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?

At Issue

28 05 2009

Browsing the interwebs a few days ago, I found an article that discussed a situation in Cambodia where a whole community is being evicted because it is claimed they are squatting on the property of the French government.  My reason for posting it and the relevant text is that in my mind, it highlights the three tiers of disagreement between Anarchists.  It’s also interesting as looking at the problem from the confines of orthodox statist reason, the only argument that can be legitimately made against the action is that it is an abuse of human rights or that it is ‘just wrong’.  It is, of course, yet the problem is that any solution to the situation is limited by the positive law of governments.  It is clear, in my own eyes, that given an Anarchist society such a situation would never come to fruition and would find itself peacefully resolved immediately.

Now the Lycee Rene Descartes wants to expand.

And along with its landlord, the French embassy, it has asked the local authorities to clear Limsreang’s building so that it can be used for the school.

The lycee insists that the building belonged to the school before the Khmer Rouge arrived in 1975; now it is merely taking back its rightful property.

The residents, however, say they were ordered to live behind the lycee after Vietnamese-backed forces ousted Pol Pot’s government in 1979.

When peace returned to Cambodia in the 1990s, so did the Lycee Rene Descartes. At first the school co-existed with the residents, but an expanding demand inspired the lycee to seek the removal of the community

At first the school co-existed with the residents, but an expanding demand inspired the lycee to seek the removal of the community.

“This site belonging to the embassy must go back to the school,” says Pierre Olivieri, the co-ordinator of a parents’ committee pressing for the move.

“We’re the only French school in the world with a squat – even nations at war like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan don’t have that.

“It’s not good for the image of France or Cambodia.”

The residents resent being labelled as “squatters”, and they were unwilling to leave for the compensation on offer – a few thousand dollars and a plot of undeveloped land on a reclaimed lake on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Limsreang says that City Hall made a series of threats to evict his community – and said it would give them nothing if they did not accept the terms.

Optimistic future predictions aside, this real-world situation can be used as a test to draw out the differences between influences and theory for Anarchists.  This test comes in three tiers; Government, Corporate, Individual.


If we approach the scenario as it is, we come to understand the key problem being government.  Regardless of persuasion, each Anarchist will universally recognise that a state cannot own property.  To take the statist position that governments can own property, we essentially fall to the impasse that befalls the Cambodians right now.  Strictly speaking, this is the Anarchist argument; the French government cannot legitimately claim a right to property, and eviction by force of its current occupants is wrong.

Of course there exists a principle that if I walk into your house, punch you in the face and kick you out, that house can never be mine and should be returned to you when I am no longer around.  This is in spite of the fact that your being removed from your own home breaks any chain of possession or ownership.  However this does not apply to the current scenario, except for the consideration that the state is the one doing the forceful taking of property.


The second tier involves a slightly different scenario:

Suppose the group performing the eviction with the help of the Cambodian government is a multinational corporation and the building currently owned is not a school but a factory.  The corporation wish to expand their factory into land which is occupied by squatters, who like in the real-world scenario, had been living in the place for up to 40 years.

Here we begin to see a divergence within people’s theory.  Some individuals will resolutely jump-ship and take the side of the corporation, arguing that the ‘squatters’ are, in fact, trespassing and nothing can justify their presence as the property was owned by the corporation before the take over by the Khmer Rouge.  It doesn’t matter that 40 years have passed.  They’re simply required to move out as the corporation has an unquestionable right to remove them from the area, as their occupation of the building was precipitated by the force used by the Cambodian government of a previous time to force out its occupants.

Whereas another group might argue from a different perspective, that the choice by the corporation to leave constitutes abandonment, for some property rights theorists, and the occupation by the people who have worked together to build a community constitutes ‘homesteading’.  Or words to that effect.  The problem is here that the principle mentioned above, invariably, seems to be in support of the corporation.

The same people may then start questioning whether the corporation has any right to property in the same way taking up the Anarchist label, in part, depends upon the individual’s willingness to question whether the government can actually own property.  So the same question may be applied to the corporation, along with the same tests, such as coercion/exploitation, origin and even public good.  Those people may than take note that the corporation, under current legal systems, is an entity created by the state, which directly seeks its benefit in some capacity.  Such an assertion bleeds over into the origin of property, and how the corporation actually comes to claim ownership to what it does, questioning how you can legitimately own something when your ability to acquire those goods comes through coercion, even if that coercion is outsourced to a hierarchy maintained by violence.  There is no better evidence of this then the hypothetical corporation’s employment of the Cambodian state and its thugs to evict people living in their homes.  Lastly, public good may be appealed to as it certainly stands to reason what turning out a community from the homes they have occupied for the last 40 years to expand a factory has significantly less benefit than leaving them there.

In such a case the principle referred to above may be said to apply not to the corporation, but to the people being evicted.  As there are hundreds of cases of this very same scenario going on world-wide, irrespective of whether the people being evicted are Chinese, or Americans or whether the company doing the evicting is a manufacturing company or real estate developers looking to build condos, given Anarchism, we could see their homes protected.

Either way, this scenario begins to separate out the participants in such a debate.


Let us change the scenario a third time:

Consider a situation where it’s an individual who ‘owns’ the land, and not a corporation or government.  This owner owns an apartment block and wishes to expand it.  Before the Khmer Rouge, he also owned the area now inhabited by the community, but left during the trouble.  The Khmer Rouge came in, ordered the people to stay in their area where they now live and the Khmer Rouge left, leaving behind the people.  Our individual returns, and takes direct control of the land not occupied by the people and, a few decades later, wishes to force them out.

Here we see a wide divergence in ideals with people pledging allegiance to either party based on a variety of arguments and theory.  Some take the side of the the new inhabitants, others take the side the of the individual who owns the land.  However, all arguments and subsequent solutions come back to the question of limits.  Where do you place the limit in regards to property?  The one giving the answer has a number of possibilities ranging from no limits, to express abandonment, or mutualist occupancy and use as a definition of abandonment or even limit it all and deny property, or even your views on rent may come into play. Whatever your take, here the debate gets messy and is where the most conflict lies.

Personally, I would argue that property is useful in that it serves as a bulwark against the state and other statists.  However, I counter argue that there needs to be a limit, as it is ridiculous to believe that there exists a theoretical possibly that one man may own the world or even a particular resource with which to hold all to ransom.  For this reason I favour occupancy and use to define abandonment, but then a question arises as to whether this conflicts with the principle stated earlier.  Rather than place a limit on the principle, or abandon it all together, perhaps it is more accurate to point out that there are vitiating circumstances where the principle cannot apply; such as in the above case.  If the individual is turning out a community, and looking to the state in order to enforce his claim, can we safely respect his claim to any sort of ownership under occupancy and use with respect to principle?  I’m inclined to say we don’t.

What, I believe, these scenarios show, is that there is more to being an Anarchist than being anti-state.  Although it is certainly a key element, it leads to new ideas and new levels of thinking that require you to confront the fact that coercion, aggression are perpetuate amongst institutions that maintain their power in a hierarchy where they seperate themselves and their allies off from the rest, in order to live parasitically at their expense.  How we define property rights may very well provide a bulwark against the state and external oppressors, or it may be an instrumental tool in perpetuating oppression.

Think of the Children!

25 01 2009

I didn’t think it would come to this.  I honestly didn’t.  But perhaps it is time for me to float a possibly revolutionary idea.  Something that stands in contradiction to a certain idea that crops up among certain circles from time to time.  This idea is so profound that I never thought I’d have to say it in such times as these.  Indeed, I thought the debate was settled and it was considered common knowledge, but for the record, allow me to repeat it: Children are people too.

Shocked? Appalled? Yes? No?

Well whatever it may be, this thought will probably not come as a surprise to many who will read this.  What will come as a surprise to you, however, will be the idea that children are the property of their parents, still exists and rears its head every once and a while.  The notion that children inherently belong to their parent is dangerous and violates the philosophical principles we have evolved to protect the autonomy of the individual.  After all, children are human beings and to uphold the liberty of one portion of society to the detriment of another is an injustice, not to mention a breach of universality and/or equality.

Though I do not pretend to have all the answers, (I never have and would never dream to) the role of the parent or guardian is to serve as both a ward and to provide for their offspring an easy transition into autonomous life.  Both roles are essential and are commonly forgotten or abused in cases where a parent neglects a child to the point of starvation or, alternatively, becomes over protective to the point of locking their child away.  Each disrespects the individual liberty granted to the smallest of people and neither implies that the child is somehow property of the parent.  A child’s dependence does not make them akin to a piece of furniture or family pet.  No, children simply depend on the parent for survival.

It is all too often implied in these debates that the initial conception of a child, the initial act of creation between two parents, means that the product is naturally the property of the parents, just as a toy soldier would be the property of its creator, a wood carver.  However, this implied assumption holds that sex is no different from labour, which is absurd.  I’m quite sure you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would consider sex labour, unless of course the relationship is downright awful.  Regardless, if we are to consider this thought, it becomes necessary to place some time restriction which results in the parents no longer possessing total control over the child from then on.  However, to produce some arbitrary number (as governments worldwide do, generally at the ages of 18 or 21) and claim that a child becomes an ‘adult’ from that point onwards, is just as bizarre.  Each individual is unique and matures at different rates, some quicker than others.  We see the effects of such arbitrary distinctions when the legal system commits such atrocities as prosecuting teenagers for exploring their sexuality.  Opposite from this is the idea put forward by Rothbard,

The clue to the solution of this thorny question lies in the parental property rights in their home. For the child has his full rights of self-ownership when he demonstrates that he has them in nature—in short, when he leaves or “runs away” from home.The Ethics of Liberty

Which raises the question, what happens when we have an individual of age 23, still living at home?  Are they still the property of their parent simply because they may not have the means to leave home without starving?  These individuals are fully developed individuals in both mind and body and so can be considered autonomous human beings to which we can each apply our differing philosophical principles.  However, according to Rothbard’s approach they are still, strangely, considered the property of their parents.

Further, when presented with the idea of slavery, any Anarchist worth his salt will immediately reject the concept as barbarous, for slavery has been explicitly rejected and opposed by Anarchists since its inception.  Naturally, if we were to accept the idea that children are the property of their parents, it would be no different from claiming that a slave is legitimately the property of his master.  After all, property is the right to ‘use and abuse,’ which then leaves the door open to any injustice; paedophilia, murder, assault, forced child labour and prostitution all may then be considered philosophically legitimate just as a slave master may beat, rape and murder his slave.  The child could be forced to work for no wage in a business owned by its parent or taught to use a gun and employed as a unwilling child soldier.  If we oppose slavery so intensely, we must equally oppose the idea that a parent owns a child as evil, for the concept of property, even in its varying forms, is an absolute.

Once it is understood that a child is no different from any other person, the question becomes one of how to view the relationship between parent and child.  The answer lies in mutual aid, in that the parent raises and a child and assists it as someone may assist the elderly, homeless or ill.  This is made possible because, and as unlikely as it may sometimes seem, people actually do get something out of raising a child.  A parent often comes to value the unconditional love and affection that a child will all too freely give, even if the parent is unattractive, not very good at parenting, or generally an ass.

Obviously what follows are the cases where a parent may give up their stewardship of the child for lack of ability, interest and so on.  Naturally, this forms the basis of adoption and may, again, be considered mutual aid in that it prevents the child from suffering a harsh existence for the possibility of a better one when another parent is willing to take up the responsibility of assisting it.  Granted, the system of adoption and the state of orphanages world wide is fairly low, as many foster children often wind up the victims of abuse, or even suffer psychologically which impairs them later in life.  However, there is hope that wresting such processes away from the hands of the state will improve the way in which these dealings transpire, though I would not dare offer a blueprint for how this may be achieved.  I’ll leave that to those with the knowledge, experience and inspiration.

To allow ourselves to consider children to be property, we are giving them up to a position of servitude.  The parents are raised to a position of higher authority, no matter what good intentions lead to the argument that a parent’s power is restricted by time and degree.  Such an argument is contradictory if we understand property to be an absolute and yet still wish to recognise the inherent right to liberty, irrespective of what that property theory is founded upon.