Are You a Guard?

In Chapter 24 of A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn writes:

In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbage men and firemen. These people-the employed, the somewhat privileged-are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls.

This would be very insightful if Zinn wasn’t so hell bent on pushing a version of morality where the only moral society is one that shares everything in common.  There are very few real socialists and communists around because the failures of this philosophy are so great.  Few people are really looking for a worker’s paradise anymore. Very few people think that human nature is compatible with such philosophies.  Unfortunately, even though people know people are motivated by self-interest, the ideas of socialism and communism are still looked to as an ideal of what is actually fair.  Since we humans are so self-interested, it is up to our moral superiors, who understand that we must all share for justice to occur, to use the hammer of the state to beat us all into compliance.

They, the people I have called our moral superiors, don’t share Zinn’s vision.  Zinn sees the establishment and the elite using the central government to keep people from realizing a better way of life.  He sees starting at the local level as the solution.

The great problem would be to work out a way of accomplishing this without a centralized bureaucracy, using not the incentives of prison and punishment, but those incentives of cooperation which spring from natural human desires, which in the past have been used by the state in times of war, but also by social movements that gave hints of how people might behave in different conditions. Decisions would be made by small groups of people in their workplaces, their neighborhoods-a network of cooperatives, in communication with one another, a neighborly socialism avoiding the class hierarchies of capitalism and the harsh dictatorships that have taken the name “socialist.”

The current progressive/liberal thinking is that change must be top down, and that we need laws at the federal level to make sure people are treated fairly.  I like Zinn a whole lot better than these people, even if I don’t agree with his socialist vision.  These top down people, these big government people, they are the guards of the crony capitalist system that lefties and libertarians decry as unjust, even as we disagree as to why we believe the system is unjust.

Should the United Nations act as a World Government?

I’m not going to answer the title question.  I have a confession to make.  My oldest child goes to public school.  It is not what I would have chosen for her.  She decided last summer that she wanted to go to high school.  I looked into private school, and we just can’t afford it.  I struggle with the feeling that we are sucking off the government teat because other people’s money is paying for my daughter’s education.  It is true that we have paid enough in property tax, which funds education, over the years to make up for any taxpayer money she is getting currently, but I still don’t like it for my own philosophical reasons.  She could be educated at home at a price we could afford. I felt she was old enough to make the decision, and she chose public school over home schooling.

As a result of her choice, I have a window into current public education that I have not had before.  Her Geography/World History class has raised a number of flags for me.  The current flag comes from a lesson on the United Nations.  Below is a copy of the text from her book titled Introduction to Geography: People, Places & Environment:

The United Nations represents one of the greatest achievements of the 20th Century, if not human history.  The United Nations brings together almost every country on Earth to cooperate on issues fundamental to all of mankind.  As explained in the opening of its Charter, the United Nations seeks “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” “to affirm faith in fundamental human rights,” to establish the conditions for justice, and “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”  It has certainly made progress on all these goals and helped millions of people once ruled by empires to gain their independence.

Old Politics, New Problems The United Nations is, however, non-democratic.  The special powers granted to the U.N. Security Council to use military force to end war ultimately belongs to the “Big 5” permanent members that have veto power over Security Council decisions: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France.  Their interests dominate the most important discussions of war and peace at the United Nations–other countries have very little influence.  It is important to remember that the United Nations is only as effective as its member states allow it to be.

The United Nations is not a government and does not have its own army.  It cannot take action on its own.  When the United Nations is ineffective–for example, stopping war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda–it is largely because some of the Big  5 will veto action.  By 2050, this organization will be based on a world order over a century old.  Certainly the world has changed–should the United Nations?

Perform Proposals  Demand for reform of the United Nations have grown louder in recent years.  Some proposals have sought to limit the power of the Big 5 by taking away their veto power or adding more permanent members to the Security Council. Countries such as Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan are populous and economically important countries that exert leadership in their regions.  Other proposals would replace or temper the Security Council with a more powerful General Assembly, which has been a largely symbolic body.  The distribution of the world’s population in 2050 suggests that countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America should have a larger voice on important matters at the United Nations.  Could the Security Council and General Assembly become more like a world parliament?  Might the United Nations of 2050 work more like a world government?  Only if states allow it to do so.

In paragraph one, do you see how this textbook states the UN is good as if it were a matter of fact?   And it isn’t just good, but one of the greatest achievement in human history!  Why can’t they just explain the UN. Explain how and why it was formed and its attributes and leave it at that.  Leave it to the reader to form their own opinion as to whether or not they think it is good or bad.  I do have my doubts that a freshman in high school would even think about whether or not the UN is a positive or negative thing without prompting.  They may even automatically think of it in a positive measure, because it sounds good in theory.  That would still be better than giving a freshman the impression that it is basically the crowning achievement of mankind.

The following two paragraphs go on to discuss all the flaws in this most important human achievement, without ever even alluding to the continual regional conflicts since its inception.  Sure, we haven’t had a World War.  That could have been the case without the UN given the horrible devastation from the first two world wars.  I do not think anyone really wants a repeat of that.

The last paragraph encourages the reader not to question the existence of this fabulous but flawed human institution, but instead question whose interest should dominate world affairs. Apparently, it is an appeal to aristocracy, as one of the qualities seen as desirable to lead is being economically important.  Particularly troubling to me is the suggestion to the student that the UN could work as a World Parliament or World Government.  It smacks of an agenda.

I wonder if the authors think that they are being even handed, given that they criticize the UN.  I wonder if they even recognize their own bias in this matter.  They seem to take for granted that the UN is good and that some countries should dominate world affairs.  Those things need to be questioned.

An Educated Populace

My kids’ history book attributes this to Plato, “A democracy had to have an educated people in it.”  The authors left out that Plato didn’t really like democracy, but this book was written for young kids, and as such,  it can’t really go into detail about political philosophy.  The book is an overview, more or less.

Since it is just an overview, I was dismayed that it decided to explain why this dumbed down quote from Plato was correct.  The kids thought the explanation was ridiculous, that it didn’t make sense.  The book gave a silly tale of how a kid could be defrauded by not knowing the laws.  It put forth a scenario where an older kid told a younger, uneducated kid that on Wednesdays, young kids must turn their money over to older kids.  It had the younger kid willingly turn money over to the older kid because they were unaware that such a law didn’t exist.  My kids thought common sense would prevent the younger child from just rolling over when they didn’t know the laws.

I was pleased that they were so willing to poke holes into their history book.

I then poked my own hole.  I brought up how the Athenians had slaves.  For all their education, they could not see the inequity of slavery.  How could their education lead them to make good laws when their very society was based on slave labor?

One of the boys imagined a foreigner, from somewhere without slaves, entering the city.  He thought that the foreigner would be appalled by the vast acceptance of slavery.  I said that was an interesting thought.

If we count on the state to educate everyone so they can properly participate in government, what happens if the state teaches them to govern in a way that is not conducive to what is best for the populace?  What if the kids are taught that slavery is acceptable?

Howard Zinn writes in his book:

A People’s History of the United States, excerpt from Chapter 11

Joel Spring, in his book Education and the Rise of the Corporate State, says: “The development of a factory-like system in the nineteenth-century schoolroom was not accidental.”

This continued into the twentieth century, when William Bagley’s Classroom Management became a standard teacher training text, reprinted thirty times. Bagley said: “One who studies educational theory aright can see in the mechanical routine of the classroom the educative forces that are slowly transforming the child from a little savage into a creature of law and order, fit for the life of civilized society.”

It was in the middle and late nineteenth century that high schools developed as aids to the industrial system, that history was widely required in the curriculum to foster patriotism. Loyalty oaths, teacher certification, and the requirement of citizenship were introduced to control both the educational and the political quality of teachers.

Other authors have written on the public education system, and it is fairly well documented that it is used as system of control of the population.  Rage Against the Machine’s la Rocha raps about it in Take the Power Back:

The present curriculum
I put my fist in ’em
Eurocentric every last one of ’em
See right through the red, white and blue disguise
With lecture I puncture the structure of lies
Installed in our minds and attempting
To hold us back
We’ve got to take it back
Holes in our spirit causin’ tears and fears
One-sided stories for years and years and years
I’m inferior? Who’s inferior?
Yeah, we need to check the interior
Of the system that cares about only one culture

The public school system has repeatedly been used to train the public to accept various things. I imagine la Rocha and I have different complaints about what the schools train kids to think, but there may be some overlap there.  With Zinn, I think there is definitely some overlap because I have found many of his criticism of the crony capitalist state to be spot on, even if we would disagree on the way to resolve it.

I think there are a number of things that people would not accept unless they had grown up in a system that told them that not only is it okay, but it is the correct order of things.  Just as an average child would not give up their spending money to a trickster, average people wouldn’t be so willing to support state solutions for everything if it had not been inculcated in them from a young age that that was the way problems are best solved.  If you doubt that schools promote state solutions to problems, you may want to pay closer attention to what your child is learning and the kinds of questions they are answering at school.  Here is an actual question asked in biology at our local school:

Which of these is a way in which governments can protect ecosystems:

a. introducing invasive species

b. setting aside areas of public land

c. increasing fish harvests

d. cutting down forests

Notice that it is a given that it is the role of government to address a thing like protecting ecosystems.

Let us go back to the idea that a democracy needs an educated populace, and forget for a minute that we are supposed to have a republic with democratically elected representatives.  Does there really need to be an educated populace?  I am all for education.  I love it.  I love learning with my kids, I love learning on my own.  I can’t get enough of it.  I want everyone to love it, too.  I think everyone benefits from expanding their minds, expanding their knowledge.  The problem I see with education is when the state is the entity doing the educating.  The schools are too easy to co-opt by those with power to push their own agendas.

People on the left and the right all know this happens.  They are keenly aware of it when an agenda shows up in the schools that contradicts their own views.  Yet neither side would ever consider not having public education.  One of the main reasons given, especially by the left, is that we need an educated population because we are supposed to participate in government.  I say this is one of the many reasons the government shouldn’t be in the education business.  Only a certain set of ideas get put across to the kids, and it serves to keep the status quo going.

Education could and would happen if there wasn’t a public school system.  I’ve yet to convince anyone of this.  Countries much poorer than ours have private schools systems were most of the children are taught.  Suggesting that we don’t need public education is tantamount to condemning children to a life of poverty.  The bias is strong in favor of state school systems, even as people understand the power the school systems hold over the youth.

On the bright side, more and more people are pulling their kids out of public school to home school.  Less people hearing the agendas being pushed means more resistance to them.  It means more voices countering bad ideas.  Technology is making home schooling much easier for the average families, so I have high hopes this trend will continue.

 

Frederick Douglass vs Abe Lincoln: Mexican-American War

Abraham Lincoln sounds like an early version of the modern day progressive in his speech for support of Zachary Taylor for president:

Abraham Lincoln on the Mexican-American War:

If to say “the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President” be opposing the war, then the Whigs have very generally opposed it. … The marching an army into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement, frightening the inhabitants away, leaving their growing crops and other property to destruction, to you may appear a perfectly amiable, peaceful, unprovoking procedure; but it does not appear so to us. . .. But if, when the war had begun, and had become the cause of the country, the giving-of our money and our blood, in common with yours, was support of the war, then it is not true that we have always opposed the war. With few individual exceptions, you have constantly had our votes here for all the necessary supplies. …

If it is unconstitutional, shouldn’t his job, the Whigs’ job, have been to impeach Polk? Instead of that, he & the Whigs throw their support behind the war effort.

Below is a superb critique of the political class by former slave, Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass on the Mexican American War:

The determination of our slaveholding President to prosecute the war, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people men and money to carry it on, is made evident, rather than doubtful, by the puny opposition arrayed against him. No politician of any considerable distinction or eminence, seems willing to hazard his popularity with his party, or stem the fierce current of executive influence, by an open and unqualified disapprobation of the war. None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks; and all seem willing that the war should be carried on, in some form or other. If any oppose the President’s demands, it is not because they hate the war, but for want of information as to the aims and objects of the war. The boldest declaration on this point is that of Hon. John P. Hale, which is to the effect that he will not vote a single dollar to the President for carrying on the war, until he shall be fully informed of the purposes and objects of the war. Mr. Hale knows, as well as the President can inform him, for what the war is waged; and yet he accompanies his declaration with that prudent proviso. This shows how deep seated and strongly bulwarked is the evil against which we contend. The boldest dare not fully grapple with it.

I loved Douglass’s critique. He writes about how no politician will risk his political neck to condemn the war and since this is the case, the war will be carried on.  Are things not much the same today?  Most politicians won’t condemn US aggression overseas because they don’t want to appear soft, they don’t want to appear like they don’t care about safety.  The citizens were sold this war on terror as necessary to their safety, and now that narrative is difficult to counteract.   The part where he said “it is not because they hate the war, but for want of information as to the aims and objects of the war” is also typical of the modern day progressives.  They have no principled argument against using the US military to attack troubled areas across the oceans, they just bicker over whether or not such attacks meet the ever-shifting objectives they outline. Lincoln plays the progressive role with his “spot resolutions”.  These resolutions were a request for information, not of any principled stand against the war.  Per his own words, he got behind the war once it was commenced.

I was fairly new to politics when “Shock and Awe” was applied to free the Iraqis.  I didn’t understand that the left’s resistance to that war wasn’t because they hated war.  I was blindsided when I pointed out how Obama continued the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, and they did not care.  Now I realize that there was never any real principled objection to war by most on the left.  It was smoke and mirrors to cast their opponents in the worst possible light.  As soon as one of theirs had the chance to take up the role of Commander in Chief, preemptive war was then the prescription to use.  The drone war was expanded.  Libya was attacked.  Syrian rebels were armed.  When Bush was in office, I used to see talk of how it wasn’t the role of the US to be the world police.  Once Obama took the reins, it is.  We will see how they react to Trump’s foreign policy.  My money is on the objections being on how and where the wars are waged.  The days of rejecting war are over, if there ever were any days like that.

Contracts

In his book, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn says that contracts always favor the rich at the expense of the poor and powerless.  Therefore, he thinks, that law simply to enforce contracts is not just since the contracts don’t originate in just conditions.

Zinn thinks the rich party always gains a better advantage than the poor counterpart.  I think this is demonstrably false.  I would argue that the poorer counterpart, in general, has more to gain.

Rich, poor, or middle class, people enter into contracts to improve their position in life.  There is no point to doing it, if gain is not expected.  The rich already have much, materially, so a contract with a poor person is going to typically only improve their position slightly.  A poor person, entering into a contract, has more to gain because they have less to begin with.  Proportionally, based on material measures, it is easy to see the poor person gains more.

On the other hand, the poor person also has more to lose. If he contracts to work for someone, and they terminate his contract, he no longer enjoys the proportionally large gains he was experiencing.  Should the poor person not fulfill his part of the contract, it won’t be that big of a hit to the rich person, since he is already well off materially.

In essence, comparatively, the poor has more to gain and more to lose by entering into a contract with a rich person.

So what does this have to do with law, contracts, and justice?

Contracts favor both parties, because neither would enter into the contract if they don’t see an advantage to doing so.  Value is subjective, and how each party values the contract is individual, and it cannot be objectified by an outside party like Howard Zinn.  His claim that the terms are always unjust fails in the face of subjective value.

We have to assume that both parties agreeing to a contract understand the ramifications of doing so, and what failing to uphold their part will mean for them.  They both understand that the rewards of the contract also come with risks should either party not be able to fulfill their part of the contract.  It is true, that man has a tendency to act on passion, and discount risks.  He may borrow money, in a zeal to improve his condition based on a market opportunity he sees.  He may not want to think about what it would mean for him should he not be able to repay the borrowed funds.  If he doesn’t consider that conditions beyond his control may lead to his inability to repay funds, that is not the fault of the lender.  The lender is still owed the money or the collateral put up.  That collateral was put up, should indicate to the borrower exactly what he is risking.  He should have a plan B, should conditions prohibit his plan A from succeeding.

Does this mean that there will be prudent men who don’t mortgage their farms to take advantage of market opportunities?  Sure.  Does it mean sometimes imprudent men gain great material advantage from accepting risk?  Sure.  It also means that imprudent men can lose everything because they accepted risk or that prudent men take a risk and they are prepared to deal with the repercussions should the risk not pay off.  People need to be treated like rational adults who can deal with the consequences of their decisions, even when the consequences are very serious.

This doesn’t mean the fallout isn’t sad.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t feel sorry for them.  We have all made poor decisions that resulted in sad consequences.  If we can, we should do our best to help them in their time of need.

What we shouldn’t do is pretend that they are victims of an unjust order that always favors the rich.  The remedy to income disparity is leveling. and leveling makes everyone poorer.  Freedom permits the industrious to improve their position.  Freedom means that you should be free to enter into contracts.  Making the choice to enter a contract means you consent to the terms and the risks of noncompliance.  Freedom doesn’t mean that you can just take whatever risks you want and not have to deal with the consequences when the results don’t pan out like you hoped.

It is hard, because it is distressful when people have gotten into debt and lose their property, and livelihood as a result.  Who can listen to Rain on the Scarecrow without feeling dejected?  Feeling bad for people going through a hard time doesn’t mean that a system that enforces contracts is not just.

If people can’t expect that the terms of a contract will be upheld, then there is no justice.  A poor person would expect a rich person to make good on their promises.  If we are to be treated equally, then a rich person should expect that a poorer person should make good on their promises.  Imagine if only rich people were expected to uphold their side of a bargain, and the poorer counterparts would be exempted for various reasons.  The borrowing opportunities for those without much money would dry up, making it even harder for them to improve their material well being.  Therefore, contrary to what Howard Zinn asserts, not only is contract enforcement just, it actually helps encourage the conditions for poorer people to enhance their life.

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.