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Of the powers we choose to lose

I used to be what is sometimes called a "Free Software purist". "Free" here refers to "free as in freedom" according to Richard Stallman's Free Software Philosophy. As such I was opposed to all proprietary software licensing. If a program doesn't come with a license that allows you those "four freedoms" (to run, modify and share both unmodified and modified versions of the program as you wish) then using it meant you don't care for your freedom and are choosing to be a "slave" to the developer. In turn I largely tended to agree that such developers are immoral to offer software under such licenses.

Needless to say that put me against the likes of Microsoft and Apple and even to some extent against certain Linux based offerings because they included certain bits of proprietary software in it. I joined in the fight against DRM which we called "Digital Restrictions Management" rather than "Digital Rights Management" which is its official name. I wrote articles in support of GNU General Public License which I saw as the best way to guarantee these four freedoms and protect them from being taken away. I chastised Linus Torvalds for choosing not to relicense the Linux kernel under GPLv2.

And then something happened, which was probably one way or another inevitable for me. I started talking with a friend about freedom and what it means which led to discussions that went beyond Free Software and into social organization and philosophy. As we employed critical thinking and questioning we were increasingly led deeper and deeper into individualism and recognition of freedom as a negative concept - freedom from something rather than freedom to something. Increasingly it was no longer about any particular set of freedom to do this or that, but rather about a freedom, a freedom from coercion. This single freedom ended up being a precondition to everything and an only way to hold a freedom-loving ideology that isn't self-contradictory.

If you are free from coercion then you live your life in complete freedom. Everything you do is voluntary. Everything you're subjected to is so because you agreed to it yourself and therefore subjected yourself to it. I could no longer see any real basis for the Free Software philosophy as such. If I agreed to particular terms of service before being provided it then I am still within my freedom. Proprietary software stopped being "immoral" and I could no longer identify with the Free Software movement.

Furthermore I could no longer identify with liberalism either which I probably was supportive of by default, even if I was never quite aware of it. Liberalism is all about freedom too, but it makes the mistake of thinking of liberty as "positive liberty" where you have freedoms to things; "right to free healthcare", "right to free education", "right to environment", right to this and right to that. All these rights turn out to be mere entitlements determined more by the emotion of the moment than critical study of human condition. Politicians promise these entitlements to gain votes and the public ends up embracing this idea of entitlement to something for nothing solely because they exist. Yet free healthcare, for instance, has to be provided by someone. It has its cost. There's no such thing as "free healthcare". Thus in order for them to have that "right", someone else must either be willing to work for free or be robbed at gun point.

Thus I rejected government due to its clear violation of freedom from coercion. Now I believe in the pure free markets, as something emergent from lack of coercion. Where there is trade there is no violence. One is fundamentally opposed to the other. However in a society so entangled with legitimized coercion it is hard to see where the market ends and government begins. It is hard to make out the effects of voluntary trade and the effects of coercion and violence. A lot of people call what there was in the USA as "free market capitalism" without paying any attention whatsoever to all the coercion that was still existent in it and creating its own effects. Thus they cannot distinguish between corporatism and capitalism.

Corporatism is capitalism regulated by the state, even if very little. It is a system which requires some or all businesses to register to the state in order to continue doing business and thus receive certain benefits from the state. The most obvious benefit is evident in such titles as "Limited Liability Company" (LLC) . Most people never see a problem in that. In fact they think of it as a necessity, yet what this essentially means is that a business is no longer 100% accountable to the market, to you the customer, and instead its liability is limited by the power of government. A government gives a corporation the power that would otherwise belong to you. That is the core of corporatism and carries within the sentiment that gave rise to large seemingly untouchable corporations which seem to have more power now than multiple states combined and are justly suspected of running the whole show by now.

It is the rejection of pure free market capitalism that created this situation. It wasn't too much free market. It was too little. It was the fact that it never was a 100% free market, even if it was 90%.

So we come, within the range of technology, to a world of Microsoft, Apple, IBM and other big corporations essentially shaping up the markets at will. People, same people who let the governments prop up these corporations through a series of small steps they took under a misled belief in "small sacrifice for the greater good", simply don't have enough of their own individuality and sense of self in them to require more power and more control. Thus they are easy prey to marketing that promises nothing but more convenience and more ease of use at the direct expense of lost control. And there is one company that are the masters at bringing you to into this mentality: Apple.

They seem to be the embodiment of this progression. Steve Jobs has merged the sensibilities of art with the function of technology to create an entire culture of people enamored by devices which seem more like magic than science. Magic, something you just can't and probably aren't supposed to know the inner workings of. This is a very dangerous thing to do within a culture of people so willing to give up their power whether for a vague idea of a "greater good" or for a little bit of convenience. When you have the love and trust of such people it's so easy to make them give up more and more and more, until you sell them devices that are almost completely controlled by you. Devices like iPhone or the iPad.

Reading that Cracked article and thinking about it made me, in a way, come full circle with regards to one thing. I used to have that extreme mistrust for people who sell you stuff you can't control and as the entire Free Software philosophy laid in ruins before my eyes as I turned towards the idea that if you agree upon something your freedom isn't lost I lost glimpse of a very subtle danger. It is easy to miss it in a world so duplicitous and ruined by this conflict between violent and voluntary interaction (government and the free market as it were).

It is the fact that the market will reflect the mentality and culture of the people. If the people are so easy to convince into giving up their power then they will do it in a multitude of ways. Perhaps buying an iPhone isn't as immediately harmful as voting for a law that creates a yet another victimless crime, but it is the reflection of the same mentality. They have gotten you so easily convinced that convenience must come at the expense of your personal power just as the government has gotten you convinced that security comes at the expense of liberty.

But it doesn't. Both are lies. One serves the profit of a multinational corporation at the expense of your power to choose and another the expanding power of your government over every aspect of your life.

Comments

 

This blog seems to be a good example of being right and being very wrong at the same time.

I've felt very free to select commercial/proprietary software solutions for my entire career. (Though lately I find I choose very few - I will share reasons for this in my comment.) You are right that we are all free to make this choice. You also seem to view FLOSS advocates as living in some ethical extremist world. While there are people in the FLOSS community that are very focused on the ethical issues (and I would group RMS with them), having such a focus does not preclude good business sense. I find in many of RMS's comments, his view also includes business issues and is very pragmatic. I also have never seen FLOSS advocates do more than encourage people to join the community and take advantage of a good thing. RMS acknowledges the right of people to use proprietary software while strongly recommending against it. So why do you seem to have such a knee-jerk reaction pulling away from FLOSS? Perhaps it is due to some mystic business goodness that you are finding in your newfound proprietary software packages?

Like you, I still use a few proprietary packages. But, I much prefer FLOSS! The why may surprise you. While I like and agree with the ethical goals of the FSF and GNU license I also find that it is good for business and especially good for the customer. In some cases I am the customer and in others that means my customers. We all know the business maxim, "The customer is King". Lets look at a few actual situations that happened to me at various employers place of business that illustrate why RMS's four freedoms might actually be good for business from a customer perspective.

Freedom to access the source and modify the code.
When working for a large firm the IT dept had selected software to do documentation tasks. For my department this package did a very good job meeting most of our needs. While I have forgotten the details there was some crucial thing we needed to be able to do (we were government contractors and it was related to some requirement in that context). We also wrote a lot of our own in house software and were assured by our people that the change that was needed to this package was perhaps a few days or a week of development time for a competent programmer. We tried to negotiate a deal with the SW provider to get this feature into the package. Offered money (up to several years salary for a typical programmer), offered to sign non-disclosure and write it ourselves (with money to them), offered to write our own external add-on application if they would just give us docs for the file format (for money). Apparently they were not interested enough in our money to do any of the things we suggested to help us solve our problem. We ended up reverse engineering the file format and writing a preprocessor and postprocessor to solve the problem. Fortunately it took one of our guys less than a week to do this. (without access to documentation on the file format we expected it to take longer and it is possible that it could have been much worse.

Then there was the time (actually several times with different endings) that the software vendor decided to close up shop. We were all set for this, we had a code escrow agreement.
Rather than boring you with complete details I will simply note that there are a number of ways that you may find a code escrow agreement ends up giving you no protection.

- The software is sold to a competitor that will "continue to support the customers". Doe to contractual clauses the escrow agreement cannot be exercised and the support for the new owner is not sufficient. It is obviously their goal to migrate you to their product. Of course we had rejected their product when we did the original software selection.

- You actually get the code but you do not have their build system or other needed in house knowledge of how to build the package so you find it impossible to modify or maintain.

There are at least two other failure scenarios with code escrow agreements that I've seen. Besides, any small company or individual will not have the option of entering into a agreement for this type of protection (except FLOSS software provides this as a "freedom" that you would like to discard in return for the freedom of choosing any random proprietary software that you might desire.)

Last example: We purchased a graphics library that we built our production process on top of. The vendor was a company that wrote this library for their own internal use and found that other companies had a similar need so the made it into a sideline product. After a few years they discovered that the API they had chosen had a couple serious drawbacks so they wrote a new version from the ground up and stopped supporting the old version on any new hardware. We could rewrite our application to use the new library (paying big money for the privileged of using the new version). The fun thing was that the old library was needed on our old AIX boxes and the new version was needed for the new AIX boxes. In case you are wondering...No they would not allow us to buy the source for the old library.

Well you might get a small indication from these and similar experiences that the four freedoms found in the GPL are a very effective risk mitigation mechanism. When I was in school business case analysis included doing a risk analysis. This normally including gaining understanding of possibility of forced migration, data retention planning, and many, many other issues that seem to be ignored by most of todays CIOs.

Well risk mitigation is really not rocket science and I might note that no one will look out for your interests as well as you. But you need to learn how to watch out for your own interests.

Yes we all have the freedom to choose proprietary software or FLOSS but I hope we will all be realistic about the actual costs, benefits, and risks associated with our derisions.

While it is nice to feel good about having made a top notch ethical choice (to support freedom) when I choose FLOSS. But the business related risk mitigation makes the choice of FLOSS mandatory for me if I feel any type of stewardship over my business. The occasional exception occurs when a viable FLOSS choice is not known or available (a situation that is becoming increasingly rare).

By the way, if you happen to be a competitor of mine, please feel free to continue using your freedom to buy those great proprietary packages. It makes me so very happy to see you using your freedom in such a great way. Isn't freedom a wonderful thing!

Golodh, you assume too much. You assume that I haven't been confronted with, thought quite a bit about and addressed this particular point many times over yet it is enough for you to brand some of what I say as "clueless parroting". As someone who really REALLY dislikes precisely that, parroting rather than questioning assumptions taken for granted, this annoys me.

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For clues on just how much violence is inter-related with, and part of, the "free market" just look at the history of the mob in the US (waterfront trade unions, liquor running, the numbers racket, protection money, gambling, prostitution), and contemporary drugs trade). Those are all "free markets" of the most fundamental kind: lawless except for laws enforced by participants (individuals or groups) ... with violence.

In the article I said "where there is trade there is no violence". You then proceed to knock this down by pointing to social situations where violence existed. In other words you're setting up a straw man so you can, in so many words, easily knock it down.

I'm not sure I even need to add anything more to that. If my goal is non-violence then you cannot use examples of violence against it. If it helps you clarify I am not precisely and solely "against government". Being against government is merely a side effect of being against violence and coercion (without which violence doesn't exist).

Assuming that you use such a way of arguing in order to defend the existence of some kind of a government, some monopoly on violence, then I either have to assume that you do not believe in the goal of reducing violence or that you think this goal can be achieved by actually legitimizing violence.

If the former is the case then I don't really have much to say to you. If the latter is the case then I only have to ask, albeit not expecting a very honest answer since I'm used to getting evasive answers, how exactly do you fight violence by legitimizing it in the first place?

In short, you speak of people living in violence without states and say there are no laws but those set by the biggest gang with the biggest guns. Let me ask you, what else is a state if not the biggest gang with the big guns? Do you not realize the fact that you're still living in an aftermath of that violent anarchy you're describing? It's just that the biggest gang "won" by convincing people like you that it has the legitimate right to steal, kill, extort and so on and nobody else does, so that you can go to people like me and preach how they should continue to have this power to someone who believes that nobody should.

Pretty sad really.

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

Rufus Polson, a lot of what you say regarding freedom limited by the lack of options comes from a conflation of freedom with power. They are not the same thing, but are often taken to be given the incredible cultural whitewashing of the word "freedom".

Yet that line of reasoning is akin to saying that an individual isn't free to fly at the moments desire because the laws of nature prevent him. It's about taking naturally occurring limitations and proclaiming them to be somehow "immoral" or wrong all in order to justify legitimization of violence on part of one group of people over an arbitrary territory.

People who employ such reasoning also often answer positively to this question: Would you steal from an individual who has food in order to feed one who is starving? Somehow answering "yes" to that question, given our current cultural conditioning, seems righteous. A little Robin Hood is awakened in us. Yet if we stop at that we fail to realize what kind of a precedent we are setting up with such a reasoning. It means that one individual is responsible for the life of another, even if he has no relationship or contract with that another person whatsoever.

According to that I am responsible for lives of indefinite amount of people on Earth the moment I am born or at least the moment I produce something of value that can be stolen. This philosophy is often defended by the premise of interdependence between humans, the fact that no man is an island and we all need each other to survive and especially prosper. However, this is a pure straw man designed to obscure the fact that what you're really defending is mutual slavery. Interdependence is one thing, but being at the threat of force obliged to serve each other is far more than mere interdependence.

Arguing for freedom from such force and such servitude is in no way a denial of mutual interdependence. Trade and contracts are indeed forms of cooperation based on mutual trust and respect. It is probably the best kind of cooperation conceivable! So this straw man argument fails as well.

As for your defining of capitalism it's only mildly interesting to me in that your tone with regards to workers owning the factories seems quite familiar but at the same time I rarely see someone separate markets and capitalism. What's confusing though is that you think there can be a government and still a free market. The only hint at the reason why you think this (to me seeming contradiction) is true is your calling market transactions as "voluntary and sort of voluntary". This kind of imprecision raises a red alert for me. Either it is voluntary or it is not. What does "sort of" mean? It implies to me that your definition of trade somehow may include violence and therefore a monopoly on violence such as a government is somehow compatible with it.

None of which makes sense to me. Contradictions seldom make sense when unraveled once all the fuzzy yet well crafted verbosity is cleared.

Cheers

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

 

Hi!
Why should we read only the last sentence of Rufus Polson's post?
Because of «pseudo-philosophy» thing:

« Free Software in the Stallman conception is concerned with building up situations which allow people to actually have freedoms they can actually exercise, on an ongoing basis. Freshman Libertarian pseudo-philosophy does not make a serious challenge to this approach. »

Libertarians can be wrong, sure. But wrongness = pseudoness ? ...c 'mon...

peace,

Julio

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

 
Quote:

Why should we read only the last sentence of Rufus Polson's post?

. . . because you don't want to deal with its substance?

My apologies for the slur . . . but I have taken some philosophy courses and read some philosophy of different stripes, and Libertarianism (much like Postmodernism although the content is very different) just does not have anything close to the degree of rigor that it thinks it has, and does not even try to take into account most of the important thought on the topics it speaks to. Libertarians always seem to think that nobody ever looked into these questions before Libertarians did. Their stance is philosophical, but makes no real attempt to deal with a whole lot of relevant and powerful philosophical ideas; they isolate themselves from the broader currents of political philosophy. In that sense, from the perspective of philosophy I think it really not inaccurate to consider it a pseudo-philosophy.
I suppose it could still be *true* (or valid if you prefer) despite these characteristics (although as it happens I don't think it is) . . . but it would be like if a "scientist" who hasn't done any experiments or really learned about the relevant field came up with some way-out hypothesis and it turned out to be true--it doesn't become real science, and we can't say we *know* it's true, until people do the research and gather the evidence and defend the hypothesis against attempts to invalidate it or come up with better alternatives. Just as that person wouldn't have actually done science by coming up with their idea, Libertarians, whether right or wrong, don't really do philosophy.

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

Thanks for sharing your stereotypical generalizing, prejudices, appeals to authority and appeals to popularity with us Mr. Polson.

You built a really nice square compartment for me, but unfortunately, I don't quite seem to fit it.

Thanks for the attempt though.

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

 

Come now. Your own response to me above contains its share of stereotypical generalizing, so you can hardly complain. But it is worth engaging.

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Rufus Polson, a lot of what you say regarding freedom limited by the lack of options comes from a conflation of freedom with power. They are not the same thing, but are often taken to be given the incredible cultural whitewashing of the word "freedom".

It's easy for you to say cultural whitewashing, but it would be as easy for someone favouring definitions of freedom that admitted positive freedoms to say the "negative freedoms only" advocates were engaged in cultural whitewashing. It's a meaningless criticism. As to power, I can only imagine that your definition of power must be a strange one. Autonomy is power? I suppose, but does that mean your idea of freedom does not require autonomy?
Of course in some ways it's actually very difficult to separate "freedom to" and "freedom from", as I believe you yourself mentioned higher in comments. Not for semantic reasons, but because unless you categorically decide the only source of coercion must be government, and the only form the more or less direct threat of armed force, the whole social milieu a person finds themselves in is engaged in coercion of them to varying degrees in varying ways. Behave this way or you will be ostracized. Behave that way or you will starve. Think this way because these are the thoughts we expose you to from youth and tell you many many times that other thoughts are sinful. All those sorts of coercion should be minimized--but minimizing those sorts of coercion is more normally thought of as granting positive freedoms rather than negative.

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Yet that line of reasoning is akin to saying that an individual isn't free to fly at the moments desire because the laws of nature prevent him.

No, it really isn't. For one thing, you carefully conflate the frivolous with the fundamental. Can someone be free if they are prevented from making any meaningful choices about what they do? No. Can someone be free if flying under their own power happens not to be among those choices? Yes. More importantly, you confuse the physical with the political. This analogy amounts to a claim that society must be treated as a "given", that its form is fixed by natural laws. Freedom, as you know perfectly well, is a social and political attribute, and arguments for freedom including your own regularly envision changing society to allow for its increase. One could as readily claim that advocacy of negative freedoms amounted to attempts to outlaw cystic fibrosis as an unreasonable, coerced interference with the person. This would of course be nonsense. And indeed, negative freedoms and advocacy for them are very important.

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It's about taking naturally occurring limitations and proclaiming them to be somehow "immoral" or wrong all in order to justify legitimization of violence on part of one group of people over an arbitrary territory.

As I say, in a society there is no "naturally occurring" base state. Violence . . . I'll get to that in a bit.

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People who employ such reasoning also often answer positively to this question: Would you steal from an individual who has food in order to feed one who is starving? Somehow answering "yes" to that question, given our current cultural conditioning, seems righteous. A little Robin Hood is awakened in us.

Hmmm . . . how much food do they have? How did they get it? *Why* is the starving one starving? Is the starving one my daughter? How many people currently have food and how many don't?
But this is of course a straw man. The intention is to bolster the equation of states, taxation, regulation etc. as equivalent to theft. And indeed, theft as equivalent to violence . . . if I steal someone's property, is that *really* the same as killing them, or even beating them up?
To mirror your tone, people who employ your sort of reasoning often prefer to keep everything very simple, drawing easy chains of analogy and marking "equals" signs between them. But things are *not* simple. Analogizing different acts does *not* make them the same.

Personally, I don't find non-democratic states to be legitimate. And I have reservations about just how democratic any actually existing states are. But *democratic* states cannot be genuinely compared to your example. You're all for contracts, yes? Can contracts be between multiple signatories? Of course they can.
OK. If you live in a democratic state, particularly if you vote, you are a party to a contract. This contract says that you will gain the benefits involved in living in the area claimed by that state in return for accepting the responsibilities and following the rules the state defines, as long as those responsibilities and rules are endorsed by a majority of the population (through democratic rulemaking of some sort, whether direct or representative). Not only that, you can at any time end your agreement to this contract by leaving. Having given your general consent to the setup, if a majority decide taxation is a good thing it's something you have in effect agreed to; if you decide that on balance taxation makes it a bad agreement, you can leave. Whether you consider this sort of deal acceptable or not, it is certainly not equivalent in any way to unilateral theft from random people to give to other random people.
Of course, most people were born in some state or other, and most parts of the world are not stateless. So people's positive freedom to see the advantages of being somewhere with other arrangements and going to such a place is somewhat constrained. But someone who argues for only negative freedoms can hardly have a problem with that. It's a difficulty that only exists in terms of positive "freedom to".

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Yet if we stop at that we fail to realize what kind of a precedent we are setting up with such a reasoning. It means that one individual is responsible for the life of another, even if he has no relationship or contract with that another person whatsoever.

Really? It means that? Say I ask you if you will give ten bucks to a worthy charity and that your ten bucks will help feed a particular starving child. Does saying "yes" make you *responsible* for the lives of all other starving children and mean you must give me everything you own? Aside from the ethics breach of stealing (as in, you did or did not steal the ten bucks that you then gave), the two situations are identical. This seems not only weird, but also irrelevant to your primary problem with the act of "Robin Hoodism".

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According to that I am responsible for lives of indefinite amount of people on Earth the moment I am born or at least the moment I produce something of value that can be stolen.

Nonsense. Doesn't remotely follow. You draw nothing resembling a logical connection. But it is in any case irrelevant to the question of states, redistribution in democratic societies and so forth.

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This philosophy is often defended by the premise of interdependence between humans, the fact that no man is an island and we all need each other to survive and especially prosper. However, this is a pure straw man designed to obscure the fact that what you're really defending is mutual slavery. Interdependence is one thing, but being at the threat of force obliged to serve each other is far more than mere interdependence.

Mm. What is "force"? Clearly pointing a gun at your head and saying "Do X or you die" is force. Libertarians certainly agree that in a society with governments, any rule made by the government is ultimately backed by the existence of force, no matter how implicit--even if the theoretical penalty for non-compliance is, say, a small fine (as in returning a public library book late), the ability to make you pay it depends ultimately on force of arms. So the social connection with force remains, even where it is indirect, and even if most citizens basically agree to a sort of social contract with the library.
OK, now what if I point something at your head and say "I will make you and your children starve if you don't do what I tell you." The thing I point can actually cause that outcome. Is that force? I think fairly clearly it is. Death is death. What if I point something and say “I will cause you to lose your house if you don’t do what I say?” But does that not mean that any and all arrangements creating economic necessities are also implicitly force? And pollution must certainly be violence, because pollution generally kills people--random people often quite disconnected from the polluter, but that kind of disconnection doesn't make government violence less violent, right?

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Arguing for freedom from such force and such servitude is in no way a denial of mutual interdependence. Trade and contracts are indeed forms of cooperation based on mutual trust and respect. It is probably the best kind of cooperation conceivable! So this straw man argument fails as well.

Trade and contracts are sort of, sometimes, forms of co-operation based on mutual trust and respect. Often in fact they are not. And paradoxically, the less force (government) is applied to regulating them, the more they generally depart from norms of co-operation or mutual trust. After all, trade is explicitly based on the attempt to gain advantage; selfishness is invoked as necessary for trade to function properly. The obvious result is that if one can gain more by cheating, by violating trust and co-operation, than by genuine co-operation, the proper thing to do is to cheat. In the absence of any coercion to stop it, fraudulent behaviour is very common and markets fail. And this is definitely something where there are degrees.

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As for your defining of capitalism it's only mildly interesting to me in that your tone with regards to workers owning the factories seems quite familiar but at the same time I rarely see someone separate markets and capitalism.

You should. You rarely see someone separating markets and capitalism because people are extremely sloppy with their use of terms. Incidentally, please note that my description of workers owning factories is *not* the same as governments owning them; different groups of workers can own different firms which trade amongst themselves, all of which can be quite separate from the government. Imagine a company with equal stockholders, all of whom happen to work there; formalize such an arrangement to prevent buyouts and automatically give new employees stock, and there you are. The anarcho-syndicalists envision quite a different society from the more statist socialists. Also note that I didn't actually take a position on whether any of these is desirable, I was just defining. Capitalism is defined by capital, not by markets. Capital is the extra value the private owners get out of the labour of workers; in capitalism economic growth results from the application of this capital to increased production. That's the definition, for better or worse. Markets have nothing to do with it.

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What's confusing though is that you think there can be a government and still a free market.

Well, actually, I think there can't genuinely be a "free market" under any circumstances whatever. They can't exist. They are at least as impossible as Soviet ideals of Communism. They are in fact internally contradictory. A true "free market" is defined as operating without any kind of constraints. But markets are social institutions built and created by the imposition of constraints; they fall apart in their absence. There can be no such thing as a free market. The closest approaches, however—functioning markets—require government.

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The only hint at the reason why you think this (to me seeming contradiction) is true is your calling market transactions as "voluntary and sort of voluntary". This kind of imprecision raises a red alert for me. Either it is voluntary or it is not. What does "sort of" mean? It implies to me that your definition of trade somehow may include violence and therefore a monopoly on violence such as a government is somehow compatible with it.

Your kind of precision raises a red flag with me. It implies to me that you consider all situations to be reducible to very simple groupings in which only one or a very few factors can apply, making it necessary to abstract away most of what actually happens in the world to fit the factors you wish to pay attention to.
Market transactions cannot be completely voluntary in an absolute sense. Let me talk for a moment about early industrial revolution England. At that time, most of the poor had small plots of land (although not enough to really feed them), had access to common lands traditionally held by all, and regularly engaged in gathering herbs, mushrooms and so forth and in hunting. Typically none of this was enough for them to live on; they would do some work for pay, or maintain themselves through independent craft work. But their work for pay was limited, just a small portion of the things they did to get by. And they generally preferred it that way—when offered full time work for wages, they generally did not accept it. But the upper echelons of society were moving towards a model that required full time workers. It is not a co-incidence that at about this time, many laws were passed dividing the common lands among (larger) landowners and denying access to the people who had previously used them, draconian laws against poaching were enacted, and various pressures were mounted which drastically reduced the size of those little plots of land. A new situation was created in which the poor had few choices but to go work for wages. At that point, they then went and signed contracts to do work in return for money, in market transactions. So tell me, were those market transactions voluntary? Were they based on mutual trust and respect? The specific people these new poor went to work for probably didn’t themselves pass those laws, although they may have voted for those who did. The employers certainly didn’t point a gun at the heads of the workers and say “Work for me or else!” But force was nonetheless brought to bear to change the situation they lived in so that their choices would be circumscribed, otherwise they would not have chosen to enter those market relations (and indeed, would have left market relations as a smaller part of their lives, emphasizing self-sufficiency over markets, although not excluding markets entirely). Now this may seem quaint and irrelevant. But first of all, this story is the foundation of capitalism as we know it. And second, this sort of engineering of people’s environment is going on all the time to various degrees in various ways, sometimes with direct government involvement, sometimes by the actions of oligopolies or cartels, sometimes through advertising and public relations. Market relations happen in an environment, not in a vacuum, and people’s acceptance or rejection of particular transactions is based on the choices that have been made available to them or taken away (or hidden) from them. Given that, there can be no absolutely free choice in any market transaction (or indeed any transaction of any sort). In reality, they are all “sort of” voluntary—and this is not an artifact of a particular society, but of the basic nature of any kind of society.
But there can be degrees. It is meaningful to talk about market and other choices as being more free or less free, involving more coercion or less coercion, more manipulation or less manipulation. Whenever someone tries to talk in binary about this kind of thing, where something either is or isn’t, as you put it a red flag goes up for me. In the case of freedom, a serious analysis which first accepted that binary would have to conclude that there is and can be no such thing as freedom and so all possible forms of society are completely unfree. That would be ridiculous and also leave one with no option but despair. There is no absolute freedom, but there could be much more than we have, and there could be quite a bit less (East Germany in the Soviet era comes to mind, as does say Guatemala in the US-backed-dictatorship era). But the point of positive freedoms is to create an environment in which transactions (market or otherwise) are more free—where people’s environment has been engineered to give them choices rather than engineered to take them away. It’s pointless to say “But people’s environment shouldn’t be engineered at all”—people’s environment *will* be engineered one way or another, that’s how societies work—no, more, it’s what a society *is*. If you leave the engineering to those motivated by gain, it will be done to people’s detriment and reduce their freedom.

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None of which makes sense to me. Contradictions seldom make sense when unraveled once all the fuzzy yet well crafted verbosity is cleared.

Well. I don’t believe the contradiction you stated, but I do certainly believe that in engineering parlance, negative feedback is useful to stop engines from flying apart. And I do certainly believe that markets are not something that exists independently of society which will be revealed in glory if you remove all scaffolding of human interference from it, but rather something that must be built and structured by human activity. As you remove structure, you remove the elements that specify the institution involved will operate as a market and not as, say, a gambling casino, elaborate confidence game, or site of theft or banditry. In extreme cases the result is neither free nor predominantly a market.
I’m pleased that you think my verbosity is well crafted. Yours is as well. But as to whose is fuzzy, or prone to logical fallacies, it’s not surprising my opinion is that the shoe is on the other foot.

Cheerio,
Rufus

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

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Rufus Polson, a lot of what you say regarding freedom limited by the lack of options comes from a conflation of freedom with power. They are not the same thing, but are often taken to be given the incredible cultural whitewashing of the word "freedom".

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It's easy for you to say cultural whitewashing, but it would be as easy for someone favouring definitions of freedom that admitted positive freedoms to say the "negative freedoms only" advocates were engaged in cultural whitewashing. It's a meaningless criticism.

It was not a criticism. I merely pointed to the existence of cultural whitewashing of the word "freedom". Who is to blame for it I did not specify.

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As to power, I can only imagine that your definition of power must be a strange one.

I define it as an ability to act in a certain way or do something or to control something. Given that this easily corresponds with how wikipedia defines "power" in philosophy it's far from a "strange" or uncommon definition.

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Autonomy is power?

Autonomy may be considered a power or an ability, as in one of the possible powers that a being can have, but it is not necessarily definition of power in general. A being might have certain powers over the environment yet not have the power of autonomy as something other than itself might have direct total or partial, permanent or temporary control over its actions.

For example a rat may to some extent have the power of autonomy, to act on its own, until a human wires its brain and begins controlling its actions directly. In that case the rat loses some or all autonomy, but still has the power to walk around for example. When a human controls where the rat walks (s)he is exercising the power to control the rats brain, but the rat is still exercising its own power to walk even if not its power to decide whether to walk or not.

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I suppose, but does that mean your idea of freedom does not require autonomy?

Within the context of the above it does actually, but as shown this doesn't mean that the concept of freedom and the concept of power are the same thing and that when you talk about some power you are always talking about freedom. Autonomy may be a pre-requisite of freedom, but freedom is autonomy plus the condition of its exercise without fear of force applied by someone else.

It is easy to see why people so often conflate power with freedom here. It's a language based rhetoric. If you say that freedom is an "ability to act autonomously without fear of force" people tend to see "freedom is ability" without seeing the condition: without fear of force. An ability is power, but ability plus that condition is freedom - a condition of being free, a state of freedom. But once this mental switch happens and turns into a popular meme all of a sudden people who believe in being free begin to think that every mere ability is freedom and therefore desire it on the basis that without such ability they are like slaves.

And voila, all the entitlements proclaimed as "rights" and "freedoms" are born. Yet if you would only ask the following question you would begin to see how senseless and self-contradictory this is:

If "freedom' is "power" then what is the "power" of those from whom we wish to be free? It is indeed a rhetorical question, perhaps, but one worth asking given the fact that we, when conflating freedom with power, use two terms for the same thing. It hardly has any other answer but this: If freedom is power then of course power of those from who we wish to be free is also freedom. Therefore we are trying to limit the freedom of ones to have the freedom of others in which case nobody can ever be truly free. Both sites may feel equally morally entitled to freedom however and therefore have their own "legitimate" freedom cause. We have people arguing for the freedom to steal and people arguing for the freedom from theft and both feel right in their cause.

Thus this conflation of freedom and power self-destructs the cause of freedom by making it meaningless by itself. It describes then nothing more than a petty struggle for more power than one already has and leads to people feeling moral outrage over not being handed achievements and abilities on a silver platter, as if the natural universe itself is morally wrong and they morally righteous.

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Of course in some ways it's actually very difficult to separate "freedom to" and "freedom from", as I believe you yourself mentioned higher in comments. Not for semantic reasons, but because unless you categorically decide the only source of coercion must be government, and the only form the more or less direct threat of armed force, the whole social milieu a person finds themselves in is engaged in coercion of them to varying degrees in varying ways. Behave this way or you will be ostracized. Behave that way or you will starve. Think this way because these are the thoughts we expose you to from youth and tell you many many times that other thoughts are sinful. All those sorts of coercion should be minimized--but minimizing those sorts of coercion is more normally thought of as granting positive freedoms rather than negative.

First off, I never said government is the only source of coercion. You're putting that in my mouth. I say freedom is absence of coercion. That's a condition of being free. I don't care who does the coercing so whether it is a government or a lone thief or a group of bandits or whomever else doing the coercing I find it to be a violation of victim's freedoms.

Secondly you're trying to define coercion in a way that leads to a yet another self-contradiction unless you think that initiation of force cannot even be considered a form of coercion which I gather you don't. You include social ostracism in it, that is, individuals deciding not to interact with some other individual. You even include acts of conveying certain ideas to someone repeatedly as acts of coercion. And you wish to minimize this.

Yet your tactic of minimizing is to use force (one form of coercion) against those other supposed forms of coercion. You would use coercion to minimize coercion.

If you want to wiggle out of this self contradiction by saying that you merely want to use one form of coercion against others because some forms of coercion are in some contexts worse than others and that they are therefore worth exercising for the "greater good" then I want to ask you by whose values is it worse and by whose values to you distinguish between a context in which a form of coercion is worse and a context in which it isn't? Who gets to decide? A democracy? But isn't a democracy itself an arbitrary social construct as well? Who gets to decide whether democracy itself is the best way of deciding? Doesn't this lead to heavy bureaucratic micromanagement of each others lives that we see around ourselves?

The next question from me would be obvious. Why cannot I decide for me and that which is mine and you decide for you and that which is yours? Sure sometimes my decisions are going to affect you and yours will sometimes affect mine in ways that are sometimes hard to even foresee and predict. It's what they sometimes call a butterfly effect. However, this as much corresponds to natural processes in the universe affecting all of us in various ways (variety of which I don't consider to be morally reprehensible) as the fact that you were born.

Using coercion against each other for fear of these effects does absolutely nothing against them. It only exarcebates the "problem" whereas one group of people is given the right to arbitrarily prefer and apply one type of effect over the other. It's an attempt to engineer the society top down. Mass theft is used as a solution to poverty, for example, because somehow the effects of mass theft are considered worse than the effects of poverty? And nobody can see even the possibility that mass theft itself may be among the chief causes of poverty?

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Yet that line of reasoning is akin to saying that an individual isn't free to fly at the moments desire because the laws of nature prevent him.

No, it really isn't. For one thing, you carefully conflate the frivolous with the fundamental. Can someone be free if they are prevented from making any meaningful choices about what they do? No. Can someone be free if flying under their own power happens not to be among those choices? Yes.

And what, according to you, differentiates "frivolous" from "fundamental" here? In the former case what limits the choices of an individual are choices of other individuals. In the latter case the choices of an individual are limited by its nature as a human being. Do you see individuals making choices for themselves as incongruent with their nature? Because if it is congruent with their nature then there really is no fundamental difference between the two cases.

You might argue that the difference is that it's impossible for a human to fly on its own, but it is possible to prevent choices of one human to negatively affect another. But as someone who supposedly studied philosophy you should quickly see how ludicrous this is. By making a choice to coerce you ARE negatively affecting individuals, and what's worst, doing so as a tool of supposedly preventing exactly that. This shows that the fact choices of one has effects on another is as inescapably natural as the fact that you don't have wings and trying to fight either only proves it even more. Trying to fly will prove beyond doubt that you can't. Trying to prevent choices from effecting each other by choosing to coerce will only shift the effects of you on others, again proving the inevitable.

But that's what advocates of top down order apparently don't seem to understand or don't want to understand. They try to force their own vision of a "good society", the will of individual participators be damned when they say so. They thereby deliberately cause conflict while trying to build a society of harmony. That never works. It simply CANNOT work. It is fundamentally self-contradictory and surreal.

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More importantly, you confuse the physical with the political.

Political is wholly dependent on physical. It is the nature of things which first needs to be determined before we can even begin to discuss their organization.

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This analogy amounts to a claim that society must be treated as a "given", that its form is fixed by natural laws.

No it doesn't. It only means that its form is limited by natural laws and that natural laws have an inevitable and unforgiving effect on it. A lot of people seem to treat human action and human beings as somehow exempt or separate from nature when they in fact are not. There are natural laws governing human behavior and social interaction and anyone who thinks they can fight them by force while at the same time building a harmonious society is severely deluded.

Nature is self-consistent. Use of force to coerce an individual to act against his own will obviously creates a conflict (between the coercer and the coerced as well as an internal conflict within the coerced between his fear and the value of doing what he really wants). You cannot cause a harmonious society into existence by instead deliberately causing disharmony.

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Freedom, as you know perfectly well, is a social and political attribute, and arguments for freedom including your own regularly envision changing society to allow for its increase.

Changing society perhaps, but not through top down engineering, not by having a "better" monopoly on violence (AKA government) established to force a social construct I deem valuable. Rather if my kind of social change will happen it will happen by the means which are consistent with the end - through voluntary interaction, through peaceful dissemination of ideas and voluntary non-compliance to legitimized coercion happening around us.

A society without coercion cannot be built through coercion.

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One could as readily claim that advocacy of negative freedoms amounted to attempts to outlaw cystic fibrosis as an unreasonable, coerced interference with the person. This would of course be nonsense. And indeed, negative freedoms and advocacy for them are very important.

I am not advocating negative freedoms. I am advocating a condition of freedom - absence of coercion when choosing for myself. Therefore unlike advocates of positive freedoms I wouldn't go about inventing this and that new nonsensical "freedom from" the way positive freedoms advocates invent "freedoms to" because I don't conflate freedom and power nor freedom with lack of natural limitations.

There is only one unavoidable exception to the latter if I consider the fact that other people coerce today as something that had to happen because it happened, a natural stage of our evolution which we had or have to go through - an evolutionary "mistake" like so many others that have caused extinction of hundreds of species which lived on this planet before - involving an entire specie bent on the mentality of mutual disharmony and conflict as a way forward.

But if I am making that exception it is only because I see this experiment with coercive social order as a failed one due to so many reasons I already dispersed above. Nature doesn't build things top down. It doesn't contradict itself. There is fundamental harmony between fundamental units of things (atoms to form molecules and molecules to form elements and so on) and therefore trying to introduce contradiction and disharmony only results in destruction of that which was into something else. If we are to remain a prosperous human race and not a bunch of dirt and smoke (as the technological power of human beings increases) we better abandon this pro-violence mentality (for the "greater good" which actually turns out to be a common evil) as soon as possible.

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It's about taking naturally occurring limitations and proclaiming them to be somehow "immoral" or wrong all in order to justify legitimization of violence on part of one group of people over an arbitrary territory.

As I say, in a society there is no "naturally occurring" base state. Violence . . . I'll get to that in a bit.

So you're basically saying human nature doesn't exist.

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People who employ such reasoning also often answer positively to this question: Would you steal from an individual who has food in order to feed one who is starving? Somehow answering "yes" to that question, given our current cultural conditioning, seems righteous. A little Robin Hood is awakened in us.

Hmmm . . . how much food do they have? How did they get it? *Why* is the starving one starving? Is the starving one my daughter? How many people currently have food and how many don't?

Well of course you need to ask those further questions if you think that theft is in some circumstances legitimate and right thing to do. You're basically putting yourself into the position of someone right to judge how another person is to use the fruits of his or her own efforts. This line of thinking, especially as implemented on a large scale as a monopoly on violence (the government) bypasses even as much as simply asking the one with food whether he wants to give or not let alone trying to convince him to do so, let alone pooling the money or food from others to help and other solutions which don't involve theft.

When you just outright legitimize theft in some arbitrarily defined instances why bother with anything else? The most "efficient" thing to do is to just threaten force if he doesn't give up his property and be done with it, right?

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But this is of course a straw man. The intention is to bolster the equation of states, taxation, regulation etc. as equivalent to theft.

And it is not theft? How exactly is that possible? What about threatening kidnapping (prison sentences) and further extortion (fines) if you don't pay up your taxes doesn't sound like theft to you?

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And indeed, theft as equivalent to violence . . . if I steal someone's property, is that *really* the same as killing them, or even beating them up?

Did I say they were? Some might be worse than others, depending on who you ask and in what context, but all of them including theft involve a violation of somebody's self. If you steal you're essentially taking labor from someone against their will. Nothing is free. One way or another somebody had to invest energy and effort into gaining their property. Your stealing a piece of it is essentially stealing some of that labor. Stealing labor is as you know what amounts to slavery. I see violence against you as a violation of you which is everything done upon you and the effects of your labor (your property) against your will.

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To mirror your tone, people who employ your sort of reasoning often prefer to keep everything very simple, drawing easy chains of analogy and marking "equals" signs between them. But things are *not* simple. Analogizing different acts does *not* make them the same.

Analogies are a way of communicating certain points in a way that may be easier to understand. I don't claim they are equal in general, but if I do claim equality on some level there's a reason for it and I think I'm doing quite a bit to explain my thoughts quite precisely here.

As for your mirroring my tone I suppose you're trying to point out I'm generalizing and that you wouldn't answer "yes" to that question ("Would you steal from an individual who has food in order to feed one who is starving?"). Fair enough, but your response to it above can still be telling. I responded to it above.

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Personally, I don't find non-democratic states to be legitimate. And I have reservations about just how democratic any actually existing states are. But *democratic* states cannot be genuinely compared to your example. You're all for contracts, yes? Can contracts be between multiple signatories? Of course they can.

Yes, if I am actually given a chance to understand and sign it and if the ones I am contracting with respect me and my property to begin with rather than claiming arbitrary jurisdiction that overrides it and gives them a supposed right to decide how to "regulate" its use.

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OK. If you live in a democratic state, particularly if you vote, you are a party to a contract. This contract says that you will gain the benefits involved in living in the area claimed by that state in return for accepting the responsibilities and following the rules the state defines, as long as those responsibilities and rules are endorsed by a majority of the population (through democratic rulemaking of some sort, whether direct or representative).

Area "claimed" by the state eh? What is the basis of such a claim? Their "contract" is utterly worthless if what they're offering as part of it actually isn't theirs to begin with. And how exactly can property be at the same time owned by individuals and claimed by said state?

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Not only that, you can at any time end your agreement to this contract by leaving.

Ahh so they just "claim" a huge swath of territory as something that's theirs to offer under said contract which at the same time somehow includes property of other people and then feel right to force me out of my own property if I don't agree to it? Sorry, but this whole social contract theory is a very weak BS theory designed to mask the theft and violence inherent to the state and even admitted on some occasions most famous one being by Barrack Obama who called it "essentially the monopoly on violence".

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Having given your general consent to the setup, if a majority decide taxation is a good thing it's something you have in effect agreed to; if you decide that on balance taxation makes it a bad agreement, you can leave. Whether you consider this sort of deal acceptable or not, it is certainly not equivalent in any way to unilateral theft from random people to give to other random people.

What is a "general" consent? Have I given consent or not? Why use such vague words? Don't think it isn't easy to figure out when you're using an argument even you yourself don't appear to be 100% sure about. And I think you well know this argument wont work.

It is not equivalent to unilateral theft. It IS unilateral theft and you would see it if you stopped taking so much for granted like all the layers of excuses, bureaucracy and political propaganda of favorite politicians. At the end of the day, the answer to the question of whether there are threats of force and actual force involved or not is clear.

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Of course, most people were born in some state or other, and most parts of the world are not stateless. So people's positive freedom to see the advantages of being somewhere with other arrangements and going to such a place is somewhat constrained. But someone who argues for only negative freedoms can hardly have a problem with that. It's a difficulty that only exists in terms of positive "freedom to".

That doesn't make any sense. If I argue for a freedom from coercion and there's no place on Earth where coercion wouldn't be exercised upon me I "can hardly have a problem with that"?

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Yet if we stop at that we fail to realize what kind of a precedent we are setting up with such a reasoning. It means that one individual is responsible for the life of another, even if he has no relationship or contract with that another person whatsoever.

Really? It means that? Say I ask you if you will give ten bucks to a worthy charity and that your ten bucks will help feed a particular starving child. Does saying "yes" make you *responsible* for the lives of all other starving children and mean you must give me everything you own? Aside from the ethics breach of stealing (as in, you did or did not steal the ten bucks that you then gave), the two situations are identical. This seems not only weird, but also irrelevant to your primary problem with the act of "Robin Hoodism".

You obviously didn't understand what I was saying because that ethics breach of stealing certainly isn't irrelevant. On what basis would someone legitimize such theft if not on a moral philosophy which holds those who have food in that example responsible for providing it to those who don't? If said theft is morally unjustified then you're also not responsible. You may give out of your own free will because you want to help, but not because you're responsible for the other person (unless you've formed an actual contract with that person before of course).

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According to that I am responsible for lives of indefinite amount of people on Earth the moment I am born or at least the moment I produce something of value that can be stolen.

Nonsense. Doesn't remotely follow. You draw nothing resembling a logical connection. But it is in any case irrelevant to the question of states, redistribution in democratic societies and so forth.

Again, if you follow the moral justification of above mentioned theft then this is indeed the result. Taking from those who have to give to those who don't becomes a moral norm in society. This moral norm produces the states which redistribute the wealth by stealing from ones to give to the others (and often to their cronies). If you resist this you're clamped on by people who bought into this thinking hook line and sinker about how you're morally responsible to contribute to society in order to provide a safety net for the poor regardless of whether you want it or not. People who resist typically do want to help. They just don't like being threatened jail time and legal harassment if they don't and wish to choose for themselves how and to whom to contribute.

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This philosophy is often defended by the premise of interdependence between humans, the fact that no man is an island and we all need each other to survive and especially prosper. However, this is a pure straw man designed to obscure the fact that what you're really defending is mutual slavery. Interdependence is one thing, but being at the threat of force obliged to serve each other is far more than mere interdependence.

Mm. What is "force"? Clearly pointing a gun at your head and saying "Do X or you die" is force. Libertarians certainly agree that in a society with governments, any rule made by the government is ultimately backed by the existence of force, no matter how implicit--even if the theoretical penalty for non-compliance is, say, a small fine (as in returning a public library book late), the ability to make you pay it depends ultimately on force of arms. So the social connection with force remains, even where it is indirect, and even if most citizens basically agree to a sort of social contract with the library.

Well you pretty much said it as far as defining force goes, but the threat of course doesn't have to be death. It can be violence of any kind from threatening to kidnap you (jail time) to threatening to up the demand and the threat of force with fines (the longer you don't pay the worse and more you have to pay and so on).

Public library is an interesting choice of an example. Technically "public property" as it is claimed is owned by everyone which flies in the face of there being anyone constrained by some rules on how to act upon it. I think public property is an oxymoron. Property is exclusive control yet "public" implies many individuals at the same time (opposite of exclusive). I therefore consider it unowned, albeit claimed by a government by a claim that is not a property claim, but more like perpetual occupation that forcefully prevents people from homesteading any of it as their own property. Productive use is being made of it, but the product is again nobody's or everybody's at the same time.

Considering this contradiction and consequent impossibility of "public property" I could in fact consider even small fines for not returning a book as theft, but that's according to government's own definition. If they say public property is everyone's then it's mine too. The book then is mine. Of course, this will never work. The whole concept is in conflict with itself. Public property cannot exist so I would barely even call for its abolishment. It's abolished before it even started. What needs to be abolished is state occupation of land and things which is currently considered "public property".

I don't fuss about fees for late book returns though. To some extent I could consider a public library akin to a private business. Government's agencies and businesses are compartmentalized to some extent after all and while I know they receive stolen money in funding from the government I can follow their contract. I don't have to tell you though that I prefer to get my books and anything else from private businesses however.

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OK, now what if I point something at your head and say "I will make you and your children starve if you don't do what I tell you." The thing I point can actually cause that outcome. Is that force? I think fairly clearly it is. Death is death. What if I point something and say “I will cause you to lose your house if you don’t do what I say?” But does that not mean that any and all arrangements creating economic necessities are also implicitly force? And pollution must certainly be violence, because pollution generally kills people--random people often quite disconnected from the polluter, but that kind of disconnection doesn't make government violence less violent, right?

One can make such a threat, but if he or she uses solely voluntary means to get what he or she wants even if it is trying to make someone starve or lose a house then they're limited by the same limitations that the one whom he or she threatens is. It is in other words an equal playing field. One does not gain a government grant, bribe a politician or pay a lobbyist or an army of lawyers to get the government to use its violence in their favor (by passing a favorable law for example).

Furthermore, liability of business actors in a stateless free market isn't limited as is typical with state registered corporations. The state doesn't stand between you and the market.

What I'm getting at is that having a state provides a much better tool of those who would want to starve you or get you to the streets than a free market, a tool which is ready made and more malleable to the manipulation of the wealthy and powerful than the poor as the recent big corporate bail outs so vividly demonstrate.

Also, your argument seems to assume complete powerlessness and lack of ingenuity on part of the one being threatened in such a way. Given that nothing but coercion and fraud is illegitimate in such a society far more options exist for a "small" (in terms of wealth) person. Even those without money stand a chance of blowing the whistle on the company which treats its customers or potential partners in such a way. Without state's limited liability protections and the ability to lobby for favorable laws, how long do you think such a business would stay before suffering a market backslash?

In any case what kind of a solution is it, again, to even a remote possibility of something like this occurring, to have an institution which is defined as a monopoly on violence, as a group which can deal these kinds of threats to people and worse and get away with it completely, an institution which can kill thousands up to millions in petty wars and get away with it. You can barely compare and it is just absolutely ludicrous to me that it is still so ardently defended let alone still suggested as a necessary solution to some evils.

So no, such a threat is not coercion if threats of actual force are not involved. If solely voluntary economic activity are the tools on the table a poor man is far more powerful than in a society in which a government can be bought by the wealthy or in which a government itself is the one you're up against.

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Arguing for freedom from such force and such servitude is in no way a denial of mutual interdependence. Trade and contracts are indeed forms of cooperation based on mutual trust and respect. It is probably the best kind of cooperation conceivable! So this straw man argument fails as well.

Trade and contracts are sort of, sometimes, forms of co-operation based on mutual trust and respect. Often in fact they are not. And paradoxically, the less force (government) is applied to regulating them, the more they generally depart from norms of co-operation or mutual trust. After all, trade is explicitly based on the attempt to gain advantage; selfishness is invoked as necessary for trade to function properly. The obvious result is that if one can gain more by cheating, by violating trust and co-operation, than by genuine co-operation, the proper thing to do is to cheat. In the absence of any coercion to stop it, fraudulent behaviour is very common and markets fail. And this is definitely something where there are degrees.

Trade and contracts would not happen to begin with if there was not some trust and respect. What you're talking about are cases where such respect or trust was misplaced, and then you're pulling out some facts out of thin air (putting it politely) about the frequency of how this happens and this proportionality between the amount of coercion (actual total disrespect of principles of trade) and successful trade which don't make any sense whatsoever.

You also appear to be ignorant of something called self-defense which indeed includes defense from theft which is typically the result of fraud. Especially without government's control of means of self defense, fraud would indeed have its costs. You don't cheat a person or steal from him so easily if he's prepared to defend what is his own. Private gun ownership and training however is just the more simple form of stateless contract enforcement.

As you may know market demand produces impetus for supply. Obviously there is demand for contract enforcement and security. One more sophisticated example are companies which do insurance and dispute resolution which you may have a subscription to (for much less than your taxes). In case of fraud you can sue the other person via that company in which he would face a choice of either responding to the suit, agreeing to the contract of the company (to which you already agreed as its subscriber) or being put on record as someone who refused to answer allegations which may make it difficult for him to do business with others in the future (because they fear being defrauded too).

If he does respond then you have a chance to prove your case in a similar manner as you would in government courts except for all of the authoritarian bullshit (like rising for the judge) made to instill in you a deep sense of compliance to this group of thugs.

OK.. I'm incredibly tired of writing now. I might summarily write a response to the rest of your post later, if you even care.. A lot of your points however have been addressed in detail in various literature and online material. I feel you don't quite understand what you're arguing against and are still mired rather deeply in unquestioned misconceptions. Studying philosophy doesn't necessarily make you a good philosopher. Being crafty in your written language doesn't either. Thinking for yourself, testing the limits and truly, honestly and genuinely questioning that which you're most afraid to question as well as every given assumption does.

Also, imprecise terminology and appeals to complexity to justify your inability or unwillingness to wade deeper into the fundamentals, inner workings, of your concepts doesn't inspire much confidence in your thinking.

I never deny complexity, but I realized long ago that complex things must fundamentally be consisted of specific units which first have to be understood before we can go and interconnect each of them to each other to observe a complex system. This is why people who tell me I'm oversimplifying it aren't at all convincing. It's just a sign that they're trying to avoid something that's obvious to them, but too inconvenient to have a conscious mind address head on.

Just as the "collective" cannot exist without individuals (therefore making individualism a fundamentally more sound type of philosophy) the complex systems of interdependencies cannot exist without simple individual processes and events that make them up (making reductionist philosophy more sound than post-modern vagueness and verbosity).

Regards

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

 

@Memenode

Quote:

Golodh, you assume too much. You assume that I haven't been confronted with, thought quite a bit about and addressed this particular point many times over yet it is enough for you to brand some of what I say as "clueless parroting". [...]

I really have no idea what you do or say outside your postings, only what you wrote. In that respect I have no reason whatsoever to revise my original assessment.

Quote:

In the article I said "where there is trade there is no violence". You then proceed to knock this down by pointing to social situations where violence existed. In other words you're setting up a straw man so you can, in so many words, easily knock it down.

I believe the examples I gave are anything but "straw man" examples, but rather cut to the heart of the issue. Violence is very much compatible with trade, and has been as long as mankind exists. I'm still waiting for a hint of a rebuttal in this respect. Just to be clear: merely disagreeing doesn't count as a rebuttal.

Quote:

I'm not sure I even need to add anything more to that. If my goal is non-violence then you cannot use examples of violence against it.

Nonsense. Presenting examples showing that violence is endemic and arises in the absence of any "state" proves that your premisse "violence can be avoided by abolishing the state" is wrong. Dead wrong in fact.

Quote:

Assuming that you use such a way of arguing in order to defend the existence of some kind of a government, some monopoly on violence, then I either have to assume that you do not believe in the goal of reducing violence or that you think this goal can be achieved by actually legitimizing violence.

Wrong again. I firmly believe that an absence of violence is an unstable situation that lasts until the arrival of the first psycho, the first criminal, the first man who believes that there aren't enough resources of type X around to sustain both himself and someone else, or the first individual who feels that someone's possessions are worth a brief struggle. I don't know if you've ever watched children at play (from kindergartens to high school), but from what I've seen violence sometimes emerges spontaneously in all age groups. It really goes that deep.

That has nothing to do with the existence or otherwise of a government. Just with human nature. There will be a level of violence no matter what you do. The best way we've discovered so far to make the level of violence bearable, manageable, and as non-destructive as possible is to have a police force. Ergo a government.

Quote:

In short, you speak of people living in violence without states and say there are no laws but those set by the biggest gang with the biggest guns.

Exactly.

Quote:

Let me ask you, what else is a state if not the biggest gang with the big guns?

That, my boy, entirely depends on the political system that's in place. Your characterization would fit most kinds of dictatorship. It does not fit a democratic state, since there all conflicts regarding the direction and extent of state control are resolved by the ballot. A system which, incidentally, was invented for precisely that purpose. So your question really doesn't contain that germ of refutation you apparently thought it might.

Quote:

Do you not realize the fact that you're still living in an aftermath of that violent anarchy you're describing? It's just that the biggest gang "won" by convincing people like you that it has the legitimate right to steal, kill, extort and so on and nobody else does, so that you can go to people like me and preach how they should continue to have this power to someone who believes that nobody should.

No, I'm sure this is nonsense too. Simply because I know I can vote with my feet. I can buy a ticket to Somalia (or any failed state of your choice), with its "blessed" absence of a central state (or any similar place) tomorrow morning if I so choose. Only I don't feel inclined to do so. You can if you wish.

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

Golodh wrote:
Quote:

In the article I said "where there is trade there is no violence". You then proceed to knock this down by pointing to social situations where violence existed. In other words you're setting up a straw man so you can, in so many words, easily knock it down.

I believe the examples I gave are anything but "straw man" examples, but rather cut to the heart of the issue. Violence is very much compatible with trade, and has been as long as mankind exists. I'm still waiting for a hint of a rebuttal in this respect. Just to be clear: merely disagreeing doesn't count as a rebuttal.

Do I have to draw it to you? If I say "where there is trade there is no violence" and then you describe societies in which violence existed you're certainly not cutting to the heart of the issue. My claim is that trade is not violence, that if an interaction represents trade then it does not involve violence. So you talking about examples in which violence is involved is just talking past me, talking about something else entirely.

If you want to actually attack my argument why not question my definition of trade so you actually know exactly what you're attacking and once we're clear of that try to prove that trade thus defined is compatible with violence.

I define trade as voluntary exchange of products and services. Keyword is "voluntary". Voluntary is the opposite of coerced and therefore cannot contain violence. If I do something voluntary that means I'm doing it under no duress, no threat of force, no guns pointed at my head. If I am forced to sell something that's no longer trade. It's just theft. This clearly I do not support so when you speak against societies ruined by violence you're talking against societies I do not advocate to begin with. Wanting to get rid of all violence isn't the same as simply wanting the government to go away as so many misled anarchists seem to do.

Golodh wrote:
Quote:

I'm not sure I even need to add anything more to that. If my goal is non-violence then you cannot use examples of violence against it.

Nonsense. Presenting examples showing that violence is endemic and arises in the absence of any "state" proves that your premisse "violence can be avoided by abolishing the state" is wrong. Dead wrong in fact.

Examples seldom prove anything since I can just as well come up with examples of people living in peace even though there's nobody holding the gun and calling himself police. In fact the way typical police force works it's not quite omnipresent. There are often places with no police nearby yet they don't suddenly fall into chaotic anarchy.

And when crime actually does happen police just come after the fact trying to hunt the criminal afterwards. That's not much of crime prevention if you ask me.

Furthermore, I'm not even so much against police as much as with a single group of people being allowed to have a monopoly on that service, violently shutting everyone else out not to mention disarming the populace so they're less capable of performing their own protection themselves.

If people are able and willing to defend themselves or otherwise be subscribed to a police agency (voluntarily being the key) who would do that for them deterrent to violent crime would exist just as well. Unfortunately you seem bent on trusting a single organization with that privilege and enforcing this trust through them at the point of a gun. What kind of a protector makes you the receiver of violent acts if you disagree to play by its arbitrary terms? I suppose you never quite want to ask those kinds of questions, do you?

Golodh wrote:
Quote:

Assuming that you use such a way of arguing in order to defend the existence of some kind of a government, some monopoly on violence, then I either have to assume that you do not believe in the goal of reducing violence or that you think this goal can be achieved by actually legitimizing violence.

Wrong again. I firmly believe that an absence of violence is an unstable situation that lasts until the arrival of the first psycho, the first criminal, the first man who believes that there aren't enough resources of type X around to sustain both himself and someone else, or the first individual who feels that someone's possessions are worth a brief struggle. I don't know if you've ever watched children at play (from kindergartens to high school), but from what I've seen violence sometimes emerges spontaneously in all age groups. It really goes that deep.

And why do you assume (again) that I wouldn't support defending against such a psycho or any violent person? Did I ever said I was a pacifist? No. I said I am against coercion (that is initiation of force without which violence obviously doesn't exist), but if someone already initiates violence against me I will defend myself and believe everyone else in the same situation is fair to do the same.

But legitimizing violence by establishing a monopoly on its initiation is certainly no mere self-defense or a mere provision of defense services. It is a positive acceptance of violence as the means of doing business in the name of "reducing violence".

Golodh wrote:

That has nothing to do with the existence or otherwise of a government. Just with human nature. There will be a level of violence no matter what you do. The best way we've discovered so far to make the level of violence bearable, manageable, and as non-destructive as possible is to have a police force. Ergo a government.

You really think so? Have you ever seriously questioned that assumption? A police force is fine by me dude, as I'm trying to tell you. What's not fine by me is turning it into a monopoly enforced by initiation of violence. That's not quite just providing protection to those who need it. It is becoming one people need protection from.

It's like a thug coming to town and proclaiming himself to be the protector of the town and then imposing this little arrangement of his according to which he gets to steal from everyone a percentage of their income in exchange for their right to vote for which rules he's gonna impose on them and forbidding anyone else to compete with him. You call that the best way of dealing with violence. I call that the very establishment of violence. If you truly want to deal with violence, minimize it, then this is an incredibly foolish and self-contradictory way to go about it. It's like preaching peace while pointing guns at people when they disagree with your methods.

Golodh wrote:
Quote:

In short, you speak of people living in violence without states and say there are no laws but those set by the biggest gang with the biggest guns.

Exactly.

Quote:

Let me ask you, what else is a state if not the biggest gang with the big guns?

That, my boy, entirely depends on the political system that's in place. Your characterization would fit most kinds of dictatorship. It does not fit a democratic state, since there all conflicts regarding the direction and extent of state control are resolved by the ballot. A system which, incidentally, was invented for precisely that purpose. So your question really doesn't contain that germ of refutation you apparently thought it might.

So you get to vote for whom is gonna be your master and which rules they're gonna force on you. How nice. And those who happen to disagree with this little "deal" are just fucked, aren't they? I mean, so what if they're human beings too with minds of their own who want peace just as much as you presumably do. The fact they don't agree with your methodology gets guns pointed in their faces or exile from their property in the land occupied by the gang implementing this methodology you prefer.

No, I don't suppose you ever tried to think of it that way. You were just told right to vote somehow makes it all right and you et that lie up like a good citizen. You call me boy... I call you a good boy. Smiling A little too "good" I might add. Do you remember any advice about "questioning everything"? Is democracy not included in "everything" for some reason?

Golodh wrote:
Quote:

Do you not realize the fact that you're still living in an aftermath of that violent anarchy you're describing? It's just that the biggest gang "won" by convincing people like you that it has the legitimate right to steal, kill, extort and so on and nobody else does, so that you can go to people like me and preach how they should continue to have this power to someone who believes that nobody should.

No, I'm sure this is nonsense too. Simply because I know I can vote with my feet. I can buy a ticket to Somalia (or any failed state of your choice), with its "blessed" absence of a central state (or any similar place) tomorrow morning if I so choose. Only I don't feel inclined to do so. You can if you wish.

As I already mentioned this "voting with my feet" is essentially a reference to exile. Why would I leave my own property in a given occupied land (AKA a country) if it's my own property? If it's my own property then I should be able to defend it against theft and control it as I see fit so long as I don't use it to violate other people's property. Yet you suggest I should just leave because a democratic gang tolerates no people who disagree with their methodology? Interesting.

As for Somalia that's another straw man, not to mention such a classic red herring. Yet again you refer to a place ruined by gang warfare in an attempt to establish THE STATE in an argument against someone who doesn't believe in gangs, none, not even That One you call government. I don't simply advocate anarchy (lack of archons or rulers). I don't simply want the government to go away. Immediate "smashing of the state" as it were never works. That's not how we achieve truly peaceful society.

Instead I advocate against the belief in violence to begin with including beliefs like yours, that some violence is necessary to reduce violence. States and gang warfare wont go away until we stop making violence itself culturally illegitimate and unacceptable. Once that happens states will naturally wither away. There may still be few psychos as you said, but deciding not to use coercion isn't the same as refusing to defend yourself or establish market based services offering such defense. The psychos can be dealt with.

But we'll make zero progress in terms of social evolution if we continue to believe violence is a tool against violence. One would think that should be obvious, but since it is not, I hope my points make it clearer. And I hope it is also clear I'm not quite what you seem to be expecting. You can throw away those pre-made categories of yours into one of which you wished to put me.

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