The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

Month: March 2014

Don’t You Think That It’s Boring how People Analyze Pop Stars?


Don’t You Think That It’s Boring how People* Analyze Pop Stars? 

A Response to Thaddeus Russell on Lorde and her “Attack” on the Pleasures of the Poor

*This is a reference to Lorde’s song Tennis Court

What’s in a Lineage?

Lineage denotes a linking that is not necessarily of our choosing. Being linked to something biologically and socially doesn’t necessarily add up to the intentions that typically go on with most of our day to day existence. So when claiming someone has a certain ideological lineage it can especially get tricky. In this case it is when the individual in question and the things they believe and individuals and beliefs of the past intertwine in some interesting and important ways. But do these interstices really make for a clear cut case for a “lineage” being continued?

This question is especially interesting within the context of Thaddeus Russell’s article “The Progressive Lineage of Mackelmore’s And Lorde’s Attacks on the Pleasures of the Poor”.

The first thing you should do is notice the wording. Both Lorde and Mackelmore are attacking the pleasures of the poor. They aren’t giving light-hearted ridicule or self-indulging to any extent. Nor does it sound very likely that they have anything else but bad intentions in mind. When you see the word “attack” in the context of how someone approaches a subject you are thinking about hammers and nails, us and them and so on.

And so it goes with Thaddeus’ article. On the whole I agree with Thaddeus that the left (if we can include progressives in this category that is) are largely anti-consumerist. For example, because I run a site against work I am often looking for articles by people about work who are talking about how it sucks. And often for these people it goes back to the issues of money, how the poor spend their money, materialism, consumerism and more. There are exceptions but they seem to be outliers most of the time.

Given this I can definitely where Thaddeus is coming from. Unlike many of the commenters on Reason I think this is a worthwhile article not only to write but it is on a topic and in such a way that should be kept on being done. So kudos to Thaddeus for that.

But his examples in this particular article, Lorde and Mackelmore seem to fall short of a good case.

Due to relative interest in one figure as opposed to the other I will chiefly focus on Lorde in this article and leave Mackelmore for others to defend if they so choose.

It should be noted that as a fan of Lorde and her music I am biased but I am using that bias here to hopefully dig more into what is actually going on with Lorde then I think Thaddeus figured out.

“Royals” as a Single

My case at its simplest and least complex is just a look at “Royals” as a single and nothing more. There is no context of the larger album to look at. Nothing to notice about its commonality and thematic tones and settings. And certainly no lyrical similarities and overarching messages to send to the listener.

Because both Thaddeus and I detest the left’s inatuation for being Ventriloquists for the Powerless or more generally speaking for others when there is little evidence they actually feel that way, let’s take a host of interviews, quotes, analysis and more to see what we can find.

The first thing to note is in a biography from which calls itself “definitive”.

In it, the author Duncan Grieve interviews Lorde and at one point she says:

“I mean, I was 15 when I wrote that song,” says Ella, a little sadly. “I wasn’t thinking about anyone’s cultural aspirations. I was being a bit silly. I don’t know. I can understand [the response] now, and it’s probably not my place to even comment on it. It’s just one of those kind of uncomfortable grey areas.”

Her age is certainly a factor. As Lorde says herself the transition from 15 to 17 was momentous and much has changed for her in those two years. But why would Lorde have been considering those cultural factors when that wasn’t what she was writing about?

Thaddeus is correct that Lorde’s inspiration came from hip-hop and thus the aspirations (or infatuations) of many African-Americans. One point keeping in mind though is that a lot of the hip-hope Lorde listens to (like Kayne and Drake for example) are people who are already rich and who are relishing their wealth as status and not as a consumer good.

But even so, what were Lorde’s intentions? According to Lorde herself the song is meant to be “lighthearted” and taken as a “humorous” jab at a lot of the normality that we take for granted within the hip-hop genre and its display of wealth being the way to figure out whether you are actually worth something or not.

But at the same time Lorde is making these light-hearted jabs and remarks Lorde continues to listen to hip-hop and adore it. She has spoken well of everyone from Kayne West (and has also covered his song, “Can’t Handle My Liquor” as well as used his song “Dark Fantasy” as an inspiration for her song “Bravado”), Nicki Minaj and Kendrik Lamar. She speaks of wanting to work with Kayne and in a recent Reddit Ask me Anything thread highlighted a video of Minaj talking about double standards in agressiveness with relation to the sexes. So even if Lorde sees problems with hip-hop as it stands she clearly still has a big vested interest in it.

It is also helpful to note that “Royals” isn’t all about hip-hop music even if a lot of it is aimed there. The main chorus names “gold teeth”, “diamonds on your dimepiece” and other things commonly associated with modern hip-hop. But it also talks about tigers on a gold leash, trashing hotel rooms, private jets and so on. So the song isn’ just a critique of hip-hop but of the larger cultural obsession with power, status and commodities.

And that’s a key word right there: obsession. Notice how in “Royals” Lorde says “we aren’t caught up in your love affair“? To me this signifies an emphasis on the unhealthy obsession some people have with commodities not with an interest in it per se’.

Another important line to suggest that Lorde isn’t in any meaningful sense “attacking” the interests of people who want commodities is her line, “we’re driving cadillacs in our dreams”.

This is right in the middle of the chorus and could potentially signal a few things.

One of these being that just dreaming about wealth is good enough for Lorde and the other people she is talking about (more on that in a bit). It could be that even though she isn’t obsessed with it in the ways she thinks others are she still wants it or desires it somewhere deep down in her heart (more on this later as well). Or perhaps it’s something else altogether. Either way this is an important line that I think puts a dent in Thaddeus’ argument.

What is also worth noting is that Lorde herself says the song was not meant to be anti-consumerist. And we can argue about whether her intentions in the end change the consequences of the song or what you get out of it. But in the end her intentions about the song matter and to speak for her and insinuate that this was her message anyways at this point could be a show of ventriloquism on anyone’s part.

It’s true she thinks some things in modern hip-hop are “some bullshit” and she felt she needed to say it. But that doesn’t mean her saying it only means that her song could be construed as an attack. And look at Lorde herself. Does it look like she’s against buying things? Lorde is very much into fashion as a personal pastime and I doubt you would see her scolding others for doing much the same. Again, it seems to come down to obsessions and over-exuberance rather than a clear cut matter of principle. Hence why Lorde herself admitted in retrospect that this is a “grey area”.

Another grey area is what the song in the end means by itself. Some will say it screams of a privileged white girl from a foreign country talking up her ass about cultural matters she doesn’t understand. Others will say it is a cry against US imperalism. Still others will say it’ perpetuating or not perpetuating racism, whatever else it may mean. Most have adopted it as an anti-consumerist song and as Thaddeus points out the New York Times believes the song to be a “deeper” song and given the title of their article on Lorde a class conscious one to boot!

So which is correct? In the end I have a few solid conclusions about Lorde though I don’t claim that it’s the final word by any means or that my interpretation couldn’t be off.

But as a single I believe Lorde’s song is: Not racist, not about US imperalism, not about consumerism and not about bashing the poor for wanting the riches the upper class has.

To me, the song represents a cold distance. A distance between how some people view the world and how others actually live it. Lorde speaks of growing up in a postcode she isn’t proud of in a rough neighborhood. The video of “Royals” is notably mundane. It’s just boys fighting and talking and laughing and being themselves. Lorde does nothing but sit around and appear in the music video every once in a while (which is intentional) and all and all there’s no grand story to tell. It’s just life and it’s just life from a point of view that has a realistic take on the division between fantasies and lived realities.

Which means Lorde isn’t telling us to stop consuming, she’s telling us to stop fantasizing, obsessing and distancing ourselves from reality. Instead we should recognize our current conditions and ask ourselves that if we want more (“we drive cadillacs in our dreams”) at what cost do we do it? Obsessions have their cost and they have their price and taking away the mundane and “boring” parts of life or ignoring them can’t make them any better.

Thankfully Lorde put the record straight and I believe we’re all the better for it.

Royals as a Song in “Pure Heroine”

So far I’ve only countered within the context Thaddeus used. And to that extent I don’t think it’s enough because in my opinion treating Royals as just a single with no overlapping message with the other songs on Lorde’s album “Pure Heroine” is a big mistake.

First, who is the “we” and “everyone” in Royals that Lorde is talking about? Thaddeus may be tempted to say that Lorde is just speaking for the dis-privileged but as I’ve pointed out, Lorde wrote this when she was 15 and was certainly not wealthy at the time. She had no real money coming in from her deal with Universal at least none that I am aware of.

So at least, within the context of the song she is speaking from a dis-privileged position as it is. But this point hardly counts for much when you realize it’s fairly easy to see who she means when she says “we”. Who does she feature in the Royals video? Is it everyday people in New Zealand? Does she try to speak for the working class of New Zealand or try to focus on them in even the slightest? No, not in the least.

The only people Lorde seems to be concerned with are a few young boys who are fighting each other, riding buses and having a good time just being themselves. But who are these boys?

Lorde explains:

“this song means a hell of a lot to me, and to others, and i guess what i tried to do is make something you could understand. a lot of people think teenagers live in this world like ‘skins’ every weekend or whatever, but truth is, half the time we aren’t doing anything cooler than playing with lighters, or waiting at some shitty stop. that’s why this had to be real. and i’m at that particular train station every week. those boys are my friends. callum’s wearing a sweater that used to belong to me.”

Though even if you hadn’t read this or hadn’t listened to the rest of the album it seems obvious due to some of the lyrics:

And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

My friends and I we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

These lyrics in particular highlighting not only who may be in the video but also what the larger environment is. Other songs in the album also reference “my boys”,

From Tennis Court:

And my boys trip me up with their heads again, loving them

From Team:

Now bring my boys in
Their skin in craters like the moon

Another thing notable about all three of these songs that feature Lorde’s friends in the lyrics is that all three of them are also the singles she chosen. Not to mention the music video for Royals and Team both focus on boys Lorde’s age. In the latter case I don’t know if they are actually her friends but in Royals she has made it clear that they in fact are. In Tennis Court she is the sole focus of the video after scrapping an earlier and as of now unreleased or recovered version of it.

This makes sense when we see that her influences are the things that immediately and heavily impact her.

As far as place or location which is something not many pop artists typically concern themelves Royals makes it clear Lorde is discussing New Zealand or somewhere in it. She isn’t discussing macro situations or the situation in the poor neighborhoods of the US. She is talking about how distant her reality is from what people talk about in songs sometimes. Given that she holds a fairly solid grounding and position to say what she does.

Other songs like, “400 Lux”, “Team”, and “White Teeth Teens” all reveal tiny bits of the people, popular ideas and so on that make up Lorde’s place. That she isn’t talking about America for the most part and even the stuff on pop culture, hip hop and obsessions with material goods are spoken of as if she is more so puzzled and baffled than upset. Lorde isn’t class conscious she is suburb conscious.

And finally, what is Lorde’s actual relation to materials and products?

Given her interest in fashion as I’ve mentioned earlier I don’t think she’s actually anti-consumerist. Then again she says says as recently as a few months ago that the only “ridiculous” thing she has bought is a queen size bed. And Lorde has consistently noted the irony that Royals has made her money, given her plenty of royalties and now affords her the privilege to buy the things she mocks.

But I think her basic idea of commodities come from her song Tennis Court:

Because I’m doing this for the thrill of it, killin’ it
Never not chasing a million things I want
And I am only as young as the minute is full of it
Getting pumped up on the little bright things I bought
But I know they’ll never own me

Lorde celebrates hedonistic impulses and buying products, but just not letting her become obsessed or be “owned” by them. What being “owned” by them actually means is never explained but I think we can probably assume Lorde is fine with the poor buying stuff to their heart’s content. So long as they recognize the reality of the situation versus the fantasy of others.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly to Thaddeus the lines about “being queen” are ones that I interpret as another lighthearted jab against traditional notions of power and status. That would make sense why she frames it as a “fantasy” and talks about it in Royals. Trying to claim that this is somehow a real desire on her part in line with historical progressive paternalismm (which is a real thing) seems like grasping at straws to me.

As she says in Tennis Court:

Baby be the class clown
I’ll be the beauty queen in tears
It’s a new art form showing people how little we care (yeah)
We’re so happy, even when we’re smilin’ out of fear

Everything’s cool when we’re all in line for the throne
But I know it’s not forever

Her constant denigration of status and power in society makes it unlikely she has any interest in being a queen or even sees much value in it.

And she even says in White Teeth Teens:

I’ll let you in on something big
I am not a white teeth teen
I tried to join but never did
The way they are, the way they seem is something else, it’s in the blood
Their molars blinking like the lights, in the underpass where we all sit

Lorde doesn’t consider herself a part of any group that is better than others. She feels so distant from people who view themselves like that so as to think that they are biologically something else entirely compared to her. Sure, maybe in the past she tried to get in but it certainly hasn’t proved successful and in the end she doesn’t see to want to be involved anyways.

One of her single, Team is all about an outsider’s perspective of the cliques and social power that goes on within society and the strangeness of it all. Not the uniqueness of it or the glamour or the ways in which it may help someone. She doesn’t think it is pretty or important, she mostly sees it as an outsider: perplexing, disorientating and not inviting.

Her song “Glory and Gore” is a really harsh look at how the life of people who are “queens” live. They are constantly desperate for attention (“Dropping glasses just to hear them break”), fighting each other (“we’re the gladiators”) and not really in control of anything the whole time (“We let our battles choose us”).

But hey maybe after getting one million sales Lorde doesn’t need to have any interest in commanding.

The people have already chosen.

New and Old

It has been forever and a day since I’ve even touched this website (or at least it feels like that in internet time…). But I was gonna add something to it today and then just decided to go all out and fix up the pages, my blog roll, the social media and so on.

Here’s the scoop:

I am mostly using this place for final versions of my essays (though sometimes essays will have multiple final versions due to one being proper presentation length and another being a much longer and comprehensive version). I don’t mean “final” in some silly Platonist sense so it’s always possible these essays may be republished and re-edited in the future or something. It’s just not likely in most cases.

The best I can really suggest is monthly posts of an essay by me (with this month and the following ones being exceptions most likely) or just something that really speaks to me in a given month.

Other than that you should probably go to to see what I am up to these days if you are looking for semi-regular blogging. Or else connect with me on Facebook.

In Praise of Blind Giants (A Response to “Why I am no longer an Anarchist”)

An Introduction to a Re-Introduction

This is an unfinished response to my friend Scott back in April of 2012 which I never completed due to giving up on the notion that I would convince him and the mutual agreement that we were not getting anywhere.

The reference to “blind giants” (which I never got far enough to work it in) was a reference to Voltairine’s passage here:

Remarks of that kind rather destroy the white streak of faith. I lose confidence in the slipping process, and am forced to believe that the rulers of the earth are sowing a fearful wind, to reap a most terrible whirlwind. When I look at this poor, bleeding, wounded World, this world that has suffered so long, struggled so much, been scourged so fiercely, thorn-pierced so deeply, crucified so cruelly, I can only shake my head and remember: 

The giant is blind, but he’s thinking: and his locks are growing, fast.

Scott has since become a self-described anarcho-communist and feminist and has deleted the blogs I was originally responding to.

I have not cleaned up this response, fixed many of the mistakes or revised information save a few words here and there. This article is old, unfinished, probably has mistakes and in other words should be taken more as a historical piece than an active contemporary one.


So for those who may have missed it or just want to get caught up my previous response and the post that kicking things off are both available to be read so you know what’s going on.

For the record Scott hasn’t much convinced me that anarchism is “impractical” and I’ll continue to believe that people who make this argument against anarchism lack a sort of imagination. In the end, despite their like for sometimes using bottom-up meas of organization along the principles of voluntarism and other principles the state is ultimately the answer to them. Insofar this is the case for Scott is to the same extent that I disagree with him on these matters.

Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates having voluntary organizations replace the state. Obviously there are going to be difficulties in doing something like this and to expect it to even come in our lifetime is a foolhardy move. But that doesn’t make the theory irrelevant or impractical or whatever Scott seems to want to suggest. The basic principles of anarchism can still be applied within our decentralized social-relations on either a small group setting or an individual setting, Occupy Wall St. of course being an excellent example of this to one extent or another. The decisions were made on a consensus basis (I’m not sure why Scott says “They were majoritarian.It worked well for the most part.”) with the open participation of all of those who wanted to. Now I’ll certainly concede that I’m sure #OWS used majoritarianism when they had to but both Scott and I should know that the basis or typical way of trying to go about things was through consensus. After all that’s what direct democracy is about to begin with.

Before I get started addressing Scott’s arguments for his principles (and not even all of them but just the ones that particularly stick out to me as problematic or worth responding too) I just want to address something he said beforehand:

Nick is indeed correct that my basic political principles as laid out were not very comprehensive.I’m not so sure what he asks of me.If he seeks my blueprint for a just society I can’t give him that.I also have no given definitions of anarchist and statism because I believe Nick has given sufficient ones and both are reasonably well understood enough in general society to not warrant laying it out.

What I asked of Scott was basically what he’s given me after this: a further elaboration on his positions and why he thinks the way he does. So that’s been taken care of. But his point about definitions is confusing and let me explain why. It makes no sense to me why Scott would say that anarchism is “understood well enough in general society” given that most people in “general society” would probably see anarchism as synonymous with chaos, destruction and disorder. This “definition” of anarchism runs completely counter to what I defined anarchism as last time around (which was, to sum it up, merely a political philosophy against the existence of rulers). So I don’t know why Scott believes that nor does he explain why he thinks that. Perhaps the “general society’ in Britain are that much different from the American one I live amongst…but I doubt it.

And it also makes no sense in the context of “statism” because most of the “general public” doesn’t even know the word let alone have a definition for it! Compared to saying this about anarchism Scott actually has a case since at least most people are at least vaguely aware of the term anarchism and some of what it may include in its ideas (even if they’re typically very much off-base) but do most people even know the word statism? I’m not so sure about that. If Scott has some evidence to the contrary then I’m certainly willing to hear him out but otherwise these statements (and thus why he didn’t define his terms) doesn’t make much sense.

One last thing before I take Scott’s principles on:

The reason I call myself a pragmatist in politics is that I do not believe the end goal of a better society can be known ahead of time and neither than the means to achieve such a society be known except as we go along and figure within the reciprocal relationship what ends and means to work for.I do however think we can say what society would be better than the existing one based on comparison.Indeed,even anarchism would be better than the existing status quo.

It sounds to me (and I could be wrong) like Scott is saying somehow as a “pragmatist” he has some sort of ideological monopoly on these tactics but that’s clearly untrue. I doubt he actually believes this but I think it’s worth pointing out that just because you have a position on something and give it a label doesn’t mean you somehow have some sort of monopoly on the ideas therein. Again, I’m not sure that Scott actually believes that but I just think it’s helpful to point that out in general either way.

But as it turns out I have no big problem with what Scott says here and that’s probably because this is such a general statement without the particulars filled in. I agree with Scott that things need to be a gradual process of working things out among those relationships we create and advance throughout our lives. For me that means making each relationship as “anarchistic” as possible so people (whether consciously or not but hopefully more and more consciously as time goes on) start really living without the state and other oppressive institutions. They start recognizing that while they still certainly need things like security, roads, rules, self-regulation and so on they don’t need it from a state and instead form their own voluntary associations based on these needs. That’s a long process and it’ll be a tricky one for sure but if people can start realizing that the state is what needs them and not the other way around then it might just work.

But why would they start thinking this? Again, it’s about doing and making it look possible within your own life as much as is possible. Scott more or less wants to do the same thing with his own vision of society I imagine and so does anyone else who wants to see society changed in some way. The big difference between me and Scott are the extremes to which we want to change society and see it as desirable that it be changed. How likely is it that this change will come? I don’t honestly know. It doesn’t look like it’s coming any time soon and if this is what gets Scott’s hopes shot then I can’t say I completely blame him. But again I don’t know that this is a failure of anarchism so much as it is a failure of the “general public’s” lack of genuine interest into what the state is, what anarchism and so on. I’m not saying that with this things would magically be better (there’s no silver bullet for me and same goes for Scott I’m sure) but I think it might lead to improvements because I think people would start realizing how messed up the state is.

What history of this do we have happening? Plenty. For one thing when the Vietnam War was found out to be a fraud and the raft denounced more or less as slavery by the New Left and the libertarian movement at the time this led to huge protests against the government. The Watergate scandel led to more mistrust of government, as did the Contra incident under Reagan, the scandel with Bill Clinton made the “mystique” of the leader of the state fade away into a joke for a time and the primaries in the 2000s between Bush and Gore showed how rigged the system was to plenty of people. None of these things of course got us to anarchism and it’d be silly to think they ever will. But cumulatively these things can (and do) add up to further and further mistrust of the state until people get tired of the whole thing and start building things on their own. These things don’t even necessarily have to be explicitly anarchist to have a real benefit for society and I’m sure Scott will agree that the more control people have over their own lives the better. But of course there comes the kicker: I say they need much more control than Scott seems to think they need.

Let’s move on to Scott’s principles.

Addressing (some of) Scott’s Principles


I’m not interested in taking on all of Scott’s positions because we do actually have quite a bit of similar goals. But again it’s to the degree that we differ in our ends that really matters and in some cases our means are different from each other. Let me start however by where I agree (more or less) with Scott:

.For example,I view society as always having a certain amount of unavoidable debate and conflict.This leads to the conclusion in my mind,that we can never eradicate the right for example and that there is never any final victory for socialism or anarchism or any political philosophy.
Furthermore as already mentioned, my pragmatism simply means I do not believe in apriori ahead of time blueprints of a best society nor how to achieve it.This is all being worked out in a comparative global dialogue and debate which never ends.

“cooperativism” by which I mean I am in favour of democratic institutions which can operate on more local scales and be more inclusive.These include co-operatives of all kinds,mutual banks, Friendly Societies,credit unions etc.

“market socialism,” by which I mean I favour more local cooperative institutions such as Mutualism propose

“social democrats are too moderate,too pro-capitalism.”What I mean is they are too uncritical of the faulty values inherent in the system of Capitalism as an embodiment of those values.They do not favour democracy enough in some cases and favour a bureaucratic top down technocratic society.

All of these I either agree with Scott on for the most part or the disagreements are just small enough for it not to really matter. There are a few things that I’m neutral one which isn’t to say I don’t have things to say on them but that I’d rather focus my attention on other things. Here are those things I’m going to stay neutral on (and again not for a lack of having anything to say about them but simply feeling the need to): “democratic socialism”, “green politics” and “Marxist thought”.

Finally I do have things to say about Scott’s “Reformist” values and his idea that “anarchists are extreme and unreasonable” I’ll now take a good chunk of time in trying to argue against these values or ideas in the hope that Scott will at the very least question them in their veracity. I don’t have a huge hope of somehow convincing him but I do hope to stir up the pot a bit so to speak and hopefully get him questioning his presumptions. I know he certainly got me to do the same on my own (to one extent or another) on matters of atheism and anarchism before and with these recent posts so I think the same can be done for him from me. Let’s see what happens.

Disagreements: “Reformist”

Scott describes the reformist value as just a value that doesn’t seek a “revolution” and he elaborates by saying,

While I do not believe the Whig view of history with society steadily improving, I do seem some improvements in current society over past societies.I believe this is the best we can hope to achieve.I see a complete overthrow of the current system as unlikely to occur and near impossible to achieve(especially in a peaceful manner)

I don’t think the dichotomy Scott sets up here is very fair because it excludes what I’d call a “gradualist revolution” from the equation. This, for me, takes the best ideas of revolution (a militant idea that something must be done as soon as possible to change things) and the best ideas of gradualism (but we must make sure the right time is picking with care and precision) and it’s something I support. I know that it looks like the two are irreconcilable but I think that’s a mistake and I’d instead suggest that the idea of revolution and the idea of gradualism can actually compliment each other pretty well.

I say this because a revolution of values, of existing structures and so on can be a gradual process at the same time. As Proudhon said,

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State.

-Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

This is clearly a gradual process of change but through a very radical and dare I say it…revolutionary lens of what society must become if we are to keep progressing in the world. The dissolving, submerging and disappearing of the political or governmental systems in place is certainly a revolutionary end but it’s done through gradualist lens or means of reducing, simplifying and decentralizing as well as suppressing bit by bit (or “one after another”) “all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State”.

I think that such a strategy would’t necessarily need violence (or at least certainly not as much as directly confronting the state as the French or American revolutionaries did) but it may require self-defense. And so the revolution probably won’t be entirely peaceful or be entirely violent. But of course Scott will just say it doesn’t matter what it is because it’s not going to happen because these aims and ends are unrealistic.

First, it should be remembered that these aims and ends are a process and no anarchist who undertakes such an idea of progress thinks for one second (unless they’re fantasizing) that it’ll all happen at once or that it’ll even happen in their lifetime, should they be living now. With those expectations out of the way you certainly then would want to dissolve, submerge, suppress and otherwise thwart the values of the state and counter with your own values in your own social-relations. Another good way to think of it is this:

The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.

― Gustav Landauer

The process then is gradual while the aims are revolutionary.

Second, how will this work in practice? How do we create these alternative relations with others? Well again, here’s where my convergence with Scott in his so-called “pragmatism” come into play. I agree that there’s no a priori way we’re gonna do this or that there’s some magic bullet or that somehow the movement will constantly win win win the whole way through without a hitch. No, the process will be messy (as life tends to be more generally speaking anyways) and the end result may not be what I even want it to be. That being said I do think if we take time and care to choose our tactics wisely (such as agorismn, direct action, dual/counter-power and education) then we might just have a chance.

Third (and finally), this may still be too vague for most people. Perhaps they have no faith or hope in these strategies I’ve laid out or talked about before or the principles I hold so dear (Liberty, Equality and Solidarity) and perhaps my assurances that all of this is for the betterment of mankind is in vain. Perhaps after all of this they are not convinced of the whole thing and decide that, in the end, the state is the ultimate end. What then? Well the best I can hope for is that through the way I choose to live my life and in as much as I live out my principles and it benefits me and others around me that I care about that they’ll be compelled to at least give it a try. At a personal and emotional level I hope the same happens with Scott because I, again, feel like you can be an even better person with the right direction guiding your good-intentions. This isn’t to say I’ll somehow do all of the good in the world and Scott won’t do any (and it indeed could end up being the opposite when all is said and done) but just that I think certain principles have an easier time getting you to self-improvement and improvement of your environment then others.

Let’s move on to more of his reformist values or ideas:

There is resistant to change as it is with reform, so there would be violence opposition to revolutionary change.This is likely to come from those who are vehemently hostile to the anarchist project.

Well first off this assumes that the revolutionary change must be all or nothing or happen over-night or happen without considering those who are in the society at present. I think we’re both in agreement that any such revolutionary strategy would be a DOA sort of thing an so I certainly don’t suggest such a tactic any more than Scott does. Instead, I once again suggest to Scott that by changing our every day social-relations (where we have the most impact of course) and trying to make them as anarchistic as possible we are, in our every day lives, pushing against the state. This is a very important point and I don’t think it’s really necessary to see why this is practical because it’s probably the most practical strategy possible. Why do I say that? Because everyone believes in this strategy. Scott believes as much when he said earlier that,

The reason I call myself a pragmatist in politics is that I do not believe the end goal of a better society can be known ahead of time and neither than the means to achieve such a society be known except as we go along and figure within the reciprocal relationship what ends and means to work for.

In other words those “reciprocal relationships” are the same interpersonal relationships that I’m talking about and the same sort of relationships anyone suggests if they want change. They first want to test their values in their inter-personal relations to see if it’s even tenable in such a decentralized situation and of course if it’s not then it’ll hardly work on the group scale let alone the scale of a small community or higher.

My experience has been that my values are not perfect (what a surprise!) but they seem to work just fine with most people I engage with. They’re always going to be mixed but my anarchist values have never really damaged an important relationship in my life and usually increases the value I derive from my relations with other people. On this basis alone I can say that I’ve felt comfortable enough to take it to a larger level which is a small group.

The basic principles of anarchism are based on voluntarism, equality of authority, freedom of association and liberty of the individual (which necessarily translates into the liberty of collectives). How have these values worked for me in small groups? Again, mixed results. It heavily depends on the people I’m dealing with but on the average I seem to be able to find people who (consciously or not) largely accept these values and aren’t even anarchists. This seems to suggest to me that everyday anarchy does exist if only in a minimal and unconscious way most of the time.

Apart from that I’ve only had three times when I’ve had the chance to apply these principles among a small community which was Porcfest 2009-2011 which really helped me see how an anarchist community might function and organize. Yes, a lot of the people there were minarchists or anarcho-capitalists but for the week (or a little bit less) that these events lasted there were hardly any big disputes or rights (that I’m aware of) that weren’t taken care of. The community came together for three years in a row (last year having over 1,000 people!) and seemed to really flourish from my perspective and largely based on a lot of values I hold.

So again, I think the practical side of anarchism isn’t really that much up for debate, at least not in my own life. I don’t think the values are perfect or somehow can’t be improved or something like that but I think that overall they’ve worked for me and my life and I’m certainly willing to defend principles that have led to so much self-improvement and fulfillment. And so if the strategy is, as I’ve outlined it, a very inter-personal and bottom up strategy it seems as if Scott and I have more in common than he’d like to admit (or maybe just that he has seen) and that it’s mostly how far we want to push our principles that is the real difference here.

The last bit for the reformist values is this:

Anarchism seems to assume a guaranteed level of values which will always remain.This is very unlikely.There is no guaranteed values,they must always and everywhere be fought for.There is no guaranteed successes, no irreversable achievements.It’s all up for grabs and all in need of being bought for.At the same time,there is aspects of political society which are in certain cases considered beyond debate in reasonable circles such as the very existence of the NHS in the UK.

I’m not sure why Scott believes this (and he doesn’t explain why he believes it either or why anarchists must necessarily believe it, further muddying the waters for me) but I completely agree that (if anarchists believed this) it’d be a very untenable position. Thankfully anarchists don’t assume that there must be some guaranteed level of values forever more and most (from my experience or if you’d prefer just speaking personally…) seem to think that society will keep improving past anarchism and it’ll keep going on and on. Progress doesn’t stop just because we think it should or because we’ve had ourselves a “victory” of sorts of the state. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance as Thomas Jefferson famously said and that means that we must never stop moving forward.

On the other hand it does mean while we’re going forward to keep an eye on certain principles and keep them in mind as we go along. For me those principles are the principles of liberty (that is, liberty of the individual), equality (equality of political authority and decision making), solidarity (a culture of mutual-aid and networked support when needed) and that keeping an eye towards these things, while it certainly doesn’t ensure success makes it quite a bit likely. But I don’t think that these values are ever going to be guaranteed or that they’ll last forever. It will be a sad day indeed when humanity can’t think of a single way forward past where we were and I simply don’t think such a time will ever come. I feel as if my comrades will agree with me here and thus you’ve strawmanned us.

Lastly Scott says,

To simplify: I do not consider revolution necessary,desirable or achieveable.

I’ll try to take this on each part at a time:

1. Necessary – Yes, a revolution is necessary but why? Well we both agree the current state of affairs are horrible and not worth keeping and it is only through keeping a revolution of sorts in mind (at least!) that we keep on wanting to change it and change it some more. The whole concept of a revolution is changing the fundamentals/essentials/nature/core of the currently existing system and replace it with something else. You and I both agree that the current system is far from ideal (and I’d say things much stronger than that but I’ll bite my tongue for now) but we obviously disagree on what’s necessary to change it. But I’ll try to make a quick case for you why revolution is necessary.

If we’re both against the current way of doing things then suffice it to say one of the least helpful things will be to try working within the existing paradigm of values and thoughts that run counter to ours and try to make such people better. What might be more helpful is starting where we can get some support (for me its other anarchists and single issue groups and for you its probably something similar minus the anarchist and put in your most favorable group). The reasons why we wouldn’t want to work within the current paradigm of values and ideas are pretty simple: we’re against them and running with them while trying to change them simply isn’t a good way of doing about change. Instead we need to focus on agreements we already have (whether single issue or more broad or nearly the same in political identity and so on) that way we don’t undercut our own values in our pursuit to see our values get out there and better society. This takes a revolution of ideas and thoughts eventually when you get down to it and simply trying to change the current of the stream that runs counter to our desires from the get-go I feel makes us stand on less firm ground to make substantial actions. We’ll be too busy trying to focus on reforming the “other’ then focusing on ourselves and those we care about. And such an approach doesn’t seem that practical to me.

2. Desirable – If we want to change society then it seems awfully desirable to have a huge change in values and ideas. Indeed, this is actually a point you’re constantly making against the anarchist and why you’re so skeptical of our position to begin with. You realize that the ideas we have and the ideas that are most popular in society are constantly at odds with each other and trying to resolve this conflict is impractical. But again, you misunderstand the anarchist position. We’re not trying to end the conflict of human values and ideas in society but rather let this conflict be free and harmonious insofar as it is a peaceful exchange of ideas within the context of mutually-beneficial and voluntary arrangements. To do this we have to uproot society from where it stands and if you thought such a radical change was necessary then you’d think (as I do) that revolutionary ends are the best hope moving forward. They’re certainly not the only one and nor are they perfect by any means but I merely contend they’re one of the best and nothing more.

3. Achievable – This is the kicker of course and something I probably can’t convince you of. If I haven’t convinced you by now then I’m unsure how I can ever really convince you of the case of anarchism or anyone else in your particular situation. But that just further convinces me that I need to achieve as much anarchy in my own life as possible and keep striving towards that. Only by doing that can I make it seem like a revolution is not only necessary, desirable but it is also achievable.

“Anarchists are extreme and unreasonable”

Scott says,

What I mean by this is that they are too unwilling to seek to improve the political system that already exists.

This is a true statement…but only to a point and really depends on what Scott means by trying to “improve the political system that already exists”. For example, some anarchists I know voted for Ron Paul here in America because they thought if he got elected he could repeal the drug war, end the wars and so on and so forth. Now Scott and I both probably agree that this was a pipe dream but they certainly wanted to try to improve the political system as it already exists…just within the political system itself. But of course all anarchists seek (to one extent or another) to improve the lot of society within the political system of government that exists right now outside the system and I’m unsure how Scott could deny this. Indeed, Scott actually admits that this isn’t the case later on:

I was unfair in saying all anarchists do is act as skeptics.I forgot to mention the innumberable ways they improve the lives of the worst off in the here and now.I commend them for that.

(emphasis mine)

So Scott simply can’t say this is why he thinks that anarchists are unreasonable and so on because he even admits that it isn’t true himself! Obviously there’s a difference between seeking betterment in the here and now through the political system or against it but either way anarchists do seek to change the political system. It’s just a matter of whether they want to do so within it or outside it and cause it to cave-in like that. Kevin Carson has even outlined a sort of “political” program for anarchists so maybe that’ll give you more confidence in our abilities to want to help people in the here and now.

I’ll move on to this,

While I admit how horrible the status quo is that need not imply it is inherently so.I consider that anarchists may have confused a lack of democracy up to now with the idea of the inherent injustice of statism.

There’s no confusion going on here from the anarchist’s point of view. We don’t see the lack of democracy (read: people’s control over their own lives) as a bug in the current design of the state but a feature. We think that the state is rooted in moral illegitimacy through the money it takes, the people it kills, the indoctrination it does to children and so on and so forth. These have always been features of the state and were always intentionally created for the benefit of the state. So anarchists don’t see it as a bug that a lack of democracy is in the system but a feature. Again, this comes from the anthropological aspect of anarchism from people like David Graeber, Franz Oppenheimer, Harold Barclay, James C. Scott and others. We didn’t just “make up” the idea that the lack of autonomy in government is a feature but got it from several different people who have come up with various similar conclusions: the state is historically illegitimate as it is presently and forevermore illegitimate.

We can certainly dispute whether this is true or not but you can’t dispute (at least in my mind) that the anarchists have some pretty good evidence on their hands from multiple sources that point towards you seeing the state as ultimately legitimate as wrong-headed.

Next, I want to address what you say here,

I see the state as merely an organization which brings together society for collective decisionmaking(Politics) and enforces those decisions.

This definition flies in the face of the definition I laid out before (“a community of people who have successfully managed to claim a monopoly on force (or violence) within a geographical territory.”) and Scott doesn’t even try to defend his position on why the state should be defined as such as opposed to my definition which I find a bit troubling. Not only that, but the definition is non-historical (as I’ve already pointed out through the uses of Weber, Oppenheimer, Scott, Barclay, Graeber, etc.) and therefore doesn’t have any legitimacy either way.

The state isn’t an organization that brings society together it’s a community of people that declare that they have the authority over the rest of the community of people and says they claim as much for their own betterment and security. The enforcement of such decisions is part of the monopoly on violence that this community of people (“state”) have over the geographic region that they exist in and is a fundamental part of what constitutes the state. But thinking of it in such narrow terms like this is not only non-historical and flying in the face of the classic Weberian definition but, again, there’s no real reason that Scott gives why we should prefer this definition over the other one I’ve made with the backing of people like Weber and company.

So even if we could accept Scott’s definition (for whatever reason) we have no real good reason to, at least, as of right now. I’m open to hearing Scott out and seeing why his definition is somehow superior to my own but for right now I’m simply not seeing how such is the case.

Next up is this:

I consider anarchism unreasonable not because of it’s belief in a stateless society (though I will come to that in short order) but because in it’s seeking such a goal it tends to ignore problems which are occurring now.A stateless society is an abstraction when we need quick and thoughtful ideas on minimizing global warming NOW.

Well this has already been dealt with and as I’ve already pointed out Scott later contradicts himself when he says,

I was unfair in saying all anarchists do is act as skeptics.I forgot to mention the innumberable ways they improve the lives of the worst off in the here and now.I commend them for that.

(emphasis again my own)

So I’ll just leave it to Scott to explain this for me.

Scott next talks about why he thinks the belief in a stateless society is unreasonable (because he questions how possible it is to get there and whether it’s possible to ever have a non-state like entity to begin with…though those sounds like the same claim only slightly reworded to me…but whatever )and recaps his case for the first part as such:

But to recap, I question how possible it is to overthrow the state, wage labour,bosses,landlords,the capitalist market economy and the like in one strike.

I think this quote of Scott’s is more proof he’s not actually too well read on anarchism and I don’t mean that as an insult I just mean that as a neutral observation. I say that because the only people who might actually think like this and who would consider themselves anarchists are insurrectionists and even them I’m not sure they’d say as much but maybe. Outside of that who is Scott referring to? Different anarchist schools of thoughts have different strategies (and some don’t even think an overthrow will even ever happen or needs to happen to begin with!) and so this certainly isn’t a position I’m well aware of that’s even remotely widely held. It’d be nice if Scott could source his claims or try to back them up with some references to why he has this idea of anarchism but until then I can only suggest that he do a bit more research before making claims like this.

Although I’d like to add that even if Scott can find some sources to back up this position I see no reason why or how such a position must necessarily speak for the anarchist in general. Perhaps there’s some school of anarchist thought (besides the insurrectionist or syndicalist with the general strike) that believes this but if there is I’ve never seen it in my few years of being an anarchist and reading about it. I’m open to being proven otherwise however.

For what it’s worth I know that personally speaking I don’t think it’s possible to do all of that in one strike because (as I’ve already mentioned) I don’t believe in magic bullets against whomever. Also, not all anarchists are even against all of those things in a normative or would use violence against such institutions. I’m not sure if that makes them illegitimate anarchists in Scott’s opinion (though I’m unsure how much they’d care what he thought if he doesn’t even consider himself an anarchist to begin with but that’s another matter either way) but either way not only is Scott’s position here a strawman of…well most of the anarchists I know but it’s based on certain oppositions that one doesn’t even necessarily have to have to be an anarchist in my humble opinion.

So again, I don’t find Scott’s reasons very compelling to even be skeptical of anarchism let alone disregard it as a viable political philosophy and its ends as desirable.

But I’m not about to for a second discount my friend Scott, I know he has much more to say on this so I’ll continue to hear him out:

It seems so highly unlikely to happen or be achieveable that I see no reason to throw my weight behind supporting it and it’s this that others believe about anarchism too.If you believe bosses are inferior to how you wish them to be then you seek to reform.I see it as almost inconceivable to eradicate them completely ,though I do share that as a distant ideal e.g. Co-operatives with workplace democracy and worker self management.

Well, a few things in response to the first sentence.

I agree with Scott that that’s unlikely to happen or be achievable…but then that doesn’t matter since that idea Scott talked about isn’t one I’ve really ever seen among the anarchists. It’s more about building up a bottom up gradual change in society with revolutionary ends and through radical means. That can take many different shapes under many different sizes and among many different flag colors (if you like that sort of things) and so the characterization given by Scott here is certainly unfair in my opinion. It basically boxes the anarchist in a small area of tactics (when it actually belongs somewhere much larger) and then points out the obvious: that the box is too small! The anarchist is probably inclined to agree with you Scott but that’s only because you have put them there to begin with.

Anyways, my apologies to Scott if that’s overly-belaboring the point but I just want to make it clear where I stand on that and where I think a lot of other anarchists would stand as well.

The second part about how Scott see it as “almost inconceivable to eradicate them completely” in relation to things like bosses and so on is also (another) a strawman of the anarchist position. We don’t want to “eradicate” (Scott’s choice of terminology here makes it sound like we want to kill them…and again besides some of the insurrectionists I’m not sure who wants that or if even they would actually do that should “the time come” for it) all of the rulers. I’m not so sure bosses will ever disappear and a lot of the more left-ward anarchists I’ve seen typically admit that people might still be bosses even in their ideal world and people might submit to them even with the alternatives present but that they find that unlikely. I tend to agree with them myself being a left-libertarian and all but I don’t think that means bosses are going to go away. It’s more like they’re going to be heavily de-emphasized in a truly freed society, or at least my ideal conception of it.

Next up Scott says,

I see all of the above* as so deeply embedded within society that a clean break between the current system and an anarchism system is such a large break that it is unlikely to be achievable and unlikely to be favoured.

(*By “all of the above” Scott means “…the state, wage labour,bosses,landlords,the capitalist market economy and the like…”)

Again, you think a break from all of these things is “unlikely” but that doesn’t mean much all by itself. What reasons do you think these things are so deeply embedded in society? Because people want these things? The only way this could be a good argument against anarchism is that if you could somehow prove that these things like the state, bosses and so on are actually somehow uniformally desired by the society but not only can you probably not prove that but it’s obviously false.

The sheer fact that people can realize that these things aren’t the best things for them in this current society and have as long as this society has existed shows that there will always be people who disagree with this idea and will dream of a better world and will constantly work towards it. Maybe that new world will never happen and maybe (at best) the amount of how much this stuff is embedded in today’s society and seen as necessity will become further and further reduced as time goes on. And if that’s all I can get then perhaps that’s something all by itself worth struggling for.

But besides all of that the major reason why you think the break is unlikely is because you have a misperception about what the break is to begin with from the viewpoint of the anarchist. So even if what I wrote above is wrong or not good enough for you your position still isn’t that tenable due to other more problematic things that have already been pointed out.

Even slower “builing within the shell of the old” tactics cannot wipe out the existing
system merely compete with it.

Well actually the competition itself is supposed to eventually make it so those competing institutions and associations gradually replace the currently existing ones due to the masses realizing more and more the lack of necessity of the state and its exploiting cohorts. Whether it can do this or not is something that’s still to be determined but it seemed to do the trick when it was tried in Catalonia when the proper revolutionary spirit had already been fostered for quite a while. It certainly wasn’t perfect or anything like that but the general IWW idea was more or less used so that a new society could be built within the shell of the old.

At very best,as is my goal, they can hope to dominant side by side with it and prove more popular. As such I do not consider the “shell of the old” slogan to be contrary in any sense to my goals.It is a reformist slogan to me.

Well it may be that way to Scott here but he’s wrong in his interpretation of how the IWW’s even themselves meant it. The IWW wanted to build new worker’s associations within the shell of the then-existing capitalist economy so that they could eventually overthrow it. This is clearly a revolutionary end and though it’s done through gradualist lens that makes it nonetheless revolutionary in my eyes.

Now I want to address why Scott thinks there is a lack of a chance of a stateless society going to happen. He tells us that he used to see a stateless “…would involve a community coming together to decision on a course of action then implementing it.I favoured direct local democracy with as wide an inclusion as is humanely possible.” and I’m certainly not against such a vision of anarchism for what it’s worth. But what Scott says next is puzzling to me,

Regardless of the fact that this is more democratic,vastly less hierarchical and vastly egalitarian it is nonetheless a state!
How so? While this democracy would allow for disagreement and aim to resolve conflict it may at times not be possible i.e. regardless of the modifications to a proposal a person or group still may not agree with it.Now in the choice of whether to built a new hospital or not, both cannot be done.
Some group or individual is going to be dissatisfied and have a choice which is not there own carried out.

I simply don’t understand how not everyone being happy with the decisions the organizations they are a part of makes something a “state” because that’s what Scott seems to be suggesting here. I don’t know how organizations that basically…act like organization (i.e. in non-perfect ways) somehow make them a state in any sense of the word that’s been used by anyone…ever. So Scott has to explain to us how the fact that democracy wouldn’t solve every single problem in the world somehow makes the organizations that have this direct democracy a “state”. Suffice it to say whatever “critics” Scott is talking about certainly don’t understand how a state works or what it looks like and I’m displeased that Scott would buy such a ridiculous argument.

Furthermore, I’ve already argued for a fairly typical conception of the state in sociology and in politics and Scott has done nothing thus far to even try and rebuke this definition of the state and put forth his own. He said earlier that he doesn’t think the definitions are very important but I once again must disagree and say that this is exactly what happens when we take a non-precise approach to a debate like this. Definitions are important to help us explain an identify what we’re even talking about to begin with and I simply don’t understand what Scott is talking about or how it has any relevance to any coherent theory of what a state looks like.

Even within the glorious grassroots direct democracy of the Occupy movement this type of thing occurred ,as I can personally attest to.For organizations this is not so bad, any member(s) are free to leave if unhappy.But for a society,that’s just not possible and so you are forced to put up with what has been chosen.

Wait, why is this so? Why does Scott simply assume people must “put up with what has been chosen” in an anarchist society? Even in today’s society where you a part of, let’s say a book club, that you don’t like you’re free to leave it and it may not always make you happy (so does that make the book club a state…?) and join another book club that may be competing for members. What is wrong with this scenario? What makes this a “state-like” situation? There’d be plenty of options for the person in an anarchist society so I just don’t see why the person who is unhappy must be “forced to live with it”. They can obviously just vote with their feet and move to another community because, after all, anarchism doesn’t prescribe for only one community in it and I’m not sure why Scott would seemingly assume as much.

Anarchism, as I understand it, would be advocating a wholly decentralized society right down to the individual and then right back (from the bottom up) to neighborhoods, communities, townships and so on. I doubt anything larger than a big town would really be necessary but there’s no way to be sure until we get there of course. But not matter what the size is I think there’d be plenty of choices to be had so one wouldn’t be just simply SOL when it came to organizations or communities that would happen. It’s even more baffling to me because (although to a much lesser extent) the same choices exist even now so why Scott thinks they’ll just be de facto forced to choose what they don’t want is even more confusing.

Continuing on,

You may ask well why do we have to go with a majoritarian model.Can’t we have an unanimous one? Well in some cases but even in localized cases it can break down.On a large societal wide scale it just would not work.The two sides in a question of war could never resolve their differences.There is a large number of questions like this that would never be sorted out and decisions have to be made somehow.

Somehow I’m not impressed by Scott’s “scathing” intellectual process here to be wholly convince that “human relations are hard and thus we need a state to make them easier” because if history is any indicator (and it typically should be) then the state, as a centralizer and an organization that abstracts relations between people it typically makes things tougher for people and not easier. That said, I’m sure that alone won’t convince Scott otherwise so I’ll say quite a bit more about this I suppose.

First off, yes, social-relations can break down…but so what? This point by itself doesn’t prove anything except (once again) things aren’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean we need a state (and it doesn’t mean we don’t need a state either of course but Scott’s obviously trying to prove that we do so he should be making a stronger case then just stating a problem and automatically going to the state) so what exactly is the point of pointing this out for Scott?

Second, Scott says that, “On a large societal wide scale it just would not work.” but he never even defines what he even means by that or why this is (again proving why definitions are important…) or gives us good enough reason to believe such a thing. So if things can break down in one on one relations does that mean one on one relations can’t work in small decentralized groups? Small communities? Big communities? Clearly not. Just because things don’t work perfectly doesn’t mean things can’t eventually work themselves out among the masses. I can’t tell if the reason why Scott thinks otherwise is just a lack of faith in people or an artificially high amount of faith in the state. Either way he gives me no good reason to think this and I can think of at least a few reasons off the top of my head why this isn’t true either way (though that depends on what Scott means by “a large societal wide scale” to begin with).

For one thing, what “a large societal wide scale” if it refers to something like the size of a nation/country, state or even a city or city-state isn’t obviously the point of anarchism to begin with. We’re not trying to basically rebuild back up the state-controlled society we just disbursed down to the individual, we’re looking to build back up self-organizing communities that organize around the principles of decentralism, equality of authority, voluntarism and others. This would obviously preclude any sort of “large scale” attempt at enforcing some uniform way of organizing on society since we, as anarchists, want a plurality of values, legal institutions and so on.

For another thing, again, looking back in history we can certainly see that to one extent or another there have been communities that to one extent or another have existed and functioned. If these don’t meet Scott’s standards of “a large societal wide scale” (and they probably don’t) I’m still not really worried because his standards may just not be something I, as an anarchist, am too interested in meeting to begin with.

Finally, Scott says that a “number of these questions” would never be resolved (though never explains why that is…) and thus a decision must be made (again implying a state is necessary) but this falls under the same problems as before. The statements by themselves simply aren’t enough in of themselves to prove that anarchism isn’t workable or that we need a state (or that we don’t) these are just problems that people have always been wrestling. That doesn’t mean they can’t be solved and it might just mean that the way of trying to solve these problems (like the state) could’ve been the problem all along. I’m not gonna make a huge case about that being the case here but merely suggest that at best Scott is just stating an obvious problem that the anarchists agree is an issue (i.e. human relations) but it’s not like we have no answer to it.

Let’s now return to more of Scott’s opinion on people’s role in organizations in anarchism,

So in returning to my point, someone or some group is going to have a decision forced on them that they did not directly consent or agree to except by their agreement ,acceptance and involvement in the procedures of decisionmaking(this is not meant to imply a comparison with voting in represensative democracy).This shows that the sense in which government is a monopoly on enforcement of decisionmaking cannot be avoided.If a decision affects the society in which you live,even if you disagree you cannot remove yourself from being involved in the consequences of the decided result of that decision making.

So again, we just have a lot of question-begging from Scott about why any of this is. Why would someone have a decision forced on them? Can they not vote with their feet? Does the organization in the anarchist society somehow have a monopoly on decision making? How? Wouldn’t that completely contradict anarchism’s intentions? How did it get there to begin with? Why can it not be gotten rid of? And so on on and so on. Simply put a lot of Scott’s problems with anarchism should be much more laid out and well-defined if he hopes to actually make me start being worried about the the prospects for anarchism in the future let alone for it as a good political philosophy.

Addressing Scott’s Counter-Arguments

I just want to address one thing real quickly before we get started…

Anarcho-Capitalists have claimed the solution to this is competiting agencies of decision making yet all this would likely result in is a society of civil war ,of competiting privatized mini states

A few things:

1. Scott knows this already but just for the folks playing at home who aren’t aware, I’m not an anarcho-capialist. Thus I’m not gonna defend the statements here as per defending anarcho-capitalism or whatever.

2. I don’t think this is a specifically made anarcho-capitalist claim for starters. This is basic anarchist line that competing agencies over law or whatever would encourage more diversity in an anarchist society. Anyone from social-anarchists to anarcho-capitalists could talk about the benefits of having “competing agencies” pending on what they meant by that. Yes, I’m fully aware the social-anarchist would probably regard cooperation as superior to competition or whatever but they’re arrangement of many different cooperating agencies that give people more social power more or less amounts to the same thing in my view.

3. Even if I’m completely wrong about all of this, this is, suffice it to say a huge claim from Scott and probably requires at least a few sentences of explanation of why he thinks this is so. But yet again we find Scott just question-begging. Hopefully we get something more substantial in his counter-arguments.

Responding to Scott’s counter-arguments

For sake of clarity, I’ll be giving both what I said in my last post and Scott’s response. Although this will be adding a bit more content to this response (as if it doesn’t have enough already…) I feel like it’ll keep the context more precisely so it’s worth the trade off. Scott starts off with this,

Nick argues “We don’t care if anarchism is impossible or if it isn’t, what we care about is limiting oppression as much as we can. Now and forevermore.”
But if it’s impossible then it’s a naive goal to aim for.This is different from peace where we accept there will never be world peace but aim for as vast a reduction in violence as is possible.Anarchisms,like Nick aim for a society based on specific values.If that society is not achievable then it’s vain to aim for it.You can’t do it but don’t expect anyone to join you in it.
I too favour limiting oppression as much as is possible.I always have done regardless of my politics and though it is a hugely contested topic,I think most of humanity do too.

First, “But if it’s impossible then it’s a naive goal to aim for.” ignores the obvious idea here that anarchism is as much a means as it is an ends (if it’s an end at all that is) and that means that trying to get to anarchism through a process of anarchist-like means actually improves life as we go along. And thus even if anarchism is impossible it’s going to keep the same sort of pace that Scott mentions about peace. Namely that, “we accept there will never be world peace but aim for as vast a reduction in violence as is possible” which in anarchist terms would mean “we accept there will never be a world completely without rulers but we aim for a vast reduction in violence as is possible”. I’m (personally) pretty comfortable with such a goal even if it’s not what I’d ideally want. That aside, I do think the goals of anarchism are practical in the long (long long long…long…) run otherwise I’d find it hard to justify anarchism. But even if I didn’t I could imagine still finding pretty good reasons to justify accepting it as my political philosophy.

Next, “If that society is not achievable then it’s vain to aim for it.You can’t do it but don’t expect anyone to join you in it.” is something that I think (again) misses the point of seeing anarchism as much a part of a means as an ends. If we’re putting anarchism not only into the future but in the present and basing the present also on the past (to the extent that we don’t romanticize the past or get stuck in it or too dependent on it) then that means we’re going to get progressively better regardless of how impossible our final “end” (assuming there even is or if there was that it’s even desirable) actually is. I hope that all makes sense.

I’ll skip the next part since I already know that “I just question whether it can occur on a wide scale.” and move on to,

“I find that when people say that ideas like anarchism are “impractical” or “utopian” they really just means it’s such in regards to their own desires. For instance even the minarchists wishes to have some security or services provided by the state and thus desires (whether they realize it or not is inconsequential) some organization has power over others. Obviously these base desires are at their core fundamentally opposed to the basic desires of anarchists and so to the minarchist this just proves the “unworkability” of anarchism. In reality, all it proves is that the minarchist does not appreciate personal freedom as much as they’d like to think. This isn’t to insult the minarchist (though I’m fairly sure some may take it as such) but just to point out what I honestly think of the same situation.”

I see where Nick is attempting to go with this but it seems more like a mis-direction and insult than a valid argument.Anarchism is impractical to my desires because I approach politics from a different place.That’s not disputed.Here is ignored what I have said above, that power never ceases to exist just operates in different forms from dictatorship to direct democracy.Anarchism just favour what they claim is statelessness but’s more like the most idealistic optimistic naive democracy imaginable.

I want to address this first, “I see where Nick is attempting to go with this but it seems more like a mis-direction and insult than a valid argument.” I’d said directly in the quote that it wasn’t so much as an insult as a personal observation and furthermore it’s just one based on my own anarchist beliefs on what personal freedom is as compared to what minarchists believe. But sure, if Scott wants to take it as an insult I suppose he can take it as such but it’s more or less for me the truth. People who think they need the state but still say they support freedom and accuse others of being “naive” are hypocrites in my (obviously anarchist) opinion. I don’t think this is so much a “mis-direction” and an insult as much as it is my own personal observation and way of making a snarky response to people who call anarchists naive. It tends to grate on your nerves being constantly called “naive” when the person who thinks that probably thinks one of the most historically destructive organization can save us all.

Scott says, “Here is ignored what I have said above, that power never ceases to exist just operates in different forms from dictatorship to direct democracy.Anarchism just favour what they claim is statelessness but’s more like the most idealistic optimistic naive democracy imaginable.”

I don’t see how I’ve ignored there that power never ceases to exist and that it just operates in different forms (indeed in my previous blog post I explicitly say, “For anarchists the problem is not that power exists but that it is concentrated in the hands of the few at the detriment of the many. Anarchists see that power should instead be dispersed among the people and through this process it should displace those who are the rulers.”) and maybe I’ve ignored it here (as Scott is claiming) but I fail to see how that matters if I’ve recognized this elsewhere.

And actually I don’t think I have ignored it as I re-read it and I think Scott has simply mis-read me. I wasn’t claiming that just because the anarchist has a better position on personal freedom in comparison to the minarchist (in my view) doesn’t necessarily mean that I think the anarchist position is that “power ceases to exist” in an anarchist society. That doesn’t necessarily follow at all and what I instead meant was that I just see the position on power being much more widely dispersed (and hence accountable in my opinion) is much more preferable to the power-structures the minarchists support. And (again, in my opinion) the power-structures that the minarchist support (while significantly better and hence more preferable than almost most people in the world) is still too centralized and based on hierarchy and unnecessary bureaucracy and so on. But this doesn’t de facto make the anarchist position that “power ceases” in an anarchist society and instead it’s just what I stated in my previous quote that,

For anarchists the problem is not that power exists but that it is concentrated in the hands of the few at the detriment of the many. Anarchists see that power should instead be dispersed among the people and through this process it should displace those who are the rulers.

So I hope that clears things up.

“Similarly Scott does think (in summary from my own perspective) that the state is a much more reliable and secure way of defending the most disadvantaged from the evils of capital and modern-industry.”

I recognise it’s not perfect or even close.It’s certainly far from the ideal or even a minimally desirable society.We must work from the bad we have to something better.You can’t move from terrible to brilliant in one step.That’s not possible.Furthermore health ands safety regulations and laws against at-will-firing where they exist are vast improvements over their lack in the past.

And in fairness to Scott I will now formerly recognize that he recognizes this as well but I must disagree that “We must work from the bad we have to something better.” and that opposing the state means I must support the idea that you can “…move from terrible to brilliant in one step.That’s not possible.”. However, I’ve already gone out of my way to a pretty large extent earlier on to distinguish myself from such a ludicrous strawman that Scott constantly relies on in his post to denounce anarchism as a “practically useless” idea. Here, Scott is just doing the same thing again and since I’ve already dealt with this I won’t doddle on it anymore.

What I do want to address is the reformist idea (though it doesn’t necessarily have to be reformist…it’s just how it plays out like that with Scott in his particular conception of it) that “We must work from the bad we have to something better.”. Now to be clear I sort of agree with this idea generally speaking as a concept but I also disagree with how Scott specifically applies it.

I don’t think it’s really viable to work within a system that constantly promotes values and people that promote those values that undermine our own beliefs and trying to put them in practice. Doing such a process (especially for supposedly “long-term” solutions) just doesn’t seem like a practical solution for either Scott or myself or really anyone. In fact I’d suggest to almost anyone that parliamentary politics isn’t the way you want to affect change and instead it’s through community organizing, individual changes in your own life, in your small circles (family, friends, lovers, etc.) where you can really have a big effect. And even then the effect you’re gonna have (even in the long-term) might not be that much. Such being the case I have little to no hope in trying electoral politics, getting the “right” politician elected or getting the “right” policies put in.

But let’s take Scott on his own (highly theoretical…and that’s coming from an anarchist) grounds. Let’s say we get just the “right” candidate with the “right” policies in the “right” situation (and I hope it becomes as obvious to the reader as it does to me immediately how the chances of this alone happening is slim to none) what then? Do we try to get them elected? I guess so. But how long would that last? Even if all of the people in congress were these “right” people then you probably wouldn’t need congress/parliament and the same goes for the majority because that’d point to the culture being such that you can do pretty open and free community organizing in pursuit of your ends. So even if all of the right conditions for electoral political means to be efficient and work well that’d just mean the superior options (direct action, education, dual power, etc.) are all going to be that much effective.

How does it seem to fair otherwise? Well statistically speaking voting doesn’t seem to matter much. And I’ve done a series on the morality and practicality of voting before that I think addresses these concerns pretty well at any rate. As well as two articles which can be found here and here. So I’ve already talked about the impracticality of “working with what we’ve got”. And unless Scott is referring to something else besides relying on politicians to liberate himself from capitalism (and I have my doubts) then I think I’ve addressed this so-called “practical” strategy enough by now.

The last part is this,

You can’t move from terrible to brilliant in one step.That’s not possible.Furthermore health ands safety regulations and laws against at-will-firing where they exist are vast improvements over their lack in the past.

The first sentence is Scott trying to set up a dichotomy but it’s a pretty clearly false one. The choices aren’t either “work within the system or try to get what we want tomorrow!” and I think that’s clear for anyone to see wih just stating explicitly what Scott is doing here. Scott may think that somehow anything else is silly (but then he clearly says that moving in one step is silly so that wouldn’t make much sense either it seems to me) but if so he hasn’t proven it here (or elsewhere really…).

The second sentence is merely asserted without any proof but I suppose there’s good enough reason to believe it’s true without it being backed…but it’d still be nice. In any case he’s got no good leg to stand on even if he’s right. Sure, some things can get better under a state and certain things can be better underany system but that doesn’t make the system de facto legitimate. And to suggest it somehow is is a big leap in logic that I don’t think Scott can justify. There’s simply no good reason for me to believe that (even if Scott is right) that it means much besides the fact that the state eventually gives the proles and bourgeois some bread crumbs here and there for not revolting. Ok, so what does that prove? Not much if you ask me.

Taxation: Is it theft?

Here Scott and I go back and forth on the idea of taxation and whether it’s actually morally legitimate among other things. This is gonna be another big section so keep that in mind.

It starts off like this:

Scott: “The majority consider taxation to be justified, an acceptable price to pay for gov intervention.They do not view it as theft.”

Me: “How does Scott know this? Based on some of the Ramussen reports in the US I’ve seen (here, here and here) it doesn’t look that promising. Furthermore, what does he base this on? I know he lives in England so the Ramussen reports in the US don’t have much bearing perhaps where he lives but what about the riots in England? I’m pretty sure that shows “a little” discontentment with the establishment at large in some way does it not? And again, what does it matter even if Scott is right? Scott repeats the fallacy that many people who support the state does:”

Scott: “Most people you talk to will tell you this.It is a widely argued for point from statists.Furthermore it is generally demonstrated in action too.Except from libertarians and anarchists,there is no political opposition to taxation as a concept in of itself just opposition to KINDS of taxation or uses of taxes.”

These so-called ‘points” don’t prove anything. People believe in unicorns, a girl believed she was a vampire and others have believed they’re wear-wolves. The point being that these things by themselves don’t prove anything. Just telling me it’s theft or having millions of people tell me it’s not theft makes no moral difference. There’s no point in telling me that up is down and down is up when that’s simply not the case. You can point to a dog and tell me it’s a cat and a million other people can tell me that too but they’re gonna be wrong. So what I’m getting at here is that the truth is not as socially contextual as Scott wishes it was.

Now, that’s not to say that the truth of something doesn’t at all depend on social context or whatever. It’s just to say that truth isn’t so flimsy as to be based as much as Scott seems to be suggesting. Scott seems to think social-context is one of the most important (if not the sole indicator) of what determines truth. But the veracity of things doesn’t entirely just depend on social-concentions and can often be proven wrong over time. For instance the idea that the world was flat was held by millions of people but turned out to be pretty factually wrong as time goes on. But make no mistake about it: The veracity of something definitely relies on the context, environment and people around it and so on. But again I must stress that it simply doesn’t make 2+2=5…even if the party says it does and the proles believe them.

“Except from libertarians and anarchists,there is no political opposition to taxation as a concept in of itself just opposition to KINDS of taxation or uses of taxes.”

A lack of opposition doesn’t prove anything really. I’m sure on the plantations where the slaves were there weren’t slaves revolting all the time and times where it was “peaceful” and people were cooperative. Does that make slavery right? Let’s say that a plantation owner somehow gets his slaves to get accustomed to the hardships of the work and the environment in which it takes place and they get comfortable there. They stop protesting against the obvious moral wrongs that are being committed there…what then? What will Scott say to these slaves? That because they all seem to hol similar social-conventions and beliefs and don’t actively oppose the master they must support him? That it must be legitimate? Scott’s premises are absurd.

Not only that but Scott seems to be limiting the conception of people’s struggles to meet his own (in my opinion unrealistic) standards. Now, to be clear, I think it’s fine thinking some sort of lack of opposition counts for something but not how strong of a case that Scott is proposing here. Scott’s case here is simply too strong and amounts to, “because people don’t show active opposition to the current system” it is in some way legitimate. But even taking this out of the US and to where Scott lives in the UK I can think of evidence off-hand. For example the riots that took place against the government, the police and the system in general. Regardless of the means or goals by the various individuals who did something like that that’s some pretty damn active opposition even if it’s not very effective in correcting wrongs (or so it seems at any rate).

So Scott’s measurements fail either way.

Scott: “Theft is socially defined.Theft is only theft if it’s considered unjustified or unjustifiable. The “taxation is theft” argument misses the point that the majority do not see taxation as theft.”

Me: In point of fact it is Scott and other people like him who make (I’m sorry to say) prime facie ridiculous arguments like this that miss the point. The law of gravity doesn’t become null just because a bunch of people come together (or a couple hundred, or a couple thousand or…) and decide it is. You have to actually prove why it’s unjustified or whatever. You can’t just saying a group of people (who agree with you) ”

Scott: “The point has been missed. The law of gravity is something different from what it’s defined as by society.It’s based on repeated observation and prediction(though undeniably peoples perception of it influences how it is conceived of) Theft is a socially defined concept.If society at large does not consider it theft then it will not be viewed as such though of course they can be wrong and someone else can come along and make a stronger argument on why it should be seen that way. ‘Taxation is theft’ arguments have so far failed to achieve this.”

“The point has been missed.”

Pay attention to this line because Scott is going to constantly claim this without (in my opinion) actually giving enough time to trying to prove such is the case. He’s gonna be claiming it a lot so keep that in mind as I try to prove him wrong.

“The law of gravity is something different from what it’s defined as by society.It’s based on repeated observation and prediction(though undeniably peoples perception of it influences how it is conceived of) Theft is a socially defined concept.”

Wait, how does this make it different? Isn’t the idea that something is “theft” or not also based on repeated observation and prediction (to one extent or another anyways?)? How do they exactly differ? Does Scott mean to suggest that no observation or prediction goes into the defining of what property and theft are? Surely not. So what then? There seems to be no discernible case that can be drawn from this case as far as I can see it.

If they’re not different then Scott might be tempted to ask me, “how are they the same?” well my case isn’t that saying something is “theft” is the same as saying “that’s theft!”. One is more obviously observably than the other and thus subject to better predictions (hint: it’s not the “taxation is theft” argument) but that doesn’t make the other argument useless or completely dissimilar. If we look at the actions of governments and their agencies (for the US it’s the IRS, dunno what it is in the UK and I won’t look it up ’cause it’s just an aside anyways) and see how they do things if you refuse (aka they’ll seize your property, or shoot you or whatever) then we can see the whole thing is more predicated on the threat of force then not.

How many people does Scott think would actually pay their taxes if they didn’t have the threat of violence to compel them to? Don’t you think they’d spend it elsewhere to improve their own lives and others they care about? This makes any sort of “consent” prima facie suspect at best and at worst completely unreliable. But Scott may protest and say that the fact that people wouldn’t pay into the system just proves things like the “free rider program” but all it really proves is that people don’t like paying into systems that are too complex and bureaucratic to have them really aware of where their money is going.

The people who’d pay are the people who want the system to still do what it does and the other people (again) would most likely spend it for their own benefit and other people’s benefit. Why? Because this is typically what people do with their time to begin with or at least that’s what my experiences have pointed me towards. I’d actually be much more in favor of people choosing what policies they want to support with their own money rather than being forced to pay for it all with or without their explicit approval of what’s going on.

Scott may also object and say that the IRS has never actually used the threat of violence or force to back up paying taxation or there are no cases of this stuff actually happening. And even if Scott was right it wouldn’t matter because behind every law there is an amount of violence behind it to enforce it.

Now, that doesn’t make it de facto legitimate/illegitimate (which is why I’m not claiming taxation is illegitimate just because there’s violence involved) but it does raise suspicions in my mind (and others) about how genuine the so-called “consent of the majority” is actually being given. Again, just because violence is used in a process that doesn’t necessarily mean things are wrong. But it does point to a possible problem (which is all it really can do in my opinion…) which is that the consent involved in the process may be (to some extent or another) manufactured by the people who have the guns.

Extrapolating on “Manufactured Consent” via Gary Chartier’s “Conscience of an Anarchist”

There in fact is no way that consent can be satisfactorily proven. You can’t prove it through voting, immobility (not moving from the state’s supposed legitimate borders), “fairness” towards the state (or the other tax payers for that matter) or accepting state-based benefits. None of these things satisfactorily proves that the “citizen” has given any sort of meaningful consent to the state.

It’d take far too long for me to explain all of this is why (though Gary Chartier does it pretty well in “Conscience of an Anarchist” in the first chapter which is worth checking out) but I’ll try to briefly go through it using Gary’s logic as my basis.

1. Voting as Consent:

First off it’s not clear how voting in general for a position is going to be a clear case of consent to a state when you have a nation-state. In other words, you have such a complex system that the people under it hardly understand it or recognize all of its mechanisms or what they do or how they work and so on. This knowledge problem of course works both ways since the politicians and CEOs and other leads of highly centralized and bureaucratic and hierarchical organizations have a tough time dealing with all of the information that must be handled on a day to day basis.

Second, voting for one candidate as opposed to another is not a convincing basis to prove consent to the state. Plenty of people (as I’m sure Scott is aware) vote for “lesser evils” or vote because they feel “there’s no alternative” or whatever. But both of these positions (a pretty widely held position to some extent or another in my experience) certainly don’t seem to prove much of anything if anything at all. It certainly doesn’t prove that I want a band of thieves in my community just because I pick the nicer of the two candidates does it?

2. Immobility as Consent

Now Scott and others like him may claim simply not moving from the geographic area the state has under their control. But this argument fails too. For example, what does it prove exactly that I stay in Nashua NH with my grandmother as of now? Not much. Does it prove that I like the state being here or have consented to it? Did I get a state-license because I approve of the state? There doesn’t seem to be any necessary connection between these actions on one hand or the other.

In fact, if you looked at the student debt I have (which, although only is in the thousands is still pretty crippling for me since I am so poor without the support of my grandmother) you can see that I am more or less homeless and have no home to go to. I don’t stay in Nashua NH because I love the government of Nashua or of New Hampshire in general but because I lack the economic independence to do anything else. What do I need to do to get such independence? Get more involved in state programs like food stamps as well as get a job (which is typically from a corporation, a state-privileged organization among other things) and all of this makes it seem like I “like” current society. But does it prove it? I’m not convinced it does.

And even if I’m a minority case (though I have my doubts about such a proposition) and everyone (or even most everyone else) was different that wouldn’t prove the state is legitimate. Why? Because there needs to be some clear cut or at least somewhat clear case that the state has consent. But even if you can prove that (and I don’t think you can) so what? That doesn’t make the state legitimate, it could just as easily mean those people like and support the state because they’ve been tricked into thinking it does the best at providing services X, Y and Z. But of course because the state (as you admitted) in its present form prevents alternatives organizations existing through the various regulations, permits and other barriers to entry as well as perpetuating dangerous cultural norms about authority and power.

None of this proves that the state has some legitimate basis to create an obliation towards others to accept just by its mere existence or others explicit consent. And you saying “the majority accepts it so you should too!” just begs more questions than it answers them.

3. Consent as Required by Fairness

Instead of these two arguments perhaps you think that it’s simply not fair to withhold my taxes to the state. But why would this be? I’d argue (as Chartier has) that there’s no good reason to think as much. Sure, you might have some reasons here and there about social-context and whatnot but these don’t seem to really fly under the pursuit of truth for me and instead fall pretty flat. To see why such is the case here let’s consider for a moment the idea of trying to assume what’s under dispute, in this case it’s the state’s authority.

Saying it’s not fair for me to give consent because the majority have and, for example you might say something like, a “tyranny of the minority” is not better than the majority or that individual choices shouldn’t have so much effect on majority opinion and the work they’ve done and so on. But again, I must protest and say that the idea that the majority has actually consented is again being assumed here and as I’ve been saying I don’t think it’s been successfully been proven that people do consent to it.

As Chartier says,

And the argument assumes, again, exactly what it’s supposed to prove. If the state really were a cooperative enterprise in which we’d all chosen to participate, an if we’d consented to a set of ground-rules including majority rule, then it would be unfair to opt out of those rules just because they led to outcomes we didn’t like. But the question is precisely where we have agree to the ground-rules. Many of has haven’t.

4. Consent as Required by Accepting Benefits

The last argument I’ll take on that has to do with dealing with the so-called “consent of the governed/majority” is the idea that if we accept benefits from the state we have some sort of obligation (or put another way it’s only fair for us to obey it) to obey it (and consequently pay it taxes, etc.). But as Chartier says this argument “seeks to prove entirely too much”.

Chartier immediately knocks down the central reason for this claim being made (AKA proving the validity of the state and thus the validity of obeying its edicts) by saying that it really only proves (if it proved anything) that I have some sort of basis on the principle of fairness to pay for the services I am clearly benefiting from and using for my own benefit. That wouldn’t mean, for instance, that if I take those food stamps that I should somehow also be obligated to pay for the wars that are going on. Those are two different services for one thing and for another Scott would probably agree that it’s not exactly clear how I’m benefiting from the war as opposed to the food stamps.

Another problem with this argument is that it doesn’t even prove that I owe obligations to the state based on the food stamps. Why? Well as Chartier points out I have a pretty reasonable fear that if I don’t pay for the services I don’t want that my property may be seized or I might be thrown in jail or something else entirely. And based on that there’s no good reason for me not to take some benefits and not feel too guilty if I skimp on paying the state back because it’s more or less forcing me to pay for services that I don’t want to exist. I have no good reason to feel obliged to the state under this analysis.

And accepting those benefits as Chartier also points out doesn’t mean a necessary endorsement of the state either. Again, due to the problem of a possible manufactured consent from the state’s monopoly on violence and the use thereof on things such as taxation it’s not really clear that someone endorses the state just because they accept the benefits from the state. And as Chartier points out even if you do owe the state for “voluntarily” receiving benefits this would in no way clearly prove you have some sort of general obedience to the state.

Lastly, and, as Gary suggests this muddies the water even further, even if you do accept benefits and owe compensation to the state this wouldn’t make any sense. This is because the state isn’t the one that funds it (strictly speaking). It’s the taxpayers who pay for these services to be provided and so maybe (maybe) you owe them something (and those that pay the most especially) but this says nothing of the state which is what was contested about to begin with and not the taxpayer.

5. Possible other reasons for consent?

Although Gary doesn’t bring up any other reasons to deny the supposed “consent” of the governed he seems pretty convinced by now (as I am) that there’s simply no good reason to believe we owe some sort of obligation to obey the state. We simply have no good reason to think of our relationship to the state having to do with any sort of duty because there’s no clear (or eve somewhat clear) way of telling us that it has some legitimate basis to claim such an authority to begin with. So where does this lead us? Towards rebellion as best as we can do it. The rebellion might differ in grounding principles or through the various types of rebellion that happen and the end game that is desired but rebellion is nonetheless the only option. If the government has no real authority to say we have an obligation to obey them then we must seek our own duties and obligations (if they exist anywhere) elsewhere.

For some (like Scott maybe) this just means reformism (or “increasing democracy”) but for me it means having the fullest democracy possible. Scott, I’m sure, will object and say that it’s still a state but I think I’ve already demonstrated there’s no good reason to think that in general. And to add to that he certainly doesn’t give us a good reason.

Continuing on with the Discussion on Taxation and Other Issues

“If society at large does not consider it theft then it will not be viewed as such though of course they can be wrong and someone else can come along and make a stronger argument on why it should be seen that way. ‘Taxation is theft’ arguments have so far failed to achieve this.”

So reality depends on stronger arguments? I suppose that makes sense but then if that were true then I’d think the anarchists would’ve “won” by now. 😉

But in any event Scott is right to say this to some extent or another. But I’m not so sure the “taxation as theft” arguments have failed…and Scott doesn’t try to prove it here. But in this case I can’t complain because Scott actually did another blog post on this subject. I won’t (for the sake of both of our sanities) respond to this blog post. But I read most of it (and the links) and I’ll just say I wasn’t impressed and that I’ve heard these arguments (like I’ve heard Scott’s arguments) before. So they’re nothing new.

Also the “taxation is theft” argument can come from many different perspectives and angles and I don’t think Scott or the guy he links to three times does either. But no matter.

To continue,

Scott: “They do not see taxation as on the same level as a robbery of a bank or a mugging of your wallet despite analogies which make that comparison. They see taxation as taking wealth to pay for what they perceive as the benefits of government.”

Me: “Do all people consider all of the functions of government a benefit?”

Scott: Of course not. Hence why I argue for increased democracy.

Well sure, but that just points to the current illegitimacy of government which (thankfully) we can at least agree as much on. But even more than that my point was that it can’t be solved simply through trying to reform the government to be more “people orientated” (indeed a system based on ill-gotten privilege, wealth and so on can never be anymore “people orientated” then food from fast-food can be “health orientated”) and instead we have to uproot the whole system itself. If we’re gonna have more “people power” let’s go all the way eh? But I know you don’t think it’s gonna be “people powered” for one reason or another in any case.

Next Scott actually makes the “Consent as required by Fairness” argument:

Scott: “You could say well I don’t accept that. To the majority this is considered to be trying to free ride on government benefits while not paying for them.”

Me: “I couldn’t care less.”

Scott: – exactly why I am not an anarchist.You should care.It’s trying to get something for nothing, a concept anarchists and libertarians alike generally oppose.It’s like taking advantage.

This is pretty much the verbatim argument from “fairness” (and partially the arguments from benefits as well) and it fails as I’ve already pointed out. But what’s worth addressing here is his claim that “trying to get something for nothing” is something libertarian and anarchists are against. My reply would be that this assumes what is being disputed (a typical occurrence in trying to prove the state’s legitimacy in my experience). That is, Scott is assuming that I have some obligation to obey the state and give them my money and that if I don’t I should feel guilty even though that’s exactly what’s being disputed to begin with. Basically Scott is relying on a faulty (slightly rephrased) premise to try and make up for his faulty premise. It’s not a convincing type of argument logically speaking.

He says I’m “taking advantage” but of who? Certainly not of the ruling class who already have much more wealth then I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime and hardly follow their own rules if history is anything to be judged by. They clearly don’t feel any obligation to the rules or to follow them if they can get out of it, so why should I? I only don’t source those objections because I’m sure Scott will agree with me that the rich have the ability (and use it from time to time if not frequently) to “cheat” the system. But am I cheating the state? Well this concern has already been dealt with and I’m still not convinced I am. The taxpayer? Well maybe if their money was coming in voluntarily and it wasn’t a manfcatured sort of consent (at best) and I had agreed to the ground rules before hand in some meaningful way but neither can be proven in any clear way as I’ve pointed out multiple times so it can’t be them. Who then? It appears no one is being taken advantage of except me, Scott and everyone else by the ruling class.

Next up, Scott explicitly admits that the state will use violence against communities that try to operate outside its jurisdiction and try to get other people to join in direct competition with the state. This more or less admits the immorality of the state. If the state was such an obviously legitimate organization (at the heart of it) then it wouldn’t need to use force. But of course Scott says it wouldn’t be “necessary”. But let’s get to the quotes and examine that claim:

Me: “Well you may have no issue with that but what does that matter? Do you think government is going to just allow a separate community to try to be self-independent and want to extent this independence to other spheres?”

Scott: “No,they likely won’t.Though you’re free to attempt it.If there was more democratic participation this scenario could be avoided.”

First off, how “free” is someone who has a reasonable expectation that they’re liable to be killed if they attempt something? What sort of freedom is this? Scott in the past has talked about meaningful notions of freedom but where is such a notion here? Nowhere to be found it seems to me.

His second part is somewhat laughable to me as an anarchist. If it’s true that with more democracy states would stop trying to forcibly prevent people from being self-independent or starting up their own organizations that provides the same services that the state does then it has ceased to become a state in my eyes. Why? Because the state no longer has a monopoly on things like law, defense, roads and so on. If making it more democratic allows such a scenario to not be “necessary” then this either means that the state won’t use violence against seperatists. But it could also mean that people are so satisfied with this “new democratic state” that they don’t want to leave. Up until now I admit I was presuming the former but now I shall take on the latter approach.

On one hand this sounds at first glance to be a better situation but it’d very much contradict what Scott said earlier,

While this democracy would allow for disagreement and aim to resolve conflict it may at times not be possible i.e. regardless of the modifications to a proposal a person or group still may not agree with it.Now in the choice of whether to built a new hospital or not, both cannot be done.
Some group or individual is going to be dissatisfied and have a choice which is not there own carried out.

So it doesn’t seem like a scenario like I talked about in its base form (secession) would stop or there’d be any reason even according to Scott’s own logic so in both senses this argument of Scott’s either makes no sense or is actually a sort of pseudo-case for anarchism. This is because Scott is (more or less) expressing his appreciation and desire for a “state” in which such conflicts wouldn’t happen which would mean that states would more or less stop operating as they’ve always historically acted. Which would basically mean a sort of pluralism in communities that are decentralized, less based on bosses, rulers, capitalism and more based on the principles horizontalism, voluntarism, decentralism and direct democracy.

If that’s not anarchism then that’s gotta be something at least in the ballpark…

But enough of that, let’s get back to the “taxation” business…

Scott: “Theft is only considered theft if the taking is considered unjustified taking of someones stuff against there will but if the person whose being taken from consents and thinks it’s justified then it is.”

Me: “The problem with this idea is that concepts don’t just legitimately become another concept just because you want it to. You can try to rationalize the highway robber all you want but what he is is still what he is whether you try to picture him as a unicorn or not.”

Scott: Nick,you’ve again missed the point.If I take a cd from you without asking that can be considered borrowing and if later I ask you if that was okay you could say yeah sure,you’re fine with borrowing.Or I could take it and you could consider it theft.It’s all about perspective and how you define the situation and how convincing an argument can be made for the ethical claim.There is no inherent theft weaved into the fabric of reality like natural law theorists claim.That’s trying to objectify your beliefs onto the universe itself.

“Nick,you’ve again missed the point.”

Second time. Keep score now people.

“If I take a cd from you without asking that can be considered borrowing and if later I ask you if that was okay you could say yeah sure,you’re fine with borrowing.Or I could take it and you could consider it theft.It’s all about perspective and how you define the situation and how convincing an argument can be made for the ethical claim.”

The problem with “considering” certain things is (as Scott has previously admitted) that people can be wrong about their considerations. So, in this example Scott says if he takes something without my permission it could be considered “borrowing”…but that’s a perfect case of a consideration being wrong. If you take things without my explicit permission then I think almost anyone would agree that’s theft. But lest I be accused of using more or less your argument against the “taxation is theft” arguments I shall attempt to break it down a bit more than that.

So it’s more than just “a lot of people would reach the same conclusion” of mine. The methodology of reaching such a conclusion is also important and so I suggest we should go over that too. My own methodology here is that because the CD is mutually agreed to be mine to begin with (hence I own it) it is my item to exclude you from unless I say otherwise. But assuming I’d just let you borrow it is risky, especially if you don’t have any good reason to think as much.

In the situation given it’s not clear that you have a good reason to think I wouldn’t mind it. The fact that I didn’t think it was theft later on isn’t realistic because I probably would have considered it such. I’d expect you to respect my exclusionary privileges given to that CD and the fact that you did not give me such respect is liable for me to have feelings of being cheated or stolen from.

Finally, I don’t think it’s all about how strong of an argument you make. I’m sure people can make “strong cases” for genocide or intervention in foreign countries or whatever. But that doesn’t alone make their ehtical cases valid. All it really means is they’ve gone through a process of thinking about it that may or may not be out of your reach of dealing with. You can process the information to some extent or another but not to the extent that you can disprove what they’re saying. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right just like the fact that people aren’t “hanging politicians from the guts of the last priest” (or however that quote goes) means that people don’t have something against the system or desire change.

That said, I do (as I’ve said before) think the social-context is very important to better figuring out ethical discourse and what actions to choose and why. I just disagree the extent of the emphasis Scott is putting on here.

Next Scott says,

“There is no inherent theft weaved into the fabric of reality like natural law theorists claim.That’s trying to objectify your beliefs onto the universe itself.”

Well I wasn’t really claiming some “inherent theft weaved into the fabric of reality”. What I’m actually trying to convey is that your positions put too much of an emphasis on people’s beliefs and observations and so on without recognizing that conclusions aren’t valid for just the sake of the methodologies used but also for what the conclusion is all by itself even without the methodology. So basically I’m arguing for a sort of consistency of methodology and conclusion that might help us get closer towards truth…or at least make us less wrong.

For example, I’d say that murderers who kill for no good reason are actually in a way better than those who kill for revenge because the first murderer is actually consistent in that it doesn’t seem likely (to say the least) that any sort of useful ethical system would promote killing other people and then try to justify it through something. The other murderer actually had the intellect and moral reasoning to try to go through the motions and still look like a good person. But trying to look good towards killing someone when that’s not gonna make you look very good is a pretty stupid (and inconsistent) methodology to solving problems.

Anyways, in any case I’m not a huge fan of “natural rights” either Scott so you can bet that whatever my position on this is, it’s a bit more nuanced then what you’re trying to make it sound…

Let’s move on to some other discussions,

Scott: But the more reasonable reply is this:- the state is more a caretaker of roads etc than owner.It carries out the peoples will with our money.It’d be expensive and time consuming for us to do it ourselves.”

Me: So less-costly roads means moral problems mean little to nothing I suppose. ”

Scott: “This is what society chooses.You are free to attempt upkeep of roads etc yourself in some cases.”

Once again Scott assigns way too much importance to what “society” chooses. A group of individuals deciding to do something only has as much legitimacy as those individuals who make it up. If those individuals who make it up cannot kill or steal than neither can the group which is just the sum total of those individuals. I’m not sure how you could really argue that a whole (the group) somehow has more rights than the sum of its parts (the individuals that make it up).

Indeed, as Voltairine de Cleyre says,

[A] body of voters can not give into your charge any rights but their own; by no possible jugglery of logic can they delegate the exercise of any function which they themselves do not control. If any individual on earth has a right to delegate his powers to whomsoever he chooses, then every other individual has an equal right; and if each has an equal right, then none can choose an agent for another, without that other’s consent. Therefore, if the power of government resides in the whole people, and out of that whole all but one elected you as their agent, you would still have no authority whatever to act for the one. The individuals composing the minority who did not appoint you have just the same rights and powers as those composing the majority who did; and if they prefer not to delegate them at all, then neither you, nor any one, has any authority whatever to coerce them into accepting you, or any one, as their agent…

Not to mention the whole “in some cases” part of this. So what about the other cases? You’re going to use the state to prevent me from doing so? Or is the state going to do such? If I’m not posting any harm to other people (and I don’t see how offering alternatives in a non-governmental fashion is somehow de facto providing a big enough risk for other people that violence is necessary or how you could prove it is). And in any case the simple fact of the matter (for me) is that delegating so much power to a group of individuals and then letting them have a monopoly on such privileges is a disastrous formula.

And no, it doesn’t matter how “democratic” you want such a group to be. Because they certainly will not want to be more democratic (if by democratic you mean more directly self-powered by the people involved in the process instead of the representatives, aka direct democracy). Why would they? What good reason have you given me (let alone the rulers who are above you!) to have their power be lessened? Through their own political system no less! Maybe I haven’t either in my short life thus far but that’s because I know that I probably won’t.

I don’t have hope for them Scott and you do and hence our lines of communication will go out to different parties. And so that means that I don’t particularly care if the rulers really care about my arguments or not because they’re irrelevant and not the target audience to begin with when I want to get things done. I target the people I care about, myself and those others who I think may best be suited to join the causes I support. The rulers of this society I live in fall under none of those categories suffice it to say.

Let’s move on from these points,

Me: Are the wars my will? Were the bailouts the American people’s will?”

Scott: The state does not always do what some people want.I have argue this above and said it’s pretty much an unavoidable problem with statism.The goal is to make the most convincing arguments so that it does not do radically horrible things that people do not want e.g. fight wars for oil or empire.
That’s an obvious point you skip over into a strawman ad absurdum of my position.

It’s actually not so obvious to me that we must simply deal with statism along and your goals are not my own so why would I accept that point anyways/ My goal isn’t to make “convincing arguments” towards the rulers of society but to make sure they’re disempowered to the consequential benefit of the people. I have no hope (as I’ve said before) with trying to reason with the rulers. People can try if they want to but I personally don’t have much hope in it. I don’t think many anarchists do. But then you’re not an anarchist and I guess you didn’t understand this basic point.

It’s not a “strawman” or whatever Scott wants to portray it as. Scott’s positions are absurd and I can prove as much. For example: If oil companies get a majority of the people behind them and convince them that wars are good for all of them and benefits them then what is Scott to say? That it shouldn’t be viewed that way? Why? The majority of the people accept it and that makes it as much right?

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