ALL I need to know about the Revolution is what I heard in Vegas
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.
As promised, here is (finally) the text (more or less) of my speech at the Libertarian Party of Clark County. There was a scheduling mix-up, so I got about half the time I expected in which to speak; parts that are struck out are parts that I omitted in the interest of time. I should note that, if you’re not familiar with public speaking, reading from a more or less completely prepared script like I did can be both a crutch and a handicap at the same time; if you’re nervous it provides a guaranteed route from where you are to the end of the line, but having it ready at hand also encourages nervous tics, including obtrusive glances down to the sheet, that can really detract from the reading. In my own case, I’m fairly familiar both with talking from notes and with reading prepared papers, but the written-out script was mainly the result of time pressures, and, since I didn’t have time to rehearse it, and also found out, too late to do anything about it, that I wouldn’t have a lectern to make my glancing at the sheet less obtrusive, I know my delivery suffered a bit because of it. The best thing to do in your local groups is, no doubt, to try to make sure you have enough time to meet beforehand and practice your talk. Anyway, on to the content:
I am here today to bring you two messages. So let me cut to the chase and deliver both of them right now. They are the point of this entire talk, and I can put them both in ten words or fewer. Here’s the first: Las Vegas will be free soil in our own lifetimes. And the second is: We are all going to make it happen. And when I sayWe all,I don’t just mean the people in this room. I don’t just mean the people in this political party, either. I don’t mean the people in my own organization, the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I mean all of us, everybody. The LP and Southern Nevada ALL and you and me, yes—but also our friends and our neighbors and our fellow workers. I believe that in my lifetime, all of us in Las Vegas will rise up and we will make ourselves free of the oppression and exploitation inflicted upon us by government laws, government regulation and regimentation, government cops, and government bureaucrats—local government, county government, state government, federal government, and transnational governing bodies like the UN, WTO, and IMF. We will become free because we have, individually and cooperatively, made ourselves ungovernable. We will do this with or without the cooperation of the rest of the world, and whether or not the political powers that be have been persuaded of the truth and virtue of the freedom philosophy; if the souls of politicians and political institutions can be cured, then that will make it so much the easier, but even if they cannot, we can and we will make it no longer worth their while – no longer even sustainable – for them to rule us against our will. We can and we will dump the bosses and the bureaucrats off our backs—politically, socially, economically—and we will stand upright, in control of our own destinies.
I’m saying these things today because I think they are important. I think they are important because they seem impossible, and yet they are true. It’s easy to doubt that Las Vegas can be free—really, totally free—in our own lifetimes. Government is big. Government is everywhere. Government consumes somewhere between one third and one half of every dollar that you make. Every dollar that you make and every dollar that you spend is itself part of the world’s largest and most powerful government monopoly—the government-centralized banking cartel and its fiat money monopoly. City government patrols every street. The federal government of the United States is the richest, most technologically advanced, and most militarily powerful organization in the history of the world. The two major parties, which thoroughly dominate the electoral process at every level, show no real signs of wanting to roll back government in any major area of policy, or even to contain it at its current levels; no matter whether a Demopublican or a Republicrat candidate wins, the party in power is more or less guaranteed to aggressively push government further and further into our lives. It’s easy to get dizzy just looking at the size and scope of government. It’s easy to lose hope entirely in the face of such an enemy. And it’s just as easy, and just as destructive, in the long run, to lose hope by deferring it, by concluding that freedom is only for our children or our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren, that it takes a long and slow process of chipping away at the edges of invasive government, in the hope that, after the next several four-year election cycles, we might begin to get a little freer, and we might be able to contain or even roll back government a little, leaving the rest of the task for future generations. I am here today to say that that’s not good enough. I am here to say that freedom is much closer than any of us think, if we fight for it, and if we know where to take that fight. And I am here today to ask you all to get into that fight by having the hope to believe in, and the courage to say some things that are both crazy and true.
Well, O.K., then. Now that I’ve said all that, let me back up a bit, so that I can give you an idea of where I’m coming from, and then come back around to the details of where I think we can go from here. My name is Charles Johnson. I’m here on behalf of a new radical libertarian project called the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I write for a weblog called the Rad Geek People’s Daily, at radgeek.com. I’ve been a libertarian writer, activist, and organizer – both inside and outside of the Libertarian Party, especially the Libertarian Party of Alabama – since about 2001. Since 2000, I’ve also been a writer, activist, and organizer for many groups and causes within the radical Left and the radical feminist movement. Depending on where you are coming from, that may or may not seem strange; it may even seem incoherent. I think that with the right understanding of both the Freedom Movement and of the radical Left – or, rather, the right understanding of the particular tendencies within the Freedom Movement, and within the radical Left, that I am working in – it won’t seem that way anymore. But I’ll come back to that in a bit.
First, I want to say a few words about Southern Nevada ALL. We are a new organization, a local chapter of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, which also has active chapters in Kansas City, Richmond, Virginia, and a new chapter forming in the Chicago area. The locals are autonomous and work together as equals: there’s no big central ALL office that tells local chapters what to do, but we keep in touch with the locals in other towns and we share our experiences and our materials, which each local chapter can adapt to the conditions in its own community. We use the ALL name because our groups have certain principles and strategic priorities in common with each other. Let me try to break down what some of those are. The Alliance of the Libertarian Left believes in….
Radicalism – we pull no punches, and we make no compromises, in our presentation of the freedom philosophy. We don’t shy away from emotional and controversial issues, either. We are anarchists, not limited-governmentalists; we are extremists, not moderates; and we’re not afraid to say so.
Populism – we believe that libertarianism is for everybody, and the people who have the most to gain from, and the most to contribute to, the movement, are the people who are the most downtrodden, the most thoroughly oppressed and exploited, in our current social and political regime.
Solidarity and social justice – we believe in many of the goals associated withProgressivesor the statist Left today – anti-racism, anti-imperialism, gay liberation, feminism, environmental sustainability, radical labor solidarity, and many of the other commitments that are commonly grouped together under the heading ofsocial justice.Unlike state Leftists, we believe that these goals can and should be achieved by free people in a free society, using free association and cultural activism to change existing social and material conditions, without getting government regulations or bureaucracies involved. We intend to achieve Lefist goals through libertarian means.
Non-electoral social change – we are not affiliated with any political party or any candidate for political office. We do not try to achieve change by petitioning the politicians currently in power, or by trying to replace them with other, better politicians. There’s a place for that kind of activism, but lots of other organizations – including the Libertarian Party – are already working on it. If we tried to do it, we wouldn’t be very good at it, so what we specialize in are other means of social change: mass education, targeted persuasion, non-violent direct action, and the creation of alternative institutions that counter or bypass the State.
I’ll have more to say about all of this later. But for now, let me say a few things about what Southern Nevada ALL has done so far, and where we are going from here.
Right now we are a new organization, and we are in the process of getting our bearings, making contacts, and looking for allies. Southern Nevada ALL’s first public action was a bit of guerrilla education that we did on Tax Day, April 15th – by posting these flyers around town in Las Vegas, mainly on UNLV campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods. The action had two immediate goals. First, to get out a radical anti-tax message that would appeal to anti-authoritarians of all stripes, and also specifically to anti-war Leftists. Second, to get our name out and let likely new ALLies and contacts know that we were forming this new organization. I consider it to have been a smashing success – at least, insofar as it ended up almost tripling our membership (growing from the two founders, David Houser and myself, to five members after the flyering), and laid the groundwork for future actions. I’ll come back around to talk about those in a minute.
First, though, I want to say a few things about non-electoral methods for social change, and then about the Left.
I’m not about to deny that electoral politics – voting, party-building, running better candidates – has some role to play in making social change. I think it has played a very important role in the past, and that it can play a very important role in the future – both through efforts to destabilize or reorient the major parties, as with Ron Paul’s campaign within the Republican Party, and also through efforts to create alternatives to the two-party system and open up new spaces for libertarian ideas, as with the Libertarian Party. What I do want to stress today is that it’s important for us not to limit ourselves to electoral politics. There are all kinds of ways that social change happens, and electoral politics is only one of them. While it can be a very powerful method, it’s also a very difficult one, and a time consuming one, and a slow one. So while I encourage you all to do whatever you find it worth your while to do through electoral politics, I am here to stress the need to add other forms of activism to your toolbox. If we are going to become free in our own lifetimes – and I believe that we will – then relying on electoral politics alone will never be enough. After all, running candidates and voting can only effect a change once you have managed to convert 50%+1 of the electorate over to your position; there’s very little room for accomplishing small changes on the margin. It also imposes a very rigid and quite slow schedule on making social changes: you only have a shot at changing anything for one day every two to four years. And an elections-only strategy necessarily excludes large numbers of people – including especially the very people that are the most thoroughly oppressed by the current political regime, who have the most to gain from a fight for freedom – people like drug war prisoners, and illegal immigrants, who are legally excluded from voting at all. If we want to make lasting change within our lifetimes, we will need to adopt some other methods of social change – methods that don’t have to wait on the next election, methods that don’t have to wait on 50%+1, and methods that can be for everybody, with or without a permission slip from the State.
To give you an idea of what I mean, let me tell you a couple stories.
[Spokane Free Speech Fight, 1910]
I know this story more or less by heart, so I told it off the cuff instead of writing it out. If you haven’t heard it told before, my version was just a slightly shortened version of Utah Phillips’s version. –R.G.
There are a lot of ways of doing direct action. Here’s a recent one that I read about, from a group of middle-schoolers in Readington, NJ. [Pennies work-to-rule in Readington, NJ]
Another special kind of direct action that I want to mention, which is very important to the ALL and to many other libertarian Leftists, is the concept of counter-economics. Counter-economics is the underground practice of radical libertarian theory. Counter-economics means creating your own, unregulated institutions, independently of the State, in which you profit by ignoring or defying the institutionalized requirements imposed by the government and by the business establishment. Counter-economics builds alternative institutions through illegal black markets, and quasi-legalgrey markets.And counter-economics is everywhere: it’s the unlicensed pharmacist slinging drugs to willing customers on the street corner. It’s the illegal immigrant dodging government border controls and then working under the table, without turning over the fruits of her labor to the IRS. It’s the waitress building up a nest egg from cash tips that she doesn’t report to the IRS. It’s e-gold and the Liberty Dollar and the Ithaca Hour producing durable currencies as an alternative to the Fed’s fiat money monopoly. It’s your cousin downloading free MP3s on his college network, in defiance of government-enforced copyright monopolies. It’s agrey marketoutfit like Food Not Bombs, where activists cover their own food costs and provide hot meals to homeless people by dumpster-diving surplus food from grocery stores (which is still fresh enough to eat, but no longer fresh enough to sell under existing government food regluations), cooking it, and serving the food for free in public spaces like parks.
It’s important to see that this kind of black market and grey market activity is itself a form of direct action, no less than filling the jails, and no less than a sit-in or a work-to-rule action. One of the ALL’s chief goals is to promote freedom through direct action, including through counter-economics, to encourage people who haven’tgone counter-economicyet to support the legitimacy and the importance of counter-economic businesses, and to encourage people who are already engaged in counter-economics to become self-conscious and organized counter-economists – that is, to see that what they are doing is not only personally profitable, but also politically valuable, and to see themselves as part of a larger movement to evade, undermine, and ultimately eliminate the invasiveness of the State.
One of the great advantages of counter-economics is that it’s one of the few forms of political activism in which people can strike a blow for freedom without having to become something that they are not, and which most people never will be – that is, die-hard, self-sacrificing activists who have a perfect grasp on libertarian philosophy and consistently make the right policy decisions. Counter-economics puts libertarianism into practice naturally; a practicing counter-economist is a practicing anti-statist as a matter of day-to-day business, whether or not she understands the whole philosophical theory that backs up her practice. And counter-economics also does something that almost no other form of political activism does: it produces direct, immediate profits for the person practicing it (because she makes money she wouldn’t otherwise be able to make, or keeps money she wouldn’t otherwise be able tokeep, or gets goods and services she wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain). Part of the reason I said that I believe that we are all going to be part of Las Vegas becoming free soil is because I believe that if we take this fight not only to the electoral arena, but also to the streets, in the form of self-conscious direct action and counter-economics, we will have a tool at our disposal which will empower the most marginalized and least privileged people to join the struggle, and which will also make fighting for freedom the most selfish and most profitable thing for people – especially poor and oppressed people – to do.
Now, of course, there’s a downside to direct action, and especially to counter-economics: it can be dangerous. Nobody in ALL saying that you should get out there and start your own multimillion dollar heroin ring. (If you have started one, anyway, I’m not about to talk about it, and I’d rather you didn’t tell me about it. The first rule of a counter-economic business is, you don’t talk about a counter-economic business.) I’m the first to acknowledge this, and also to acknowledge that that means we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the counter-economic basket. I don’t think we should put all our eggs in any tactical basket. Counter-economics is important, and other forms of direct action are important, but so are a lot of other things. For the LP, that can mean electoral politics. For Southern Nevada ALL, it means mass education and targeted persuasion – through our flyers, through literature drops, through our website, through public speaking events like this one, and by creating alternative institutions (which I’ll come back to later) for distributing information and views through new channels. Neither education alone nor direct action alone will bring about victory; but when they are put together, each can become much more powerful than they were alone. Educating the people at large about libertarian ideas, and trying especially hard to persuade a handful of people who are especially open to radical politics, can make direct action much more powerful by creating the above-ground and underground networks of supporters that direct action needs to be successful. On the other hand, putting libertarian ideas into practice through direct action also reinforces education and persuasion, and makes them much more powerful than they would be on their own: people are much more likely to get involved, and to stay involved, in a project that leads to concrete action and real results. Libertarian talk accomplishes little if libertarianism remains nothing more than a talk shop; but talk can accomplish a hell of a lot when talk pulls people towards public and private action, and when public and private action get more people talking.
Now, some words about the Left. From the mid-20th century onward, movement libertarians have mostly conceived of themselves as the enemies of the Left (and vice versa), and the radical Left especially. Many libertarians came directly out of Right-wing or conservative movements (such as Young Americans for Freedom, the Republican Party, or the Right-wing talk radio scene). Libertarians mixed fairly freely with, and often worked with,small-governmentconservatives, and, even when they criticized conservative forms of government intervention (especially socially conservative policies, such as the Drug War or anti-abortion laws), they generally reserved their harshest words and most of their political activism for Left-liberal politicians, for redistributionist government social programs such as welfare and food stamps, and forsocial justiceorganizations like the anti-sweatshop movement and labor unions.
Well, to be clear, I for one have no problem attacking Left-liberal politicians, or government welfare programs. I oppose all efforts to expand the scope and power of government, and all forms of government-directed regimentation of trade or redistribution of wealth. But it is important to realize that criticizing the political means that many Leftist reformers have adopted over the past century doesn’t necessarily involve criticizing the ends that they adopted. And it is just as important to remember that the relationship between libertarians and the Left has not always been so chilly on either side. If we distinguish radical Leftists – think the Industrial Workers of the World, or Students for a Democratic Society, or the Black Panthers, or Noam Chomsky – from establishment liberals – think Albert Shanker or Teddy Kennedy or the AFL-CIO – then we’ll find that, while the establishment liberals have always been rock-ribbed defenders of the State, the radical Leftists – especially the radicals of the late 19th century, early 20th century, and, for a few years, the New Left of the late 1960s and early 1970s – have been some of the fiercest critics of the welfare-warfare State, as opponents of imperialism and COINTELPRO domestic surveillance, and also as proponents of people-powered, grassroots projects that provided mutual aid directly to people in the community, without any government welfare bureauracy. (Teddy Kennedy pushed for government welfare and healthcare. The Panthers argued that black people should forget about the government bureaucracy, and served voluntarily-funded free breakfasts in the ghetto instead—while they derided government welfare as a means of alienating poor blacks from their own community and keeping them dependent on the white man’s government.)
Similarly, there was a time when libertarians saw themselves not as the enemies of the Left, but as the most radical and consistent part of the Left. Nineteenth century libertarians such as Lysander Spooner and Stephen Pearl Andrews came out of the radical wing of the Abolitionist movement, and, after the Civil War, allied themselves with other culturally and politically radical movements against political and social privilege – including the labor movement, the anti-racist movement, thefreethoughtmovement, and First Wave feminism. The individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker, whose magazine Liberty was one of the most influential libertarian publications in America from the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century, described his position asAbsolute Free Trade; … laissez faire the universal rule,but he and his circle also routinely identified themselves as socialists – not because they were setting themselves against the ideal of the free market, but rather because they were setting themselves against actually existing big business. They argued that a handful of men exercised control over finance, capital, and (thus) the daily lives of ordinary workers, not because of free market processes, but rather because of plutocratic government economic regimentation and government-granted monopolies – especially theBig Fourmonopolies of government centralization and regulation of banking for the benefit of finance capital, government protectionist tariffs for the benefit of industrial fat cats, government-granted monopolies on the use of ideas through patents and copyrights, and government seizure of control over wild and unused land. The Tuckerite individualists saw the invasive powers of the State as both the root of, and the reason for, the dominance of Big Business and entrenched capitalists over smaller competitors, workers, and cooperative shops. And they suggested that the Freedom Movement should strike at the root of the problem by organizing workers into countervailing organizations such as boycott leagues and labor unions to expose, challenge, resist, and ultimately simply to bypass the economic regulations that the State and the bosses were conspiring to impose on them by force. In the early 20th century, American individualists like Dyer Lum and immigrant anarchists like Emma Goldman fought for much the same vision, and their influence produced one of the largest and most influential labor unions of the early 20th century – the Industrial Workers of the World, which viewed government planners and bureaucrats as the tools of the bosses and the enemies of workers, and who urged workers to look not to the government, but to themselves, through the creative use of free association, agitation, direct action in the workplace, voluntary strikes, union solidarity, and voluntary mutual aid between workers, which would bypass the State, and create alternative, non-coercive institutions like union hiring halls and workers’ co-ops, which wouldbuild a new society within the shell of the old.
If the labor movement is statist today, it is only because it is now what State regulation and patronage have made it. The I.W.W. was targeted for massive government repression during the 1910s and 1920s, most notoriously in the Wilson administration’s World War I political prosecutions and the laterPalmer raids,in which Wilson’s goon squad rounded up, jailed, and deported thousands of I.W.W. unionists and other anarchists, solely on the basis of their political beliefs. In the 1930s, a conservative, pro-government wing of the labor movement collaborated with theProgressivebusiness class and theNew Dealpro-government liberals to create the modern National Labor Relations Board system, in which centralized, establishmentarian unions like the AFL-CIO have been granted government privileges in organizing and negotiating, in return for submitting to extensive government regulations on the methods and goals that they can adopt. These new laws served as both a subsidy for conservative unionism as against radical competitors like the I.W.W., and also as a form of insurance that the subsidized labor unions would not do anything that fundamentally challenged the fundamental principles on which the state-corporate system and the interventionist political regime were founded.
The reality is that, through government regulation of the labor movement, export subsidies, the Big Four monopolies, government support for regulations that benefit entrenched market players, and through corporate welfare (whether in the form of direct monetary pay-offs, or in the form of land seized, Kelo-style, through eminent domain), big corporations like General Motors have benefited at least as much from government patronage as big unions like the UAW. Yet libertarian criticism of the magntes of state capitalism is hardly expanded into criticism of all businesses as such; while many 20th century libertarians have written as if the labor movement did not exist before the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, and as if the faults of existing conservative unions are a sort of original sin for which all labor unions ought to b condemned. This difference in treatment is no doubt closely connected with the emphasis many 20th-century libertarians placed on defending the free market against the attacks of Communists and other state socialists. While they were right to argue that existing modes of production are distorted by government intervention, should not be even further distorted by increasing government regimentation, this insight was often perverted into the confused belief that existing business practices – the way that Wal-Mart does business, say, or the way that Nike treats its workers in third-world sweatshops – are themselves the natural outcome of an undistorted market. But these practices did not emerge from a free market in the first place; they emerged from a market already heavily distorted by government intervention. The answer, then, is clearly less government, not more; but there is also good reason for libertarians to condemn the economic distortions that already shape the state-capitalist labor market, and to promote anti-statist models of labor organizing as an essential part of the libertarian defense of free markets.
It’s for precisely these reasons that those of us in the ALL support wildcat unions and state-free forms of voluntary mutual aid, and look back to the history of those radical Leftist efforts that organized the oppressed and made use of people-power to challenge, resist, or simply bypass the State – such as the I.W.W.’s free speech fights. Or the nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns against British imperialism in India and against government Jim Crow laws in the Southern United States. Or the Jane network in Chicago, in which radical feminists learned how to perform simple first-timester abortions, and provided safe, affordable illegal abortions to hundreds of women in Chicago years before Roe v. Wade. Or the Black Panther Party’s efforts to replace white-controlled government policing and government welfare in black neighborhoods with community-based, non-governmental mutal aid and self-defense. And so on.
So, with these tools in hand and with these examples in mind, what can we do?
As I mentioned, Southern Nevada ALL is a new organization, and what we have done so far has focused on getting our name and our basic message out, on networking and making contacts, and on preparing a base for future activism. Our choice of present and future actions has been guided by a particular understanding of the situation in Las Vegas, and of the place where we can best fit ourselves into the existing activist scene. Southern Nevada ALL can act as a partner for, and as a sort of interface between, three different groups of activists within the Las Vegas area, each of whom we have some significant differences with, but also many overlapping interests: first, voting libertarians such as y’all in the Libertarian Party, and the movement that has grown out of the Ron Paul MeetUps; second, other non-electoral, anti-statist activists, especially Black Flag anarchist groups and projects; third, Leftist social justice groups working on issues such as immigration, civil liberties, police brutality, abortion rights, or the decriminalization of sex work.
Our role and the issues we have chosen come from our analysis of the particular situation here in Las Vegas. There’s clearly a tremendous thirst for anti-war, radical libertarian ideas in Las Vegas – as demonstrated by the groundswell of support for Ron Paul this past year, in direct opposition to the old guard of the state Republican Party. And also as demonstrated, in a different way, by the massive turn-out for immigrant freedom marches two years ago, on May 1, 2006. But this interest has not yet been converted into effective action, and there is a danger that, when election season ends five months from now, and the excitement of campaigning fizzles, a lot of that interest and that organizational energy may dissipate back into the background. We believe that at this point it is vital to reach out to energized, creative activists, and give them a channel for their enthusiasm and their activism that doesn’t require them to wait four more years before they see any action. Now is the perfect time to advance non-electoral methods of social change, and the building of alternative institutions that don’t revolve around multiyear election cycles, in order to keep the push for freedom going beyond the end of the election season.
And here in Las Vegas, the peculiar issues that we face have informed our decision of what sorts of groups to work with and what sort of issues to stress most in our activism. We have chosen to focus most closely on issues that intimately affect the lives of ordinary people in Las Vegas – such as police brutality (especially relevant, in light of the heavy police presence in Las Vegas and the recent string of brutality complaints lodged against the Henderson police), freedom from government border restrictions (especially relevant in a town with as large an immigrant population as Las Vegas, and where so many turned out for immigrant freedom marches only two years ago), and the collusion between politically-connected real estate developers and government interventions such as eminent domain and politically-drivendevelopmentschemes (especially relevant in a town so thoroughly dominated by the Convention Board and other private-public partnerships, not to mention a town which has been hit so hard by the collapse of a government-driven real estate development bubble).
With that in mind, since our Tax Day flyering on April 15th, Southern Nevada ALL has also:
Done literature drops of left-libertarian pamphlets around town, getting our message out on labor solidarity, freedom of immigration, voluntary mutual aid, how government creates and entrenches urban poverty, and so on, using these pamphlets – from William Gillis’s excellent Market Anarchy zine series, and a Vegas Anarchy series of our own;
Done some low-level networking and outreach events with this chapter of the Libertarian Party, the United Coalition for Im/migrant Rights, and local feminist and gay liberation organizations;
Started holding informal dinner meetings of ALL members and sympathizers, for networking, talking shop, and launching new projects. (The next one is planned for June 18th; if you’re interested, I’ll hook you up with the details later tonight.)
Participated in the May Day immigrant rights rally at the federal court house in Las Vegas, where we called for the decriminalization of all peaceful immigrants.
Worked together with other organizations to help build the infrastructure for anti-statist and social justice activism in Las Vegas – by creating a listserv for all libertarians in the Las Vegas area, and by helping to organize, and marching in, the United Coalition for Im/migrant Rights’sMarch for the DREAMon May 23rd.
We are just getting started. Our plans for projects in the immediate future include:
We will distribute literature more widely, both through contacts with other anti-statist and social justice groups (like the LP and UCIR), and also through literature drops in stores and public spaces.
We are planning a second, wider flyering event, focused on police brutality. (This will be coordinated with distributing pamphlets on police brutality, connecting it with the legal privileges involved in government policing, the militarization of police, and the effects of the racist War on Drugs.)
Over the longer term, we intend to use Southern Nevada ALL as a spring-board for creating alternative institutions that will help us more effectively push for freedom, and help create a more vibrant activist community within Las Vegas. In particular, we plan to help re-organize a couple of projects which have mostly lapsed over the past few years – a Las Vegas Independent Media Center, which will provide an open, grassroots publishing forum for anti-state and social justice activists in the Las Vegas area, and which will create new channels for information and analysis outside of the mainstream local media; and also revitalizing the Las Vegas chapter of Food Not Bombs, which provides agrey market,counter-economic form of mutual aid outside of the State welfare bureaucracy and the corporate food market. As Food Not Bombs becomes more stable and sustainable, we plan to regroup and begin to talk about other grassroots mutual aid projects, in order to take stock of what’s most needed in the community, and what sorts of projects present the most transformational opportunities.
Each of our plans and projects is a fairly small undertaking, especially when you compare it to the size of the problems that we face. But I am confident that these small pieces, loosely joined together, can serve as the building blocks for something much larger. Something which I believe Southern Nevada ALL will be an important part of, but in which we all will have a role to play, and in which our power standing shoulder to shoulder will be much greater than the power any of us have separately. Electoral politics can pressure the powers that be and soften up their will to strike back at us. Education can create public support for freedom and make it dangerous or disastrous for government to try to strike back. Direct action, combined with education, and when carried out through a large and vibrant network of people-powered Leftist and anti-statist organizations, can and will make us ungovernable – without depending on petitioning or begging, and without depending on the good will of the powerful. I believe that it can be in our hands sooner than any of us realize, if we make full use of non-electoral, radical, populist methods to create alternatives to the State, to bring everyone into the struggle, and to take direct action against government oppression. That’s a fight we can begin right now, by reaching out to our friends and neighbors and our activist comrades. We don’t need to wait until the next convention or the next election. We don’t need to wait for sympathetic politicians. We can take the power into our own hands. And when we do, we will become free.
Thank you for your time, and your very gracious offer of a forum in which to speak. I’ll be glad to take any questions you may have and to talk some more about anything that you’d like to hear more about.
All power to the people!
As far as success goes, the discussion following the talk was lively and interesting. We got a certain number of folks staring at me like I was from Mars, which I expected, but also a fair amount of interest and sympathy, and we made a couple new contacts who may be good prospects for ALLies or fellow travelers. I hardly convinced the entire LP of Clark County to join the Revolution, but I hardly expected to, and I’d call the whole affair a reasonable success, given my goals for the talk. As far as lessons for the future go, the main ones that I’m keeping in mind for myself, and which you may want to keep in mind if you’re going to give a similar talk, are the following:
The most interested people will always seek you out after the talk, but if you want to get a little something into everybody’s hands — e.g. pamphlets, contact sign-up sheets, handbills, etc. — don’t count on people to come up to your table for anything. Remember to hand it around at the start, if you possibly can.
Because of time pressures, some sections of the talk drew pretty heavily from material that I had already written elsewhere for print publication. Historical references are important but I intend to make the talk for future events somewhat less bookish, somewhat more attuned to my speaking style, and somewhat more present-oriented.
Go to some meetings beforehand so that you can scope out the audience and the space. If you make an appointment at one meeting, to give the talk at a later meeting, and there’s a substantial time period between the meeting where you made the appointment and the meeting where you’ll speak, make sure that you touch base (on whatever pretext; information, double-checking, follow-up, whatever) with the people who will be in charge at the meeting where you give your talk. I went to LP meetings beforehand but neglected to do the follow-up contacts I should have done; as a result there was some unclarity about who they were expecting to give the talk, and I wasn’t confident enough from a previous paper trail to speak up. Touching base more often would have resulted in having more time for the talk. (On the good side, having attended previous meetings gave me a much better sense for who I was pitching to and how to pitch it.)
Keep your audience well in mind. This talk is pretty directly calculated for voting libertarians, like LP members or Pauliticos. If you want to talk to social justice groups, antiwar groups, lefties, and so on, obviously you will want to cover much of the same ground, but probably from a different angle of approach.
Remember that, especially for a new radical effort like ALL, for any large group you are really looking for only a handful, maybe only one or two, new contacts in a much larger audience. Make sure that you have a gaff for anybody who bites — contact sheets, handbills, literature, and especially a well-defined upcoming event (like the dinner meeting, or even better an action that you’re planning) — to pull in likely new ALLies. But don’t worry if many in the audience give you the blank stare. You’re not there for them, except to give them some notional idea of your existence. You’re there for mass education and targeted persuasion, and the one or three or five potential ALLies or fellow travelers in the audience are your target.
Anyway, as I said, I consider the talk to have been a reasonable success and a good start. I hope that we can continue giving talks like this to other local groups in the future.
Other ALLies who are thinking about hitting up local groups for similar talks should feel free to appropriate, repurpose, and re-use the material in this talk.
Have y’ALL given any talks for your local chapter of ALL, or made any plans to give talks in the future? Let me know in comments. I’ll be glad to discuss any questions you might have about how my talk went, and to use the blog to talk up any talks that you have given or will be giving in the future.
Chuck’s pretty much right on everything. However, we can be opposed to statism and still favor democracy. I hope the demise of Republican party this fall will bring about a new era libertarian politics. Like many libertarians, I feel that an alliance with either party remains untenable. Vote LP.
I wish I could see the prospect of freedom in America in my lifetime as viable.
I am curious to know why you think the present trend towards despotism will be reversed. As long as presidents feel safe in abandoning habeas corpus, then the state can use the power of indefinite detention against any radical uprising — nonviolent or violent.
By the way, let me say that your brand of thick left-libertarianism is why I feel proud to call myself a left-libertarian. It’s the perfect melding of the best of Libertarianism with the best of the radical left.
Mike Gogulski /#
I feel like I just leveled up reading this, especially coming philosophically from the Right-libertarian school as I do. Brilliant.
Thanks, RG. It’s good to see the tack others are taking when forming their local orgs. And that was quite a speech!
Here in the metro Richmond area, we’re blessed with not only several LPs but a sort of small-l libertarian supper club. I have been attending meetings lately and talking informally with members (see one of my reports here). When possible, one-on-one conversation is always superior, because people feel like they can really explore your ideas. Also, others inevitably gather around and benefit from what functions as a speech but feels like a conversation.
I’ve spoken only briefly at the supper club meetings, and encountered the same reactions as you. Some wanted to shout me down. Others wanted to tell me a funny story they remember from working with Karl Hess. There is a groundswell of frustration among the truly libertarian libertarians, and the people we want to reach aren’t waiting for the LP to get their act together; they’re ALREADY attending the Greens meetings, working with local social activists, etc.
My RLLA partner, Brady, and I are still sort of fleshing out how we want to approach organization. Brady wants to establish a solid core identity for the group, with literature, flyers, and other trappings. I’m more into letting it grow organically by emphasizing meetings. But together we’re starting to get things rolling: today I’ll be sharing my 3-fold RLLA pamphlet with the larger ALL movement, and we’ve got 100 copies of the “iron fist” monograph. We’re also going to be flyering, attending the next Food Not Bombs, and participating in the local Virginia Anarchist Federation (they’re heaving in pro-immigrant activism, which is awesome).
I do appreciate the stress you put on a local analysis for local groups, and tailoring actions to local conditions. For Richmond, which already has a semi-coherent activist contingent, the RLLA is a newcomer. Hence, we’re framing our goal as providing space for different leftists, libertarians, social justice activists, etc. to come together and work on issues of common interest. The idea being that there is already alternative institutions; they just need to stop working in isolation. I don’t think we’re going to change the entire scene, but if we just get people talking – especially leftists and libertarians – we’ll have done plenty in my book.
Keep us updated with your progress, problems, and triumphs; we’ll do the same. All power to the people!
Ugh, sorry: that article is here and the VAF is heavy into pro-immigrant activism, not “heaving”.
Discussed at agorism.info /#
organizing_a_local_libertarian_alliance - Agorism.info:
Brad Spangler /#
I’ve included a link to this text as a recommended resource for any who wish to take part in writing the Agorism.info wiki page (section?) on organizing a local libertarian alliance.
So far, this text appears to be THE new principal resource on the topic.
Charles has to put together a lot to work with above. It would be great if we could edit it down into bits to spoon feed to people, written in a “how-to manual” style. While I realize there is no substitute for the judgement of the individual aware of the particulars of their own local circumstances, the point is that a relatively complete and well-packaged how-to manual would presumably act to bolster the confidence of activists considering taking the leap.
Great speech, Rad. This inspires me to organize something in Vermont. VT is full of lefties and freedom-lovers; it should be a great place. Unfortunately, the population is so spread out.
That was a powerful speech, especially logically. Rhetorically, you make me believe. Practically, you make me wish I believed. My mind says you’re a totally hopeless romantic to talk about totally breaking free from the state in the age of Bush. My mind tells me that libertarianism is hopelessly corrupted and left-libertarianism is a project doomed to failure from its inception. But when I read this- I so, so, so, want to be colossally proven wrong.
If anyone has the spirit and grasp of ideas to build a left-libertarian movement worthy of the name, you do. Forget smashing the state- if you could just get together a visible left-libertarian movement which really does have participation from women, people of colour, etc., which really does care about actual individualism and being able to live as you desire, which can gain respect from the left and force recognition from the vulgar and reactionary libertarian right, which distinguishes itself clearly from nihilistic Strasserist Keith Preston-style thuggery, and which really has something to offer as a social and mutual aid network for people who care about their lives being their own… then I’d damn well contribute anything I could to the effort if I had to beg and shoplift to get the cash (I’d choose corporatist ‘bagman’ targets, of course. ;)
This is wonderful. Simply wonderful. THANK YOU.
Discussed at darianworden.com /#
DarianWorden.com » Blog Archive » Wobbly Market:
You could always choose the DEA too…
Kevin S. Van Horn /#
“The first rule of a counter-economic business is, you don’t talk about a counter-economic business.”
This strikes me as a major weakness of the counter-economic strategy. One of the things that makes it easier to defy an authority is seeing others doing so. It’s easier to be brave when you see others being brave. As long as counter-economic businesses must remain in the shadows, those who are considering starting their own counter-economic activities will remain isolated, cut off from moral support and encouragement. Nor will they be able to learn from the experience of others.
If you have solutions to these problems, I’d love to hear them.
Soviet Onion /#
So okay, “The first rule of a counter-economic business is you don’t talk about a counter-economic business unless you’ve known them for a while and can verify that they’re not a cop or a snitch, or someone who knows you both can verify the same, or unless you use some aboveground front group (coughALLcough) to screen interested and trustworthy folk from others etc. etc.” You get the picture.
Bear in mind also that counter-economics isn’t limited to things that receive a seedy portrayal in the media and carry harsh penalties. Like drug-running or Visa forgery. At lot of is comprises fairly mundane, normal activities that are just done in a counter-economic fashion. It’s common for repairmen and laborers to work for cash and refuse to report the income, yet the penalties for this are comparatively light. Gypsy cabs are another good example. Getting paid to watch your neighbor’s kids in defiance of child care regulations, to walk your neighbor’s dog, cooking and selling food from your house without buying expensive industrial ovens like regulations specify . . . these actions are so petty in the eyes of the State that most people wouldn’t even think that they could turn you in for it. Counter-economics is accessible to pretty much everyone.
I also think you overestimate the difficulty of communicating the existence of an underground activity. People don’t need to know the specifics in order to get a sense of its presence, or to understand the motive behind it. This is especially true if it’s coupled with alternative media coverage and above-ground advocacy, as Charles has suggested it should be.
For example, everyone knows that tons of people download music, but they don’t know all the specific individuals involved.
Moreover, anyone smart enough to do these things is smart enough to screen the people they let in on their specific actions.
“Mass education and targeted persuasion”, as a wise man once said.
I cant be the only one who finds Chomsky more statist/intolerant than not… right?
Kevin S. Van Horn /#
Your response suggests to me that a countereconomic strategy for liberty needs a purely social component. That is, there’s a need for liberty-minded people who might be inclined to disobey the state to get together for purely social purposes, quite apart from any activism or black/grey-market activity they might collaborate on.
Unfortunately, market anarchists are (it seems to me) mostly highly analytical types who are great thinkers but whose social skills are not well-honed. That’s not an insuperable problem, but it suggests that it would be worthwhile to recruite more extroverts (like Marshall Fritz).
Soviet Onion /#
Your response suggests to me that a countereconomic strategy for liberty needs a purely social component. That is, there’s a need for liberty-minded people who might be inclined to disobey the state to get together for purely social purposes, quite apart from any activism or black/grey-market activity they might collaborate on.
Well, keep in mind even people who aren’t fully or even partly converted libertarians can still make good partners in crime. Personal trust and mutual interest provide a good foundation for cooperation and communication even when ideological comraderie isn’t yet there. I know plenty of people who, for no other reason than personal ethics and respect, would never narc on someone else’s schemes, and have felt comfortable enough to tell me about their own even without knowing or caring anything about my political beliefs. I’ve met more practicing counter-economists than I have libertarians or anarchists of any stripe, and I’m only 22.
To make a long story short, you don’t need to be already surrounded by libertarians to find people to work with, or to help you spread the message. You could make a lot of headway and recruit a lot of sympathizers just by being out there, working and talking with people who’s actions already make them mildly sympathetic. Once you know them personally, that gives you a window to talk libertarian-lite, followed by “Here, you might like this pamphlet” and eventually finished off with “Hey, why don’t you come to this meeting.”
I think one potentially valuable function of an ALL chapter, aside from mass education, could be to act as an information brokerage where people can pass on information about contacts and opportunities to known acquaintances who could use them, but who may not be libertarians or even part of your circle of acquaintances. The kiosk operator in this article provides a good example of this function in practice.
This might provide what you’re looking for in terms of a balance between security and familiarity. The participants in a network wouldn’t need to know all the other players or what they were up to, they’d just need to know someone who does.
Again, check out the article I linked. If you’re interested in the underground economy, Sudhir Venkatesh is name you should get acquainted with.
A major difficulty with counter-economics is that, even when ex ante there is no victim, a mutual interest in either a particular proposed transaction taking place or a business association being formed or maintained, etc., ex post, especially when one party to the transaction has been arrested or otherwise come under law enforcement scrutiny, there is a tendency for people to rat each other out in order to get a “deal.”
Also, once something like ALL becomes widely known as the sort of clearing house you spoke of, soon thereafter, you can expect all manner of uncover cops and informants to show up.
I’m sure there are ways of dealing with these problems but I’m just not sure what they are at the moment.
Soviet Onion /#
Before I respond to this, I should remind people that any strategy that seeks to undermine, weaken or overthrow the State will be targeted for infiltration, and counter-economics is no different. The only activities that are unlikely to attract this are the ones that state agents rightly see as harmless, and even those are sometimes monitored for their suspected connections to more dangerous people.
The fact is that hundreds of millions of people get away with this stuff every day already, and the vast majority of them are talented and resourceful enough to get away with on a regular basis. The more people turn their attention towards evading and resisting tyrannical laws rather than pouring their resources down the high investment/low yield toilet of political reform campaigns, the more everyone will be able to get away with, and the more reliably they’ll be able to get away with it.
Going by the issues you brought up:
Assuming you don’t already know the person well, their are ways of assessing their trustworthiness. You could hire a private investigator to do some digging or follow them for a while. This service could itself be done counter-economically, and would actually constitute an early manifestation of the underground security industry. The higher the risk (and thus profit) associated with the activity in question, the greater the perceived demand for these services. There’s certainly more trust involved in selling someone a kilo of heroin than there is in cleaning their house for cash.
The real goal of ALL cells is exactly how Charles has described it; we’re a “legitimate” aboveground complement focusing on advocacy and education, and as a forum for cooperation between radical libertarians and anti-authoritarian leftists. Cops certainly will infiltrate the groups at some point, I have no doubt about that. But the closest thing they’ll see to indicate guilt are probably workshops about “Knowing your rights” or computer encryption.
Libertarians could make a major blow for drug-users’ rights by staging well-publicized stone-ins in front of city halls and police departments (or tobacco smoke-ins here in Chicago). We could host sex workers as public speakers to demystify their lives and increase mainstream awareness of sex workers as human beings. Libertarians could, when discussing immigration, tell the story of those who leave everything behind to seek a better life in a new country. We could tour gun shows and Pink Pistol meetings with video cameras to introduce demonized gun-owners to liberals and leftists.
That’s the way to open up space for the counter-economy. People generally don’t become convinced on principle to respect others’ rights. They see how those rights improve those people’s live, and then respect them as the would the rights of any other person. The best defense against laws and controls is an ungovernable culture.
Now, on the subject of discouraging rats, I turn to the suggestion of insurance.
Aside from providing safety in numbers, agorist networks could form the initial basis of insurance pools for those involved in non-violent illegality.
Since the chance of getting caught is relatively low, but the penalties may be very high, such services would serve to allay fears and encourage broader participation in counter-economic activity. In the event of capture, support could take the form of full or partial payment for fines, legal fees, bribes to judges/juries for favorable verdicts, or at least buy things to make prison life more tolerable. Companies of this sort would do well by insuring the activities in other countries, possibly using their own country’s foreign policy as a shield (imagine a U.S. company insuring counter-entrepreneurs in Iran, or a Chinese company in the U.S.). There’s already an insurance company in Sweden offering to insure people against fines from the RIAA for filesharing.
Most importantly, all of these agreements would come with one simple clause: don’t inform on else. Doing so would forfeit any kind of reimbursement or support from their surety group. This would incent people away from giving up others when prevention fails to keep them out of trouble.
This model may sound kind of advanced, but I believe it already exists in a hidden form. The reason that crime families have such resiliency is because kinship provides an informal bond of reciprocity and support when one of their members is in trouble (and gangs are really just families in which the kinship is manufactured, like the historically common practice of clans that claim descent from a common ancestor, but who’s membership has adopted unrelated families over the generations, so all that really holds them together is the mythology itself and the practical benefit of the bond).
In both insurance groups/trade unions and what we think of as “organized crime cells”, the operational mechanism is the same: spread risk by pooling assets.
Actually S.O. it’s rather ironic that about 30 years ago Noam Chomsky said in some book it was a good thing the government isn’t as good as covering up its crimes as the mafia, or else things like My Lai would never become known. :)
“Libertarians could make a major blow for drug-users’ rights by staging well-publicized stone-ins in front of city halls and police departments (or tobacco smoke-ins here in Chicago). We could host sex workers as public speakers to demystify their lives and increase mainstream awareness of sex workers as human beings. Libertarians could, when discussing immigration, tell the story of those who leave everything behind to seek a better life in a new country. We could tour gun shows and Pink Pistol meetings with video cameras to introduce demonized gun-owners to liberals and leftists.”
Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!
…in fact how about making a big point of hosting joint tobacco and marijuana smoke-ins? (if one will pardon the pun)
If tobacco-users and marijuana-users could face the fact that they face essentially the same issues, and use defense of each others’ rights as an occasion to learn to defend each others’ social citizenship, then maybe we just might get somewhere.
And we could make harmless herbal cigarettes available for people who don’t want to smoke either, but do wish to show solidarity.
(of course, today’s kind of libertarians (snort!) would hardly cooperate with the idea… “libertinism!” “cosmotarianism!” “those damn hairy-legged hippie-freaks are not only breaking teh Rulez but are having FUN!!!”)
We had a 4:20 smoke-in in front of Parliament a few months ago, mainly organised by activists affiliated with the Legalise Cannabis Party. No libertarians showed up.
Soviet Onion /#
Well, I’m not justifying everything the mafia does, simply saying that their organizational structures incorporate some incentives against snitching, and that’s part of what makes them so resilient even in the face of targeted police crackdowns. And yes, I’m talking about positive incentives that offer support rather than intimidation (we can debate the ethics of killing police collaborators some other time).
Whether or not a given set of underground actors have perfect non-aggressive credentials, if they’re successful, it makes sense to study what makes them so successful and see if it can be applied to more consistently libertarian means.
Admittedly, there’s no perfect substitute for trust and decency among your fellows, and that seems to be present enough of the time. If agorists helped to instill them and others with a conscious sense of libertarian ethics, these qualities would be more prevalent in the first place. The fact is that despite all of these “major difficulties”, the underground economy exists, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There are legions of people doing this stuff and getting away with it. I know them. Chances are you know them too. They’re good people.
Generally speaking, I also reject this notion that just because popular culture describes something as “organized crime” automatically means it’s the domain of violent mobsters, or that “the black market” is nothing but drugs and guns (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with either of those). There are a million stories about Al Capone, but few about Algoth Niska. Maybe that’s because gunfights are more exciting than uneventful sailing on the Baltic, punctuated by peaceful cash transactions.
That sounds like a wonderful idea! I’m marking March 20 on my calender right now, since I didn’t have it marked in high school*. I already foresee a flier with cigarette and bong crisscrossing over a tie dye and tobacco leaf patterned background. And trust me, I plan to hit up the high schools first.
Funny you should mention the New Zealand Party, since the headquarters of the U.S. Marijuana Party are just two and a half hours away in Peoria. There was also a big medical cannabis protest in front of the Dirksen Federal Building two months ago, organized by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I was there.
Bob Kaercher, one of the other founders of the up and coming Chicago ALL, and I are both going to Chicago’s annual Peace fest event next Saturday. Hopefully we’ll bookmark some potential allies. I also invited one of my pot smoking friends, but he’s just going for the pot :)
S.W.O.P. USA also has a chapter here. I’d like to work with them, but I’m not sure what we could do for them besides helping with their own public outreach, and maybe gaining access to certain venues or audiences that might otherwise be closed off.
Feel free to suggest any ideas of your own. One of our goals is to create a nexus for exchange and cooperation between radical libertarians and social justice activists, so that might be a good idea.
There’s a national conference happening next month. I missed the last public meeting, but will definitely be attending the next one.
I meant to post a link to that Swedish firm, but it slipped my mind. It’s called Tankafritt.nu, which translates literally as download freely(.now). Insurance costs only 140 SEK (Swedish crowns. Yeah, I noticed that too) annually, which equates to $19 U.S. In the event of a conviction for copyright infringement in a filesharing case, they will pay all your fines. You also get a T-shirt saying “I was convicted of filesharing and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”
According to the founder Magnus Br?@c3;a5;th, a thirty year-old architecture student, the company is working towards expanding beyond Sweden but there are still legal issues (I’ll bet; the issue is that you’re still obeying the law.)
There’s no reason why a similar firm couldn’t exist in the U.S. Using cryptographic measures to verify identity and make anonymous transactions, it could operate completely outside the law. Granted, our fines are somewhat higher, but that just means you’d need more startup capital. Shit, if a company like that ever came about, I’d buy stock in it.
In fact, coverage like this could exist for any non-violent illegality for which the penalty is just a fine. That covers most first offenses, I think.
Historically, insurance has been a crucial element to quasi-market anarchist legal systems, so it makes perfect sense that there would be a place for it in counter-economic strategy from the beginning.
*Just in case anyone overly obsessed with “respectability” is looking write me off for my pro-drug and pro-drug user stance, let me just state that I don’t smoke either tobacco or marijuana, and can’t remember the last time I held an alcoholic beverage in hand. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to think less of someone just because they enjoy doing these things.
f agorists helped to instill them and others with a conscious sense of libertarian ethics, these qualities would be more prevalent in the first place.
Well to be honest I don’t think education has much chance of success. I mean, the whole point of our public schooling system is to indoctrinate people with obedience and respect for authority. I know many good, intelligent people to come out of it and they would find individual responsibility, freedom, and liberty to be incomprehensible, let alone participating in the “underground economy”. So if smart, thoughtful people can’t or won’t embrace freedom, what hope is there for the masses?
which equates to $19 U.S. In the event of a conviction for copyright infringement in a filesharing case, they will pay all your fines.
Actually the largest threats are not to downloaders but to the people releasing the content in the first place. And if such an organization did start to make a dent, they’d just be extradited to some cia blacksites and never heard from again. :)
verify identity and make anonymous transactions,
Considering the fate of enterprises like egold I’m not optimistic about that either.
Soviet Onion said: “The fact is that despite all of these ‘major difficulties’, the underground economy exists, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There are legions of people doing this stuff and getting away with it. I know them. Chances are you know them too. They’re good people.”
I should say, I thoroughly enjoyed your extended reply to my question about ex post defection and infiltration of counter-economic hubs by informants, under-cover law enforcement, etc.
I did not mean in pointing out these difficulties to say that agorism was bad, or not the way to go compared to electoral politics or above-ground educational initiatives. I simply meant that, to the extent one wants to make the counter-economy bigger and more robust, people may want to do some thinking about how to create mechanisms to deal with these problems.
To elaborate a bit: Especially in the absence of institutional means of enforcing contracts, reputation and trust are extremely important. Further, when there are two people with a “double coincidence of wants,” who would be willing to make a trade, such a trade can only take place if these two people have a good way of learning of each other’s existence, and trusting that the other won’t defect later on when the heat is turned up. To some extent it may be possible to have the “reputation” which you want without it being a liability in terms of visibility and exposure to unwanted attention from the authorities via cryptography: I heard a fascinating lecture from David Friedman about this sort of thing, but I didn’t quite understand the nuts and bolts of how one does that sort of thing.
I heard a fascinating lecture from David Friedman about this sort of thing
Araglin: As I recall David Friedman mainly talks about the possible implications of Public-Key methods, including identity verification and reputation building in “markets” where participants solely know each other by their public keys. It’s a nice idea, but mainly impractical for two reasons. 1) Such trades would have to use money, which is tightly regulated by the state (e.g. look at the fate of egold), and 2) there can be no secure communication if the government simply takes direct control of the internet, which it would not hesitate to do if people thought it was in the “best interest of the people” or whatever.
Soviet Onion /#
I know many good, intelligent people to come out of it and they would find individual responsibility, freedom, and liberty to be incomprehensible, let alone participating in the “underground economy”. So if smart, thoughtful people can’t or won’t embrace freedom, what hope is there for the masses?
Eh . . . look, I’m not trying to diss you or anything, but I’ve seen this kind of elitist sentiment before. The idea that liberty something above the unwashed masses and that can only appreciated by “the educated” pisses me off and confounds me to no end.
Despite all of the good-n-gooey deontological theorizing that Charles and I like to get into, liberty is still, at it’s core, a profoundly earthy ideal. Social tolerance and free-markets have practical implications for everyone who’s not a corporate-welfare pig, and especially those who are marginalized and (dare I say it) oppressed by said welfare pigs and their hand-crafted government regulatory regimes.
If libertarianism as a packaged, trademarked ideology does not stick with most people, it not because it’s difficult to understand the benefits. It’s because the way libertarianism is commonly marketed tends to either ignore its anti-plutocratic implications or actively rejects them, and thus makes it unappealing. It’s the standard Karl Hessian problem of defending presently-existing economic relations on the basis of the free-market principles when they’re clearly not applicable, and shoving all questions of social justice aside (because, after all, only Commies care about that stuff). If we actually emphasized those things, that would just look like a concession to state-socialism, and end up playing into their hands.
The fear is understandable, but it’s not excusable. When you look at the size and consistency of the libertarian movement, in terms of income, race and gender, I think the record clearly shows that that approach just pushes people into the socialist camp anyway, because libertarianism sounds just like a justification for the craptastic status quo. And that’s precisely why it still primarily appeals to “the educated”, because they, at the very least, are not excessively harmed by it.
I don’t think it’s true that most people have become indoctrinated to obedience and now find freedom scary. Rather, the case for freedom has not been communicated well.
(Bear in mind also that most people haven’t heard of libertarianism, period, in any form. They might have a vague notion of some political party that wants to legalize drugs, but that’s about it. That might have changed since Ron Paul, but I don’t know.)
When you compare this to the kinds of people most commonly involved in counter-economics, the picture is a lot more cosmopolitan:
Poor communities are full of people taking odd jobs for cash or favors, hawking wares on the street, running off-the-books operations, loaning money, renting rooms and providing transport services (aka gypsy cabs). All of it is underground. And that’s not even counting the drug trade.
Illegal immigrants, often excluded from the legitimate economy, work under the table. Most of those that entered the country illegally paid professional smugglers to help them. Once here, they might purchase forged documents, made and sold by other immigrants.
Young people are the primary and original practitioners of filesharing, pirating music, bootleg movies and cracked versions of software and video games. They’re also consumers of the aforementioned drugs.
Many skilled laborers provide services for cash, and fail to report the income. That includes plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, welders, engineers, technicians, lab assistants and computer programmers.
Almost all sex workers are women.
Taken together, this is a very diverse bunch of people; certainly larger and more diverse than the modern libertarian movement. These people would likely be very sympathetic to a libertarianism that openly attacked the state controls that hold them back, and the illiberal social climate that keeps them marginalized and vulnerable.
When faced with the choice between converting libertarians to counter-economics and turning counter-entrepreneurs into libertarians, there’s no reason to think the former is a better option, let alone the only option.
Actually the largest threats are not to downloaders but to the people releasing the content in the first place
True, and I don’t have a solution for that in mind. The Tankafritt Model is primarily a way to up involvement by counteracting the heavy perceived risks that holds some people back. That would encourage broader participation, which in turn would enlarge the “school of fish”, so to speak, and make filesharing safer for everyone.
As for the CIA bit, that’s what anonymity is designed to prevent. We all want to minimize risk, but acting like any risk at all is too much is just unrealistic for any strategy that openly espouses the destruction of the government.
I simply meant that, to the extent one wants to make the counter-economy bigger and more robust, people may want to do some thinking about how to create mechanisms to deal with these problems.
Ah, but the counter-economy is growing! The last estimate I saw in 2005 put the total value of America’s underground at $970 billion: 9 percent of the legitimate GDP. It’s estimated to be growing at a rate of 5.6%, faster than the legitimate economy, and has been doing so since the 90’s.
As a percentage of GDP, America’s underground is actually at the low end of the spectrum. The top five:
Belgium: 30.2% Greece: 29% Italy: 27.8% Spain: 23.4%
Especially in the absence of institutional means of enforcing contracts, reputation and trust are extremely important.
That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to say.
I agree that the state will likely change the rules of the game whenever it sees a danger of too many people successfully opting out of the system and creating alternatives. But the state’s reach often exceeds its grasp. When such libertarian praxis is promoted and reproduced horizontally, in lots of very small-scale experiments loosely networked together, the transaction costs of enforcing the law will likely exceed the costs of evading it by several orders of magnitude. This is the central idea behind asymmetric resistance, and history attests to its effectiveness.
By the time such a movement appears on the state’s radar screen as a major and serious threat to the status quo, it’s likely to have metastasized beyond control. Ideally, we can evade such detection until the point that open defense becomes an option, and the weakened state is forced to pull back from areas it can’t afford to control, creating what counter-terrorism expert John Robb calls a “hollow state” (like Iraq outside the Green Zone, or Afghanistan outside Kabul).
The goal is not to win every battle, but to defeat the State in war of attrition, in which participation is still primarily motivated by a realistic chance to make a profit.
Discussed at radgeek.com /#
Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-06-24 – U.S. out of Las Vegas!:
The idea that liberty something above the unwashed masses and that can only appreciated by “the educated” pisses me off and confounds me to no end.
I apologize if you misread me; I don’t regard “being educated” and “being intelligent” as the same thing. I said I know some intelligent people who happen to come out of the school system, and those that I know are (mostly) not sympathetic to liberty. Ergo, since most of the masses also attend the same school system I conclude that their thinking will be similar. I might be wrong, but at least I have presented some anecdotal evidence which contradicts RadGeek’s optimism about enlightening people, which is what I wanted to present. I want to believe Radgeek’s claims that people can eventually be rationally persuaded to accept the importance of freedom, but based on the track-record so far I’m not holding my breath.