and surprising references in this book Paoli cites Etienne de la Boetie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude which is a surprisingly radical text that suggests that we may well deserve the government we have. But Paoli also focuses on what Boetie thinks causes this involuntary servitude which includes habituation, the distractions that the tyrants give us, the use of emotional reasoning, citing the “common good” and lastly, the delegation of power.

In that last case it isn’t so much that someone delegates power itself but that delegation of power holds privileges for the recipient of said delegation which they’ll then pass on to others. Eventually, everyone they know has some sort of stake in the current system. And so whether they like the current system or not it is ultimately irrelevant because they are getting too many benefits out of it to actually try to rebel in some way. Often this makes rebelling a rather irrational thing to do let alone conceive.

The conclusion for this analysis is that our subjection is not a strictly free choice in that we don’t have any external constraints blinding us from our other options, not to mention the active prevention or dissolution of those alternatives. But it’s also not strictly a result of coercion because although authority figures certainly hold a lot of power they often have power over our neighbor because we give them that “legitimacy” when we call the cops on them.

As the mantra goes, “kill the cop in your head”.

Completely seeing our society as the result of free choices is an ahistorical doctrine that ignores hundreds of years of literal slavery. It ignores the way that the state and capitalism have successfully dispossesed many people of their justly held property. And it ignores this ever present role as a dispossesser in the current economy that relies on taxation, artificial barriers to entry, cultural reinforcements of authoritarianism, hierarchy being necessary and much more.

But as Paoli says, it seems unfair to completely chalk it up to coercion too. This is a mistake the libertarians (especially the conspiracy tending ones) will make far too often. They try to act as if the government is some sort of all-powerful institution that knows exactly what we are doing at all times. Simultaneously, these libertarians will constantly talk about how incompetent the government is and how the masses are zombies and sheeple (who knew leftists and right-wing conspiracy theorists made such appropriate company for each other ?) when all the government is made out of is people.

So an ambivalence about how much freedom we have must be taken into account. This account must be upheld whether we are analyzing our oppressors or what we must do to overthrow them.

A humorous result of this is that Paoli seems to agree with (of all people) Walter Block that the concept of “voluntary servitude” is not only possible but to deny it is, according to Paoli, to deny the possibility of freedom. (139)

Paoli comes to another conclusion that might interest left-wing market anarchists:

Disengagement – The appropriate method for waging an asymetrical war had been known and successfully used for a long time. It was presented twenty-five centuries ago by Sun Tzu in The Art of War.

Contrary to the Western understanding, the classic Chinese strategy seeks to avoid head-on clashes at all costs, the goal being to win without ever having engage in combat. It is a method that favors sidestepping, circumvention, ruse, attentive passivity. The art is all in the neutralizing of your adversary’s forces before he can even get them into the fray.

You can make him lose his composure, you drive him crazy, you push him to make mistakes so that he will already be beaten, collapsing internally at the moment he has to act. Once this invisible work of sapping his strength is complete, it will take almost nothing to make him lose his balance and to neutralize him for good, the ultimate goal being not to destroy him, but to dismantle his structures in order to seize his resources. (139)

In other words: identify the damage and then route around it.

This is further interpreted as some sort of Aikido. Interestingly, this comparison has also been used by the director of C4SS, James Tuttle in his talk on C4SS and Freed Market Anti-Capitalism:

The Invisible Molotov embraces emergent orders, not as the pious desire to embrace their deity, awed by its power or grace, but as the readied aikido master, observant of its flow and eddies, prepared to turn, adding its force to our own or using its inertia to deflect its fist into the ground.

As William Gillis explains,

“For those of us interested in resisting and undermining coercive power, the issue is less how a truly freed market might one day improve our lives, but rather how the faint sparks of freedom in the market today are already working against hierarchy, banditry and the concentration of power and how those sparks might be stoked. Therefore our interest is not the market’s invisible hand, per se, but the invisible molotov it carries.”

In conclusion Kevin Carson steels our resolve,

“Our goal is not to assume leadership of existing institutions, but rather to render them irrelevant. We don’t want to take over the state or change its policies. We want to render its laws unenforceable. We don’t want to take over corporations and make them more “socially responsible.” We want to build a counter-economy of open-source information, neighborhood garage manufacturing, Permaculture, encrypted currency and mutual banks, leaving the corporations to die on the vine along with the state.

We do not hope to reform the existing order. We intend to serve as its grave-diggers.”

Likewise, Paoli sees our means of ending capitalism and the state as a form of “mental aikido” (140) which means, as Marx (!) said, “…make petrified relations dance by playing them their own tune.”

This all leads up to the activity of non-activity.

As Rush says, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice!”.

Similarly, if you choose not to engage in a given activity then you’re still engaging in non-engagement to some degree.

Admittedly, sometimes these degrees are minimal and hard to notice but other times non-engagement can be loud and vociferous. In those cases they are often a call for critique, self-reflection and a reassessment of our goals and values. These are hardly calls for doing “nothing” in some absolute sense or a call for resigning ourselves to despair. The calls involved here are valuable precisely because sometimes not doing something is the best use of our time and energy.

Paoli concludes by saying that this spread of passivity or becoming a passivist as he terms it (as opposed to pacifist) is our key to ending the project. By this he means our literal projection onto the world and the ability of World Trade Inc. getting us to play by its own internal rules, external constraints and so on.

Easier said than done, sure.

But it’s important to see how sometimes capitalism and the state can creep into our black market activities, our white market cooperatives and our gray market under-the-table independent contracting, etc. The taxes, regulations, artificial barriers to entries and monopolization of certain industries and fields don’t exist in a vacuum. You don’t get to be free of their influence on your activities just because they no longer affect you directly. You’re still using the roads, a smartphone and the internet to some degree, I imagine.

Simply having this sort of awareness and an aim to carefully balance our interests against World Trade Inc. may make us limit our projection into the world. Instead of having us be all over the place and letting our emergency-hearts take us over and paralyze us we wait patiently like the Aikdio master. We consider Taoism and wei wu wei or “action without action” as guidelines to our strategies.

And above all, we learn from the donkey that “inertia is also a force” (145). It is a force that must be harnessed and used wisely if we want to undo the damage World Trade Inc. has done to us and to market forces.

It’s time to pull the emergency breaks on this Happening Train.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory