Le Bien Public

“Since the world began and men have killed one another no one has ever committed such a crime against his fellow man without comforting himself with this same idea. This idea is le bien public, the hypothetical welfare of other people.”

War and Peace, Book 11, Chapter 25

To secure his own escape from Moscow with the French about to invade, Tolstoy writes that the Governor of Moscow, Count Rostopchin, encouraged a mob that had gathered to attack and kill a prisoner that he turned over to them.  With the mob focused on the convict, Rostopchin left the city in a carriage that had been awaiting him in the back of the house.

What he has done, bothers the Count in this story.  The count then comforts himself with the idea that it was necessary for the good of the public.  As representative of the Tsar, he felt it was his duty to safeguard his own life.  It was his duty to his country, for the public good, to do as he had done.  He could not admit to himself that it was simply to save his own skin.  He had to have a more noble reason, le bien public.

I love how Tolstoy continues to expose the contradiction between what is thought reprehensible on a personal level, but becomes noble or good when done in the name of the collective.

 

 

Prince Andrew Bolkonsky on War

In War and Peace, Book 10, Chapter 27, Tolstoy puts the following words into the mouth of Prince Andrew Bolkonsky:

“But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country’s inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.”

This really gets to the heart of the contradiction of morality for individuals and that state.  What is done in the name of the state, would be considered evil if done in the name of an individual, in the name of an ego. When it comes to the state, to the collective, it seems to me that almost no one follows the Christian ethic of turn the other cheek, love thy enemy.  Instead, military members are venerated for doing what, otherwise, would be considered immoral.

Anarcho-syndicalism & Stirner

Somewhere along the line, since I have been into The Ego and His Own, I read that Stirner was best interpreted as closer to the Anarcho-syndicalist point of view.  I wasn’t exactly sure what Anarcho-syndicalism was, so I was listening to this youtube video about it. Benjamin Smith, the guy that narrates it, gives the impression that he has given a lot of thought to his positions, and he comes across very composed and intelligent.  He sounds that way until minute 22:30 where he gets emotional and blasts capitalism and markets, making use of an F-bomb.  His criticism is that markets are never going to be transparent.  It is entirely true that there is a lack of transparency because of the sheer complexity of the market.  I don’t see that as problematic, the way he does.  He thinks the lack of transparency leads to parasitic BS and the crisis the afflict capitalism.

 

What does he mean by parasitic BS?  I’m guessing exploitation of labor and mother earth.  Exploitation of labor is often a confusion that arises from Marx making use of the now defunct Labor Theory of Value.  Too often the idea that profit is theft from the workers underlies this position.  As to the exploitation of natural resources, private ownership is actually beneficial to conservation as the owner has the financial incentive to work to maintain the property he or she derives his income from.  Tree farms are an excellent example of this.

What does he mean by the crisis that afflict capitalism?  I think here he may mean the boom/bust cycles that so many lay at the feet of capitalism, when Austrian Business Cycle Theory does a better job explaining the phenomena.

Anyway, I was amused at how thoughtful and even-tempered he seemed until it came to talking about capitalism, then I sensed this hate of it that literally made me laugh out loud.

Anarcho-syndicalism sounds like just another version of the state, though he insists it is different. Smith promotes the idea of direct democracy on a local level because representative democracy is essentially oligarchy in his opinion.  How then are communities to get along?  They will establish federations with representatives because direct democracy only works on a small scale.  He sees that this is in conflict to his objection to representative democracy, and advocates steps to counteract the problems he sees with the oligarchy of representative democracy.  He recommends rotation of delegates, limited mandates and immediate recall.  He goes on to state that he gets it sounds bureaucratic, and this is where he justifies it because it permits transparency where the effing market does not.  It still cracks me up.

For more nerdy fun, here is a video (with more bad language) about  how to become a Max Stirner follower and de-spook yourself:

 

 

 

Stirner on Property

“There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or…ideologies…all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.”  C.S. Lewis

Stirner’s Egoism tries to isolate the Ego away from everything else that makes man, man.  Clearly we all have our own wants and desires, but most of those desires can only be realized in society because of our interdependent nature.  He has referenced a “union of egos” several times, so it seems that he does have some comprehension of the need for us to get along.  I look forward to getting to that part of the book to get a better explanation of what he means.  I think it is probably a “fixed idea”.  That is supposed to be a joke at Stirner’s expense, in case it didn’t come across.  I think it is probably bad form to blog about and criticize that which I don’t have a complete understanding about, but I guess I’m okay with having bad form.

Stirner’s thoughts on property are pretty much exactly the same as his thoughts on natural rights.  Your rights are only what you give yourself, your property is only that which you can claim by might.

The Ego and His Own

 In the State there is no property, i.e. no property of the individual, but only State property. Only through the State have I what I have, as I am only through it what I am.

This goes back to Stirner saying that if we let the state define what we can have as property, then the we are wards of the state, and let it grant us rights and call us criminals.

My private property is only that which the State leaves to me of its, cutting off others from it (depriving them, making it private); it is State property.

I really like this.  If we are to say that the state grants us property rights, we are to say that there is no such thing as property without the state.  If the state grants it, then the state can take it away.  From this point of view, you don’t really own your property, the state does.

I take the Frederic Bastiat point of view:

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

The problem I see with the Bastiat point of view is that the state is not a voluntary organization.  Most of us want laws that protect our property.  We think that a worthy thing, that we have a societal agreement that we should leave one another’s property alone, and that there should be recourse if our right to our property is violated.

Our government does so much more than protect our property, and much of it is antithetical to protecting our property.  For instance, many places will charge property tax if you own real property.  If you don’t pay this tax, the state will take your property.  This doesn’t happen often, but it is possible and it does happen.  It amounts to paying rent to the state instead of owning your property.  The state tells you what you can and can’t build on your property, thus again showing that it is the true owner.

If the state were a voluntary organization, one where we actually could disassociate from it, I think it could be set-up so that property owners come together to abide by rules of mutual respect for each other’s property.  I have read ideas thrown around about the state being more like an insurance company, and you would pay premiums to it for the protections it provides to you.  You could take your risk that you could protect your own property and decline to pay dues, but then you wouldn’t have access to the security force or the court system it would offer if you declined to pay.

 

What then is my property? Nothing but what is in my power! To what property am I entitled? To every property to which I — empower myself.* I give myself the right of property in taking property to myself, or giving myself the proprietor’s power, full power, empowerment.
Everything over which I have might that cannot be torn from me remains my property; well, then let might decide about property, and I will expect everything from my might!

Stirner makes the point that property comes to one through might.  I think this is grounded in truth.  Most of us think the first property owners became so by mixing their labor with the land, and thus claimed it for themselves.  They most likely had to protect it with their might as well, being willing to use force to defend it.  You can inherit property these days, but keeping it does involve using threat of force.  That threat of force is the law.  Laws are always backed by the threat of force.  I would like to see laws become simply people coming together to abide by mutual agreements.  As it is, it is like Stirner said, the state owns all and we are merely granted the privilege of using state property.

I am starting to like Stirner a little better because he seems, to me, to go where no one else will.  I think he is far too verbose, and I wish he could have been pithy.  I think he makes some good points. I think his lack of fear of going where others dare not tread lets him make those points.

 

Max Stirner’s Egoism

I’ve been listening to Max Stirner’s book The Ego and His Own on audio.  If I had to read it for myself, I would have stopped a long time ago.  As it is, I listen to it while I’m getting my morning walk, and stop listening to it once he has gotten on my nerves too badly.  I’ve made it through around two thirds of it.  He keeps repeating the same idea over and over and over.  I get that he is trying to bring out some nuance each time, but, to me, it all seems logically implied once you understand his idea.

His deal is that he thinks that each of us is a unique ego, but that our unique ego is co-opted when it becomes governed by fixed ideas.  If you let yourself be governed by fixed ideas, you are controlled by something that isn’t real, a spirit, a  spook.  His least favorite fixed ideas are the belief in God and the belief in humanity/law.  God is not real, it is just an idea that people have latched on to.  Humanity is the idea that we as individuals have to do what is right for the sake of the collective.  He sees the state, using law, gaining and administering it’s power based on the idea of humanity.  He proposed that once you latch on to such a fixed idea you act in opposition to your interests because you are serving the fixed idea, not yourself.

His ideas on rights are really interesting, though.

 When the Revolution stamped equality as a “right,” it took flight into the religious domain, into the region of the sacred, of the ideal. Hence, since then, the fight for the “sacred, inalienable rights of man.” Against the “eternal rights of man” the “well-earned rights of the established order” are quite naturally, and with equal right, brought to bear: right against right, where of course one is decried by the other as “wrong.” This has been the contest of rights* since the Revolution.
You want to be “in the right” as against the rest. That you cannot; as against them you remain forever “in the wrong”; for they surely would not be your opponents if they were not in “their right” too; they will always make you out “in the wrong.” But, as against the right of the rest, yours is a higher, greater, more powerful right, is it not? No such thing! Your right is not more powerful if you are not more powerful.

That is a good observation, that opposing ideals claim different things are human rights.

Later he says:

If you let yourself be made out in the right by another, you must no less let yourself be made out in the wrong by him; if justification and reward come to you from him, expect also his arraignment and punishment. Alongside right goes wrong, alongside legality crime. What are you? — You are a — criminal!

Basically, if we are going to say that if we look to another to grant us rights, then we are also saying that the that authority can tell us when we are wrong as well. He means this about God and religion, too, not just the state.

Essentially, he thinks rights are bunk, a fixed idea.  There are no rights, there is only might.

I do not demand any right, therefore I need not recognize any either. What I can get by force I get by force, and what I do not get by force I have no right to, nor do I give myself airs, or consolation, with my imprescriptible right.

While Stirner has a point that we have various ideologies battling for who gets to say what is right, what is it he is offering us here instead?  No mutual recognition of rights, and the go ahead to use force to get that which we want to satisfy ourselves.  He recognizes no right or wrong, there is only what the ego wants.

This leads to absurdity.  If each one of us acts an ego, unrestricted by thoughts of right and wrong, then are we then going to all be out murdering each other to gain one another’s possessions?  No, that is absurd.

His disparaging of fixed ideas is interesting.  However, I assert that there are good fixed ideas that help us all thrive, and there are bad fixed ideas that lead to the dissolution of civilization.  Ideas of property and justice are crucial to human society thriving.  Man, being a social creature, needs society so he personally can prosper fully.

I want to go back to the idea about letting yourself be dictated to about right and wrong lets the one making the law call you a criminal   That we codify right and wrong and have laws against it, thus bringing in a third party will very well make you a criminal if you transgress the law.  I think the point is that if we were all true egoists, each of us would recognize no authority but our own will, then concepts of crime would be meaningless because it is bringing in the third party as an authority to make punishment that makes one out as a criminal.

Right and wrong are still going to exist in the absence of state and religion.  And you know why?  Because you are going to think it is wrong if I try to take what you worked to gain, because you are going to think it is wrong for me to try to kill you to gain your stuff.  You aren’t going to put up with it if at all possible to resist, and you will defend that which you worked to gain, to protect your person.  That means that I, the other ego, have to protect my life, my person by not taking your stuff and that I have to be prepared to lose my life or face injury if I still persist.  I may have no qualms about taking your stuff, or no qualms about murder, but I do have qualms about losing my own life or being maimed.  Therefore, I act to protect my life by recognizing that you will defend your life, your property.  I recognize that it is your property because I recognize that you aren’t going to just hand it over to me unless I use more force than you are capable of resisting.

For a thought experiment, let us suppose that that we have all become egoists, that there is no state, no religion, that each one of us at any moment decides what is best for himself.  We still have to get along in order for each of us egoists to continue to exist and exist in a manner where we are able to thrive.  We could not thrive in the uncertainty of not knowing if a fellow egoist was going to murder us and take our stuff at any given moment. Customs would naturally arise and embed themselves in us as fixed ideas because we need one another.  As such, there would be social pressures to conform to custom.  One could choose to not conform, but they risk being excluded from society, and all the advantages that brings, by nonconformity.  You, the egoist, have to pick your poison.  Advantage or nonconformity.  If you choose advantage, then you have settled on the fixed idea that advantage is better then nonconformity.  Sure, you can at any point decide that nonconformity beats advantage, but I don’t think you will.  I think you are set on that fixed idea that you like advantage more than you like doing whatever the heck you want.

 

 

 

Putting Trump in Perspective

Philippines’  presdident-elect encourages people to kill drug dealers.

Heck of a guy, Rodrigo Duterte, the president-elect of the Philippines.  He reportedly said, “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun — you have my support,” adding, “Shoot him and I’ll give you a medal.” He also threatened to kill drug addicts.  Journalist, too, are not exempt from threatened execution.  A neo-Robespierre, it would seem, with a pledge last year to up executions from 1,000 to 100,000 if he were to be elected president.

Now I don’t care for Donald Trump.  I think he is obnoxious and egotistical and he doesn’t have a good grasp of economics.  He is also populist, not principled, and I don’t like that either.

As in every presidential election cycle I have followed, I see people claiming it will be the end of the world as we know it if the candidate they don’t like gets elected.  I’ve seen this way more often in reference to Trump than Clinton. This may be bias on my part because Clinton bores me so I ignore her more.  They make Trump out as this boogie man to be feared.  They make him sound like he is so aberrant that the rest of the world will think America has lost their minds if he gets elected.

Compare Trump’s ban on Muslims traveling to the US with Duterte’s call for citizens to execute drug dealers.  Compare Trump’s stupid wall with Duterte’s promise to execute 100,000 people.  While Trump’s proposals are not good, they do not come close to the horror of Duterte.

I’m not sorry that the candidates for president stink so badly this cycle.  I’m hoping it wakes some people up.  I’m hoping that people start voting 3rd party. I’m hoping the cruddy candidates undermine support for the the system.

However bad I think Trump is though, it is just plain silly to act like his election is going to be this huge catastrophe.  He won’t be much worse than the past two presidents, or any worse than Hillary Clinton.  They are all bad, just in different ways.

 

 

 

A National Myth

Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Independence Day, all these holidays prompt the honoring US Military members, living and deceased.  As an anti-war libertarian, I tend to struggle with my emotions during these state holidays.   On one hand, it is the politicians that begin the wars.  They decide which world events warrant sending young men and women into harms way knowing death and destruction will ensue.  On the other hand, if people weren’t willing to go overseas and fight, then the US politicians could not wage wars of aggression. I don’t particularly feel like I should honor people for fighting in wars that I deem inappropriate.

Is there a just war?  I have my doubts.  However, we are all brought up to believe that the Revolutionary War was just.  If there ever was a just war, we think that was it.  Clearly the Crown was wrong to impose such taxes on the colonies without them having any say in the matter.  Clearly the British were wrong to come in and try to confiscate weapons and ammunition.   Based on these events a National Myth has come into being.

The National Myth is very obvious. The National Myth says that we are only free because are military is out fighting on our behalf.  Is this myth true?  It is obvious it is not when you look at all the wars in retrospect.  There is a lot of denial of the obvious, though.  For instance, I still hear people say things like if we hadn’t joined in WWII and defeated the Germans, we would all be speaking German right now.   Is that not the most ridiculous claim?  Germany was able to sweep across Europe, but there is a big difference between a blitzkrieg rolling into Poland and dealing with the formidable strength of the US that is an ocean away.  It blows me away that people recite that kind of thing like it is the truth.

I am somewhat open to the idea that helping defeat Germany was the right thing to do because of all the atrocities committed by her.  At the same time, we joined with the USSR to do so! The Soviets were committing their own amount of atrocities, which, we just let that slide, and this exposes the hypocrisy of atrocity being a reason to go to war.

Whether or not joining in WWII was just or not, it can be safely said that it was not about protecting US freedom, because the US was never in danger of being conquered during that war.  Yet the myths persist. We would all be speaking German….

If we want peace, we need to  break down this National Myth and expose it as the lie it is.  None of the wars or time-limited, scope-limited, kinetic military actions of this or the 20th century were about protecting the homeland, and thus our freedom, in any other than the most contrived and convoluted sense.  To break down this myth, we need to become knowledgeable about these wars, their causes, and their outcomes.  Knowledge and discussion and making people think is key to overcoming these oft repeated untruths.

Will it work?  Who knows?  The state has the benefit of having created holidays that encourage everyone to venerate soldiers as heroes.  All the anti-war people have is the power of reason and persuasion.  It’s a tough gig.  No one likes to be disparaged as un-American or ungrateful to men who fought bravely for a cause they believed in.  The emotions around the myth are strong.  Shouldn’t promoting peace be worth coming out of your comfort zone?

 

 

Justice: Beyond Pro-life & Pro-choice

I have long struggled with being pro-choice.  Abortion is wrong because it takes a human life.  I was pro-choice anyway.  I said it was all about bodily autonomy.  Since you own your body, you have a right to treat it in any manner you so choose.  Since you are sovereign over your body, the state should not be able to tell you what you can and can’t do with it.  I said that while abortion is a violation of the human right to life, the state has no authority over your actual body, so it can’t compel you to carry to term against your sovereignty.

I still believe this.

However, one day I looked at it from a different perspective when I acknowledged that most abortions occur because someone performs them.  So while a woman has the right to do that what she pleases with her own body, what in any sense of justice gives someone else the right to kill a child in utero that is not an immediate threat to the life of its host?

The answer suddenly became clear to me.  Surgical abortions should be illegal.  If it is illegal to kill another unless self-defense is claimed, then abortion should only be permitted if death of the woman who is pregnant is a material threat.  There are exceptions to this, in the case where there is no chance of a fetus developing and it threatens the health of a woman, like in the case of a tubal pregnancy.  I think it is acceptable for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy in such an instance.  However, I think it has to be formally documented that there was no chance of survival of the fetus and the woman’s health would suffer materially from continued pregnancy.  The doctor must be able to account for why the decision was made.

How, then, is a woman to exercise control over her own body if surgical abortion is to be illegal when she simply doesn’t want to carry to term and there is no material threat of death and the fetus is developing normally?

Medical abortion is the answer here.  A woman can self-administer an abortifacient.  This would be consistent with self-ownership and sovereignty over one’s body.  It is true that the child’s right to life will still be violated when the life is terminated. Since everyone is sovereign over their own bodies, the state has no jurisdiction to interfere with this human rights violation.

I see this as a Justice issue.  I think it is bizarrely blind to deny the humanity of a developing child.  Life clearly begins at conception because that is when a unique human comes into being.  To claim that life begins at any other point is arbitrary. As a matter of human cooperation, we acknowledge human rights. One of the rights we acknowledge is the right to life, so it makes no sense to deny the right to life for a human just because it isn’t fully developed yet.  There is no point when it magically becomes human because it was a unique human from its creation.

Justice demands that we grant the developing human the same rights as every other human, unless they are not under our jurisdiction.  For instance, we can’t go into China and force the government to do our bidding regarding human rights because we don’t have jurisdiction there.  China is a sovereign country.  Following that example, we don’t have jurisdiction over a woman’s body because that is her jurisdiction, so we stand by and do not prosecute if she denies the child with-in her the right to life through medical abortion.

What we do have jurisdiction over, theoretically, are actions taken by individuals governed by the state.  We say murder and theft are crimes, and we all agree those should be prosecuted.  Providing an abortion, in the vast majority of cases, is causing the death of a human simply because they exist and it is not wanted for that human to exist.  If they were a born child, we would all consider this abhorrent.  Since there is no magic time when a fetus becomes human, it should be considered by all to be abhorrent to kill the child in the womb as well.  Justice demands that it be illegal for a 3rd party to kill a child in utero.  It is the right thing to do.  It is the consistent thing to do.

It would be better if submitting to government was voluntary, but that is not the world we live in right now.  Dealing with life as it is, being in favor of outlawing performing a surgical abortion is the correct position.

I don’t think the position I propose can be considered either pro-life or pro-choice because it incorporates elements from both.   It incorporates bodily autonomy while rejecting that surgical abortion should be legal.  I call it Justice.

 

Don’t Keep Your Good Luck to Yourself

An obscure Audioslave song, Hypnotize, from their debut album in 2002 seems like a strange thing to blog about, but here goes.  I was listening to the lyrics, and I couldn’t quite believe my ears, so I googled to make sure I understood what the song said.

Well if you set your mind upon it
I know that you can
You’ve got everything you wanted
You’ve done everything you planned
So let me make an offer
I’m only trying to help
You can make your load
Just a little lighter
All you got to do is share the wealth

So far so good, nothing to see here.  He seems to be talking to someone that has made it in life and is encouraging them to share.  Of course I believe in sharing.  It is why I donate to charities and spend time volunteering.  It can really give you some perspective when you spend time helping people that are less fortunate.  I’m good with sharing.

Later in the song, I hear this:

But if you want to live
To see the morning
Give it up to your brother
Or you’ll get a surprise

This is where I am like, what the heck? Is that a threat?  “If you want to live to see the morning” sounds like a threat to me.  I guess it could be a metaphor or an allusion. Perhaps it is an allusion to the rich man that has kept all the commandments but doesn’t appear to want to give away his wealth and follow Jesus from Matthew 19:16 – 22.  That is probably a reach, although Cornell’s lyrics are strewn with religious references.  I think it is simply a threat, albeit meaningless.

It is a really strange thing to say, though.  No one ever actually announces that you should share your wealth or there will be serious consequences for you.  It is all, if you are well off, it is your duty to give back, so you should be taxed at a higher rate.  No one ever really mentions that taxation is backed by force.  No one wants to announce that if you decline to pay your taxes you could end up locked away.  No one every says out loud that if you refuse to pay your taxes and refuse to cooperate with being locked up in a cage, that could result in your death.  Taxes are thought a civilized method of sharing.  What is civilized about force and the threat of force?

 

Daylight Savings

When I woke one of my boys up this morning, he asked me, “Why do we have to get up so early today?”

I replied, “It’s the government’s fault.”

He grumbled, “Daylight Savings.”

I went on about my business wondering whether or not I should be joking like that with my kids.  I decided that it was no big deal.  There is no reason to pretend that the government deserves reverence when it makes such completely arbitrary rules like having all the citizens set their clocks back by an hour.

Ok, so it isn’t completely arbitrary.  The story told in my circle is that it benefits the Golf Courses because people have more time to play after work.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but it would seem logical that someone is benefiting from making the rest of us jump through this hoop.

In my state, Daylight Savings time is a new thing, only a few years old.  I couldn’t quite believe it when the state decided to implement it.  Now that it has been implemented, I think it is an excellent example of how people go along with insane schemes because of opportunity cost.

I reflected on why I was assimilating to this policy when I am totally against it.  I see no practical way around it.  The hassle of trying to maintain a different clock and remembering that I am running on a different clock does not seem worth the effort.  I don’t really want to spend my time worrying about such a thing either, when it will not change the outcome.  Therefore, I comply to an irrational policy of turning my clock back an hour every single spring.  Most people I know don’t like it either, so I have to think they see no practical way around it either.  This results with a population of people performing the time changing ritual even though they would prefer not.

We joke about it because it is ridiculous, but we are pretty much powerless to change it.  We couldn’t prevent it from being implemented.  Now that it is in place, it is most likely in place forever.  The powers that be, who wanted it, got it put in place because they found the political will, and they found that will because it is benefiting some businesses in some way.  It doesn’t affect those of us that hate it to the extent that we are going to find the political will to fight to have it changed back.  We have other things that we value more that we want to spend our time on.