“Fuck society! I owe society nothing!” [part 2/2]

The fact that our production is a margin on the production of society as a whole (this network of labor) leads us necessarily to egalitarianism in economics, that is to say some form of equality of outcomes (to be contrasted with equality of opportunities, which is a capitalist conceit). This makes sense if we look at the justifications for inequality of outcomes. People will argue that, say, one person deserves to be paid more than another because they contribute more to society. First of all, the basis of capitalism is that value is subjective, therefore such a statement reduces itself to saying that one person deserves to be paid more because they are being paid more. But more importantly, that contribution itself depends on the labor of society as a whole, therefore the value of one person’s contribution is almost completely the result of everyone else’s contributions, making them for all intents and purposes equal.

Furthermore, each person’s labor is as essential as everyone else’s, nullifying the belief that their contributions are unequal. One can say that a surgeon (U.S. median salary: 68.98$/h) saves lives, while an automobile mechanic (U.S. median salary: 16.43$/h) “only” repairs cars, but by no criteria can we say that the surgeon contributes more or less to society (or for that matter, contributes more or less than a star baseball player who makes thousands of dollars per hour). What we can do is point out that both the surgeon and the automobile mechanic are essential to each other as surgeons and automobile mechanics. The fact that their services are rewarded with more or less money in a capitalist economy merely indicates that their labor is socially necessary, not that one form of labor is more or less necessary than another; their respective hourly wages are actually the product of power disparities all the way down, from the costs of schooling to the degree of concentration of corporate power in any given field.

The same criticisms can be leveled at usury, which is, after all, nothing more than a more unusual way to distribute resources unequally, as the money used for usury is going from someone who is trying to fulfill a need to someone who can already fulfill it. Their production is only a margin upon society’s production, and there is no reason for us to say that the person providing capital or jobs is contributing more to society. The capitalists can only say this because they assume that the capital or jobs would otherwise not be made available, when in fact they should be available to everyone in the first place. It is true that the person worked to get that capital, and that work should be rewarded proportionally, but it does not warrant special economic privileges.

As for the second criticism, we cannot even say that usurious jobs are equally essential to society as any other job, since they are in fact not socially necessary at all. While we always need people to keep buildings running, manufacture our units of commerce, and help organize production, we can do without the landlord, the banker and the CEO. We are not interested in measures aiming to keep rents from skyrocketing, or to give workers more input within the corporation, or to make the banking system more accountable. We are interested solely in the abolition of these systems, and redirecting the gargantuan amounts of wasted labor and wasted money that they entail.

In a previous entry I also analyzed the arguments that inequality is justified by differences in capacities, and justified by the need to make people work harder.

As libertarians properly speaking, i.e. people who are against hierarchies and their use of force, we are committed to a certain level of egalitarianism, although that level may vary wildly between individuals. American “Libertarians” and “anarcho-capitalists” tend to be “thin libertarians,” meaning that they see libertarianism as a bare-bones ideology which implies no specific ethical commitments beyond the simplest application of the principle of non-aggression. Left-wing libertarians, on the other hand, tend to be “thick libertarians,” seeing libertarianism as a whole bundle of entertwined ethical commitments (such as anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-fascism, feminism, and so on), within which non-aggression is only one strand.

From the “thin libertarian” perspective, any ethical view which goes beyond non-aggression is seen as a violation of rights, especially property rights. Even saying something as non-controversial as “people shouldn’t refuse service to someone on the basis of his race” is seen as an attempt to interfere with the right to choose who one can associate with, and the right to do whatever one wants with one’s property. The “thin libertarians” want us to accept scenarios of widespread racism on the grounds that “being against racism is not what libertarianism is about.” His support for freedom ends where his own “self-interest” ends.

It is therefore easy to see why they become defensive when ethical commitments to egalitarianism are brought up. They firmly believe that any such commitment implies the use of force, just as the State’s own professed social commitments imply the use of force. They blindly follow the rule that “if you are against something, then you must want to use force against it.” If you owe society something, then other people are justified in using force to take it from you, much like how owing taxes to the State means the State is justified in taking it from you by force.

An ethical commitment to egalitarianism is not about anyone owing anything to anyone. It is about acknowledging the facts and aligning society in harmony with those facts, to desire a society which bases its operations on truth instead of lies. It is not even about “the rich” owing anything to “the poor.” It is about building a society where there are no classes of “rich” and “poor,” where resource accretion does not persist from generation to generation, skewing all incentives beyond recognition, making consent and free will impossible. We oppose, not the end results of exploitative behaviour, but the institutions that create and mold that behaviour. These institutions, of course, are constituted of, and supported by, individuals, who inevitably get in the way of change, but we oppose those individuals for getting in the way of changing the world for the better, not because of their specific exploitative acts. Whether the goose or the golden egg came first, the goose will still fight you when you try to snatch it away.

Likewise, we don’t believe that people who don’t “get with the program” should be forced to agree with us. But an Anarchy cannot survive unless people understand the need for equality. As I pointed out before, freedom and equality are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot have one without the other. A society which consciously abandons equality, necessarily abandons freedom along with it. A society which consciously abandons freedom, necessarily abandons equality along with it.

People who refuse to participate to an egalitarian system are free to live outside of it, as long as they don’t overtake that system. If they persist in wanting to live within it, then they must not expect others to respect (legally or otherwise) their non-egalitarian arrangements. Ideally, force should never be necessary, but we know the real world is messier than that.

14 thoughts on ““Fuck society! I owe society nothing!” [part 2/2]

  1. […] Check Your Premises “[A]narchy is order, whereas government is civil war.” -Anselme Bellegarrigue Skip to content HomeAboutFAQsFAQ against the current court systemFAQ by Libsocs for “An”capsOngoing archiveJuly 2006-May 2008 archive ← The concentration of power, wealth and capital. “Fuck society! I owe society nothing!” [part 2/2] → […]

  2. Reggie Ro0ck November 7, 2010 at 23:11

    “An ethical commitment to egalitarianism is not about anyone owing anything to anyone. It is about acknowledging the facts and aligning society in harmony with those facts, to desire a society which bases its operations on truth instead of lies.”

    The problem being that if these facts exist they are moral facts and quite different from, say, how many people the year’s harvest will feed. Moral truths, if they exist, are outside the realm of certainty and I find it doubtful that you could found a society on these vagaries without falling into the same traps as any society based on (pseudo)religious ideology. How do yo plan to avoid the repression of counter-revolutionary sentiment, the vagaries of democracy, the power disparity created by bureaucracies/councils/elected offices?

    I have a hard time seeing how your ideal society is any different from any other New Jerusalem. Then again, I’m a cynic…

  3. Francois Tremblay November 7, 2010 at 23:31

    Well, those are issues that have been extensively discussed by Anarchist theorists and activists. The concentration of power, for instance, is in practice dispersed through the rotation of positions, direct representation (with rapid recall when the person does not fulfill the desires of the people he represents), that sort of thing, in short, ensuring that whoever has any position of power does not keep it long enough to form diverging interests.

    As for the vagaries of democracy, many Anarchists (including myself) do not believe in democracy. Repression of counter-revolutionary sentiment? Well certainly such things will always happen in a violent situation, such as we have now. I don’t think there is any miracle solution to that.

    • Reggie Rock November 7, 2010 at 23:56

      I said I was a cynic. I should have said that I was a fatalist. I’ve read through many of your posts but I am still not convinced that evil is not as inherent in man as good. I find the old adage, “one man a paradise, two a government, three a war” to hold true across human history in every context and I see no reason why this won’t continue until we can begin to alter our very natures. Even then I am skeptical.

      In the mean time I get apprehensive whenever a small group of people cloak themselves in claims of moral certainty and begin telling society how to behave. Whether it’s communists, randians, jihadis, or crusaders. It never seems to end well.

      You are a good rhetorician but I don’t think that’s going to be enough for me. Could you give me a couple (more are certainly appreciated) links to more in-depth information (both philosophically and scientifically) that leads you to believe these problems are actually escapable?

      • Francois Tremblay November 8, 2010 at 00:04

        “I’ve read through many of your posts but I am still not convinced that evil is not as inherent in man as good. I find the old adage, “one man a paradise, two a government, three a war” to hold true across human history in every context and I see no reason why this won’t continue until we can begin to alter our very natures.”

        You are confusing the fact that man is born good, with the fact that man is indoctrinated from his birth into believing in “government” and “war.” You may want to argue that wanting to indoctrinate children in those things is universal, but that remains to be proven. It is certainly NOT true that government and war are universal, even today let alone in the past, and I don’t know why you would ever think that.

        “In the mean time I get apprehensive whenever a small group of people cloak themselves in claims of moral certainty and begin telling society how to behave. Whether it’s communists, randians, jihadis, or crusaders. It never seems to end well.”

        If you think believing man is innately good is as destructive as believing man is innately evil, then I really have nothing to add to that. That’s your opinion, but I don’t see how it’s tenable. At any rate, are you aware of the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy? That’s what you want to be looking for.

        • Reggie Rock November 8, 2010 at 03:27

          You are confusing the fact that man is born good, with the fact that man is indoctrinated from his birth into believing in “government” and “war.”

          I don’t believe man is born good. I believe he is born with equal capacity for good and evil. If man is born good then where does this indoctrination come from? If there is evil, and no non-human source for evil, then surely evil must have come from men, yes?

          It is certainly NOT true that government and war are universal, even today let alone in the past, and I don’t know why you would ever think that.

          As I said, some philosophical scientific sources would be greatly appreciated. I have yet to see a society that did not have a power hierarchy with a powerful minority at the top that directly influences society which I would define as a government. Even David Friedman’s work on Iceland is unconvincing. Didn’t mean to say war is timeless, just an expression. Though violence and power-seeking seem to be churning on uninterrupted since homo-erectus.

          If you think believing man is innately good is as destructive as believing man is innately evil, then I really have nothing to add to that.

          I would say that well meaning do-gooders who take on themselves to enlighten the people by force are very dangerous. Though they may be indistinguishable from those that merely want to rule over others, both seem to spring from the same drive to impose one’s will on the world around them.

          Finding man innately evil and trying to save him from himself and finding man innately good but currently evil and trying to save him from himself are very similar positions. Both look at the world as it is and set themselves up as would be liberators. I have a hard time thinking of an example of someone who believes man is innately evil outside religion, especially since trying to save man from himself would imply that man can be saved.

          Am I familiar with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy? As I said, you are a good rhetorician. I would counter that I am merely drawing conclusions from observable repeatable human behavior.

          • Francois Tremblay November 8, 2010 at 03:40

            “I don’t believe man is born good. I believe he is born with equal capacity for good and evil. If man is born good then where does this indoctrination come from?”

            It comes from the collectivist institutions (that is to say, hierarchies) which use people for the class interests of their leaders. As you may know, I have written a few entries on the topic of hierarchies, principally because it is the biggest target of Anarchist thought.

            “I have yet to see a society that did not have a power hierarchy with a powerful minority at the top that directly influences society which I would define as a government.”

            If you mean “see” in the literal sense of seeing it for yourself in the flesh, then yes, I agree that you have not. If you mean see as in apprehend, well, there are plenty of examples in history of societies without hierarchical control, and there are also some in present time. Like I said, it is a statement that goes against the facts.

            “Though violence and power-seeking seem to be churning on uninterrupted since homo-erectus.”

            Yes, but it is not universal, which is what it would have to be for your argument to have any weight.

            “I would say that well meaning do-gooders who take on themselves to enlighten the people by force are very dangerous. Though they may be indistinguishable from those that merely want to rule over others, both seem to spring from the same drive to impose one’s will on the world around them.”

            And yet you are again missing the point. If you believe man is good, why would you try to impose your will on people? Obviously the only reasonable thing to do is to try to free the will of people, not impose yourself on it. Does the impulse to love someone lead you to try to enslave them? If so, I pity all your past Significant Others, and I hope you have been sued by now.

            “Finding man innately evil and trying to save him from himself and finding man innately good but currently evil and trying to save him from himself are very similar positions. Both look at the world as it is and set themselves up as would be liberators. I have a hard time thinking of an example of someone who believes man is innately evil outside religion, especially since trying to save man from himself would imply that man can be saved.”

            Who said that I wanted to save man from himself? It is this very “himself” that I believe in. I don’t want to save man from himself- I WANT him to be himself! Against social roles, hierarchical rules, and all that jazz that makes good people do evil things.

            “Am I familiar with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy? As I said, you are a good rhetorician. I would counter that I am merely drawing conclusions from observable repeatable human behavior.”

            I don’t think you understood my point, so let me be clearer. Even if you don’t a priori believe that man is innately good or evil, whatever you do believe about people will inevitably create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you see the good side of people, you will nurture it and encourage people to cooperate to an even greater extent. If you see the bad side of people, you will try to control them and they will try to control you in return, creating a vicious circle. Whatever you believe will turn out to be right- as far as you’re concerned.

            • Reggie Rock November 8, 2010 at 16:46

              It comes from the collectivist institutions (that is to say, hierarchies) which use people for the class interests of their leaders.

              My problem with your line of reasoning is the source of the institutions. If man is born good that would imply that the evil he suffers from is imposed by some alien intelligence. If we eliminate non-human sources then evil must come from man himself. If these evils are, even a small, part of our nature then all the social programs and cultural programming in the world won’t be able to eliminate the source of the problem.

              there are plenty of examples in history of societies without hierarchical control, and there are also some in present time. Like I said, it is a statement that goes against the facts.

              As I said, some links to these facts would be greatly appreciated. I have seen and heard of many “societies” (most of them appear to be subcultures of existing social structures, but that’s neither here nor there) that were ostensibly egalitarian and soi-disant non-hierarchic but they all seem to fall into the Brook Farm, New Harmony, Orwellian trajectory of those with the greatest natural and social capacities having unequal influence and dissolving under the stress of disagreement and reprisal. Even Friedman’s work on Iceland chooses to focus on non-statist economics moreso than trying to prove a non-hierarchic social structure.

              Who said that I wanted to save man from himself?

              I’m sorry, I wasn’t attempting to paint you as Robspierre. My point is just that this talk of saving man from the world he has created for himself is dangerous stuff.No matter how highly held one’s personal moral conviction will be contested and when you try to order society around a single moral vision conflict arises. Pile onto this the idea of putting decision making above the individual agent (through democracy, unions, any representative with influence) and you have a power struggle. Power struggles tend to be messy and, here is my point, even more messy when each side thinks they are the only one who is right.

              Then again I may just be fretting uselessly over could bes might haves. I’m willing to drop this line of argument.

              Yes, but it is not universal, which is what it would have to be for your argument to have any weight.

              My argument was not that it’s universal but that it is natural, as in not being imposed on man from outside himself.

              whatever you do believe about people will inevitably create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

              Beliefs inform actions, certainly. I like to believe that every dog I meet will be friendly and approach them as such. However I can also be cognizant of the very real possibility of them being vicious and be prepared for that without then treating every dog as if it were vicious. If you’ll allow me a friendly rhetorical jibe, have you ever heard of being blinded by idealism? If man’s problems arose naturally as the result of man interacting with man over the course of time then hierarchies are the natural products of human life. This is not to say it can’t be otherwise but we must be cognizant of what it is in us that created this condition and be ready to prevent it’s resurgence. I fear that simply dismissing social ills as accidents of history blinds one to their insidiousness.

              • Francois Tremblay November 8, 2010 at 17:08

                “My problem with your line of reasoning is the source of the institutions. If man is born good that would imply that the evil he suffers from is imposed by some alien intelligence.”

                No, not at all. It has to do with the nature of hierarchies itself. Even if a hierarchy is established with nothing but good intentions, it will necessarily entail evil results. We even see this with present-time revolutionary movements, as well as past ones. The very best intentions cannot make a hierarchy good.

                “If these evils are, even a small, part of our nature then all the social programs and cultural programming in the world won’t be able to eliminate the source of the problem.”

                No, certainly not, but so what? It is not needed to eliminate the possibility of evil to try to cope with it.

                “I have seen and heard of many “societies” (most of them appear to be subcultures of existing social structures, but that’s neither here nor there) that were ostensibly egalitarian and soi-disant non-hierarchic but they all seem to fall into the Brook Farm, New Harmony, Orwellian trajectory of those with the greatest natural and social capacities having unequal influence and dissolving under the stress of disagreement and reprisal. Even Friedman’s work on Iceland chooses to focus on non-statist economics moreso than trying to prove a non-hierarchic social structure.”

                You seem to have an ingrained bias towards rejecting any instance of egalitarianism. I think you need to examine the facts closer and stop looking at your own prejudices.

                “Pile onto this the idea of putting decision making above the individual agent (through democracy, unions, any representative with influence) and you have a power struggle. Power struggles tend to be messy and, here is my point, even more messy when each side thinks they are the only one who is right.”

                You’re just proving my point. Democracy, unions, are all hierarchical forms of organization. They are bound to failure, and they have demonstrated that they lead to failure. Any system of decision-making must be reduced to the individual agents, or it is bound to failure as well.

                “My argument was not that it’s universal but that it is natural, as in not being imposed on man from outside himself.”

                If it is natural, then it must be universal. If it is not universal, then it cannot be natural.

                “Beliefs inform actions, certainly. I like to believe that every dog I meet will be friendly and approach them as such. However I can also be cognizant of the very real possibility of them being vicious and be prepared for that without then treating every dog as if it were vicious.”

                Exactly. As long as you believe they will be friendly, you will bring out friendly reactions from most dogs. Those that are vicious will be vicious regardless, and you can deal with those as a separate issue.

                ” This is not to say it can’t be otherwise but we must be cognizant of what it is in us that created this condition and be ready to prevent it’s resurgence. I fear that simply dismissing social ills as accidents of history blinds one to their insidiousness.”

                I have no idea who you’re talking to here, but it’s not me. I’ve never said social ills were accidents of history. I am relatively well aware of what created the human condition and I do believe we must prevent its resurgence.

                I have to say that this conversation is entirely pointless. You seem doggedly determined to paint me as a utopian completely detached from reality, even though my own entries on this blog argue against every argument you’re using. All the while, you are so blinded by pessimism that you don’t recognize ANY egalitarianism that exists or has existed, so there is no point in arguing about it with you either. So I guess my question is, what point are you trying to make with this conversation, and could you make it succinctly so we can move on?

                • Reggie Rock November 8, 2010 at 21:36

                  So I guess my question is, what point are you trying to make with this conversation, and could you make it succinctly so we can move on?

                  Well i’m sorry you feel that way. I certainly wasn’t trying to paint you as a utopian. In fact one of my points was to get some clarity on some of your rhetoric that strikes me as utopian like how an innately good being can produce evil or how human evil can be escaped rather than simply mitigated. You seem a pragmatist and a realist, despite your moralizing, and was sure you had a reason for thinking your ideal world was a world for actual humans.

                  Your comments have helped immensely even though I feel we have a great deal further to go. I suppose I’m on my own now. Thanks, anyway.

                  All the while, you are so blinded by pessimism that you don’t recognize ANY egalitarianism that exists or has existed, so there is no point in arguing about it with you either.

                  Again, I’m sorry you don’t wish to continue the conversation. I recognize egalitarianism in every society, just not egalitarianism by itself. You may be right that I’m a bit too cynical and I invite you for the tenth time to direct me toward some actual specific examples you feel verify your argument. Simply telling me that I am ignorant does nothing to relieve my ignorance.

                  I look forward to the links and apologize for monopolizing your comment section.

  4. Lori November 7, 2010 at 23:41

    That freedom and equality are a both-or-nothing proposition is not a Moral Truth; simply a statement of fact. Economic ‘positivists’ delight in reminding us that TANSTAAFL is a Law Of Science and therefore immutable and non-negotiable. In their arrogance they see theirs as the only science (or at least the only social science) but sociology is also an empirical science. NJNP (No Justice No Peace) , which some might read as a threat, is actually an empirically verifiable Law Of Science, and equally immutable and non-negotiable. Somehow there is always a dynamic equilibrium between TANSTAAFL and NJNP. Either of these poles of incivility and indignity is of course a Threat To Order (which is to say, to anarchy). Besides, there are perspectives (also subjective, of course) from which The Iron Law Of TANSTAAFL reads as a threat.

  5. Jeremy Weiland November 8, 2010 at 09:21

    I like how you’ve broken out the pricing dynamics involved in separation of labor in your example of the surgeon and mechanic. To say one is in more demand (whether naturally occurring or artificially induced) is not the same as saying it has greater social utility. If demand and social utility are truly distinct concepts then that is a direct challenge to capitalist theory, which alleges an equivalency between the two. Interesting.

  6. JA November 9, 2010 at 06:48

    Reggie,

    I think it’s important to understand that there is a difference between describing what people do and proscribing what people should do. As someone who has moved from a right-wing to a more left-wing libertarian position, I have changed my ideas about many things, but one thing that has remained constant is my opposition to dominating others. I haven’t lived my life in a box so I know that people behave that way all the time yet I still oppose it.

    Francois’s views may be different than mine, but I see the whole anarchism thing as a process of moving from domination and relationships based upon that rather than some fixed ideal model of society. One point I want to add is that according to my conception. most people in modern democratic societies are anarchists to a large degree. Consider the fact that almost every other case besides the state, most people in such societies believe that relations should be voluntary at minimum and often more leveled than that such as in the employment contract, thus support for things like safety laws, unions, and other protections for workers. The primary reason that most people in modern democratic societies are in favour of the state is to prevent other groups from controlling people.

    As a final point, I would add that even if you take the most pessimistic view of the possibility of a truly egalitarian society, it does not legitimize the power structures that exist or somehow obligate those under the control of such powers to obey them.. That’s an important point to emphasize because I have seen people make that kind of argument. Also though, when you consider the fact that humans might be very different than today with the possible coming technology (we way not even recognize our descendants) I think it’s presumptuous to assume that we have exhausted all possibilities of human interaction.

  7. […] leads them to the conclusion that taxation is wrong. This of course is simply factually wrong: as I’ve discussed before, and therefore it is unjust to demand more than an equal part of society’s production. Given […]

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