Why Self-Ownership makes rape, murder and slavery “okay”

2 11 2011

[the title has been changed to something more inflammatory, as it seems like the only way to get attention on the internet these days]

For shits and gigs, I’m getting on my high horse.

Once upon a time I was a self-identifying Anarcho-Capitalist.  Gone are those days.  Long gone.

But the benefit of that little tryst is that I have gotten insider knowledge of how the theory operates and how fucked up it can get.  What I have noticed, at least more recently, is that the very concepts and principles Anarcho-Capitalism (which includes anyone who identifies themselves as “Market Anarchist” or “Right-Libertarian”) use to provide foundation to their theory.

To give you a brief overview, the starting point for the whole thing starts with Self-Ownership.  Everything else is derived from this.  The much-loved “voluntaryness”, non-aggression principle, proportionality and how Anarcho-Capitalists understand property all find their beginnings in Self-Ownership.

The reason why I’m laying all this out is that I have been in a protracted technical debate over what is exactly meant by “self-ownership” and how this applies to so-called “Self-Sale” contracts.  These are situations where a person may sell themselves into prostitution.  For some Right-Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists, this is legitimate so long as it is “voluntary”.  For others, this is not legitimate and those who see validity in these contracts are only “fringe”.

My problem has been that I can find nothing within Anarcho-Capitalism as a theory to invalidate these contracts and to prevent the situation from ever happening.

To be absolutely clear: I am not an Anarcho-Capitalist and my reason for posting this is to make some kind of clear challenge to Anarcho-Capitalism on the theories own terms in particular regards to Self-Sale contracts.  For me this begins with the heart of the theory: Self-Ownership.  Is it a property right?  Or just some shitty metaphor for individual autonomy?  If it’s the second, then the rest of the theory will have problems being conceptualised as nearly every key principle is derived from that concept and goes towards giving Anarcho-Capitalism its mystical “natural law” appeal.

If it’s the first, then this raises some serious problems for Anarcho-Capitalism in that it may work to make legitimate some evils like murder, slavery and rape.

I have not yet heard a convincing argument, on the theories own terms, that states why Self-Sale contracts are not possible and why these things will not eventuate.  My position is that anyone who uses this theory needs to either rethink their concepts for them to ever use the label “Anarchist” with any seriousness, or accept that their theory is going to  justify things toxic to any concept of “liberty” or “freedom”.

So what you are about to read is a brief amalgamation of my posts which doesn’t just say that Anarcho-Capitalism is bullshit, but why.

The question is whether the concept of self-ownership is, in theory and in effect, a property relation or whether it is just a poor metaphor for individual autonomy.

This whole argument proceeds on the basis that Self-Ownership describes an actual property relation where a person ownes their Self.

Property is not a single right, but a bundle of rights a person has to a thing.  The “right to control” is an accurate description, but is too general to be useful.  So otherwise, how do you identify whether a thing is property?  You can (1) use and abuse it, you can (2) exclude others from using it, and (3)you can transfer ownership.  These are what you are talking about when you talk about the “right to control” and “property”.

If it is alienable, or in other words, if you can transfer ownership or give away the thing, it is probably property. If you can’t give the thing away, it’s probably not property. The right to control, of use and abuse, is another one of these rights that identify whether a thing is property.  Simply saying “it is mine, I control it, therefore it is property” is childish and not enough.

Next it is important to distinguish between contractual rights, which are relative and arise between two individual people, and property rights are enforceable against the world.  Through contract you can alienate rights to use a thing or ownership of the thing itself.  In the case of the former, ownership is retained.  In the case of the latter, ownership is transffered and so the person making the transfer can no longer claim ownership when the transfer is complete.

To use a simple analogy, it is the same as what happens when you transfer ownership of a pear you’ve picked. You can’t ask for it back without striking a new deal and cannot complain when the other person eats it.

So, applying this to your Self, if it is property a person “voluntarily” alienates their Self via contract, they can do a number of things.  On the one hand, they can alienate rights to their property, such as sell their time to an employer, divide the property right by selling/giving away a kidney, or allowing use by consenting to surgery.  Alternateively, as a valid property right, a person may transfer ownership of their entire self and once the transfer is complete, the new owner has a proprietary right enforceable against the world, inclding the previous owner.

The first type of “Self-Sale” contracts are a problem, but I am only focussing on the second type, absolute transfer of Ownership, as it is what enables slavery, murder and rape to be justified.

So we have a situation where a person has transferred ownership of their Self voluntarily.  This is all in accordance with Libertarian, Voluntaryist, and Anarcho-Capitalism theory.  But what are the consequences of that theory?

The simple answer: slavery.

The new owner has a right over your Self in property.  This includes, as outlined above, the right to (1) use and abuse it, to (2) exclude others from using it, and (3) alienate it.  If a person transfers ownership of their Self, the new owner can do with it as they please because it’s their property.  They can commit all sorts of atrocious acts against you, as their property, without fear of reprisal. They are merely exercising their right to use of that property.  To interfere would be to violate their right of exclusivity.

If they decide to fuck their new property, they can.  If they decide to kill it, they can.  If they decide to torture that other person they now own, or let others fuck them or make them work or sell them again, they can.

There is no recourse to the NAP because the NAP, in this instance, is derived from the idea that you own your Self as property and no one can interfere with it except the rightful owner.  Likewise, all notions of “voluntaryness” only apply to the entering into of the contract and not the on-going relationship between former and current owners, as the former owner has alienated the property rights to their Self which, conceptually, the entire theory is built on.

To say that this is unlikely to ever happen is a bad argument.  It happened all the time during feudalistic societies where people would sell themselves into slavery or prostitution to pay off a debt — which would no doubt be considered a voluntary transaction.  It still happens in many places today.
To say that “it is not voluntary” is not enough.  A contract is not a unilateral affair.  It is an exchange and if the parties which entered into it did so voluntary, it would no doubt be justified by many self-identifying Anarcho-Capitalists, voluntaryists and Right-Libertarians.  The phrase “I don’t see a problem…” be repeated until someone’s head explodes.

“Voluntaryness” itself, in the context of Anarcho-Capitalist and derivative theories, is never well-defined.  Or at least never defined to really consider the nuances of what does “voluntary” actually means and whether something can truly be considered voluntary.

The only possible argument that could be made to say that a Self-Sale contract which would see someone sell themselves into prostitution to pay off their debts is invalid and not enforceable, would be to analyse the quality of consent and the unequal bargaining power between the parties.  However, as far as I know, this has never really been argued inside the theory and to do so is to go outside.  In fact, all reference to power relations between parties is routinely derided as “Marxist” or “Leftist”.

Even if we consider a person’s will to be “independent of your body”, they will have transferred ownership over their Self and once the contract has been executed, they cannot back out of it without violating someone else’s property rights. To regain their Self, they would need to strike a new bargain with the new owner, but the new owner is under no obligation to enter into the bargain and can simply say, “no”.

From all this discussed, as a direct consequence anything that the new owner does to the sold Self is legitimate, so long as they do not violate anyone else’s property rights in the process (and just to emphasise the point: the person who transferred rights in their Self do not have any).  If the new owner decides to kill the person, they can and it’s not murder. If they decide not to feed them, they can and it’s not murder or neglect. If they decide to fuck them, they can and it’s not rape.  It’s all just a sanitised “use of property”.

And what’s even more hilarious is that this all the same thinking that was formerly used to  justify slavery during the period of John Locke (gasp!) and Voltaire (double gasp!).  Better yet, there is a certain irony in that the whole idea of Self-Ownership was supposed to begin from the premise that slavery was wrong.

A consistant application of the very principles this theory celebrates and founds itself on leads to making legitimate a whole tonne of evil to such an extant that “rape” becomes “not-rape”.  So either a lot of people who use this framework for their politics need to come to terms with what it is their theory actually allows or some serious rethinking needs to be done on the question of whether Self-Ownership is actually a property relation or just a shitty metaphor?

And if it is just a shitty metaphor, what are the consequences for the rest of the theory?

How can you provide the same internal consistency (which is supposed to be the main selling point of the entire theory) without considering Property as a extension of the Self?

Spread the word, help make the fuckers tremble

6 08 2011

The following post was made by a Bahraini activists online.

I have only minute to speak here as I am at an internet cafe I must use now to post, but I have a request of the good bloggers here – one which I ask upon my hands and knees begging you with all hope and humility.

Please do not forget about us in Bahrain.

I beg of you to not abandon your heart passion, but please do not forget about us here.

Our own freedom struggle is bad now, it has taken many turns for the worse and getting more worse.  The secret police are out in full force and anyone who has ever uttered any support of the freedom movement is now at risk.

Please support us, we must have people like you to help us.  We must have people like you to ask your  the governments to help us please have the basic dignity which we give our blood for.

We are going to the streets again, with nothing but our lives and bodies and we know it will be bad for us but we do not care.  We are united we are one, we are Bahrain!

It is brother and sister, sunni and shi’ite – do not believe the lies it is an Iranian plot or must be done for the oil or stability.  We do not have the internet, it is too blocked.  We do not have the media, it is too controlled.  We only have YOU!

Help us, I beg you with all my heart and soul.

FREE BAHRAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I will not give any details in order to prevent any useful information leaking out which may help the person be identified, but for anyone who has ever valued freedom, it is our duty to repeat this message as far and as widely as possible.  The Bahraini’s need our support and the Anarchists should be ready to give that support to a people in revolt.

Quote of the day

25 06 2011

“To us poor folk it might seem absurd to say that the life of a multi-millionaire is hard and thankless, but it seems clear that this is an important point for us to remember.”

— Murray Rothbard, Konkin on Libertarian Strategy

Yup, you read that correctly.  Somehow, I don’t get the impression Mr Rothbard was being ironic.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow… Today?

18 06 2011

So tomorrow is World Refugee Day and a protest march has been called in little ol’ Adelaide at 1pm, beginning at the Hall behind Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St Adelaide.

Be there, or don’t.  But remember, the Australian government is up to  some serious mischief with the world’s Refugee and Asylum Seekers who are already in a critical situation and that is a mischief that needs to be opposed.

Protests against the Defence Industry Expo (D.I.E) called

11 06 2011

So those that know anything about South Australia will know that the Premier Mike Rann has been trying to brand the state “Australia’s Defence State” or something along those lines.  In short, we’re the place that builds the stuff our government uses to blow other parts of the world up.  Kudos to us.


Protests have been called for the 28th against an expo being put on by the Defence Industry to pimp their explosives to a series of international partners.  Adelaide Indymedia has published this background info for those interested:

According to the Defence Industry Expo’s own website: (www.defenceandindustry.gov.au) the Australian Government plans to replace 80 percent of its “war fighting” assets by 2020. This constitutes an “investment” of $150bn of taxpayers money.

While they brand this as “Defence” spending, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been fighting US wars that have nothing to do with the “defence” of Australia and its people.

In South Australia, tens of millions of dollars have been spent by the Rann Government to attract military industries to set up shop.

Weapons manufacturers will be concentrated in a walled precinct beside the Port River. Powerful US weapons manufacturers are even involved in “partnerships” with local public schools.

Is this how we imagined our future?

Left Unity has other ideas. We think taxpayers money should be spent on the creation of renewable industries and essential services like health, education, public transport and the like.

Why are thousands of public sector jobs being cut and services slashed while millions are being spent on the manufacture of weapons that are ultimately used to kill people in other parts of the world?

These weapons are being bought to help shore up the self-interested global military strategy of the United States. This course has caused people around the world, including Australians, needless suffering and loss in places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s time we said No! to the “Defence State”.

You can find the facebook event page here.

Introducing “Fear of a Brown Planet”

2 06 2011

I was just going to post an excerpt and then link to this article by a queer person of cover Lian Low at Peril Magazine it is too good and says something too important to simply cut out half.  It needs to be read in full.

Fear of a Brown Planet: fight the power with laughter

The first time I met Fear of a Brown Planet comic duo Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain, it was not at a post-show groupie hangout; it was at the very edge of the performance stage of an overcrowded Espy where we were all moshed in together to watch one of the legends of hip-hop – Public Enemy.

Fear of a Brown Planet’s moniker is a play on the critically acclaimed third album of Public Enemy called ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ released twenty years ago.  Like Public Enemy, Melbourne-based Fear of a Brown Planet use art as a means of resisting prejudice and oppression. In an article first published in The Advertiser, and now published on their blog, Nazeem writes:

“Stand-up comedy is one medium which is, fundamentally, an art of protest. Historically, it has been used as a tool by communities and people with ideas that challenge and provoke the status quo with a spirit of counterculture.”

As a queer of colour, I know how difficult it is to talk about racism with white friends, let alone raise it in public. Watching their shows helps heal a raw nerve and reflect my anger and frustration with an Australia that fails its culturally diverse population.  And when I look around to see enraptured audiences’ faces, I revel in not being alone in this shared political consciousness.  One of my favourite jokes is when Aamer inverses the stereotypes about alcoholism and throws it back on the shoulders of its progenitors:

“The whole time I’ve grown up in Australia I’ve only heard white people complain about other people’s cultures; Muslims beat their wives, Africans are in violent gangs, Aborigines have a drinking problem… that’s my favourite number one complaint from white people… you saw the Cronulla riots..  I’m sure we can all comfortably agree that no one in this country has a scarier drinking problem than white people.  That’s why there’s no alcohol allowed in the room.  Not for religious reasons.  We just don’t trust white people with alcohol anymore.   You saw the Cronulla riots on TV – when white people have a party, one minute it’s a party and the next minute it’s the Nazi party.  When you and your friends have a BBQ, and within a half hour of that it manages to mutate into a 5000 strong Hitler youth rally, maybe there’s something wrong with your culture… just putting it out there.”

I stole a half hour from Fear of a Brown Planet’s busy schedule earlier this year just after the final show of their sold-out season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April. “Why do you always do political comedy, Aamer?”, asked one of his friends,  “watching you is like watching the news”.  Despite the gibes about being “too political”, Aamer believes that it’s “possible to be angry and funny at the same time”.  “For us it’s always gone hand in hand.  [This has] always been the type of comedy that we really enjoy.  We’ve grown up on a lot of comedians like Chris Rock or Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks. Those artists have always used comedy as a political vehicle not as a gimmick or anything like that”.

Aamer and Nazeem are in a rare breed of comedians who are fiercely proactive when it comes to social justice and community.  They are often at rallies and support community gigs that are engaged with social justice. “We have an idea of what the world should be like or what society should be like.  You know like racism shouldn’t exist, or racist violence shouldn’t exist,” states Aamer matter-of-factly.  “A lot of what we talk about is just a lot of what other communities are talking about.  These are issues that aren’t joked about, but I guess to see from our perspective it’s really about phrasing it and unpacking it in a way that is easy to understand,” Nazeem explains.

Both university law graduates, Aamer and Nazeem didn’t aspire to be comedians but somehow found themselves in comedy. According to Nazeem, they met whilst working on a youth project together.  In fact, it was working with young people which got their comedy juices flowing. “To engage young people you have to be always interesting and funny, otherwise they switch off,” reflects Nazeem.  A significant turning point in their initiation to stand-up was meeting a trio of US based Muslim comics called Allah Made Me Funny, one of the first Muslim stand-up troupe to tour about being Muslim in a non-Muslim society. Nazeem’s response was akin to love at first sight.  “I actually memorised all the lines.  I memorised word for word the entire show before they came here.  I was that obsessed with them,” he gushes.  Allah Made Me Funny took the duo under their wings and from there they decided to enter Triple J’s Raw Comedy competition, where both reached the Victorian finals.  Aamer trumped the finals and scored the runner-up position Australia-wide.  Now with mass critical acclaim, sold-out seasons and awards under their belts (including Melbourne International Comedy Festival Best Newcomer Award 2008), the duo shared the spotlight with Allah Made Me Funny in October 2010.

Interspersed in Fear of a Brown Planet’s nascent life were their feature appearances in a television series called Salam Café – the first and only Muslim TV panel series to be aired on national television in a Western country. Salam Café started off with Melbourne-based community network Channel 31 before moving on to SBS.  According to Nazeem, Salam Café’s agenda was an exercise in diplomacy, “we were there to humanise the Muslim community.  It allowed people to see us firstly as human beings which …people still don’t seem to be able to appreciate.  It’s a completely different show.  We didn’t want to push too many buttons. With Fear of a Brown Planet we can be a bit more us.”

Arguably the most radical element of Salam Café was Nazeem’s character called Uncle Sam (aka Uncle Sameer Iqbal Muhammad Salahhudeen) who plays on media-driven fears about Muslims “taking over”. As Uncle Sam, Nazeem tackled issues such as the dispute surrounding the building of a private Islamic school in Camden, in Sydney’s West. Uncle Sam also managed to gain airtime with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope in which he outwits an unusually stymied Denton in banter about Australian identity and racism.  Perhaps the most outrageous skit for Uncle Sam was a visit to Frankston, where during the filming of the scene, Nazeem and his camera man, a Lebanese man named Jihad, were surrounded by forty screaming and swearing people who threw bottles whilst attempting to grab the camera and rip Nazeem’s beard.  “It got to the point where I had to say, “Listen, everyone, just shut up – we’re here to make fun of Muslims too!”  And everyone went “Yeah!!!”  And then we ran.  Seriously, we would have been killed.  It was ridiculous.”  For the Salam Café episode of this series (which you can see on Youtube), the more confronting incidences were left on the editing room floor.

Not surprisingly, Aamer and Nazeem’s experiences on Salam Café help fuel their critique about the absence of people of colour on Australian television.  “Australian TV is very white,”says Nazeem exasperatedly.  “To the point where it’s been criticised overseas.  In the UK there was a poll; Home and Away and Neighbours were criticised for being too offensively white,” Aamer recounts.  “It’s just ridiculous!  In the UK, they understand Australia more than we seem to.  How could a suburb be that white?  They don’t even have the token brown cleaners!” exclaims Nazeem.

When they are not working on their comedy, Aamer and Nazeem can be found at Footscray Community Arts Centre producing events as part of their three year artists-in-residency contract.  The duo were headhunted to produce a joint VicHealth and Footscray Community Arts Centre funded program about discrimination in the western suburbs.  One of the events of the program was a series of free hip-hop workshops called Hip-Hop Academy.  Young people in the Academy can take on breakdancing, mixing, rapping and grafitti.  I swung by a couple of workshops and tried out the breakdancing with B-boy Lamaroc and rhyme-writing with musican and producer Pataphysics.  The kids at the Saturday workshops ranged from aged five upwards.  It was touching to see so many young people of colour in one space giving everything a go. I remember seeing two 14 year-old Polynesian girls hovering outside the rhyme-writing workshop.  When I left, through a little coaxing, Pataphysics had them sitting down penning their first raps about culture and identity.

The other part of Fear of a Brown Planet’s residency included a series of online vox-pops and critical montages of current political events.  One of their videos was about the controversy surrounding the black-face skit on Hey, Hey It’s Saturday.  Unlike mainstream commentators, Fear of a Brown Planet interviewed people of colour on the street to hear their opinions about the issue.

“Because The Chaser did it [black-face] and because no one said anything, it just went on air and it just wasn’t an issue,” says a disgusted Nazeem. “It was equally as offensive as the Hey, Hey sketch.  Just because The Chaser are political and they appeal to white liberals no-one took them up on it,” adds Aamer.  “It doesn’t discount the fact that it’s highly offensive just because it’s five privileged white guys doing black-face.  And just because the song was political – it was about the ALP and the Liberal party – somehow it gave them a pass; but it was just as offensive.  Even when it was an issue on Hey, Hey, the only people that seemed to discuss the issue were panels of white people discussing whether or not this was offensive to other people.  Some of them would say ‘yes, it was absolutely offensive’.  You just never get to see from black or brown people about the issue,” Aamer says disgruntled.

Fear of a Brown Planet are artists who have cleverly used comedy as a means of education and empowerment.  In the same blog that I mentioned earlier, Nazeem sums up the use of comedy as an educative tool:

“When someone laughs at a joke, a connection has been made. That person laughs because they appreciate the point whether or not they accept what was said as valid isn’t important. What matters is, they’ve understood.”

In a country where debates about racism have been watered down or silenced, it’s exciting to see two young brown men fighting for social change in a creative and powerful way.

Julia Gillard answers question from Julian Assange

1 06 2011

Made all the more disturbing with this article that appeared on Crikey! which covers the expansion of powers awarded to ASIO, allowing the organisation to monitor the activities of Australian citizens involved with Wikileaks or dissenting political activity overseas or even at home, such as actions undertaken by the Pirate Party or Anonymous.