Posts tagged Roderick Long

Steal This Cartoon

Over at Austro-Athenian Empire, Roderick recently mentioned a couple particularly bizarre attempts to use Intellectual Protectionism in the service of chickenshit (parrot-shit?) speech-control. I have a story about that, too, actually.

A few days ago over at Alas, A Blog, Jeff Fecke and Mandolin each put up a couple of posts featuring images of a couple racist-ass cartoons by Donna Barstow (1, 2). Specifically, these:

Here's another cartoon with a map of Mexico with a list reading "Drug cartels, kidnappings, unemployment, poverty, gangs, guns, NEW -- swine flu" and inscribed "Like a bad neighbor, Mexico is (still) there."

Hey everybody! The entire country of Mexico is dirty, dangerous, and poor! Also, they give us deadly plagues!

A cartoon of Barack Obama with wavy, kinky hair standing on end, inscribed "The President Elect Chia Pet"

Hey everybody! … Um. Wait. Somebody remind me what the hell the point of this cartoon is, again?

The reason I’m using the image of these cartoons here is for the purpose of commenting on them. Specifically, for the purpose of demonstrating the fact that both cartoons are crudely racist; they also just are terrible cartoons. The first one — which is just a bullet list of standard Anglo disdain for Mexico as poor and dirty and dangerous, with a bit of topical scapegoating and racist-ass panic over the flu tossed in for good measure, all of it awkwardly shoe-horned into a joke through an awkward pastiche of insurance advertising slogans — isn’t especially funny. The second one is not merely unfunny, but, as far as I can make out, in fact is so pointless as to defy classification as even attempted humor. O.K.; yes; I understand that Barack Obama is black, and that, like many black people, he has hair that tends to be more kinky than the kind of hair stereotypical of white people. Is there a punchline here? (Really, seriously, if anyone can figure out what the point of it is, let me know. I’m seriously tempted to view it as avant-garde commentary by the deed, bringing Dada to the world of editorial cartooning in order to undermine the bourgeois affectation that cartoons need to have points or make sense.)

I’m also reposting these here because shortly after the posts went online, Donna Barstow showed up in the comments to invoke copyright law, accuse Alas of thieving, and to threaten the folks at Alas with complaints to their web host or legal action in an attempt to intimidate them into taking down the posts. As it happens, I also got a nasty-gram from Ms. Barstow, because Alas is one of the blogs syndicated at Feminist Blogs, and so the posts with the images appeared there too. So I received the following demand and threat from Ms. Barstow last Thursday:

From: Donna Barstow Cartoons <>
To: Feminist Blogs Web Admin
Subject: take my copyrighted cartoon off your site immediately
Date: 4/30/2009 12:53 AM

Dear Feminist Blogs,

I’m a feminist. I’ve written 2 cartoon books for women. I am one of only 3 women out of 60 editorial cartoonists. However, I do not STEAL from other people, and I hope you don’t either. And frankly, I’m shocked that a FEMINIST blog would simply take for granted that anything published by the amptoons crazies would have any truth at all!!! You did no research or even ask me, and you assume it’s all right to call a person (in this case a woman) a racist and ruin her reputation???? This is a hate crime on your part, and you will not be happy if I have to contact your server.

I own all rights to the cartoon and the idea. I have already contacted amptoons server to have it taken down tomorrow, and they will get a warning.

Please refer to DMCA copyright infringement requirements at before you willfully abuse copyrighted work, defame and harass innocent people. Please remove my cartoon immediately. Thank you.

Kind Regards,
Donna Barstow
And look for me all week in Slate! (all Editorial cartoons)
Why I Did It (some Editorial cartoons)
Donna Barstow Cartoons (no Editorial cartoons, but still good)

Barry Deutsch, who runs Alas, will have to choose his own course. As for Feminist Blogs, though, the answer is: Absolutely not. I will do no such thing.

As it happens, I don’t think Ms. Bartsow has a legal leg to stand on — the use of the cartoons for the purpose of commentary, especially for non-commercial educational purposes, is well within the realm of fair use. But more to the point, even if she did have a legal leg to stand on, that would only be an indictment of such a ridiculous, tyrannical and dialogue-stifling law. Barstow is not losing one penny from the reprinting of cartoons in the context of a commentary on their contents; the cartoons were and are being given away for free on the Internet to anyone who wanted to look at them. Nobody is trying to appropriate credit for the cartoons or trying to pass off her racist-ass cartoons as their own; the whole point of the posts is to point out that they were drawn by somebody else, and that that somebody else is expressing some crude racism. Barstow’s only complaint here, the only thing this stealing amounts to, is the fact that the cartoons are being used for a purpose that Barstow doesn’t like — specifically, that they are being used as visible evidence in an effort to criticize her work and to support claims about the character of her work which Barstow disagrees with, and finds insulting. Her threats are an explicit attempt to use Intellectual Protectionism as a tool of censorship, to attack those who disagree with her as thieves, and to coercively silence criticism of her work. That is nothing more than thuggery in a three-piece suit, and Ms. Barstow ought to be ashamed of herself.

I am also posting all this, not only to talk about the story itself, but to encourage you to talk about it, too. If silencing critics is what she wants to achieve, I would like Donna Barstow to find out that it will not work. I encourage anyone and everyone who supports free speech, and who believes that people who draw racist-ass cartoons oughtn’t to be able to go around threatening their critics into silence, to repost this post, or to write a post of your own that uses Donna Barstow’s racist-ass comics as evidence in the course of a critical commentary on the content of those comics, and that discusses her attempts to use Intellectual Protectionism laws as a tool to censor the critics of her work.

Consider it a form of direct action against law-waving bullies and for vigorous, open debate. People who act like this need to know that their would-be victims will not be silenced. And the more that they become convinced that these attempts to stifle criticism will reliably produce exactly the opposite of their desired outcome, with so many people reposting the criticism that any attempt to shut it down will be swamped by sheer numbers, the less likely they are to imagine that it could possibly be a good idea.

Fight the powers that be

From Roderick’s blog, here’s part of his bang-on recent article on the reasons why a thick conception of libertarianism — or just a realistic assessment of the human predicament — recommends a left-libertarian strategy of connecting radical libertarianism with a thoroughgoing form of psychological, institutional, and cultural anti-authoritarianism (as a general thing, and also when it comes to specific forms and markers of privilege and subordination, like bossism, patriarchy, heterosexism, white supremacy, et al.):

But there’s a further left-libertarian moral, because it’s not merely coercive authority that is shown to be problematic by the Stanford and Milgram experiments. The jailors in the Stanford experiment had no power to force their prisoners to stay; and the authorities in the Milgram experiment had no tool of compulsion more imposing than a lab coat. Neither had the backing of any legal sanctions. Nor did they have so much as the power to fire anyone from a job. Yet such authority as existed was still abused, and still obeyed.

The moral is clear: even absent coercive enforcement, there is a tendency for people both to abuse authority when they have it, and to acquiesce, indeed become complicit, in its abuse by others. Hence the assumption, common among some right-libertarians, that authority and hierarchy are fine and dandy so long as they don’t involve literal forcible compulsion, seems dubious.

. . .

If people have a harmful tendency that manifests itself in certain circumstances, then the appropriate response is obviously to try to a) reduce the strength of the tendency, and b) reduce the frequency of the triggering circumstances.

The tendency to abuse and/or obey authority may be too ingrained in human nature (or, more accurately: in the human situation) to be completely eliminated, but cultural factors can certainly reduce or exacerbate it. In our own culture, despite lip service (and, admittedly, often more than lip service) to anti-authoritarian values, the legitimacy of authority is constantly reinforced via everything from political propaganda and tv cop shows to the structure of school and workplace. This is one reason that left-libertarians often stress the need to promote anti-authoritarian moral attitudes that go beyond mere opposition to rights-violations. . . . The other prong of the left-libertarian response is to decrease the frequency of those situations in which tendencies to abuse and/or obey authority is manifested, by working to reduce the prevalence of authority. Even if the elimination of all noncoercive hierarchy is not possible (and perhaps not even desirable), we could certainly do with quite a bit less of it. This is one reason that left-libertarians care, to right-libertarians’ bafflement, about combating such things as the hierarchical structure of the workplace.

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-04-26): Why We Fight (the Power)

Read the whole thing.

As I’ve wrote in Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin (drawing on a similar discussion in Liberty, Equality, Solidarity):

Consider the conceptual reasons that libertarians have to oppose authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. Social systems of status and authority include not only exercises of coercive power by the government, but also a knot of ideas, practices, and institutions based on deference to traditionally constituted authority. In politics, these patterns of deference show up most clearly in the honorary titles, submissive etiquette, and unquestioning obedience traditionally expected by, and willingly extended to, heads of state, judges, police, and other visible representatives of government law and order. Although these rituals and habits of obedience exist against the backdrop of statist coercion and intimidation, they are also often practiced voluntarily. Similar kinds of deference are often demanded from workers by bosses, or from children by parents or teachers. Submission to traditionally constituted authorities is reinforced not only through violence and threats, but also through art, humor, sermons, written history, journalism, childrearing, and so on. Although political coercion is the most distinctive expression of political inequality, you could—in principle—have a consistent authoritarian social order without any use of force. Even in a completely free society, everyone could, in principle, still voluntarily agree to bow and scrape and speak only when spoken to in the presence of the (mutually agreed-upon) town Chief, or unthinkingly agree to obey whatever restrictions and regulations he tells them to follow over their own business or personal lives, or agree to give him as much in voluntary taxes on their income or property as he might ask. So long as the expectation of submission and the demands for wealth to be rendered were backed up only by means of verbal harangues, cultural glorifications of the wise and virtuous authorities, social ostracism of unruly dissenters, and so on, these demands would violate no-one’s individual rights to liberty or property. But while there’s nothing logically inconsistent about a libertarian envisioning—or even championing—this sort of social order, it would certainly be weird. Yes, in a free society the meek could voluntarily agree to bow and scrape, and the proud could angrily but nonviolently demand obsequious forms of address and immediate obedience to their commands. But why should they? Non-coercive authoritarianism may be consistent with libertarian principles, but it is hard to reasonably reconcile the two; whatever reasons you may have for rejecting the arrogant claims of power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats—say, for example, the Jeffersonian notion that all men and women are born equal in political authority, and that no-one has a natural right to rule or dominate other people’s affairs—probably serve just as well for reasons to reject other kinds of authoritarian pretension, even if they are not expressed by means of coercive government action. While no-one should be forced as a matter of policy to treat her fellows with the respect due to equals, or to cultivate independent thinking and contempt for the arrogance of power, libertarians certainly can—and should—criticize those who do not, and exhort our fellows not to rely on authoritarian social institutions, for much the same reasons that we have to endorse libertarianism in the first place.

In the article, I discuss anti-authoritarianism in light of grounds thickness; but of course there are many other connections involved, and Roderick does an excellent job of drawing out the reasons of consequence thickness and strategic thickness for joining libertarianism to a broad struggle not only against Aggression, but against Authority in all its forms.

In counting there is strength.

A few days ago there was some back-and-forth over at Ken MacLeod’s blog, and then also at Roderick’s blog, over the the relationship between large, centralized states and peace. MacLeod originally argued:

The panel convened by Farah Mendlesohn on Pacifism and Non-Violence in SF benefited from being on a subject on which there is a manageably small amount of source material. The discussion led me to make one of my very few comments from the floor. A more articulate and argued version of that comment would be this:

We already know how to have peace over large areas of the Earth, and that is by having large states covering those areas. (The combat death rate for men of military age in typical stateless societies far exceeds that in inter-state wars, including world wars.) SF has in its default assumptions a way to get to peace without pacifism, and that is the World State. Even Starship Troopers gives this answer, just as much as Star Trek or anything by H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. Heinlein’s Federation is a World State, and (consequently) there is peace within the human species. It just has wars with aliens.

But there are no aliens. So we could have peace.

Ken MacLeod, The Early Days of a Better Nation (2009-04-17): Existence Proof of Von Neumann Machine, Placing Imaginary Bets, and other Cultural Learnings

There are several problems with this line of argument. There’s a lot of good back-and-forth at MacLeod’s about the empirical basis of MacLeod’s factoid about combat death rates, and about the underlying sources (it mainly comes from Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization). Roderick has a very interesting response, from another angle, in the comments there that he repeats in his own post, in which he argues that if there is a general correlation between peace and state coverage, it’s because states (as parasites on social production) can only function in societies where there is an certain underlying level of peaceful cooperation; there is a level of widespread ultraviolence at which at a state can no longer steal the material resources it needs to cover the costs of full-time cops, soldiers, and the rest of its repressive apparatus. Hence the correlation between production and the State is like the correlation between human civilization and cockroaches; cockroaches thrive in civilized societies much more than they do in the wilderness, but not because cockroaches somehow produce civilization.

All of which is good, and important, and well-worth reading. What I’d like to add to the discussion is a good, hard look at the notion that what a strong state produces within its own territory can even realistically be called peace.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Keeley (thus MacLeod) is right about combat deaths for military-age males — that the rates are much, much higher in primitive stateless societies than they are in modern state societies. As Roderick points out, part of the problem here is that that data set, by itself, tells us little or nothing about whether it’s the primitiveness or the statelessness that’s doing the damage. There are other problems, too — for example, comparing percentages is a tricky game when you compare populations of radically different sizes; if a band of 50 !Kung San gets in a fight, and one whole member of their band is killed, then just running the percentages would have us believe that this is like 6,000,000 out of 300,000,00 Americans getting murdered — life for the !Kung San is apparently so savage that every single murder is another Holocaust. Or maybe there is a problem with a standard of comparison which would require 0.000000167 of a !Kung San man or woman to be killed in order to find an equivalent to a single murder in America.

But the problem that I want to focus on is that it looks to me like we are doing some very selective counting here. The selective counting consists in what is counted as violence, and as breaches of peace, and what is not. We are informed that having large states covering a part of the world’s landed surface is a good way to bring about peace. The evidence for this is the drop-off in combat deaths. But combat deaths are not the only sort of violence that people can suffer, and especially not combat-deaths-among-military-aged-males. Keeping that in mind, let us recall some facts about the most powerful, and one of the largest states in the world today — the United States of America — and what goes on in the territory that its government claims to rule.

Under the United States of America, over 2,000,000 people are currently forced into jails and prisons by state, local, and federal governments. Over 7,000,000 people are facing some form of ongoing constraint from the government’s corrections system — either through imprisonment, or through supervised parole, or through probation.

Under the United States of America, the government maintains a force of over 1,100,000 police officers — armed professionals whose job it is to use force against the 7,000,000, so as to get them under the control of the government prison system and its annexes. The government also maintains a force of about 765,000 corrections officers, who are armed and trained to use force against the 2,000,000 while they are confined within the walls of the government’s prisons.

The government’s internal armed forces of over 1,865,000 are currently engaged in a number of large-scale projects to use intense force in the prosecution of campaigns that they describe as wars. There is, for example, the War on Drugs; the War on Terrorism; inner-city surges against gangs, and so on. For the prosecution of these wars, the 1,865,000 put on constant street patrols; they arm themselves with semiautomatic and fully-automatic rifles; they kick in doors and storm houses and businesses; in some neighborhoods they engage in saturation patrols, the explicit purpose of which is to instill a sense of fear and thus make their designated enemies (gangs, mostly) afraid to use public spaces. In some cities they have adopted tactics explicitly modeled on the government military’s surge counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq. In other cities they have established checkpoints on the roads and cordoned off entire neighborhoods. They have recently taken to investing heavily in training and equipping paramilitary defensive lines (riot cops) and paramilitary assault squads (SWAT), and have stocked up on armored vehicles for mechanized warfare and even military helicopters.

When the government’s 1,865,000 go out into the streets or into the jails and prisons, they use force to confront and control the 7,000,000, and also to confront and control uncounted millions more, who are confronted by law enforcement and corrections officers without ending up in jail, in prison, on parole, or on probation. These confrontations produce conflicts, and the conflicts often escalate into violence; under the United States of America, those fights result in cops killing somewhere above 500 people each year[1] and about 50 cops getting killed each year along the way. Upwards of 550 deaths a year, out of 300,000,000 people, may not seem like all that much; but it’s worth remembering that there is a body count here, and, what’s more important, that the body count is not the only form of violence that there is to talk about. Besides the people who end up dead, there is a far greater level of non-lethal but nevertheless violent force, which hasn’t got much of a counterpart in the kind of kill-or-be-killed struggles that the body-counters count as breaches of peace: there is the heavy and repeated use of physical coercion, assaults, beatings, restraints, chemical and electrical torture (pain compliance), that the cops and their antagonists each employ (mostly, it’s the cops who use it) to try to get their way. This violence is constant, pervasive, and intense, and all of these especially in those neighborhoods that are singled out, for demographic reasons, as deserving the special attention of police street patrols and police crackdowns. In neighborhoods like that, the cumulative result is often experienced as being far more like a military occupation than like life in a peaceful society. And this kind of constant, pervasive, intense violence is completely unknown in even the most primitive or ultraviolent stateless societies.

This constant government-declared domestic warfare — most of which is directed against people for offenses that violate nobody’s person or property, such as the use of drugs or the crossing of borders without government permission slips — is dignified as peace by those who claim that covering a territory with a single state eliminates war within that territory. In fact it is nothing of the sort, if peace has any meaning for people’s real lives and not merely for the purposes of politico-legal accounting. It is a form of violence which affects military age males but also a lot of other people besides, and which often has far more profound effects on daily life than the bloody but infrequent violence of communal blood feuds or open war between political entities. And in many cases outside of the United States, it is a form of violence which has proved far more intense and far more lethal than it happens to be here — because, as R.J. Rummel never tires of pointing out, over the past couple centuries, governments have been far more lethal in democidal attacks on their own populations — through the use of government executions, government policing (especially government policing of the use of food stocks), government prison camps, and so on — than they were in inter-governmental warfare. The greatest war of the modern era has never been the kind of warfare that governments wage one against the other — as terrible as those wars have been. It is the war that each and every government is constantly waging within its own territory, against its own subjects — the kind of war that is passed off as peace, and which is more or less never counted in attempts to tally up the balance of peace over violence in modern state-occupied societies.

1 The somewhere above is important, because there are actually no systematic efforts to compile statistics on all homicides by law enforcement in the U.S.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released a report on Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005 which is based on data from two main sources, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, and the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports. There are several problems with using these reports to get comprehensive statistics: neither source provides information about the number of people killed by *federal* law enforcement agencies like the FBI, BATF, and ICE. Not all states currently report figures to either program. The SHR reports only report law-enforcement homicides separately when a government agency rules the use of force justifiable; otherwise they are lumped in with other criminal homicides. It’s clear that some states do not report all of the cases where people are killed by cops to the DCRP: California, for example, reported 354 law-enforcement homicides to the SHR program, but only 160 to the DCRP, even though the deaths reported to the DCRP should properly be a superset of the deaths reported to the SHR.

If you use take the maximum of the DCRP figure and the SHR figure for each state that reported at least one of the two, then you get a total of at least 1,489 people killed by police over the three-year period from 2003–2005. Divide that by 3 (because neither the DCRP nor the SHR indicated any big leap in the number from one year to the next), and you get at least 496 people killed by cops each year during the 3 year period.

I do not know of any good statistical source to get a count of how many people were killed by federal law enforcement, or how many cases there were in which a law enforcement homicide reported to the SHR was filed as unjustifiable rather than justifiable in states like California which underreported to the DCRP. Hence, the figure of about 500 people killed a year should be treated not even as a lowball estimate, but simply as a minimum, for the real numbers.

See also:

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday #32

It’s Sunday Shameless Sunday. And in the spirit of self-promotion, I will note that Roderick has helpfully posted directions to the room for the Molinari Society’s APA session tomorrow (at which I will be appearing, as one of the Authors in an Authors-Meet-Critics).

The Molinari Symposium will be held in Independence Meeting Room II. (The APA program supplement says Independence Ballroom II but there is no such animal; the Independence Meeting Rooms are next to the Liberty Ballroom.)

Independence Meeting Room II is hard to find because it’s actually across the street (via skybridge) from the main hotel, in something called the Deluxe Tower (or, less glamorously, the 3rd Floor Annex).

How to find Independence Meeting Room II: from the hotel lobby (1st floor), take the escalator (not the elevator) to the 3rd floor. (It goes directly from 1st to 3rd; I’m not sure there even is a 2nd floor.) Follow the signs that say Deluxe Tower or Bridge to Convention Center. Cross the skybridge; at the other end you’ll see an arrow pointing left saying Convention Center and an arrow pointing right saying Marriott; go right.

Anyway, as for y’all—what have you been up to in the past week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

Where do you normally go to get criticized?

Some of y’all may have already heard through Roderick; but for those of you who haven’t, I will be in Philadelphia from today through (the afternoon of) the 30th of December. I hope to spend some time checking out some local attractions, but my immediate purpose in being here is to take part in the Molinari Society’s joint Author Meets Critics session for Crispin Sartwell’s Against the State and the Anarchism/Minarchism anthology from Ashgate. In virtue of my essay in the anthology I’ll be among the Authors. The Critics I’ll be Meeting are Jennifer McKitrick, Christopher Morris, and Nicole Hassoun. The session will be at the Philadelphia Marriot downtown (1201 Market St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on Monday, 29 December, from 1:30 – 4:30pm. Here’s the current lineup, courtesy of Roderick:

GIX-3. Monday, 29 December 2008, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Molinari Society symposium: Authors Meet Critics:
Crispin Sartwell’s Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory and
Roderick T. Long and Tibor R. Machan, eds., Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country?
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, 1201 Market Street, Room TBA

Chair: Carrie-Ann Biondi (Marymount Manhattan College)



The session will consist of three essays from the Critics offering critical responses to the books, followed by short replies from the Authors, and a discussion and Q&A to follow. Nicole Hassoun has diligently sent in her critical essay and Jan Narveson has sent in such replies as he’s been able to prepare, given what’s been sent to him (with some bonus remarks about Crispin Sartwell’s book); what the rest of us will be saying is, I guess, a mystery only to be revealed in the fullness of time. But I’m looking forward to hearing the critical engagement with the work we’ve done, and to joining in on the discussion.

The APA Eastern Division has refused to give out any information about room assignments in the materials you can get without forking over a registration fee — for evil’s sake, of course — so I won’t know where inside the Marriot we’ll be until tomorrowish. But as soon as I do know, I’ll let you know.

Anyway, come on down if you can; it’d be great to see you there. Or, even if you can’t, if you happen to be in the area, drop me a line; I’ll be around.