A Social Democrat and a Mutualist duke it out

The Black Sun Journal takes a misguided swipe at Anarchism triggered from a spat with a Mutualist. I attempt to point out how absolutely confused he is.

My RSS reader recently lit up with a new post on the Black Sun Journal attacking (or defending against?) Francois Tremblay’s calling him out over a Facebook discussion. Now this should have normally been another instance of internet drama (of the kind I keep getting into myself unfortunately) and I wouldn’t have gotten involved (especially since I’ve gotten in my own private flamewars with Francois in the past), if it wasn’t for Sean bringing up the whole topic of Anarchism and not only misrepresenting it horribly in order to denounce it but also making some common arguments for statism, which stem out of ignorance. Ignorance which I’ve pointed out to him in the past and he simply (obviously) ignored.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that Sean conflates Anarchism with the (far-smaller) individualistic wing, even bordering on merging it with the right-“libertarianism” of Rothbard and other wannabe Anarchists. This by itself is a blunder as he only seems to perceive the individualist aspects of Anarchism while ignoring the very solid theory that exists on the points of society organization, community management economics and-so-on. In short, he assumes that Anarchism is simply Anti-statism and wishful thinking which is a wholly intellectually dishonest representation he’s been called on many times before and should know better than.

So lets look at Sean’s specific arguments against Anarchism and dismantle them one-by-one.

Why do humans have an even longer history of violence than do governments?

Here Sean is countering the classic straw-man of social-democrats, the “Noble Savage” which is the idea that people were more peaceful in the past. Anarchist do not claim that humans are inherently peaceful and abstain from violence. That may be a pacifist’s myth but not an Anarchist’s (although a minority of Anarchists are pacifists). As such, this poses no argument against Anarchism?

Yes, humans can be violent but they can also be peaceful if their society and the ethic values they are raised with promote such a behaviour. The rise of civilized behaviour thus, is not the cause of the state but of the changing values of humans which eventually the state acknowledged in the form of laws, laws which always follow the acts of man rather than the other way around.

Furthermore, while tribal societies may have been more violent, there were also far more egalitarian. This is the aspect that Anarchists point at as a fact that our proposed social-structures are not against human nature. Sure, the Celts may have been killing one another, but such deaths were usually cross-tribal and when they were within the same tribe, very often you’ll find that they were against usurpers of power, such as power-grabbing warchiefs and the like. Looking at other tribal structures such as the Iroquois, we notice similar patterns.

And what about the recent reduction of violence? Was that caused by the emergence of republics and the capitalist mode of production? Here Sean has far less of a base to stand on other than simple correlation. What we in fact notice is that the drop of violence does not correlate with republics which for many years promoted inhuman acts such as human Slavery and still promote many forms of human-over-human domination. Rather the drop of violence correlates far better with the rise of rationalism, a process which started only a few hundred years ago.

What in fact has happened under Capitalism (and its supporting state apparati) is the continuation of human suffering, not in the form of active violence, but rather in the form of passive coercion or economic destitution. To put it more simply, instead of humans killing humans, they simply let them die (from starvation or easily preventable diseases). And the rate of which this death occurs, as can be seen from the scale of misery which occurs in most nations outside the rich “developed” ones, vastly outnumbers the suffering from active violence that occurred in pre-civilization periods.

Do humans universally manipulate for power and profit?

While humans can manipulate each other for such reasons, this is far from being the natural state of mind of human behaviour. It is this precice point which Anarchists call attention to when they say that it’s the environment that shapes the behaviour of humans inside it.

Sean once again appeals to human nature as he perceives it and brings as backup genetics (ie the Selfish Gene). But what he misses is that Genes do not care how they reproduce and perpetuate but only that they do, and what this means is that the way by which they go about doing this does not have to be competitive.

This fact escapes Sean who is so keen to tie evolutionary science with his pro-capitalist bias (ie he wishes to have an empirical foundation) that he jumps to conclusion on how this works in human societies.

The actual empirical facts however beg to differ and in fact utterly demolish Sean’s argument that the human drive is a materialistic self-interest. Kropotkin’s evolutionary studies on Mutual Aid have not only shown that species (even different species) can find it far more helpful to cooperate rather than compete for natural resources but he has extensively documented how the human civilization naturally moves towards such a cooperative society (ie egalitarianism) when state-domination is reduced.

Not only that, but Engel’s analysis on the rise of the state and the pre-civilization familiar structures further reinforce that humans, lacking factors which promote inequality (such as private property) naturally form co-operative societies and in fact strong co-operative bonds were evolutionary required before Homo Sapiens became a viable evolutionary path.

So no. Humans will not naturally manipulate for power and profit, but when you put them into an environment which naturally selects for those which will manipulate for power and profit, then those will be selected. This is in fact what is happening in a propertarian economy and which Sean takes for granted and then draws his conclusions and states them as a fact of nature.

It is not possible to “opt out” of society.

Here we can clearly see Sean’s confusion on what Anarchism is and his merging it with Right-“Libertarian” rhetoric.  His argument is simply that people live in societies and as such need to provide for those more unfortunate around them. But Anarchists do not claim that they should not! If anything anarchists stress the requirements of acts such as Mutual Aid and (social anarchists) generally promote socialistic measures such as “according to need”. And while individualist anarchists and mutualists embrace a more market-based economy, they also oppose “sticky” property (ie private property) and believe that such a society would be better because the truly free market (ie free from inequality and the state) would be able to care for the less unfortunate without people needing to give the power to do so to a higher authority.

So Sean is proposing a false dilemma when he assumes that there’s only two choices, Tax-funded governmental social nets and dog-eat-dog rugged individualism. Anarchism is in fact all about pointing out that it is, in fact very difficult to opt-out of society (although not impossible as Sean suggests) but that this society does not have to be condensed around a nanny state who will care for us. It is about pointing out that a nanny state is far worse at providing such functions than what freely cooperating individuals are.

In fact, very often the delegation of the safety net to the state is a detriment to those who need it as the state is a tool of the ruling elite and as such this safety net will be dismantled when it goes against their interests. The experience of the last 35 years in the developed world should have been enough of a waking call to the flaws of this perspective. One only has to look at how the Reaganites gutted social spending once they got into power and such a trend continued through both Social Democrat and Liberal rule even when obviously against the will of the “democracy”. One also only needs to look at the phenomenal success of community driven mutual aid projects such as building societies, clothing clubs and the like to provide social safety despite the failure of both government and markets to achieve this.

Examples such as these should have been enough to make most people reconsider their opinion on what humans do “naturally”…

Will humans without regulation exploit and destroy common resources?

It is funny that Sean brings up the “Tragedy of the Commons” argument against Anarchism. A theory so debunk by studies in communal societies and co-operative management that it’s laughable to see it brought up as a counter to anything but free-for-all capitalism. Something that not even the right-“libertarians” do not suggest (They prefer to privatize everything).

Once again, that Sean brings this up as an argument against what he thinks is “Anarchism” is once more a case in point that he has not even bothered to understand what Anarchism is, even after the numerous times I explained that he has not understood it yet.

In closing, I will quote the last paragraphs of Sean which is in fact what has itched me enough to write this post to counter his rampart confusion:

There are many other sound reasons (beyond the scope of this article) why anarcho-anything does not work and can never work. Humans are a social, hierarchical species, and we need organizers.

No Sean. You have not yet proven that we are hierarchical species or that we need organizers. You simply allow your preconceptions to blind you and stubbornly refuse to understand why what you say is wrong. You seem content to simply repeat it.

Still anarchists continue with their irrational claims that people will all just somehow naturally work together for the common good, absent external incentives

*Sigh* No Sean. We do not claim that. In fact what we claim is that it is the external incentives that will shape how humans will work together and thus we propose a society structure (ie an external incentive) that naturally selects for co-operation and altruism rather than greed and domination over others.

What irrational claim, in fact, continues in this case, is your ideas of what Anarchists claim without having bothered to understand the theory behind them, the extensive evidence backing them up and the already existing criticism of your arguments that me and others have repeatedly pointed out to you.

And this is the last time I bother to correct your misrepresentations of Anarchism. If you continue with your misguided arguments as if they have not been addressed already, you will forever have exposed yourself as someone who does not care about the truth but only about stubbornly sticking to your ideological castle and basking in your own assumed intellectual superiority.

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Mutualist Political Economy ebook

Following the AFAQ, now you can get Kevin Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy in an ebook format as well.

Cover of Mutualist Political EconomyAfter converting the AFAQ to an ebook format, I’ve thought I might as well release some of the other stuff I’ve converted for my personal use. One of them is Studies in Mutualist Political Economy which I’ve been reading lately. Like the AFAQ, I’ll provide you below with a few popular versions for ebooks along with the master copy which you can use to create your own versions.

  • pdf – 9x12cm with index
  • rtf
  • epub
  • odt – master copy in open document format

Of course, I’ve already contacted Kevin Carson to get the OK for this and apparently the book is available on a copyleft license (GFDL? He didn’t specify) so I can post the files here without problem. Eventually he’s going to host the files on his own site as well.

Since I’m on the subject, perhaps it would be appropriate to say a few things about the content of the book. For someone like me who basically self-educated on libertarian socialism as who has come to the conclusion that the labour theory of value applies, a synthesis of LTV with Marginalism sounded promising. However, even though I enjoyed the refutation of Böhm-Bawerk’s criticism of the LTV, the actual synthesis didn’t impress me. I won’t make a substancial critique here (perhaps another time) but I’ll say that too much weight was given to Austrian “axioms” and shaky conclusions about free markets.

Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting book and it was the first time I read soemething from the Mutualist perspective. If nothing else, it gave me a few more ideas to write about and pointed out some differences between that and social anarchism.

Deciding on an Ownership System

Kevin Carson mentions that the best type of property system probably cannot be found from logical deduction from the axiom of self-ownership. But should it?

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In the Mutualist Political Economy I’ve reached the point where Kevin is now discussing the similarities and differences between the property systems as proposed by Lockeanists, Georgists or Mutualists. What struck a chord with me was the point where he expressed the opinion that none of these three systems could be proven by a logical deduction from “the axiom of self-ownership” but rather only by social consensus.

Now while I agree with this position, I cannot help but ask why would we wish in the first place to logically deduce the property rights to use from an axiom which is meaningless and logically inconsistent to boot. This is asking us to take an ideological concept and from that discover normative propositions for people to follow. Not only that, but the more this ideological concept approaches the sterilized status of an axiom, the more incapable it becomes of providing a clear path to a normative proposition, as can be seen from the three different property concepts that can follow from it (and that is while ignoring the rest of the varied ideas that can stem from an “axiom” of self-ownership)

To leave it to the ideologues then is akin to waiting for the metaphorical priests to decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Any type of argumentation will most likely be based on shaky erections of logic which would simply lead to different people espousing the one that is closer to the current mentality and social status. A stagnating perspective.

But if the type of ownership that one society should use is not deductible from ideological positions, then how would a social consensus decide on a “particular set of allocation rules”? What kind of argumentation can be used to not simply reinforce currently held but also to actually change them based on some sort of proof?

The answer lies in departing from the ideological perspective altogether and looking for the answer from a utilitarian one. To put it more simply: Which type of ownership system would lead to the maximum amount of good for the maximum amount of people? In this kind of problem-solving, there is no space left for vacillations on the degree of difference between sticky or non-sticky property. There is no use pondering on which ownership system (Lockean or Mutualist) respects abstracts concepts the more. Just figure out what makes people live happy lives and what is the best system that will allow them to experience them.

The first part should be relatively easy ((“Easy” Only inasmuch as we already have the scientific method which we know is best for discovering descriptive facts about reality)) to discover using scientific principles in psychological and sociological research.

However the later is a normative question and as a result must involve an ethical reasoning which cannot be based on scientific methodology. It is from this reasoning that the type of property system we should be using be discovered then discussed and finally spread memetically to a larger and larger amount of people, until the required consensus is achieved.

And in this attempts for consensus, ideological concepts and logical structures erected around them only serve to distract, confuse and ultimately slow down this process.

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