An great tool and resource

18 12 2008

Because of the immense value of the following, I have taken it from my old blog and reposted it here for good measure.  Please, pass it on to anyone who needs support or assistance in a debate for it works as an excellent resource and guide on how to argue Anarchism.

Within the depths of the Forums of the Libertarian Left, a poster by the name of the manbear2pig published the following, a particularly detailed list and explanation of the arguments commonly experienced when arguing for Anarchism with statists.  It’s a particularly good piece, and I would encourage any reader here to take a look through — particularly anyone who has recently adopted Anarchism as a political philosophy.  Those be the times where we run the greatest risk of disillusionment.

I have edited the structure a little bit so it better suits the blog medium and removed the final two or three sentences from the first paragraph in order to hopefully allow the piece to act less as a topic starter in a forum thread.  Other than this, the post is in its original form and I’m sure manbear2pig will forgive me for these slight alterations.

A Compendium of Comebacks to Common Clichés

Talking about issues with people one-on-one will be one of the things we do the most. I’ve done a lot of debating with people, and have found that ‘mainstream’ arguments against anarchism tend to fall into a handful of main categories. There are certain debate templates that in my experience lead down a dead end and should be avoided.

1. It’s good to start by saying what it is exactly that you advocate: i.e., that people must govern themselves by forming voluntary associations, and so on. This puts the cards on the table so the other person can’t just say “Without laws we’d just be running around killing each other!” or some such thing. A big problem is that a lot of people don’t even know that anarchism is an actual political philosophy — they just think it’s an adolescent desire to overthrow and destroy. It’s important to keep in mind that most people (Internet trolls excluded) oppose anarchism because they actually fear the concept of no government, not because they just want to be a jerk. The goal is not to attack them, but to change the way they see things.

2. “If you hate government so much, why don’t you move to Somalia?”
This is one of the most obnoxious, trollish arguments that we have probably all encountered at some point or another. If you don’t feel like explaining the history of the monstrous fiction known as “Somalia” and how it is a far more damning indictment of the concept of the State than of “anarchism”, there is a very simple response. Just ask, “Should the Somalis have obeyed Siad Barre rather than overthrown him?” Now the troll is in a trap: if he answers yes, this brings up a lot of uncomfortable issues like that whole Declaration of Independence thing, and whether you have the duty to obey someone who has arbitrarily declared himself to be your master(like someone who kidnaps you). If no, he’s an anarchist!! In short, put him on defensive. The key issue is whether the entity carved out by British and Italian war criminals over a hundred years ago ought to be enforced at gunpoint, or whether that whole thing about consent of the governed has any meaning or if it’s just 18th century trash.

3. “Anarchism would just lead to warlords…”
Here I like to ask how it is that we have the freedoms that we have at all. After all, the human race exists in a state of anarchy. It wasn’t until recently that we were aware of this: previously, most people believed that God himself (or the gods) ruled us through our “leaders”. Obedience to them, however, did not guarantee the slightest bit of freedom…or peace, or justice, or even the survival of civilization for that matter. (see the fall of the Roman empire for details.) In fact, as we say Liberty is the Mother of Order, we might also say that Liberty is the Daughter of Disobedience. The only reason we have any rights at all is because historically we were willing to fight for them ourselves — if we had only relied on the benevolence of our rulers to guarantee freedom and peace, we’d still be in the middle ages.

In other words, anarchism, and the refusal to obey and be ruled, is the ONLY way we can prevent people from becoming warlords. It’s a rather profound point, once it sinks in.

4. All appeals to “limited government”, “the law”, etc. are inherently anarchistic. When I argue politics, I frequently hear something along the lines of “I think our Constitutional system with checks and balances was a pretty good idea…” but point out the absurdity of thinking that a piece of paper magically guarantees our rights. It’s pretty simple: either we refuse to have certain things done to us, or we are at the mercy of a supposedly benevolent caste of, well, warlords. And who gets to decide what we’re allowed to refuse the government to do to us?

5. “What if nobody wanted to [build roads/fire departments/take your pick]?”
The absurdity of this “argument” is pretty self-evident; what if the state decided it didn’t want to do these things? However, this relates to what I think is a huge mistake anarchists (myself included) often make when debating. Too often the argument gets framed in such a way that the anarchist is forced to argue that some future anarchist utopia would work perfectly, and then the statist merely has to suggest that something might go wrong. ALWAYS put the statist on the defensive, where he belongs. You don’t have to sketch out what an anarchist society would look like, or how it would prevent itself from collapsing, or whatever. The burden is on the statist to prove that obeying those who claim the right to rule us is better than thinking for ourselves, in the face of all the historical evidence.

6. Relating to #5…any argument that involves how something might go wrong in an anarchist society — “What if a new dictator rose up? What if we were invaded by another country? What if society degenerated into endless vendettas? What if the people in one area decided to impose a theocracy?” should be immediately turned around with the question of what if these happened even (gasp) with a state in power? These are all scenarios that assume the worst of human nature, so we ought to, for the sake of argument, explore what horrible things could potentially happen if we gave the final authority to a group of, well, humans. Of course imposing a government on people has never actually led to brutality and chaos, so there’s no need to use historical examples…just imagining a hypothetical situation in which government might go wrong should be enough.

To sum it up, any problem that could happen in an anarchist society could also happen in a state-run society. Imposing a state solves none of these problems and adds several of its own.


7. “Our government is democratically elected!”

Most non-anarchists in the Western world practice the Orwellian concept of doublethink in their political views. On the one hand, we all spout out about “popular sovereignty”, “the will of the people”, and “democracy” from our kindergarten civics classes. On the other hand, it’s important to remember, the knee-jerk arguments that people typically use against anarchy are the exact same arguments that were used against democracy in the 18th century. This is significant: democracy is the same thing as anarchy, properly understood. So at least the oldschool critics of democracy and republicanism were consistent: they believed in the divine right of kings, or in a Hobbesian absolute monarchy. So-called democrats today are not. So this is an issue worth exploring.

Basically, as I see it, either people have the right to govern themselves or they don’t. There’s no in-between. As I mentioned on a separate post, the best way to explore whether we are governing ourselves currently, is to ask if a state could secede, if the majority of people wanted to(it isn’t even necessary to discuss the concept of unanimous consent; for the sake of argument we can assume that “the majority” is enough).

If the person says yes (So far, I have forced one governmentarian down this road of logic!!) then they must logically believe counties can secede, and generally that any government created by a group of people coming together to protect themselves is legitimate, any government created any other way is not.
If the person says no, presumably it’s because they think the majority of people in the nation wouldn’t allow it. But this presupposes that “the Union” is a valid political entity, but a territory chosen by the majority of the people within isn’t. So how are borders legitimately created, if not by the decision of the people? This question is even more powerful in other parts of the world, such as, say, France. The only reason Burgundy is part of France, and not its own country, is that Robert II invaded it 1000 years ago. If the people of Burgundy wanted to govern themselves freely, why would this criminal and illegitimate act trump the will of the people, if France is a “democracy”? Also, find an act of secession that your opponent supports — there must be at least one, unless he/she is some sort of medievalist. 13 colonies from Britain, Estonia/Ukraine/Georgia/etc. from the USSR, Finland from Russia, France/Germany from the Carolingian empire (!), any part of Europe from the Roman empire, any African state from imperialism, etc. Find out why they support this.

Returning to our original secession example, if the reason the U.S.A. exists is that “the people” spontaneously came together and decided to form a union, then clearly any number of them could decide again to form a different union(which was the original idea of Jefferson and Madison anyway). Anyone who participates in a contract should be able to break off from it. Otherwise, the concept of majority rule presupposes the legitimacy of “the Union”, since if the U.S. came into existence because the majority of people in this geographical area spontaneously decided to form a union binding on the rest of us (which is obviously bullshit anyway, but pointing out what really happened is even more damning to claims that we are currently governing ourselves), then by the same logic two thugs could move into houses on either side of one person, declare the three of them to be a “nation”, and then do whatever they want to the 3rd person on the basis of majority rule.

So when people say democracy is the “rule of the majority”, the big question is, “the majority where?” It may be interesting to explore the Declaration of Independence at this point, which doesn’t say anything about “51%”, or of the sanctity of existing nation-states. In fact you might remind your democratic opponent that the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution really had nothing to do with the will of the majority: the rebels didn’t give a rat’s ass what people living in England, Ireland, etc. thought about their secession. In fact they didn’t even take an opinion poll on the concept of secession within the 13 colonies (I believe about a third of colonists were actively in favor of revolution by 1776). Food for thought…

8. “If obedience to law was purely voluntary, how would people punish murderers?” (the question asked by AmazingAtheist)

Now we’re getting into actual political philosophy, so if the governmentarian has made it this far, it’s a good sign.

The way I see it (although others may disagree), anarchism isn’t really about what people are allowed to do so much as it is about who’s doing the allowing. Libertarianism, broadly defined, could be seen as an ideology regarding what the laws ought to be. Thus, anarchism is the structure, and libertarianism/socialism(depending on your flavor) is the content of a free society. Anarchism does imply freedom, but it does not guarantee it per se. I think it’s important to make this point clear; a lot of people ask this because they sincerely don’t understand.

To sum up: in an anarchist society people would band together and form “governments” to regulate their own dealings with other people. Thus murdering, attacking or robbing someone would get you in trouble with their “government”, but that doesn’t mean that it rules you or is your government. So in interacting with other people, you would have to observe their rules, but that doesn’t mean that they rule you. That’s all a bit different from what we have now.

Although it’s probably not quite as developed, you can check out his blog, LifeAfterAuthority.

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6 responses

18 12 2008
Ethan Lee Vita

I realize you are only copying this, but since you are posting it I take it you are accepting its content to some degree or another so I’m addressing my questions to you.

“Of course imposing a government on people has never actually led to brutality and chaos, so there’s no need to use historical examples…just imagining a hypothetical situation in which government might go wrong should be enough.”

Is that an error or sarcasm?

“This is significant: democracy is the same thing as anarchy, properly understood.”

I don’t agree. Anarchy is voluntary self-government while democracy is majority-government. Though I do agree that the same critiques were leveled against democracy as are leveled against anarchy, republicans like Jefferson railed against democracy because of the result of tyranny of the majority. So democracy was critiqued from bothy big government and small government perspectives.

The following is coming from U.S. history and I take it you are from Greece, so please accept my apologies. Since popularism and Woodrow Wilson, democracy has been consistently been touted as a synonym of freedom and liberty, which isn’t true. FDR solidified this. Now you have an Orwellian concept of democracy that is just used by most non-thinking people as a synonym for good, ethical, and free.

The last paragraph wasn’t quite to my liking, but there are numerous hypothetical situations for what may happen in an anarchist society. I believe numerous solutions will arise to resolve conflicts between different people in different areas. And of course no one can predict market forces. It IS one of the reasons central planning doesn’t work.

Overall, I found this quite informative and representative of most anarchist arguments instead of any particular strain of anarchy.

On a different note, is it possible for you to make it so the readers can be emailed about any comment replies?

18 12 2008
Royce Christian

Well, I endorse it as a guide or tool for use in arguing, and by that I suppose I agree with its contact on a vast majority. However, the original author does have a different political foundation as myself, so there are definitely areas where I might not agree or simply don’t understand where he’s coming from. But, if you’ll forgive me in advance, I’ll do my best to answer.

Is that an error or sarcasm?

Quite honestly, when I first read it, I took it to be sarcasm, but now that I re-read it I’m not so sure. I don’t think I could provide a reliable answer on whether it was an error, sarcasm or a serious statement. Unfortunately, you’d need to ask the author because if I tried, I’m sure I could find a great number of historical instances where imposing government on a people has lead to brutality (though maybe not chaos, as that occurs in other circumstances).

The following is coming from U.S. history and I take it you are from Greece, so please accept my apologies.

Actually, I am from Adelaide, Australia. The events in Greece I covered, from which I gather you have believed me to be Greek, are of particular interest to me as I do have some Greek heritage. So, when I began reading the mainstream reports that conflicted so fundamentally with what other reports I was getting out of Greece, I had to cover it. Though I’m from the colonies I do have some knowledge of American history, so don’t worry about me.

I don’t agree. Anarchy is voluntary self-government while democracy is majority-government…

Since popularism and Woodrow Wilson, democracy has been consistently been touted as a synonym of freedom and liberty, which isn’t true. FDR solidified this. Now you have an Orwellian concept of democracy that is just used by most non-thinking people as a synonym for good, ethical, and free.

I couldn’t agree more. Democracy is a sham, it’s still a dictatorship.

Yet here comes the big hairy, “but.” I believe the original author is differentiating between direct democracy and representative democracy. As you can guess, the author has a far greater Syndicalist influence than you or I, and as such understands direct democracy to be able to provide some mechanism for decision making among communities in a stateless society. I’m afraid I don’t know much more about this idea, or I would offer you a better explanation of what they involve.

The last paragraph wasn’t quite to my liking, but there are numerous hypothetical situations for what may happen in an anarchist society. I believe numerous solutions will arise to resolve conflicts between different people in different areas. And of course no one can predict market forces. It IS one of the reasons central planning doesn’t work

Once again, think of it in the terms of explaining to a statist how this mythical Anarchist society might work — and they genuinely do believe it to be mythical. You need to relate it to something they know. Granted, it’s not a good way of explaining Anarchism to someone who has a keen interest in politics and political theory, it’s the better way for the everyman who’s quite likely to be apathetic and busy.

Overall, I found this quite informative and representative of most anarchist arguments instead of any particular strain of anarchy.

Thank you, that’s what it’s intention was, I do believe. The author, as I have said, draws a larger influence from Syndicalism. The forum he posted it on is populated by mainly Mutualists and Agorists, so you have a blend of the more more-orientated types as well as the traditions. I’ll pass your compliments onto Manbear2pig.

On a different note, is it possible for you to make it so the readers can be emailed about any comment replies?

I don’t think so. I’ve tried with this blog as well as with my previous one, but there doesn’t seem to be a function there to do so. It’s just as frustrating for me as it would be for you. If it turns out there is though, I’m going to feel like such an ass.

20 12 2008
Nick (aka manbear2pig)

Why, hello! I’m quite honored to see my post getting so much attention! Although I didn’t consider my list here to be especially epic when I was writing it, I think making a guide to the objections to anarchism is an excellent idea; perhaps we can collaborate to make improvements and add other ones.

I’ll try to address the issues raised here, since maybe the points I was trying to make fell a little flat. The reason I wrote the extensive thing about democracy was that that is probably the most “serious” critique of anarchism: once you get past the point of “nobody has the right to rule another”, the person then says “nobody is ruling us – we have a democracy!” I encountered this argument so much that I figured it required laser-precise tactics to be dismantled.

I agree with you about “democracy”, in the way it is pimped by our rulers, is not a concept I like, in and of itself. Our current “democracies” are based on several flawed notions: that people can transfer rights that they do not themselves have; anything goes when it comes to what the majority wants to do (at least when such a stance is approved of by the elite); and of course, the big one, our borders just somehow exist the way they do and there’s nothing we can do about it. My understanding of anarchy as democracy means that direct democracy is the only default way to run social institutions if we put hierarchical ideas off the table. BUT — direct democracy is something that should happen with a group of people that have CHOSEN to come together for some specific purpose. That’s the key. And I think there’s a difference between majority will and majority rule. If you live in an anarchist town and choose to have nothing to do with anyone else there, they cannot rule you, but if you try to enforce a legal system directly opposed to what they support (such as Lockean vs. mutualist property rights), it won’t be able to happen. That’s how I see it, anyway.

My strategy is, instead of trying to convince somebody to reject their cherished notions of democracy, to show that anarchism is merely a more consistent and principled application of some of the same ideas. One of the main objections I hear to libertarianism and anarchism is something along the following lines: “Your views about freedom are just your opinion. So by outlawing government you’re imposing your own dogma rather than letting people decide how they want things to work.” So that’s the argument I was focusing on defusing. In other words: in statelessness, a group of people could try to impose whatever they want on their neighbors — there’s no law of physics preventing it. But as an anarchist — an opinion with arguments to back it up — I will insist that the sole legitimate and moral function of any political association is to uphold the Law of Equal Liberty for its members. Which is actually a very intuitive concept — most people would not feel comfortable getting together in an assembly and decreeing that everyone living in the area must pay tributes to them, if they had to do it personally. I think following this line of argument is more fruitful, rhetorically, than attacking democracy, especially since in doing so we throw away some of our most valid points.
I nonetheless think that assemblies should be seen as a means, not an end, and would try to not have them play that big a role in an anarchist society, but would be convened on more of an ad hoc basis.

And yes, I was definitely being sarcastic about the “imposing government” line. 🙂 Indeed, I find that one of the most effective ways to argue a statist is to sarcastically agree and do a reductio ad absurdum.

What was wrong with the last paragraph? :_(

Anyway, if you think this is good I’d be willing to make some changes and additions — and anyone is free to do the same. That might turn out to be a very useful resource for the millions scheduled to join us in the next few years ;).

21 12 2008
Nick (aka manbear2pig)

9. “You anarchists are just a bunch of idealistic teenagers who don’t understand human nature. Someday you’ll see how the world really works.”

I left out this one, with its endless variations, many of which are little more than grotesque ad hominems(you anarchists[libertarians/leftists/socialists/fill in the blank] are just spoiled white kids who live in your parent’s basement, yaddayaddayadda), but despite being dressed up in pseudo-scientific jargon about how “human nature” makes anarchism impossible, it is one of the most trivial critiques of anarchism. Still, it used to be hard for me to know how to argue against it.

The best reply is to ask, “What form of government do you advocate?”
And then unless they believe in simply submitting to whatever comes along, you can apply the same argument to theirs, and explore how it might go wrong. And of course, ask “Do you support slavery?” If not, take a look at that, since we were told that slavery was simply a fact of the human condition for thousands of years, until a few people decided to take a stance against it, which suggests that the “human nature” objection is not only morally repugnant but simply flat-out WRONG. And in any case, if we are truly incapable of creating an anarchist society, what are we capable of? Is there any point to voting? A person who pulls up the “human nature” card should be exposed as the reactionary they are, one who is against all human attempts at social melioration.

Ultimately it’s probably going to be less effective chipping away statist objections with the chisel of logic than it will be to dissolve them in a sea of emotion as we point out what’s really going on in the world and how different it could be, with videos and all that…

3 05 2009
Korolev

As much as I like the idea of anarchy, it will never come to pass. Humanity forms governments. We always have we always will. Get rid of this government, I can guarantee you, 20 years down the track, another one has formed.

Well, I suppose there are a few, minor human settlements that don’t have what you would call a “state” system. Native Americans, the indigenous australians, and some tribes in South and Central America come to mind, as well as some of the nomadic peoples of central asia and saharan africa.

But look closely at those cultures that never developed the state – where are they now? They’re either marginalized or have been destroyed.

Simply put, states concentrate human beings into cities. Higher amounts of human beings working closely together creates more wealth and more science. You can’t do good science, especially not today’s money intensive and time intensive science, in a tent. I’ve tried it – doesn’t work. You can’t build thermocyclers for PCR reactions in a hut.

Science, the science I practice (biotech), can’t exist without the state. Science requires huge concentrations of material goods and personnel, and infrastructure. That is only possible in a State. Society under the state is not meaningless. Rather, it is for one purpose – to allow science to continue. Everyone has a purpose. Soldiers defend resources necessary for science to continue. Farmers grow food for builders and workers so that they can build the infrastructure that makes science possible. Government inacts laws that keeps things calm so that scientists can go about their work, peacefully and without hassle.

And why is science so necessary? Why is science so important. If we had no science, if we had no technology, your blog would not be possible. Almost everything you own wouldn’t have been manufactured. We’d have no worthwhile medical technology, we’d be living in caves. Sure, science might lead to our extinction, but without science, we’d go extinct anyway.

However, with science, humanity has a chance. A chance at imposing meaning and order upon this meaningless universe. In the absence of a god, humanity must strive to become a god. And humanity might, with the power science and technology at our side. It might take a million, million years to attain the power of a god – but we have 5 billion years until the sun runs out of fuel, so we’ve got time to spare.

The State makes our science and technology possible. Anarchy couldn’t have created the Internet in its present form, an anarchist state couldn’t have compiled the resources necessary to attempt the human genome project. An anarchist state couldn’t have possibly nurtured and developed the science which makes humanity powerful.

If we stop now, if we abandon technology, we become nothing more than another animal, destined to become extinct, destined to become nothing more than a collection of incomplete fossils occupying a random geological strata on the earth’s crust. Our past would have meant NOTHING if we go extinct. Humanity must survive, because without it, no meaning exists, no beauty exists, no science exists. These things only exist in the human mind. Lesser animals can’t comprehend the majesty of the stars or the wonders of the natural world. Only we can. Only humans can make morals and meanings. Thus, our survival is imperative. It’s all that matters. Humanity MUST conquer all, expand throughout the universe, thrive and attain the power of a god – otherwise, our entire species existence would have been for nothing. If we have no future other than extinction, our past means nothing as well.

Thus the state must exist. The species must develop. The world must turn. People will die. I will die. Suffering will continue. Freedom will not always triumph. But science will continue. Technology will develop and the SPECIES SHALL ENDURE.

Homo sapiens sapiens. Nothing else matters.

19 05 2009
mb2p

(sigh) I don’t think it’s even necessary to respond to a “critique” that incoherent, trollish, and pointless…

“the SPECIES SHALL ENDURE.”
Sieg Heil!

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