Category Archives: Left feed

The virtue of victimhood.

I have broached the topic of self-victimization in a few previous entries, especially in reference to “but what about teh menz” rhetoric, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about it in detail.

Self-victimization is defined as creating a state of victimhood without proper justification. It does not designate actual victims of harmful actions who complain about the harm done to them. Rather, it designates individuals or groups who manufacture victimhood in order to gain the moral high ground.

I return again to my example of MRAs, who bring up laundry lists of reasons why they believe women rule over men (see 1 and 2); these lists are full of falsehoods, misrepresentations and absurdities.

That conclusion being drawn, one may then ask, why are they even doing this? What’s the point? Why do neo-nazis even bother to deny the Holocaust and promote a zionist conspiracy, even though the Holocaust is one of their greatest “successes”? Why do MRAs push bizarre conspiracy theories about feminism? Why do statists accuse minority groups and unpopular opinions of all the evils in society, instead of the real culprits? Why do Christians attack science and humanism as the enemies of mankind, when in fact it is capitalism and democracy that are the worse enemies of religion?

Consider again the manichean worldview, on which our loyalties are based. In this worldview, we (the in-group) are the “good guys” and cannot do anything wrong, and they (the out-group) are the “bad guys” and cannot do anything right. Therefore, logically, any harm we inflict on them must necessarily be ethically justifiable, since it cannot be wrong. This is a wonderful example of linear logic, as obvious and natural to the believer’s mind as two plus two make four.

Add to this the positive aspect of victimhood; we naturally sympathize with victims because we empathize with their plight and are outraged at what happened to them. Because of this, it is hard for anyone who sees themselves as good to think that their actions have in some way created victims. It also looks very bad from a simple public relations standpoint.

The two main ways in which one can justify harm that one’s in-group has inflicted are (1) to deny the harm actually happened or (2) to claim that the harm was justified by the fact that they (the in-group) were the “real” victims in that situation. The former is generally unsustainable, therefore the latter is usually more successful.

Therefore we get the idea that, you know, rape is really not that big of a deal because women are just “asking for it” and men can’t help it if women are “overstimulating” them. So men are the actual victims here, and women have the power because they use men’s instincts against them. You see, sex workers are dominating their customers by forcing them to pay to see them naked.

From any sort of objective view, this reasoning is simply laughable. But it is psychologically much easier for a genderist to believe that men are the real victims of rape than to believe that their beliefs are evil.

The only alternatives to defenders of manhood and gender in general are either to (1) admit that their beliefs cause harm and that they are actively lobbying for that harm, (2) that rape doesn’t really happen, or (3) that men are the real victims. Claiming that men are hapless animals entrapped by wily women is an example of (3). The constant attempts to define rape and specific instances of rape (“she didn’t scream!,” “he was her husband!,” and somesuch nonsense) out of existence are examples of (1). Pushing manufactured “false rape allegations” statistics is an example of (2) (and I do intend to discuss this topic in a future entry, because their lies are so astonishing that it’s hard to believe they’re getting away with it).

The more developed the us v them complex, the more developed a view of the enemy one has. There are a few genderist crackpots who claim a feminist conspiracy, although these are not widely accepted beliefs amongst genderists. But other in-groups have accepted conspiracy theories. The nazis had the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (although said document was produced decades before the Nazis came to exist), the Christians have the “homosexual agenda” and the Satanist conspiracy, conservatives have the liberal media conspiracy, and so on. Most pseudo-science quacks believe in some Establishment conspiracy that actively suppresses the TRVTH, although the specific culprits vary. Statists nowadays use terrorism to shape the enemy.

Like most arguments by true believers, these are projections. When we look at actual conspiracies throughout history, we find that by far it is the evildoers, the destroyers, who conspire and commit terroristic acts. Nazis had a made-up Protocol justify a real Holocaust. Christians had a non-existent Satanic conspiracy justify a real Inquisition, and now they use a fantasy “homosexual agenda” to push the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda. During the Cold War, the Red Scare was used as a pretext to slaughter union leaders and activists around the world.

This is the result of a complex, constantly evolving framing of what the enemy is, but with or without this framing we still get to the same result: persecutors must be praised and victims must be blamed, and the manichean framework must not change. The truth must not be confronted at all costs, no matter how absurd the mechanism to evade it might be.

This seems to me very similar to the process by which Alice Miller says we cannot confront our childhood trauma and, because of this inability, become aberrated adults who will gladly cheat, lie and kill in the name of a higher power.

People who were treated with respect as children, who weren’t drilled to become robots with the aid of mistreatment, will never want to die out of “faithfulness to the Führer” or send thousands of human beings to Stalingrad against all reason just because some madman planned it… In the Fürher’s headquarters, and all counter-arguments dissolved into fear and mental paralysis or, on the other hand, into enthusiasm when they heard him (the father) speak. This disastrous political blindness that cost millions of people their lives proves conclusively what our grandparents so hotly denied: that in every case, physical as well as psychological abuse of the child is not only harmful but highly dangerous. Not only for the individual but under certain circumstances for whole nations.

To evade any accusation of Godwin’s Law, my point here is not that all people who refuse to confront the truth and instead justify themselves through convoluted pseudo-reasoning are just as bad as the Nazis; rather, I’m arguing that they all flow from the same source and proceed in the same fashion. There is no substantial difference between neo-Nazis rationalizing the Holocaust and Americans rationalizing the genocide of the natives or Hiroshima. The acts are different, but the self-victimization process is the same and returns the same result.

“How would a libsoc society operate?”

Marco den Ouden, a commentator on this blog, has addressed a long series of questions at me aiming to clarify my libsoc position.

I wanted to address this because it’s a line of questioning that a lot of people take when they start to engage anarchism in general. They want to know exactly how this society will be structured, what will be allowed and disallowed, and so on.

There is a fundamental problem with such questions, in that anarchist ideologies cannot, and should not, tell people how to live their lives. That would be exactly contrary to the primary aim of anarchism, which is to free people from unjustified authorities controlling their own lives, especially when we talk about a power elite which is effectively in command of our planet’s resources.

So that’s the first response one can give, although it’s not very in depth. The fact of the matter is, anarchism and libsoc obviously are based on political principles and those principles do have bearing on real life structures.

Let us start from Chomsky’s definition of anarchism, from Understanding Power:

[T]he basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified- it has no prior justification… And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else- they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top…

To tell you the truth, I don’t really understand anarchism as being much more than that.

So if you start from the principle, for instance, that “all hierarchies must be justified, or they should not exist,” well that eliminates most social structures that exist right now in one fell swoop. It’s not telling you what should exist, it’s telling you what should not exist.

Or let’s get into socialism. I think a simple principle of socialism (as well as anti-property positions in general) would be “the person or people who use a tool should decide what to do with that tool.”

All right, so that’s a principle that has real life implications. It doesn’t tell you concretely how these decisions are to be taken, but it does tell you that a whole category of economic relations, capitalist relations, are wrong. Again, it’s telling you what should not exist, not really what should exist.

That sort of negative definition does not tell us what an “ideal society” would look like, perhaps partially because there is no such thing as an “ideal society,” and partially because any ideology which would tell people about an “ideal society” would be as totalitarian as the ideologies we seek to eradicate.

But that’s not to say that one can’t get ideas or inspiration from fictional universes or past and present attempts. So for fictional universes one might look at novels like The Dispossessed, or Woman on the Edge of Time. For past and present attempts, one might look at the recuperated factories in Argentina, or the French Revolution of 1968, or the Spanish Civil War, or the Zapatista. In fact, for every separate area of society that one might care to look at, sympathetic examples can be found.

But in no way do these instances tell us what a libsoc society must look like. They are possibilities, and like all political ideologies those possibilities must be mediated by the specific economic and social conditions in the place and time where a libsoc solution is implemented.

With that in mind, let me quickly go through Marco’s questions.

I am curious how people would live. Would they have their own homes? Or would it be all apartments?

I’m not sure what the point of this question is. People would live in whatever living spaces exist around them, like any other people in any other situation. How could everyone have their own homes, or everyone have apartments? Both already exist.

Would there be limited markets to allocate resources or a complete barter society?

I’m not sure why these are supposed to be the only alternatives, and it seems to me that the historical examples I’ve studied were not in either category. Libsoc societies are more likely to be communal or democratically/federated planned economies. That being said, barter systems can be a good way to jumpstart a libsoc economy when no other mechanisms are available.

Without capital, would there be savings and investment? Would large scale enterprises be undertaken? Could they be undertaken? For example, corporations that produce consumer goods like Apple, or General Electric, or Procter and Gamble? Would they exist? If so, in what form?… Would everything be cooperatives?

All that “capital” means in economics is goods that are produced strictly to produce other goods. When we use the term “capitalism,” we designate an economic system where capital (and most importantly, its owners) has priority over labor and “social capital” in general. We don’t mean that “capitalism” is the only economic system where there is “capital.”

There’s no inherent reason why large scale enterprises couldn’t be undertaken in any economic system where such enterprises are technologically feasible. Obviously such large scale enterprises would not be corporations or any other business structure based on capitalist work contracts.

The form they would take depends on the level of technology available, the nature of the competition, the political outlook, and so on. Recuperated factories in Argentina took their form from what came before them, workers’ self-management in Algeria took its form from people’s needs and what the French left behind, anarchist businesses in North America and around the world (like Mondragon) likewise take their form from what’s possible in a capitalist economy.

How would bridges and roads be built if there is no government to build them and no private enterprises to build them?

I don’t see why there wouldn’t be organizations devoted to building roads in a libsoc economy. After all, there’ll always be a need for roads as long as we have cars around (although I would hope that eventually we’d move on to more secure, cheaper and less polluting alternatives). And making roads is not exactly something anyone can do: it requires a great deal of materials, machines and know-how. But it doesn’t require a government.

How would such a society deal with dissidents? Say closet capitalists who try and start home businesses? Would they be tolerated up to a point where they get too large and then forcibly shut down? Forcibly shut down by who? What is too large?

Obviously capitalist work contracts would be contrary to the values of a socialist society in the same way that socialist aims are contrary to the values of a capitalist society (although once in a while socialist pieces of legislation will pass, as long as they keep the power structure intact). So if “capitalist” means a person who tries to produce using capitalist work contracts, then the answer should logically be that such a thing could not be allowed.

Forcibly shut down by who? Well presumably there will be people whose job it is to investigate fraud, or to render judgment on economic crimes (no economy could run without it). Surely that would be within their purview.

How would criminals – rapists, thieves, and murderers be handled in your ideal world?

Again we must look at the principles motivating libsoc, including egalitarianism. States condemn “criminals” (people who break the State’s laws, as determined by the State’s courts) to become second-class citizens and to “surrender their rights.” I have already pointed out how this is semantic nonsense; either rights are inalienable or they are not: in the former case surrender is impossible, and in the latter case we can claim no rights at all, merely privileges which may be revoked at any time.

So let’s talk about rapists and murderers specifically. How should such people be “handled”? Well obviously those who are dangerous to society should be isolated from society, and those who are not should be reintegrated in a way that improves their lives. Prison is a spectacularly horrible way of doing that. It has always been a massive failure and will continue to be so.

The real answer to crime is not in how to “handle” criminals but rather in how to change society so that crime is no longer an attractive option. What makes rape an attractive option? Well, I think a lot of that has to do with our extremely low opinion of women, especially female sexuality (and in the case of prison rape, well, prison is the problem itself). What makes murder an attractive option? That’s a complex subject and I don’t really want to get into it, but again there are some patriarchal considerations there.

And that’s without even talking about the biggest category of murder and rape, the murders and rapes committed by the State.

The general principle here would be that we should treat a crime with the goal of making society as a whole, and individuals, better off than it was after the crime was committed. I would think that would be a very, very basic principle here, but it’s one that our justice system fails miserably. What we need to do is 1. eliminate the unegalitarian conditions that make crime attractive and 2. deal with the small remainder (mostly sociopaths) in proportion with the threat they pose to society. In the specific case of people who need to be isolated from society, I’d think that an exile system in general would be more desirable. And although I personally am against the death penalty, I think you can make an argument for its use in the most extreme cases (serial killers, mass murderers, their State equivalents, and so on).

I know this is a lot of questions, but they all stem from the fact that I don’t understand how a world without property rights and without a market would function.

That’s all well and good, but it’s kinda like someone in the 17th century asking “could you explain to me exactly how a democratic State would function?” That’s not the right question to ask. You can imagine any political ideology (even fascism) in some utopian form, and you can imagine any political ideology (even libsoc) in some dystopian form. This has no bearing on the merit of those respective ideologies.

What does have bearing, in my opinion, is the core principles and core values on which the ideologies are based. They say fascism imposed order and made the trains run on time, but the fact is that fascism was founded on jingoism, patriarchy, State capitalism, and therefore led the world on a destructive course. Neo-liberalism may have brought a flood of cheap consumer products to the Western world, but it has also killed or starved hundreds of millions of people, which is in line with its core premise that non-Western populations literally only exist to serve Western economic interests.

To talk again about the open-ended nature of political ideology, the way I like to think about values is as an arrow. Take the concept of “freedom,” for example. Any person could have fixed an end point to “freedom” at any era, but they would have been constantly wrong. Same thing for “equality,” which is just the flip side of “freedom.” Their arrow points us in a direction and tells us to keep going, but it doesn’t specify an end point. All we have to do is keep walking.

We really are more like ants who are told that human beings are “up” but are so big that they can’t even be understood by the ants. I think that if consistently followed, the values of libsoc would be so powerful that in two or three hundred years (if unfortunately there are still humans at that time), people’s lives would be so incredible compared to ours that they would laugh at our juvenile conceptions of “freedom” and “equality.”

Fear of spiders is not evolutionary.

Dr. Beetle, an anonymous biologist, has many writings against the quack science evolutionary psychology, but I thought this one was particularly interesting: Fear of spiders not detected in flies! A simple web search shows you how ingrained the belief that fear of spiders is evolutionary is amongst the pop-science crowd, and Dr. Beetle neatly disproves this belief. Like most issues of behavior, it is actually a social construct.

The strongest arachnophobia and fear began in northern Europe, where there was the least threat. Surely this suggests the cause of the fear rode on the back of urbanisation, anthroprudism (more beetle), sterility of mind, and estrangement to insects.

Most indigenous cultures had little or no fear of spiders. The fear is also less common in rural communities than for city dwellers. Some such as the Piaroa Indians of Venezuela happily catch, handle and eat tarantulas. Similarly, a number of tribes from Papua New Guinea like to eat spiders (Paul Ehrlich 2000 page 372, note 116). Similarly, tarantulas are often cooked and eaten in Cambodia. One older Hindu ritual is said to have involved throwing spiders about the bride, like confetti. Indians of Michoacan (Mexico) gathered and used the social spider Mallos gregalis around their abode as natural fly traps. An endearing term originating in Europe for the mass of spiderling threads sometimes seen floating or caught on shrubs during their dispersal, is gossamer.

Studies demonstrating fears and phobias in western students and populations are hardly going to be able to separate primal behaviour from the modern fashion of loathing spiders. The learnt fear is much more common in women than men, as it has become an encouraged method for them to differentiate their femininity (playing into the hands of those who expect them to be the weaker sex). Spiders are easily portrayed as villains in many horror films such as Arachnophobia. Most parents will teach children to fear touching all and every spider. The indigenous craft of wanting to know your animal neighbours and each species differently and in detail has no real impact on a modern families’ ability to find food – you just buy it at the supermarket. I would be more impressed if the demonstration of spider fears involved experiments with indigenous peoples or the Piaroa, who are not so artificial and paranoid.

How does egalitarianism work?

Sophisticated arguments against egalitarianism revolve around the difference between what Derek Parfit calls equality (wanting to make people equal relatively to each other) and priority (making helping the most destitute a priority compared to helping everyone else). We can also talk about relative wealth (how individuals compare to each other) and absolute wealth (how much individuals have). Is it better to live in a society where there are vast disparities but the most destitute are well off, or a society where everyone is equally miserable?

The problem here is the assumption that we should choose one or the other. The two concepts in themselves are at tension, but any given policy can end up both making people more equal and making the most destitute more well-off.

Take for example the collectivization of the means of production. This has an immediate equalizing effect, in that it reduces the wealth gap between workers and owners. But it also has a prioritizing effect in giving the least well off more possibilities for employment.

The same general principle applies to equality of power. Making pornography illegal has an immediate equalizing effect between men and women, but in the long term also has a prioritizing effect in that it stops the escalation of violent and bizarre acts on prostitutes, rape victims, and other dispossessed women.

This leads us to the popular conception that egalitarians support a “leveling down” of society in the name of equality, that they want everyone to be worse off just to bring about some abstract concept of equality, and that it demands us to sacrifice well-being. But this is just silly: we all want to be better off. Given a choice between two policies, one which narrows the gap and makes most people better off (e.g. collectivization of the means of production, welfare systems, reducing sexism) and one which narrows the gap and makes almost everyone worse off (e.g. higher progressive taxes used for military or other elitist purposes), the egalitarian will obviously choose the former.

I’ve argued before that equality and freedom are two sides of the same coin. The last example I used is predicated on hierarchy (a government which collects and makes decisions about tax money), and therefore, even if it has an equalizing effect on wealth, it is not inherently compatible with the value of equality. This brings us to the issue of the relevant kinds of things that one seeks equality about. What are the target areas of egalitarian policies?

Opinions on what kind of egalitarianism to adopt are widely varied. Luck egalitarianism, for instance, states that inequalities that are not due to our “choices” must be rectified, while all others must not (I don’t believe in choice, so this seems like a moot point to me). Another is equality of opportunities, which I’ve debunked many times on this blog. Subjective positions (such as equally fulfilling desires) suffer from the same fatal problems as utilitarianism, in that inter-subjective comparisons are impossible in practice.

As for the target areas, wealth and income seem like obvious areas, but they cannot be the only ones, otherwise Soviet Russia would have been a utopia. More generally, giving people an equal amount of money is not freedom if they are unable to decide what is produced and how it is produced.

Anarchists are most interested in inequalities of power; power is a broader concept than just wealth, and encompasses structural issues such as hierarchies, institutional exploitation, discrimination and bigotry. The objective here is to either eliminate power or otherwise distribute it equally.

There is a popular fallacy that egalitarianism should, or is, just about equal wages or equal opportunities, without talking about the underlying structures of power (in the same general way that people say feminist is just about equal wages or equal opportunities, without discussing Patriarchy). This is merely another variant of reformism and is incompatible with a systemic analysis of society. Of course inequality of wages or opportunities is a problem, but they are symptoms of greater structural inequalities which cannot be resolved by shifting resources around.

An opposite fallacy is that egalitarians want everyone to be the same in every way, have the same job and the same possessions. This is robotic conformity, not equality. Egalitarians do not want everyone to have the same job, they want everyone to have a job where they are in control of their own production. People holding different jobs or no job at all, or having different possessions, is perfectly egalitarian as long as those jobs or possessions don’t give them power over others.

A system where everyone has a roughly equal amount of power is not a system of uniformity, quite the contrary. People naturally do not want to be uniform, so who, in a system of equal power, could impose uniformity on everyone else? Any kind of uniformity would only be imposed if it was in the greatest interest of all (such as respecting other people’s rights or the integrity of the environment).

I have discussed previously how egalitarianism is the bedrock for all social virtues. Conversely, any concept of equality which does not support social virtues is not a concept that should concern us. It is inherently just for us to treat each other fairly, but deciding to treat each other fairly opens the door to all the other commitments we find valuable, such as protecting consent, protecting human rights, respecting each other’s values, and so on.

Steven Pinker, the duplicitous liar.

There has been a lot of articles written about Steven Pinker’s lying manipulation of data for his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, a pro-State, anti-anarchy book. He also promotes evolutionary psychology and deserves to be blasted for his aggressively anti-scientific lies. This article from First Things summarizes the case against Pinker’s “Better Angels” rhetoric:

Pinker’s method for assessing the relative ferocity of different centuries is to calculate the total of violent deaths not as an absolute quantity, but as a percentage of global population. But statistical comparisons like that are notoriously vacuous. Population sample sizes can vary by billions, but a single life remains a static sum, so the smaller the sample the larger the percentage each life represents. Obviously, though, a remote Inuit village of one hundred souls where someone gets killed in a fistfight is not twice as violent as a nation of 200 million that exterminates one million of its citizens. And even where the orders of magnitude are not quite so divergent, comparison on a global scale is useless, especially since over the past century modern medicine has reduced infant mortality and radically extended life spans nearly everywhere (meaning, for one thing, there are now far more persons too young or too old to fight). So Pinker’s assertion that a person would be thirty-five times more likely to be murdered in the Middle Ages than now is empirically meaningless.

In the end, what Pinker calls a “decline of violence” in modernity actually has been, in real body counts, a continual and extravagant increase in violence that has been outstripped by an even more exorbitant demographic explosion. Well, not to put too fine a point on it: So what? What on earth can he truly imagine that tells us about “progress” or “Enlightenment”—or about the past, the present, or the future? By all means, praise the modern world for what is good about it, but spare us the mythology.

The narrow nature of political words, and how that distorts discourse.

I know I’ve used this image before, but it’s perfect for this entry also.

I have to re-examine the way I, and all of us, use words like “freedom,” because it is becoming increasingly clear to me that these words are incomplete and inadequate compared to what they are supposed to mean. And this, I think, creates giant holes in political discourse and encourages atomistic thinking, evaluating actions in a vacuum, subjectivist morality (I know this is a huge one, and I will come back to it), and supports the status quo.

In order to get into this inadequacy, I must first review the three kinds of power, although my readers may already be aware of them. Expressed simply, power is the ability to make people do what you want. According to the classification by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, power can be usefully divided in three categories, which he calls condign power (force), compensatory power (money) and conditioned power (indoctrination). He furthermore ascertains that while condign power is still crucially important in some respects, it has lost a great deal of general importance in our modern democratic societies compared to compensatory and conditioned power.

The trouble is that we are still using words like “freedom” in their original meaning, as freedom from coercion. Living in a society without mass media and where most people farm for their living (entailing relatively limited compensation and conditioning), but where people with swords can carry you away for criticizing the King, such a notion of freedom would be very appealing indeed. Unfortunately, it no longer reflects reality. Our political language has become far too narrowed to express the three-dimensional use of power in our society and, by extension, the three-dimensional use of counter-power (so we often reduce activist issues to violence versus non-violence).

So we can identify three components of freedom:

1. Freedom- from condign power.
2. Freedom- from compensatory power.
3. Freedom- from conditioned power.

If we denote the presence of each of these components in superscript, the most common forms discussed are freedom1 and, very rarely, freedom1,2 (not sure what we should call the kind of “freedom” advocated by fascists and other authoritarians who believe in beating up and killing innocent people: freedom0, non-freedom, anti-freedom, or just plain slavery?). What I am saying is that we need to expand our concept of freedom to freedom1,2,3; and the same thing applies to choice, agency, human rights.

So when a liberal feminist says, for example, “prostitutes choose to sell their bodies,” this use of the word “choose” is really choose1. When I say that a majority of women do not choose to become prostitutes but rather engage in it because of economic pressure and psychological dysfunction brought about by sexual abuse, I am using choose1,2,3. The difference is that the former does not acknowledge compensatory or conditioned power, while the latter does.

A complete understanding of the concept of “freedom” must contain more than acting without having a gun put to your temple or being threatened with force if you disobey. It must also mean freedom1,2,3 from all other socially constructed necessities, such as the necessity of work, the necessity of conform to one’s social roles, or childhood abuse and the compulsions it generates. The freedom1 generously granted to us by the capitalist basically reduces itself to the freedom to starve.

Our conception of human rights logically follows from our notion of freedom, because a right cannot by definition interfere with the freedom of other people. A “right to property” is perfectly compatible with freedom1, but absolutely incompatible with freedom1,2. A “right to free speech” fits perfectly within the perspective of freedom1, but not within the perspective of freedom1,2,3. A right to health care or a right to potable water grossly contradicts freedom1 but is logically consistent with freedom1,2.

Political equality, being the flip side of freedom, can be qualified in the same way, equality1 being associated with freedom1, and so on.

Freedom1,2,3 can basically be defined as the absence of any external determinism on the human mind. This of course does not deny the presence of internal determinism on the human mind: I am not at all here talking about “free will” or any other such spook. The best way to express such a phenomenon, I think, would be in terms of possibilities offered to the individual. This definition provided by someone in the Occupy Wall Street group provides us, I think, with a good starting point:

Freedom is bound up with the idea of possibilities. The idea of limitless possibilities is the ideal of limitless freedom. The idea that anything is potentially possible, that’s what freedom means. And historically there have been very few people that have been allowed to have the kinds of possibilities that would allow them to be free. Society has progressed more and more people have been allowed to be free. But we still live in a state of unfreedom. Society does not live for its own sake, autonomously. It is still bound to something external to itself that structures it. The goal of history and transforming society must be to make these possibilities available to everyone.

Again there is a strong link posited between freedom1,2,3 and self-determinism: society, in the fullest sense of the word, must be autonomous if we are to be free1,2,3 at the individual level. But these possibilities must crucially be open to people who are different: people who already want to fulfill their social roles and not rock the boat don’t need freedom2,3, since they’d basically do what they’re doing anyway. It’s the freaks and the weirdoes, the geniuses and the subgeniuses, the visionaries and the innovators, who need to see their possibilities opened up. This is true of all rights and all choices as well: the State rarely mistreats those who are on its side.

I write a great deal of entries in opposition to voluntaryism or its corollaries. This is because I think voluntaryism is a major ethical error that people commit on a regular basis, that it leads to absolute hostility to radical principles, and that it needs to be opposed. But what causes voluntaryist-inspired thinking?

I think the fact that our political language is so narrow may be the root cause. Someone who only believes in freedom1 can then believe in equality1 (that as long as no one is being coerced, we are all on an equal footing), which leads to choice1 (that a choice is valid as long as we’re all equal1), which leads to voluntaryism (that coercion is bad but everything else is good as long as it’s chosen1). So by examining the narrowness of political language, we’re going to the root of the voluntaryist issue.

This leads me to subjectivist ethics, of which voluntaryism is only one variant. Subjectivism in ethics holds that saying an action is “good” means saying that some person or group holds a positive attitude towards it. “Abortion is bad” reduces itself to “I believe abortion is bad” or “I don’t approve of people having abortions” or “My culture does not support abortion” or “God forbids abortion” or some variant of such propositions.

One of the fatal problems with subjectivism is that, if whatever a person believes is automatically good, subjectivists are implicitly imputing infallibility to the human mind; otherwise there’d be nothing stopping a human mind from erring and stating that, for example, the Holocaust was good (I assume everyone reading this, subjectivist or not, believes the Holocaust was evil). But this can only make any sort of sense if you ignore all the social factors that mold the human mind. How can anything be infallible and at the same time be influenced by ever-changing external pressures?

So there is definitely a connection here, in that ethical subjectivism logically depends on supporting freedom1 against other kinds. Note that I am not saying that all subjectivists do support freedom1, but rather that subjectivism doesn’t make sense except if one also supports freedom1 (so don’t argue that subjectivism makes sense by telling me you don’t believe in infallibility). Anyone who understands that the human mind can also be attacked by non-coercive power cannot also believe logically that the human mind can be infallible.

Now let me go through each radical ideology in turn and look at how the narrowness of language changes how we look at them.

Starting with atheism, consider the term “freedom of religion.” What does it mean in practice? That children, who are most of the time indoctrinated (either by their parents, by a church, or some proxy) in a religion and are forced to identify with this religion from the time they can speak and think, who live in a society which puts pressure on them to adopt certain religions, can somehow make an informed decision about religion even though they are not even old enough to actually make an informed decision, even if they were actually given enough information, which we never are. So freedom of religion is definitely a sort of freedom1. It completely ignores the tremendous social pressures and conditioning applied to people’s religious beliefs.

But religion uses compensatory power as well. Just think of all the atheist priests we learn about in the Clergy Project who remain in their job simply because they can’t afford to lose that job and have no other skills to exploit. Think of all the teenagers everywhere who are deeply afraid of “coming out” and living as an atheist because they would lose financial support from the parents who supposedly love them. Think of people in highly religious countries who are harassed by religious people but don’t speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

I will not elaborate on the topic of Anarchism, but I think the relation here should be directly obvious. Anarchists recognize all forms of power as being inimical to social autonomy and individual freedom. Hierarchies and power go hand-in-hand, as the institutions in our societies which are most able to accumulate and use power are all hierarchical. Ultimately the Anarchist goal is to eliminate or neutralize all forms of power, not just coercion.

Antinatalism fights against procreation, which is pushed by massive indoctrination and financial incentives. We are all indoctrinated to believe that we must get married and have children, that being a parent is the best thing that can happen to you, that people who don’t have children are selfish. And marriage, which carries with it the expectation of children, is itself massively pushed, so much that now being able to get married is considered a basic human right. States give money through various programs to people who have children, and it is very much in the interest of States to maintain population growth (except in extreme exceptions like China), if only to maintain their tax base and the endless growth machine of capitalism.

Then there is radical feminism, which identifies the patriarchy as a system of hierarchical gender domination. The patriarchy is partially maintained by violence, but is also maintained by the inculcation and constant enforcement of gender roles, sexist institutions like capitalism, the military, religion and marriage (to only name those), the objectification of women, sexist pseudo-science and quasi-science, and so on. One cannot also forget the underpayment and non-payment of women’s work all over the world. I’ve also mentioned prostitution as another example earlier. Here is another example quoted by antiplodon at Anti-Porn Feminists:

Bart (1983; Bart and O’Brien 1985) has identified a heterosexual sex-rape continuum. At one end is consensual sex (both parties equally desire sex). At the other is rape. In between are altruistic sex (one party submits out of guilt, duty, or pity) and compliant sex (one party submits because the consequences of not submitting are worse than those of submitting). Using Bart’s conceptualization, Kelly found that most women “felt pressured to have sex in many, if not all, of their sexual relationships with men” (p.56). Yet she found that women perceived sex as coercive only when physical force or the threat of physical force was used.

This quote perfectly demonstrates the narrowness of the word “rape,” insofar as only violence or the threat of violence is perceived as coercive. Therefore most rapes are not even perceived as being rape, even by the victim.

I think the tripartite schema is clearly used here; the sex-rape continuum incorporates all three forms of power: condign (the violence of rape, the threat of violence in compliant sex), compensatory (fear of losing those resources which are controlled by the man, including shelter and money) and conditioned (the inculcation of guilt, duty or pity for not complying to a man’s sexual demands). Note that the gradient from sex to rape follows exactly the gradient from condign to conditioned power as well (rape/condign, compliant sex/condign and compensatory, altruistic sex/conditioned).

Uses of compensatory and conditioning power are generally organizational in nature. A corporation or a State pays your wages, not a person. And although specific people may indoctrinate you personally (parents, teachers, friends), indoctrination still relies on an entire society and its hierarchical institutions to back it up. Coercion, on the other hand, tends to be more individualistic in nature: ultimately, a person has to threaten, beat up or shoot another person. The organization of violence helps its effectiveness, but it is not necessary.

Now, radicalism as an approach to ethics puts the emphasis on systemic analysis, not on individual relations. What first concerns anti-theists is not whether this or that person was helped by religion, but the principles by which religion operates and their effects on society as a whole. What first concerns Anarchists is not whether some people had good or bad experiences with government bureaucracy, but rather the principles by which capital-democracies operate and how they affect people’s lives. I think you get the idea.

This means that radicals are naturally interested in freedom1,2,3, not in freedom1, because the latter view is unduly individualistic. Yes, obviously it is desirable for no one to be coerced, but to stop there is an oversimplistic analysis which assumes that actions and choices must be analyzed in a contextless vacuum. The correct perspective is to start from the premise that actions do not in fact take place in a contextless vacuum, but that they are inscribed within a social context which exerts compensatory and conditioned pressures on every individual, and therefore on all actions.

Those who actively affirm that freedom1 is the only valid use of the word “freedom” are quick in screaming censorship or fascism when radicals present a systemic analysis of an institution they favor. But this is a circular argument. If freedom1 was the only valid freedom, then fighting against compensatory and conditioned power could be censorship and fascism; but it isn’t.

I start from an egalitarian position, and from that position, I say that, to mangle a quote from Gary Lloyd, “[w]hen a boot (i.e. power) is on your throat, whether it is a coercive boot, a compensatory boot, or a conditioned boot is of no consequence.” All three “boots” lead to vast inequalities between human beings. All three “boots” flow from hierarchy and lead to internalized self-hatred, exploitation, suffering, death and genocide.

The major problem in separating these forms of power is that they are all necessary for each other. Genocide requires dehumanization of the enemy and massive resources to be perpetrated. “Property rights” require indoctrinated obedience and the force of the gun if they are to persist. Indoctrinating people to agree with a social goal, no matter what goal, requires some form of punishment for those who disagree and the means to produce and propagate an effective message.

I think it’s safe to say that at least most organizations, institutions and hierarchies, no matter what their goal is, rely to a certain extent on all three forms of power to accomplish their goals. Granted, there is an issue of degree, as most organizations, institutions and hierarchies also use cooperative methods to a certain extent. But outside of cooperative methods, they use a certain mix of the three forms of power to achieve any given goal.

I realize that a proponent of freedom1 would claim that, for example, using force to protect “property rights” is an entirely warranted and justified use of power, which therefore presents no problem at all. Of course they are wrong in that “property rights” are a legal fiction and are not actually valid. More importantly, to declare one use of force to be valid and another invalid means to have a conception of rights, and our conception of rights is derived from our conception of freedom, so the argument is actually circular.

I have also discussed the fact that many of our “non-coercive” institutions actually embody past violence. So even acts which are not in themselves violent were made possible by coercion. So there really isn’t any rational way of separating the two, and to claim otherwise is delusional at best. You’re either a radical or you’re wrong.

Chomsky on the apparatus of lies.

Here is an interview with Noam Chomsky on the apparatus of deceit and self-deception that is being used against people on a global scale.

Noam Chomsky: One of the most important comments on deceit, I think, was made by Adam Smith. He pointed out that a major goal of business is to deceive and oppress the public.

And one of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public—and they’re very conscious about it, the public relations industry. Interestingly, this developed in the freest countries—in Britain and the US—roughly around time of WWI, when it was recognized that enough freedom had been won that people could no longer be controlled by force. So modes of deception and manipulation had to be developed in order to keep them under control.

And by now these are huge industries. They not only dominate marketing of commodities, but they also control the political system. As anyone who watches a US election knows, it’s marketing. It’s the same techniques that are used to market toothpaste.

And, of course, there are power systems in place to facilitate this. Throughout history it’s been mostly the property holders or the educated classes who’ve tended to support power systems. And that’s a large part of what I think education is—it’s a form of indoctrination. You have to reconstruct a picture of the world in order to be conducive to the interests and concerns of the educated classes, and this involves a lot of self-deceit.

Cheerful submission to one’s enemies.

Above: Cheerful submission to one’s enemies.

People who have an attitude, not of humiliated submission, but of cheerful, willing submission, represent a strange puzzle which doesn’t seem to fit human behavior. But we know it does happen. Black slaves took sides with their master against other masters, and had lively arguments about it. Kidnapping victims can experience Stockholm’s Syndrome. So it’s not entirely unknown, but these situations are rather extreme.

But in the past decades it seems that we are seeing a surge in cheerful submission from people who are not in extreme situations at all, but rather in every day life. Two examples which come to my mind are the Tea Party and funfeminism. Despite being politically distant, these two movements have a lot in common.

1. Complete and utter failure to identify the enemy.

The Tea Party and funfeminists are absolutely unable to identify their real enemies, the people who do them harm or wish to do them harm. Instead, they point to straw men opponents: the Tea Party rails against poor people and “immigrants,” who have little to no power in our society, instead of the CEOs and other economic agents who seek to exploit them; funfeminism rails against radfem and other ideologies that are against female exploitation, instead of attacking the men who seek to objectify them. In short, my enemies are my friends.

[Pornography icon Jenna] Jameson comes to a very different conclusion than Farley. She writes, “Though watching porn may seem degrading to some women, the fact is that it’s one of the few jobs for women where you can get to a certain level, look around, and feel so powerful, not just in the work environment but as a sexual being. So, fuck Gloria Steinem.” One has to wonder how she puts it together this way. If she feels so powerful as a sexual being, why can’t she watch her own sex scenes? If her work environment is so satisfying, why does she say that if she had a daughter, she would lock her in the house before she’d let her get involved in the sex industry? Why does she refer to her vagina as a “ding-ding”? I’m not sure any of this is Gloria Steinem’s fault.
Female Chauvinist Pigs, p183

In some cases, the very concept of exploitation and objectification is so outlandish or passé to them that they could not recognize any oppression anyway; in general I find that this incapacity of connecting actions with ethics is true of any status quo ideology, not just those two (indeed they must disconnect the two if they are to rationalize their beliefs at all).

Both cases of ignorance can be explained by games conditions. Tea Partiers are mostly working class stiffs competing for jobs and promotions, and it’s not in their interest to fight against the source of their meager power. Funfeminists, like most non-feminist women, compete for male attention and credibility to the male gaze, and fighting against the need for male attention would go counter to their objective.

2. Misdirected jealousy/admiration.

Misidentification of the enemy entails a misdirection of our emotions. Lying to ourselves is a full time job, and in order to prevent relapse, we necessarily have to reverse the flow of our emotions: our praise must stop going to the praiseworthy and instead go to that which helps us cover up the truth.

Funfems admire women who are amongst the most dispossessed people in our societies (strippers, porn actresses, prostitutes, trafficked children), and refuse to help them on the grounds that helping people is arrogant, while they are jealous of the made-up power of radfem to dictate policy. Tea Partiers are jealous of poor people and “immigrants” for attacking the economy, despite the fact that these people have no power to change the economy.

Even though they seem absurd and irrational on the face of it, these emotional connections serve the main purpose of helping them hide the truth from themselves. Tea Partiers could not hold the party line (no pun intended) if they sympathized with poor people, and funfems could not keep being funfems if they wanted to help “sex workers” instead of admiring them for their “power.” So they have to keep looking away in order to maintain their lie.

3. The enthusiastic pursuit of their own exploitation.

This is mostly a corollary of the previous two points: if they are unable to identify exploitation or objectification done against them, and ally with those who exploit or objectify them, then they will enthusiastically pursue their own exploitation or objectification in the name of their own “freedom.” In short, slavery is freedom.

The word “freedom” is always interesting to analyze. In this case, it means that one can support the dominant paradigm. But this is trivial, since supporting the dominant paradigm will never be opposed by one’s rulers; it is always heterodoxy which needs to be protected and which must be granted the freedom to exist.

One does not need the “freedom” to kowtow to the male gaze, since such “freedom” is by and large accepted (except when it comes to prostitution). One does not need the “freedom” to enter in capitalist work contracts or manufacture profits for one’s bosses, because doing this is expected and encouraged. This is why the “freedom” that these people preach is a pointless dead-end.

4. They want to work the system to effect change.

Because they think and operate within the status quo, funfems and Tea Partiers cannot imagine working outside the system. This would require them to reject their own exploitation which, as I’ve already pointed out, they cannot do because that would expose their lie.

So you get the strange spectacle of self-professed rebels, who take the name of a group which today would be seen as anarchists or worse, trying to elect people to office. You get the strange spectacle of self-styled feminists who promote “feminist” objectification (including so-called “feminist porn”) and promote male violence against women to be the result of a woman’s “choice.”

Obviously there are big differences between funfems and Tea Partiers in other areas; for instance, the former are usually liberals and the latter are usually conservatives (although in both cases they tend to be less authoritarian than their respective political ideologies). But they share the attributes of other people who have right intentions but are unable to identify what is in their interests.


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