Category Archives: Anti-voluntaryism

The depravity of the concept of “implied consent.”

Hang on, I got it… women who drink give their “implicit consent” to having sex with anyone. There, problem solved!

Consent is the absolute bare minimum criterion for social interactions. Therefore, any concept that tries to dilute or trivialize consent is coercive by definition. The concept of “implied consent” is one I’ve recently discovered. I’ve never heard of such a concept, but it is an actual legal concept used to prosecute individuals.

It seems to be mostly used to prosecute drivers who refuse to take alcohol tests. Here is one example:

Section 724.011 of the Texas State Transportation Code states that anyone who is arrested for Texas DWI “is deemed to have consented, subject to this chapter, to submit to the taking of one or more specimens of the person’s breath or blood for analysis to determine the alcohol concentration or the presence in the person’s body of a controlled substance, drug, dangerous drug, or other substance.” Basically, whenever you stick your keys in your ignition and start your car, you are consenting to take an alcohol or drug test if a police officer deems it necessary.

But it can also be applied to other actions:

In many common law jurisdictions, a couple who married were deemed to have given “implied consent” to have sex with each other, a doctrine which barred prosecution of a spouse for rape. This doctrine is now considered obsolete in most countries.

Nice way to put it, “obsolete.” The use of words here is so blatant that I can’t even believe it! That can’t possibly have been on purpose (or could it?).

Anyhow, the principle here is that by doing one action, we are giving some unrelated form of “consent”. And unrelated they must be, otherwise we wouldn’t call it “implicit.” Starting your car is not a signal of consent to submitting to a breath test. Getting married to someone is not a signal of consent to having sex with them at any time. There is no communication in either case that the act was agreed upon.

But even if there was, consent cannot be given prospectively. Saying you will have sex with someone at any time, and then not wanting to have sex with them and still being forced to do so, is rape. Saying you will submit to any breath test in the future, and then refusing to take one, is absolutely your right, legal doctrine notwithstanding.

The argument mounted by the statists would probably be around the lines of “driving is a privilege, not a right, so you have to submit to the State’s restrictions in the name of everyone’s security.” Well, I would disagree that driving is not a right, given that the vast majority of the population needs to drive to get to work or to buy necessities. So that’s out the window.

But besides that, even if we assume for the sake of the argument that driving is a privilege, there is still no link between that and “implied consent,” which is a contradiction in terms. One may argue that the State should impose restrictions on driving, but one cannot argue that “implied consent” justifies them. Either consent is present or it is not, and in the latter case one can only provide justification by appealing to the virtues of authoritarianism. That, at least, would be honest.

People who accept this concept of “implicit consent” become so intellectually depraved that they start making up “degrees of consent,” such as in this diagram from a paper called The Scale of Consent:

So now you give your consent simply by existing in a society which has a tradition of doing something, say… honor killings, or female genital mutilation. Sorry you happened to be born in a society where these things are promoted, but you gave your consent by being born! You didn’t consent to being born either, but there you were, a sexy little fetus, just asking for it… Let’s face it, you deserved it.

I bring up rape not just to be glib, but also because it is very much the end point of this slippery slope. Here is one example from an antifeminist arguing that “implied consent” justifies rape:

Teach young women what the words implied consent mean. If you leave the keys in the ignition of your car, the law takes that as your implied consent to have people steal your car. We’re working on teaching people NOT to steal cars, but so far, no luck.

If you get really trashed, start making out with a man, go to his room, remove your clothes, then change your mind AND DON’T SAY ANYTHING, you have implied consent. Claiming you were “paralyzed with fear” is bullshit. If you have changed your mind, you have to SAY that. Otherwise your actions have implied consent. You can’t wake up the next day and decide you were raped.

You may complain that her reasoning is flawed, but how is it any different from other cases of “implied consent”? Objectively, there is no more relation between getting drunk or making out with someone and agreeing to sex than there is between putting your keys in the ignition and agreeing to take a breath test.

Taken to its logical conclusion, we must conclude that any crime can potentially be justified by some kind of “implicit consent.” Being in a gang could be “implied consent” to be murdered. Walking outside at night could be “implied consent” to getting kidnapped. There is really no inherent limit here.

We can also apply this “reasoning” to other radical ideologies. Atheists “implicitly consent” to a traditional religion by being born in that tradition. Anarchists “implicitly consent” to a State by being born within its borders and using its services. Antinatalists “implicitly consent” to being subjected to life’s down sides because they are alive. All of this is pure illogical nonsense, but such “reasoning” is always used, in some form or other.

What is sex-negativity?

Before we get into the murky waters of sex-negativity (a beast which we are told cannot exist, does not exist, or is the domain of spinsters and lesbians, as if spinsters and lesbians don’t like sex by default), we have to first define which sex-positivity we are reacting to.

There are two general kinds of sex-positivity: “being sex-positive,” which is more of a personal attribute than an ideology and designates people who are open about sexuality and who promote the act of sex as being healthy and not a shameful thing, and “sex-positive feminism,” an ideology which is based on the premise that not only is sex not a bad thing as a whole, but should be entirely divorced from ethical or political considerations as long as consent is present:

Communicating consent is complicated, but consent is the only thing that makes sex okay, so we have to make every effort to respect it. All sex is completely fine with me as long as it’s consensual. Seriously, I really don’t care what you do — as long as it’s consensual.

[S]ex-positivity is the belief that sex and sexiness are… okay. It’s the belief that people shouldn’t be judged by the sex they have. It’s the belief that consent matters and social norms do not. It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is). It’s the belief that neither “slut” nor “prude” should be an insult. It’s the belief that every sexual and gender identity is valid.

People who have read my entries on consent probably already see where this is going. Sex-pozzies, like capitalists, make consent the only condition for morality. But even more than that, sex-pozzies reduce consent to the mechanical act of saying “yes” or of “enthusiastic consent,” which is merely a term for agreeing by saying “hell yes!” instead of just “yes.” But saying “yes” or even “hell yes!” is a far cry from even rudimentary consent; I’ve already discussed how most of the conditions necessary for consent have nothing to do with the act of saying “yes,” or saying anything at all.

How wrong this ideology can get is demonstrated by the sex-pozzie support of pornography and prostitution. “Consent” in these areas is basically worthless because of the economic inequality and psychological attacks that push women into these “industries.” And yet the simple act of the “yes” (not even a prospective “yes”) is enough for sex-pozzies to approve of women getting exploited, degraded, trafficked, being inflicted diseases, and so on. BDSM is another example of an area where abuse and violence are commonplace, but sex-pozzies defend it because “it’s sex and you can’t criticize sex.” There is no atrocity they won’t rubber-stamp in the name of the sacrosanct “yes.” They are the true yes-men/yes-handmaidens.

“Sex-positive feminism,” as a movement, has as its objective to remove sexuality from the realm of feminist systemic criticism. It is therefore anti-feminist in practice, despite its proponents’ general commitment to feminism. It says that any issue which they deem sexual in nature, be it actual sex, BDSM, pornography or prostitution, must not be analyzed or criticized. Instead, they contend, we should fall back to the “default” position that “consent is the standard of morality.”

Sex-negativity, therefore, means opposition to this stance: that sexuality must be subject to systemic criticism like everything else, and that woman-hating in sexual areas must not be given a free pass. It is nothing more than the consistent application of feminist principles to actual sex, BDSM, consent in sex, pornography and prostitution. It is nothing more than the proposition that sex is affected by patriarchal norms.

There is nothing incredible about this proposition. It should be obvious to all feminists that sex, like all other areas of life, is affected by patriarchal norms. So why do so many so-called feminists reject this proposition?

Patriarchal norms dictate how men and women should have sex, and these norms are reproduced in pornography, which is then reproduced against women in general, against prostitutes, and is used to objectify and degrade women in pornography even more over time. As someone else has once commented, pornography is “a manual for the political subordination of women and mass pre-genocidal women-hating propaganda.” But if you think pornography is hunky-dory and sweep all its verbal and physical abuse under the rug of “well, they said yes, so it’s all good,” then you can’t possibly begin to understand the problem here. If you think patriarchal conditioning is “normal,” then you won’t be able to realize what it is, and you won’t be able to see how sexuality as a whole is affected.

I think this is also reflected in how sex-pozzies treat the issue of women performing their gender by wearing high heels, shaving their legs, wearing makeup, and so on. Sex-pozzies have to trivialize the subject and turn everyone who doesn’t do the same as being obsessed or “slut-shaming”:

A lot of criticism of sex-positive feminism is really criticism of sexy women. It’s hard to find a piece that isn’t dripping with disgusted descriptions of women who wear high heels and shave their legs and then they giggle and they act all flirty and give blowjobs, oh my God. And it’s hard for me to see the difference between this and plain old slut-shaming. It always seems undercut with the implication that sexy women aren’t just unfeminist, they’re icky.

This is absolute bullshit because I’ve never read any sex-negative entry that was about women who wear high heels being disgusting, and the author sure couldn’t give any examples or even quotes, because there aren’t any. Frankly, I think this is just plain prejudice against radfem: because radfem womyn are called ugly and mean, they must be ugly and mean, and therefore must be jealous of the beeeautiful sex-pozzies, right? Right?

But my main point in using this quote was to point out the maneuver of trying to shut down criticism of gender performance by making this criticism seem emotional and back-stabbing, two traits stereotypically applied to women. The implicit conclusion is that only emotional wrecks dare to criticize gender performance, because it’s just “normal” and that’s all there is to it.

We also see it in the new phenomenon of “slutwalking.” “Slut” is a term used by men (and handmaidens) to associate certain non-conforming traits to high libido, and then circularly to associate high libido with non-conformity (because she is or does X which is non-conforming, she must have sex with a lot of men, therefore she does not conform to the standards of sexual purity that we impose on women). “Slutwalking” is trying to normalize this conformist labeling process by severing the connection between high libido and non-conformity, which is silly because that connection is part and parcel of gender roles and is not something that can be changed on an individual basis.

This goes to the core of the difference between sex-pozzies and their opponents, who acknowledge that the issues that concern sex-pozzies, including BDSM, prostitution, pornography, and sex in general, can be generally reduced to the domination of women by men:

[T]he way you fuck is not “private,” apolitical, or outside the realm of critique. Sex does not happen in a vacuum immune to outside structural influences; in fact, it can (and does) replicate inescapable systems of power and dominance. Being sex-negative means acknowledging that sex, and kink, have nothing intrinsically “good” or “positive” about them (in direct contrast to sex-positive feminists, many of whom argue that sex is an inherent good and that less charitable opinions toward sex are the result of a poisonous, prudish society).

This is not to say that sex-negativity means stating that all sex is bad. While it is true that some expressions of sex are unhealthy and ethically wrong, others are not. Always most potent in the sex-pozzies’ arsenal of lies is the constantly repeated Big Lie that “radfems think all sex is bad.” Despite the constant repetition of the lie, no quote from any radfem book or blog has ever be given for this claim (at least, to my knowledge) because no such quote exists.

What the sex-negative do believe is that, as Jillian Horowitz states in the quote above, sexual acts are not immune from “structural influences.” This means that all sexual acts can be criticized, but it does not mean that all sex is bad. All movies can be criticized, but this does not mean that all movies are bad, either. It’s abhorrent that our views on sex are so aberrated that we’ve at the point where acknowledging that sex acts are not magically good and are a valid subject of criticism is considered “negative,” and that this view must absolutely be equated with a wholesale rejection of sex.

“Sex-positive feminism” is a movement which, in actuality, mostly benefits white privileged men and women. The extremism of the sex-pozzies’ belief in sex entails the marginalization of individuals who do not like sex, such as asexuals, people with low or non-existent libidos, rape survivors, child abuse survivors, and victims of the systems of exploitation that the sex-pozzies support:

[Sex-pozzies] don’t care about rape victims, prostituted women, porn actresses, homosexual people, women who like sex but not phallocentric sex, or actual feminists.

I don’t think that most of them don’t care per se, but that they are blind to the massive exploitation of women that they are supporting: they are not able to recognize it as exploitation any more than capitalists are able to recognize work contracts as exploitation. Privilege is transparent: you can only see it if you are told exactly where to look and actually make the effort. Most people don’t because they see no need in making the effort to look for something they don’t experience.

When we look at the issues, sex-pozzies actually don’t appear very different from funfems. Funfems consider the exploitation of their own bodies to be “empowering,” including pornography, prostitution and BDSM. Funfems, like sex-pozzies, consider consent to be the alpha and the omega of morality. The main difference is that sex-positivism is more theoretical in nature and funfem is more frivolous in nature.

“Sex-positive feminism” was itself a reaction to the anti-pornography movement spearheaded by people like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon (who are now demonized for it). Fundamentally it is defined by its defense of pornography, and therefore by its defense of the exploitation and objectification of women, which is why it is an anti-feminist movement.

The arguments of sex-pozzies regarding pornography are very similar to those used by “individualist feminist” Wendy McElroy: we think women who use pornography or who work in pornography are “damaged,” the reduction of consent to a “yes” act, falsely representing the “anti” side as an alliance between radical feminists (anti-women-haters) and Christian fundamentalists (women-haters).

Why are these “feminist” positions, “funfeminism,” “sex-positive feminism” and “individualistic feminism,” so similar? They’re all about me, me, me, and ignore the systemic objectification and exploitation of women. I have written many times about how evaluating actions in a vacuum must necessarily lead to support for the status quo (see for example). I will not repeat myself here, but merely point out that this the root error of all these “feminist” ideologies, which “analyze” sexual acts as if they existed in a vacuum devoid of patriarchal incentives or financial incentives. This is fantasy land.

I already discussed the vital role of pornography in reproducing patriarchal norms. On the sex-pozzie side, I also quoted Pervocracy saying that “It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is).” But this implies that there can be such a thing as “valid pornography” and “sex work.” These premises are self-contradictory: pornography is the commodification of the objectification of women, and prostitution is organized rape at best; commodifying the objectification of women cannot be “valid” and the rape of women cannot be “work.”

What about the wonderfully bizarre concept of “feminist porn”: who has ever seen such a unicorn? Where is this noble unicorn hiding in the lush, vibrant forest of pornography? Will someone one day find the magical .mpg file that contains it and share it with the world? Or are we merely to stick with the reasoned conclusion that belief in such a thing is an absolute steaming pile of shit?

Pornography is not about sex, anyhow, it’s about men dominating women. As I’ve said before, arguing that anyone who’s against pornography is anti-sex is as obtuse as stating that anyone who’s against McDonalds is anti-food. McDonalds food is mass-produced, artificial, loveless food, and pornography at its best is mass-produced, artificial, loveless sex.

Some complain that the term “sex-negative” is not good publicity and that we should be using the term “sex-critical.” The trouble is, good publicity for who? Men? Sex-positive women? Why should feminists appeal to either of these groups? The label should be descriptive, and “sex-negative” is descriptive as an opposition to “sex-positive.”

I also want to mention that I am also necessarily a sex-negative person by virtue of being an antinatalist: all antinatalists by definition believe that sex for procreation is wrong, therefore they cannot accept [procreative] sex uncritically either. It is impossible to be an antinatalist and sex-positive; this is not a statement of bigotry or partisanship but a simple logical deduction.

I give the summation and final word to Meghan Murphy:

Glickman argues that ‘sex-positivity’ is “the idea that the only relevant measure of a particular sexual act, practice, or desire is how the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants are cared for.” And, yeah, I think we ‘get’ that. And we don’t agree. At all. We think it is much more complicated then individuals simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (though of course consent is a key part of sex, assuming that our intent is not to rape). Where the ‘sex-positivity’ defenders seem to get off track is in this ‘judgement’ discourse. In the obsessive need to make all representations and manifestations of sex and ‘sexiness’ about individuals, the point that feminists are making is completely missed. That is that this isn’t all about individuals and that your sexuality has been influenced by a myriad of factors, all which have been shaped by patriarchy.

And there you go.

Debunking the argument for self-ownership.

A rare image of a human being owning itself. But does the owner also have an owner inside of it? The capitalist ubermensch is made of Russian nested dolls all the way down!

I have written a few entries on the nonsensical concept that we call self-ownership, but I have not yet discussed the argument put forward in its defense. I say “argument” in the singular because there is really only one, which has been reformulated in a few different ways. The two versions I will discuss are 1. the argument that denying self-ownership is a performative contradiction (Hoppe) and 2. the argument that either we own ourselves or someone else does (Rothbard). Let’s start with the first, although they are pretty much the same:

One cannot deny [the law of contradiction] without presupposing its validity. But there is another such proposition. Propositions are not free-floating entities. They require a proposition maker who in order to produce any validity-claiming proposition whatsoever must have exclusive control (property) over some scarce means defined in objective terms and appropriated (brought under control) at definite points in time through homesteading action. Thus, any proposition that would dispute the validity of the homesteading principle of property acquisition, or that would assert the validity of a different, incompatible principle, would be falsified by the act of proposition making in the same way as the proposition “the law of contradiction is false” would be contradicted by the very fact of asserting it.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p405

As you may have noticed, Hoppe actually believes that our claim over our own bodies comes from the homesteading principle, that living as a body is the same as appropriating land by laboring on it. I am not going to analyze how absurd that is, but it really shows you how disconnected from reality these capitalists are.

Now, to the argument. I have no objection to the basic principle of performative contradiction. Obviously denying the law of non-contradiction is a silly thing to do and believing that the law of non-contradiction is false is nonsensical. The main problem (although not by far the only problem) with Hoppe’s argument is that he assumes one must have “exclusive control” over our own body in order to be able to make propositions. Why?

We know for a fact that we do not have such an “exclusive control” (we have no control over the vast majority of what happens in our own bodies, including our cognitive functions), and yet we clearly are able to make propositions, therefore Hoppe’s argument is simply mistaken in assuming that “exclusive control” is necessary. Hoppe provides no justification for this belief, merely restating it again and again:

To argue and possibly agree with someone (if only on the fact that there is disagreement) means to recognize the prior right of exclusive control over one’s own body. Otherwise, it would be impossible for anybody to say anything at a definite point in time and for someone else to be able to reply, for neither the first nor the second speaker would be a physically independent decision-making unit anymore at any time.
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p329

To recognize that argumentation is a form of action and does not consist of free-floating sounds implies the recognition of the fact that all argumentation requires that a person have exclusive control over the scarce resource of his body. As long as there is argumentation, there is mutual recognition of each other’s property right in his own body.
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, p335

He repeats this over and over, but never actually justifies it; to someone who is so completely entrenched in the capitalist worldview, every issue must be seen as property issue. Hoppe is literally incapable of seeing it otherwise.

Observe this exact same error in Rothbard’s argument:

[E]ither we may lay down a rule that each man should be permitted (i.e., have the right to) the full ownership of his own body, or we may rule that he may not have such complete ownership. If he does, then we have the libertarian natural law for a free society as treated above. But if he does not, if each man is not entitled to full and 100 percent self-ownership, then what does this imply? It implies either one of two conditions: (1) the “communist” one of Universal and Equal Other-ownership, or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another—a system of rule by one class over another. These are the only logical alternatives to a state of 100 percent self-ownership for all.
The Ethics of Liberty, p45

Rothbard likewise cannot envision any alternative to the view that we’re a piece of property, and the only dispute left, in his view, is who gets to own it. If we accept the premise that we are pieces of property, and also accept that the Libertarian/”ancap” concept of absolute and inalienable private property, then the argument makes sense.

The problem is that these two premises betray a myopic understanding of political theory, and in any other context I would say that they are amateurish mistakes. But in Hoppe and Rothbard’s case, they are not mistakes but corollaries of their circular adherence to capitalism. They start from property and market exchange and use them to conclude that property and market exchange are the best alternative.

It should therefore not be a surprise that Hoppe starts from the necessity of property rules and then “proves” from this that homesteading is the only meaningful solution, or that Rothbard starts from the premise of the human being as a piece of property and concludes that human beings are self-owned, and that they both go on to “prove” market exchange as optimal. Like religious fanatics, they’re trying to rationalize pre-existing dogma.

We must deny the truth of either premise. Human beings are not a kind of thing that can be owned, and absolute property is a theoretical construct of classical liberalism which finds no echo in human history (which is not too surprising, as any community or society built on absolute property rights would crumble in short order due to the impossibility of resolving disputes). Property rights do not exist. We deny the validity of objectifying human beings, even if it serves the ostensible, circular aim of making human beings objects “owned” by themselves.

Furthermore, since the concept of “human being owning itself” is incoherent, the only logical answers to Rothbard’s trilemma are communism or class rule, not market exchange. If a human being is necessarily owned, then it must be owned by other human beings.

Now, how do we make sense of arguing without self-ownership? As Murphy and Callahan discuss in Hans-Hermann Hoppe Argumentation Ethic: A Critique, Hoppe confuses using something with having “exclusive ownership” of it:

But now we move on to a more fundamental objection to Hoppe’s argument: One is not necessarily the rightful owner of a piece of property even if control of it is necessary in a debate over its ownership. Because of this fact, a crucial link in Hoppe’s argument fails. Someone can deny the libertarian ethic, and yet concede to his opponents the use of their bodies for debate…

[I]magine that a Georgist were to argue that everyone should own a piece of landed property. The Georgist could go so far as to claim that his position is the only justifiable one. He could correctly observe that anyone debating him would necessarily grant him (the Georgist) some standing room, and then he might deduce from this true observation the conclusion that it would be a performative contradiction to deny that everyone is entitled to a piece of land. We imagine that Hoppe would point out to such a Georgist that using a piece of land during a debate does not entitle one to its full ownership, and Hoppe would be correct. But by the same token, Hoppe’s argument for ownership of one’s body falls apart; Hoppe has committed the exact same fallacy as our hypothetical Georgist.

I quote the Georgist example because it follows Hoppe’s method to the letter and yet it is clearly invalid. Hoppe confuses need, which is a biological and psychological concept, with ownership, which is a political construct. We need to use our bodies and we need to use a piece of land in order to argue, but this does not prove that we own our bodies and own the piece of land. Even from the perspective of use/occupancy ownership, one may temporarily use an object or a space that belongs to someone else (and it’s a long way from use/occupancy to absolute property rights).

The “ancaps” cannot accept this conclusion because they have come to the conclusion that, because they have determined that self-ownership is the basis of freedom, there can be no freedom without self-ownership. Therefore anyone who attacks self-ownership is seen, in their eyes, as an enemy of freedom; just look at Stephen Kinsella’s hollow replies to my debunking of the self-ownership concept for a good example of that, or the comments other people posted on my entries. They literally cannot see past self-ownership and its allied concepts, free will and capitalist relativism.

They often reply that I am merely talking semantics. But I am not sure how I am merely “talking semantics” when I am destroying the fundamental basis of “ancapism.” If that’s “talking semantics,” then the “ancap” ideology must be mere semantics as well, and therefore worthless and inapplicable to real life. If “ancap” is not just semantics, then neither is my debunking of it. Furthermore, self-ownership is an empirical proposition which is falsified by the fact that we don’t control most of our own bodies, therefore it does have concrete, if nonsensical, meaning.

Self-ownership is not, and cannot, be the basis of freedom. Objectification is destructive of ethics, and it does not become any less destructive if we decide to practice it on everyone. The only logical conclusion of self-ownership as a principle is the general enmity of individual against individual in practice, which finds its expression in the “pure competition” of capitalism.

Contract theory as an attack against human rights

(above: a contract of indentured servitude)

Contract theory is at the center of voluntaryism. This alone should be enough to make it suspect. Strangely, despite its centrality, voluntaryists talk very little about the nitty-gritty of contracts and how they are to be enforced. Molyneux fans blather on and on about defense contracts as a substitute for law, but the enforcement and limitations of such contracts, which raise numerous questions, remain unexamined.

As I’ve pointed out in the case of the child renter argument and Block’s corollary, voluntaryists who uphold contracts as absolute must therefore reject the concept of human rights. This is a very difficult dilemma for them: either they reject human rights or they reject contracts as absolute standard. Voluntaryists fail to give a satisfactory answer to this dilemma, because they know very well that giving up either is the death knell for their beliefs.

Consider the concept of self-ownership, which treats living, thinking bodies as pieces of property. If something is property, then it can be given away or exchanged at will. But this must be done by contract, since any person could otherwise retract their agreement at will, since the person is the body. The contract provides a written binding agreement that continues to exist beyond consent.

The most obvious example would be the constitution of any country. Constitutions bind people who are long dead, and yet they are still assumed to legally hold today, despite the lack of consent from people currently living. The only way to make sense of this contradiction is to assume that citizens are, to some degree, property of the State through the expired agreement of “their” constitution. But this only makes sense to us because we’ve been indoctrinated to believe in self-ownership and in absolute contracts. In no other context would the concept of a constitution make any sense: as Lysander Spooner points out, most contracts we enter into are not this absurd.

Suppose an agreement were entered into, in this form:

We, the people of Boston, agree to maintain a fort on Governor’s Island, to protect ourselves and our posterity against invasion.

This agreement, as an agreement, would clearly bind nobody but the people then existing. Secondly, it would assert no right, power, or disposition, on their part, to compel their “posterity” to maintain such a fort. It would only indicate that the supposed welfare of their posterity was one of the motives that induced the original parties to enter into the agreement.

[T]hese men who claim and exercise this absolute and irresponsible dominion over us, dare not be consistent, and claim either to be our masters, or to own us as property. They say they are only our servants, agents, attorneys, and representatives. But this declaration involves an absurdity, a contradiction. No man can be my servant, agent, attorney, or representative, and be, at the same time, uncontrollable by me, and irresponsible to me for his acts. It is of no importance that I appointed him, and put all power in his hands. If I made him uncontrollable by me, and irresponsible to me, he is no longer my servant, agent, attorney, or representative. If I gave him absolute, irresponsible power over my property, I gave him the property. If I gave him absolute, irresponsible power over myself, I made him my master, and gave myself to him as a slave. And it is of no importance whether I called him master or servant, agent or owner.

Lysander Spooner, The Constitution of No Authority

The notion of a contract, while not by far ideal, is not in itself absurd; the union of contracts and self-ownership is what leads to absurdities. It led to the belief, which has only recently been dispelled, that marriage contracts make uxorial rape logically impossible. It leads to the belief that work contracts make all sorts of attacks against human rights valid, and the belief that the social contract (as instantiated by the Constitution) makes assault and murder valid, although as time goes on, the range of possible attacks gets narrower.

If this reminds you of the way Christians approach the Bible, that’s no coincidence. The more that permissible contracts lag behind social mores, the more incentive there are for legal reforms, just like how religious doctrines get progressively left behind as social mores change. Sexual harassment used to be an accepted (implicit) part of a work contract: nowadays, not so much, because sexism is somewhat more toned down from where it was a hundred years ago. In the case of political crimes, it’s hard to say that there’s really been any progress, and that’s because people still have as much faith in the law and law enforcement as they did a hundred years ago, a faith which is not always extended to corporations.

So contracts-as-ethics is ultimately a subjective standard. The more self-ownership we grant people, the more human rights we imagine them being able to surrender, and the fewer human rights we will see as absolute. The less self-ownership we grant people, the less human rights we imagine them being able to surrender, and the more human rights we will see as absolute.

This may seem counter-intuitive because it goes counter to the capitalist way of thinking, with which we are indoctrinated and therefore seems intuitive. The standard reasoning is that self-ownership is the basis of rights, and that therefore both are proportional. But this is usually an ad hoc rationalization: the more we see people respecting each other, the more we arbitrarily assume that self-ownership is granted. Logically, this makes no sense. Slavery and other attacks on basic rights can only make sense if we first assume that bodies are a kind of thing that can be owned, a property which can be trespassed upon.

Likewise, the marriage contract have supported the enslavement of women for centuries. For more on the relation between marriage contracts and other hierarchical forms of contracts, see The Sexual Contract, by Carole Pateman (I haven’t yet read it, so I won’t comment further).

Voluntaryists sussed out a long time ago that full self-ownership should mean that people can sell themselves into slavery. This conclusion is distressing to most of them, so they have concocted various rationalizations to get around this. But this does not improve the situation, since virtually all attacks on human rights are not outright slavery, but rather degrees of slavery (if we use “slavery” in the more colloquial sense of one person having control over what another says and does). While rejecting slavery contracts, voluntaryists cannot get themselves to reject work contracts or social contracts, demonstrating their failure to grasp the commonality between all these contracts.

Can contracts be a valid means of formalizing agreement? Sure, but we have to introduce issues of consent. Consent cannot exist unless viable alternatives exist as well. Much like we shouldn’t evaluate individuals as if they lived in a social vacuum, or evaluate actions as if they took place in a causal vacuum, a contract can not, and should not, be judged in a vacuum, but rather must be contrasted with the institutions that sustain it. A contract may or may not be valid in itself, but if these institutions do not provide or allow any alternatives, then the contract cannot possibly be justified.

Suppose a group of equals come together and decide on how they are to live. They may decide upon something like a constitution, and this form is not necessarily problematic, as long as every person bound to it consents beforehand. But when such a constitution is applied to people who never consented to it, and provides no other choice, then it cannot be justified (the work contract, on the other hand, is in itself invalid because of its illogical nature).

Against Carl Watner: Debunking the Arguments for Voluntaryism.

Carl Watner is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of voluntaryism, and he has written a succinct overview of seven arguments which he believes support voluntaryism as an ideology. I’ve been accused many times of not addressing what voluntaryists actually believe, so what better way for me to accept this criticism than to examine the words of Watner himself?

Before I begin, though, I want to point out the self-righteous attitude taken by Watner throughout. Voluntaryists in general seem to believe that their non-violent position makes them compassionate, tolerant individuals who rightfully oppose coercive ideologies. Yet, as I’ve explained before, voluntaryists refuse to oppose institutions which could not exist without the past coercion that they embody (see point 2 here).

Since this embodiment of coercion is (by an overwhelming margin) more oppressive than the direct use of coercion, and in most cases provides the incentives for this direct use, the claim that voluntaryism opposes coercion and defends freedom against tyranny is fine hypocrisy. This is the “freedom” of the miscreant who throws you down a well, declares himself “non-violent,” and offers you the “freedom” to work for him or starve.

Moving on to the arguments:

The Epistemological Argument

Violence is never a means to knowledge… The advocate of any form of invasive violence is in a logically precarious situation. Coercion does not convince, nor is it any kind of argument. William Godwin pointed out that force “is contrary to the nature of the intellect, which cannot but be improved by conviction and persuasion,” and “if he who employs coercion against me could mold me to his purposes by argument, no doubt, he would… He pretends to punish me because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me because he is weak”…

This is a bizarre argument, in that it assumes that the use of violence serves an epistemic purpose. I think Watner would be hard-pressed to find any use of violence which was explicitly meant to serve epistemic ends. The purpose of violence is not to argue anything or to persuade anyone of the validity of an argument, but rather to put into effect one’s ethics into the world, whether those ethics are constructive or destructive.

Suppose that I use force to try to prevent someone from inflicting force on me. In doing so, I am not trying to persuade the other party that their course of action is unethical. Indeed, I have no delusion of being able to change anyone’s mind. I am merely trying to impart to the other party that their violence will be met with violence, pain, which is undesirable to any organism.

If we look at more large-scale examples, we also find no such attempt at persuasion. In seizing the means of production, violently if necessary, socialists are not trying to persuade the power elite that capitalist institutions are outdated or irrational or anything of the sort. There is no reason to believe that a power elite could ever be convinced of such a thing. The goal is to bring about a new form of economics; it is an inherently practical goal, not a theoretical epistemic goal.

I do agree with Watner that the use of violence can mask some epistemic insecurity or weakness. However, he fails to make the argument that it is always the case, and it doesn’t seem like a plausible explanation. This is a very Objectivist-like argument, in that it tries to psychoanalyze the motivations of one’s opponents. This method fails because it is based on ad hominems and does not reflect the motivation of people in reality; it is a very poor and mean way of making a point, let alone an argument.

The Economic Argument

People engage in voluntary exchanges because they anticipate improving their lot; the only individuals capable of judging the merits of an exchange are the parties to it. Voluntaryism follows naturally if no one does anything to stop it. The interplay of natural property and exchanges results in a free market price system, which conveys the necessary information needed to make intelligent economic decisions. Interventionism and collectivism make economic calculation impossible because they disrupt the free market price system… Also, “controlled” economies leave no room for new inventions, new ways of doing things, or for the “unforeseeable and unpredictable”…

There are many unspoken premises in this argument which make it extremely unlikely to be true. Watner speaks of “natural property” and “voluntary exchanges” following “naturally”; he seems to believe that the specific political concepts and behaviors we find normal today have always existed in the same way. This is fallacious, but it is a common fallacy because we often cannot imagine it any other way, and we are not taught that any society ever worked any other way. Watner’s assertions about what is “natural,” like most such assertions, rely on a set of political and economic assumptions:

[D]efinitions of ownership and theft tend to be thought of as straightforward, even natural. But they are not. They are, rather, the product of human decision. That decision operates to give special protection to just those types of ownership (or putative ownership) that are crucial to economic stratification. It excludes from protection-or even from clear conceptualization-those types of ownership that would undermine or at least limit economic stratification…

It is not only the legal definition of theft but those of assault, rape, spousal abuse, fraud, homicide, and other crimes as well that appear natural and neutral, even though they are, in fact, artificial and severely biased.

The Culture of Conformism, chapter 1

What Watner fails to realize, or omits from his argument, is that his “natural property” and “naturally… voluntary exchanges” only make sense within a culture of universal competition and atomistic individualism. They are not “natural” in any way, shape or form. So Watner’s main argument, that voluntaryism is “natural,” falls on its face.

As for the argument on economic calculation, Watner fails to demonstrate that a price system is necessary for intelligence economic decisions, and that systems like parecon or mutualist labor exchange, to name just those two examples, entail that economic decisions will be unintelligent.

This is complicated by the subjectivity of the very concept of “intelligent economic decisions.” The term “intelligence” is highly controversial, and Watner does not even acknowledge this. But if intelligence incorporates anything like the skillful application of knowledge to problems, then free markets, which are unguided, are by definition unintelligent and fail Watner’s criterion. For “intelligent economic decisions,” we must look to better planned systems.

Finally Watner makes the argument that a controlled economy leaves no room for innovation. Well, I think we already have plenty of innovation in our capitalist planned economy. I’m not arguing that it’s all great, but it exists. But again, he posits no principle by which innovation is prevented from existing. So this is not really an argument either.

The theoreticians and partisans of the liberal economy affirm that competition stimulates initiative and, consequently, the creative spirit and invention without which it remains dormant. Numerous observations made by the writer in the Collectives, factories and socialised workshops permit him to take quite the opposite view. For in a Collective, in a grouping where each individual is stimulated by the wish to be of service to his fellow beings research, the desire for technical perfection and so on are also stimulated… Furthermore, when, in present society, an individualist inventor discovers something, it is used only by the capitalist or the individual employing him, whereas in the case of an inventor living in a community not only is his discovery taken up and developed by others, but is immediately applied for the common good.
Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution

The only point which he even tries to argue is his position that voluntaryism is natural. Unfortunately, his evidence does not support his conclusion. His argument seems to be that voluntaryism is natural because people, if left to their own devices, will engage in voluntary exchange and that this will inevitably improve their lot. Not only that, but Watner tells us that only the parties to an exchange can judge its merits.

I fail to see how this can be the case. Certainly I agree that I cannot morally evaluate an exchange from the perspective of the participants, but that’s a trivial statement. From an ethical standpoint, I can definitely evaluate exchanges on the basis of ethical principles such as egalitarianism, not exploiting people, obtaining consent at all times, and so on. Voluntaryism, being a form of ethical subjectivism, is obviously opposed to such principles, but provides us no reason to abandon them.

The Moral Argument

The voluntary principle assures us that while we may have the possibility of choosing the worst, we also have the possibility of choosing the best. It provides us the opportunity to make things better, though it doesn’t guarantee results. While it dictates that we do not force our idea of “better” on someone else, it protects us from having someone else’s idea of “better” imposed on us by force.

These are very noble sentiments. Too bad that they have little to do with voluntaryism. They do, however, provide a powerful argument for consensual systems and political structures engineered to provide a maximum of free choice, and can easily be turned as an argument against voluntaryism. Voluntaryism does not ensure that we can “choose the best” or “protect us from having someone else’s idea of ‘better’ imposed on us.” By the very fact that it is unguided, it cannot fulfill any standard of value such as the ones Watner proposes. Because of its acceptance of embodied coercion as voluntary, voluntaryism cannot protect us from coercion.

Just to give one example, I’ve argued that property rights are incoherent, but to a voluntaryist property rights are voluntary. Therefore, landlordism and capitalism (private ownership of the means of production), which are coercive against renters and workers, are approved by voluntaryism. But clearly landlordism and capitalism restrict our choices and subject us to further coercion; without landlordism we’d have more choice of where and how to inhabit, and without capitalism we’d have more choice in how to work and for what purposes.

The last sentence I quoted makes the “voluntary principle” discussed here by Watner suspiciously similar to what I call Tucker’s Theorem (that the invader’s values must be subordinated to those of the invaded). But the natural consequence of Tucker’s Theorem is a socialist society, not a voluntaryist society. It is only because voluntaryists fail to recognize the injustice of existing institutions that embody past coercion that they are unable to realize that fact.

The Natural Law Argument

Common sense and reason tell us that nothing can be right by legislative enactment if it is not already right by nature. Epictetus, the Stoic, urged men to defy tyrants in such a way as to cast doubt on the necessity of government itself. “If the government directed them to do something that their reason opposed, they were to defy the government. If it told them to do what their reason would have told them to do anyway, they did not need a government.”

Ethical naturalism is the position that the good can be reduced to some non-evaluative property (such as “the most total happiness in the world”), while ethical subjectivism is the position that the good is determined by psychological properties (such as God’s opinions or one’s personal opinions).

Here Watner seems to be arguing that voluntaryism is some kind of position of ethical naturalism (“it if is not already right by nature,” “something that their reason opposed”). But voluntaryism holds that whatever people voluntarily decide to do is good (and therefore, all free exchanges are unquestionable). This is a position of ethical subjectivism, not a position of ethical naturalism as Watner seems to be implying.

Watner may disagree that voluntaryism is a form of ethical subjectivism, but he provides no argument to the contrary in either this or his “moral argument.” Without such an argument, the argument here falls apart because Watner has no valid alternative to present to legislative enactment. All he can argue is that he, along with his fellow voluntaryists, disagrees with the competing subjectivist view that law-makers’ opinions create the good. Why should we believe voluntaryists more or less than we should believe this competing view?

The Means-End Argument

[...] Voluntaryists oppose the State because it uses coercive means. The means are the seeds which bud into a flower and come into fruition. It is impossible to plant the seed of coercion and then reap the flower of voluntaryism. The coercionist always proposes to compel people to do something, usually by passing laws or electing politicians to office. These laws and officials depend upon physical violence to enforce their wills. Voluntary means, such as nonviolent resistance, for example, violate no one’s rights… Voluntaryism does not require of people that they violently overthrow their government, or use the electoral process to change it; merely that they shall cease to support their government, whereupon it will fall of its own dead weight. If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.

I’m afraid I fail to understand how this is an argument for voluntaryism. The correlation between means and ends applies to all ideologies, not just voluntaryism. It is true that the State uses coercive means, but again that’s an argument for Anarchism, not voluntaryism.

The Consistency Argument

It is a commonplace observation that the means one uses must be consistent with the goal one seeks. It is impossible to “wage a war for peace” or “fight politics by becoming political.” Freedom and private property are total, indivisible concepts that are compromised wherever and whenever the State exists. Since all things are related to one another in our complicated social world, if one man’s freedom or private property may be violated (regardless of the justification), then every man’s freedom and property are insecure. The superior man can only be sure of his freedom if the inferior man is secure in his rights.

For those of you who doubt that Watner supports property rights as they exist today, here’s your proof. According to Watner, private property is a “total, indivisible concept.” Therefore my refutation of property rights also applies as a refutation of this argument.

The Integrity, Self-Control, and Corruption Argument

It is a fact of human nature that the only person who can think with your brain is you. Neither can a person be compelled to do anything against his or her will, for each person is ultimately responsible for his or her own actions. Governments try to terrorize individuals into submitting to tyranny by grabbing their bodies as hostages and trying to destroy their spirits… Furthermore, the voluntaryist rejects the use of political power because it can only be exercised by implicitly endorsing or using violence to accomplish one’s ends. The power to do good to others is also the power to do them harm. Power to compel people, to control other people’s lives, is what political power is all about. It violates all the basic principles of voluntaryism: might does not make right; the end never justifies the means; nor may one person coercively interfere in the life of another. Even the smallest amount of political power is dangerous. First, it reduces the capacity of at least some people to lead their own lives in their own way. Second, and more important from the voluntaryist point of view, is what it does to the person wielding the power: it corrupts that person’s character.

Again, I don’t understand how this is an argument for voluntaryism. I agree that the principles of the State are contrary (although not diametrically opposite) to those of voluntaryism. So what? We both agree that might does not make right, that the ends do not justify the means, and that one may not coercively interfere in others’ lives; but we disagree in what does make right, on what means are valid, and on what coercion consists of. There are a multiplicity of answers to these questions, and rejecting statist ideology does not prove that voluntaryism is the right answer.

The rest of the “argument” seems to be nothing but inane and trivial pronouncements. Only you can think with your own brain, you are ultimately responsible for what you do, power corrupts, the power to do good is also the power to do harm, and so on. While this may all be true, it’s also vacuous tripe that has no place in a serious political discussion.

Frankly, I am unimpressed by this series of arguments. They are full of unjustified non-evident assumptions and nonsensical deductions. This does not lend any credibility to either voluntaryism as an ideology or to statements that rely on voluntaryist premises. It also does not lend any credibility to self-ownership or to ethical subjectivism, which are the two pillars of voluntaryism.

Summary of the voluntaryist debate…

As you may have noticed, there was a short debate between myself and Clayton from the Voluntaryist Reader. Here is an overview of the debate, so you can find all the links in the same place:

1. My original entry, where I give four reasons why voluntaryism is wrong.

2. Clayton’s response to my entry, where he contends that my definition of voluntaryism is inadequate and asks me to prove some of my claims.

3. My reply, where I use the classification of power by Galbraith to clarify my definition, and point out a number of confusions in his reply.

4. Clayton’s round two takes a stance against my support of force.

5. And finally my round two, where I continue my analysis of the issues presented and lob a few questions of my own.

Since there was no further reply by Clayton, I assume the debate has ended.

The Voluntaryist Reader defends voluntaryism, round 2.

If you’ve been following the little debate between the Voluntaryist Reader and myself on the topic of whether voluntaryism is pro-freedom or anti-freedom (I take the latter position, obviously), you may have noticed that the Voluntaryist Reader posted its second response last week.

I have made my argument clear on my first response; voluntaryism is anti-freedom because it manufactures a sharp division between coercion and non-coercive forms of power, and only condemns the use of the former. This leads voluntaryists to accept institutions which embody violence (i.e. which only have their power because of past violence) as well as institutions which use non-coercive power (such as conditioning, brainwashing, financial rewards and punishments, etc).

So let me now go through Clayton’s response. I will put quotes from his entry in normal type and, when necessary for context, what he is responding to in bold type. I will discuss every point, but I will not go through them in order this time, because there are definite lines of dialogue at play here. First, the dialogue on whether my basic appraisal of voluntaryism is correct. Clayton first says:

The voluntaryist view stops at condign power and states that all other forms of power are irrelevant to freedom.

What voluntaryist ever said this? Any form of force or fraud – even if disguised, even if systematized – is “on the table” to be answered with force, if necessary.

Yes, of course, but voluntaryists don’t believe that conditioned or compensatory powers are “force or fraud,” do they? At least when I was a voluntaryist, I didn’t think they were. Surely there is something strange about calling, for example, racist worldviews a form of force or fraud, and yet racism is clearly not conducive to freedom. In what can be seen as a continuation of this dialogue, Clayton also states:

by opposing “aggression,” they are thereby supporting all “non-aggressive” institutional evils.

“I don’t support X” does not imply “I support all non-X.”

I never said it did, I am saying that this is what voluntaryists actually believe. Granted, any voluntaryist can be against capitalism, for instance, but ey would do so despite eir voluntaryism, not because of it.

To back my point, I would note that, a primary hub of voluntaryist materials maintained by Carl Watner, has a list of his entries for the Journal of Libertarian Studies (whose list of past editors is a who’s who of “anarcho-capitalists”), and the people whose articles are featured on his site are almost all capitalists. And was it not Watner himself who said:

“The freedom to discover truth” is what competition is all about. It is only through voluntary exchanges that the truth of the market place can be discovered. “The subjectivity of human wants implies that only individuals participating in an exchange can be the legitimate judge of their own interests. Competition is a learning process” where self-ownership and property rights “provide an incentive to make individuals responsible for their mistakes and give them an incentive to learn.”

That sounds like Atlas Shrugged, not like Das Kapital. If Clayton wants to present other examples of voluntaryist thinkers who hold to different positions, then I’d like to hear them, but his own list:

Herbert, Spencer, Tucker, Thoreau, Spooner, Nock, Chodorov, Rothbard, LeFevre

Contains a grand total of one socialist (Tucker, although it is hard for me to call a voluntaryist someone who said that “Socialism is the belief that progress is mainly to be effected by acting upon man through his environment” and who was a crusader against rent, interest and profit, which are all voluntary), one dubious anarchist (Thoreau), one Georgist (Nock), and six capitalists. This hardly makes his point.

On the issue of conditioned power:

This looks to me like scapegoating or collective punishment – something I would hope had gone the way of Yahweh and the Amalekites. We first surmise that high-heels are a sign of a systematized, coercive element in society. We then move – through judicial or legal activism or outright tyranny – to fine and penalize people who are not the cause of the wearing of high-heels. Why should they be punished if they are not the cause of the behavior which, by the way, we have only tentatively agreed might be a sign of some other, subtler coercion?

Clayton first surmises that high heels (to continue my example, although if I had known we’d have a discussion about it, I might have chosen a clearer one) are the result of a [systemic] coercive element in society, in short a hierarchy (the patriarchy). Then he says that we fine and penalize people for it?

Is this what Clayton thinks I want to do, that I want to fine and penalize people in the name of high heels? Then he is in error. Obviously a systemic problem must be given systemic solutions; if force is to be used then it must be used to enable these solutions, not to punish individuals. Putting individuals in jail is not the solution to social problems. And as a determinist, I don’t believe in punishment as a valid social goal anyway.

Returning to the example of high-heels: who should be held liable under law for the coercion which we are surmising to exist from the symptom of high-heel wearing? Vera Wang? Coach? Cosmopolitan? Men, generally? Who exactly is the cause of the oppressive wearing of high-heels by women through the operation of “non-condign power”?

Again, I never said that any individual or group should be punished in the name of high heels. This has already been reviewed. I don’t really want to continue this line of discussion because I don’t want there to be further misunderstandings about me wanting to punish people, which would probably happen if I discussed what I think are the causes of anything. I want to make sure that issue is settled first.

And now, ending this line of discussion:

When has the use of force ever succeeded in changing the discussion? The fact is that every form of systematized aggression has its foundation in verbal arguments that legitimize wrong behavior. It is mental laziness to short-circuit the process of argumentation and reach for the blunt instrument of force (law). The correct solution, the only possible solution, is to answer incorrect arguments with correct arguments.

Every revolution has “changed the discussion,” if only for a while. But that aside, Clayton seems confident in his assertions, but I am not. I don’t think systemic aggression has as foundation verbal arguments that legitimize wrong behavior. To me, it seems that the verbal arguments are, most of the time, rationalizations of the wrong behavior. The sort of things that legitimize wrong behavior (like dehumanization, objectification, prejudice, elitism) are more like appeals to emotion than like properly formulated arguments. But I could be wrong on that.

My bigger problem here is that Clayton is trying to portray himself as the “reasonable” person who seeks only to offer truth against falsity. One has to wonder if the Zapatista would have the freedom they have today if they had kept “answering incorrect arguments with correct arguments” to opponents who didn’t (and still don’t) give a shit about their welfare. When they took arms in 1994 (in a still ongoing struggle) and risked their lives for freedom from the Mexican government and the capitalist elite in Southern Mexico, were the Zapatista simply being lazy? I’d like to hear what Clayton thinks about that particular situation.

To assert that we should counter falsehoods with truths, and that this is sufficient, implies a number of things: that our opponents are concerned with truth, that our opponents want to listen to the truths we’ve constructed, that our opponents have the same moral intuitions that we have, and so on. It seems to me that any opposition which shared these traits would resemble no elite that has ever existed. Again I could be wrong on that, but it seems to me that Clayton is implicitly setting up somewhat of a straw man.

Now, the dialogue on the issue of contract. My position is that voluntaryism by definition allows all contracts, including those which go against human rights, up to slavery. Clayton replies:

I ‘believe’ that a contract is voluntary in the same way that I ‘believe’ that a bachelor is an unmarried man – the relationship is definitional. Furthermore, to pit “contracts against… human rights” is nonsense. The word contract simply means “an agreement”. While contract law, even in the best case, is much more complex and problematic than a simple agreement, the whole idea of a contract is merely an elaboration of that simplest, voluntary act which is every human’s right: to make an agreement.

All contracts are voluntary by definition, and contracts cannot break human rights because it is an elaboration of the right to make agreements. This is a strange position, but first let me ask a question: what is the justification for this “right to make agreements”?

It seems obvious to me that such a right does not exist. For one thing, a principle cannot be a right if it infringes on the already established rights of other people. But Clayton has assumed that such a thing cannot exist by definition, so we’re trapped in a circular path here. He has simply defined the problem away. Perhaps the issue of slavery contracts will clarify this:

Slavery is clearly an involuntary arrangement and there are several reasoned, factual arguments we can follow to see why a “contract” which is supposed to legitimize a condition of slavery simply cannot – none of which are ad hoc. The simplest arugment is Rothbard’s argument based on the inalienability of the will, that is, the fundamental human right to change one’s mind:

I see no reason to deny that we have the right to change our mind. But it seems to me that by pulling this argument, Clayton is nullifying all contracts. After all, contracts are designed to ensure a future outcome, not for the present; a full belief in “the fundamental human right to change one’s mind” would make the very notion of contracts invalid. This is not a problem for me, since I don’t uphold contracts as a necessary or even particularly desirable way of organizing society, but it is obviously a problem for Clayton.

It seems to me that unless Clayton breaks out of his strange “definition” and acknowledges that contracts can go against human rights (as they most certainly do in our reality), there can be no further dialogue on this subject. Perhaps he could borrow a page from “anarcho-capitalist” Hans-Hermann Hoppe and argue that it’s okay for contracts to include sexual harassment clauses because women secretely like it.

And now, to address the remaining topics. First, market exchange:

… market exchange, being based on power imbalance, is itself a “manipulation” of people’s values and desires.

I don’t know what “market exchange” is as against simple exchange, but what voluntaryist has ever said that exchange in the present order is free of manipulation? Quite the opposite…

But on this point, we agree. Once the first inch of systematized aggression has been tolerated, the entire social order becomes infused with it – every interaction is tainted with the manipulation of the State and its enablers and cronies in the media and the corporate power complex. What, exactly, is Tremblay refuting here?

Unfortunately I cannot find the quote Clayton refers to, although I am sure I did write it. I must have edited it out, in which case I apologize. I do not remember what I was replying to. If I had to guess, I was probably pointing out the contradictions of voluntaryists believing that the “free market” is distorted by the list of things he gave and gives people wrong motivations, even though the “free market” itself does this very same thing. Clayton’s reply is excellent: my only objection is that eliminating all these things does not eliminate the manipulation of people’s values and desires, it only eliminates some of its sources and allows other sources to take the fore (such as wealth inequalities, marketing, work hierarchies, etc).

And finally, on the issue of institutional failures:

I have no disagreement with this – my disagreement is with the idea of institutional determinism, which is what it sounded like Tremblay was espousing. If behavior is determined by the institutional facts, then there is no individual responsibility, only collective responsibility.

I believe that the issue of responsibility is more complicated than either option taken alone. We do have individual responsibility, in that it makes sense to prevent someone from harming others, regardless of the causes of the harmful action; but the actions of individuals are primarily caused by social conditioning, therefore all instances of individual responsibility necessarily also entail a systemic, collective responsibility. It is simply not possible to dissociate the two.

At this point we could have an elaborate discussion of our respective positions on how human beings make decisions, and so on, but I don’t really see the point. It’s entirely possible to define voluntaryism without reference to “choice,” “free will” or individual responsibility at all (e.g. “voluntaryism is the desire to eliminate all uses of violence or threats of violence from social relations”), so even if he does believe in some contra-causal mental faculty, I do not hold that against him. However, I can’t stop myself from wondering why Clayton keeps coming back to my social constructionist position. Perhaps he can clarify this in his response.

A further discussion on consent, courtesy of femonade.

It is commonly understood that consent consists merely of saying “yes” or signing a contract. This superficial belief underlies much of the strand of political thought that I call voluntaryism (in radfem issues, sexual libertarianism). These little signals of consent represent the validation of the whole structure of exploitation. Such validation is not always necessary: for instance, no signal at all is necessary to enslave someone to a government. But in most areas we still like to pretend that we believe in consent.

I often refer to this entry because it shatters the myth of consent under capitalism; without any viable alternative to consent and a credible signal of non-consent, or under conditions of systemic inequality, consent is impossible (regarding inequality: it is not the mere fact of inequality which makes consent impossible, but the fact that we live in a system where some people are endowed with privilege and some are not).

The difference is that consent is superficially used as a tool to perpetuate “business as usual,” but a form of consent that is even the least bit meaningful shows “business as usual” to be a big lie, a scam of gargantuan proportions.

An old entry from femonade sheds some new light on this problem. FCM uses the example of a man and a woman having sex to illustrate the fact that consent, at least in the case of sex, cannot just mean to agree beforehand to do something: if the woman refuses to do that something at the moment it’s happening, the man has to stop or he is obviously guilty of rape. Based on this, she says:

[I]f legal and moral consent cannot be given prospectively, then [pornographic work] cannot be contracted for, period.

And boom goes the dynamite. If we start from the premise that consent must be constantly renewed in some form (not that both parties need to constantly say “I agree to this” every second), that it cannot be fixed, then a contract for pornographic work logically cannot be consensual.

Furthermore, even if any given pornographic work is consensual, it is impossible for any viewer to know that it is indeed consensual, because, as FCM points out, every porn movie is a performance and it’s impossible for us to know whether anything anyone says in them is part of the performance. Therefore anyone who watches porn is in essence fixating on something that may be rape, and has no problem with that fact.

One can make the same argument about non-pornographic movies, that actresses may be acting against their will. The difference is that most serious movie production companies don’t have a track record of forcing actresses to act against their will (although there are instances of actresses being hurt without their consent). The more profound difference is that there is much less inequality, on the whole, between an actress and a production company than between a porn actress and porn producers.

But of course we live in a rape-culture, so the fact that one may be viewing an instance of rape doesn’t really rankle anyone. Even viewing actual rape is pretty popular, porn-wise.

If we extend the argument to all forms of cooperation and start from the premise that consent cannot be given prospectively, period, then what does this imply for the structure of society? Well, it implies that the very concept of contracts is by definition invalid. This may seem like a bizarre statement, insofar as it may be hard to imagine a society that runs without contracts. But to say that an organization is not run by contract is not to say that roles cannot be formally described. What it does mean is that you cannot hold people responsible for those roles if they refuse to act on them in some way.

On the other hand, I believe that pharmacists who refuse to serve medications to people they find objectionable, or doctors who mendaciously refuse to grant sterilizations, are acting unethically. But aren’t those pharmacists just refusing to perform their job in ways they find objectionable?

The difference, I think, is that the pharmacist’s refusal to sell medications, or the doctors’ refusal to sterilize, is deliberately putting a patient in harm’s way. A porn actress who decides not to do anal, or a worker who refuses to dump toxic waste or to foster some financial scam on poor people, is hurting the bottom line, not a customer. The pharmacist and the doctor are being prejudiced, the porn actress or worker are not.

I know there is this belief that we have the right to be prejudiced. Obviously we have the right to think whatever we want, but there is no such thing as a “right to discriminate” (unless one uses the word “discriminate” in the sense of “noting differences,” which is trivial).

Of course the people who invoke this “right” are always white Christian men using their prejudice as a weapon against women, non-Christians, or non-whites, especially women. It’s a privilege, not a “right.” The premise of equality is not only individualistic but also collective, a fact that eludes us because we are indoctrinated to believe individualism is the only possible starting point.

There is one point on which I disagree with FCM. She says that contracting for sex is different from any other contract, but I see no reason to start from that premise. For one thing, other contracts also entail the risk of rape, as plenty of sweatshop working girls (some who are child slaves) can testify. Other contracts also entail the risk of disease, as plenty of workers who have suffered from, or died from, workplace-related diseases can testify. I understand that women in pornography are far more at risk of both these things than most women, but there is no qualitative difference.

But beyond that, I don’t see that there is a way in which a woman’s refusal to perform anal should be accepted but a woman’s refusal to dump toxic waste or scam poor people should not. The basic issue here is one of ethics: one should not be forced to do something that one does not want to do, whether the reason is personal or whether it is because it hurts others. This, it seems to me, is the basis of real consent.

All capitalist work is degrading by definition, since it severs the connection between the person’s mind and the person’s body. Contracting for sex, even in the best case scenario, is an extreme case of this degradation. From the theoretical standpoint, if prostitution is a form of human sale, work is a form of human rental.

Here is one example of labor slavery that is very similar to prostitution slavery. The difference is that because it happened to men, it is recognized as slavery, while prostitution, because it happens to women, is not recognized as slavery.

It occurs to me that a voluntaryist could simply decide to bite the bullet and declare that consent for sex can be given prospectively. I really don’t think that they would follow through with this in their personal lives, however. Heck, I don’t think they would do this in any area of their lives, let alone sex. It would be a logically consistent position, but it don’t see how it could be an ethical position.


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