Category Archives: Anti-voluntaryism

The circular justification for Libertarianism.

In this entry, Roderick Long wants to convince us that Libertarianism is actually not bizarre but really derived “from a quite ordinary set of values.” But first, a word on the capital L. He is not talking about anti-authoritarianism here but rather about that peculiar American ideology (or as Chomsky would say, an American aberration), which is why I capitalize the word. He does not, perhaps to let us equate his “libertarianism” with the anti-authoritarian tradition, which is very silly since property rights are the opposite of anti-authoritarianism. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We start with a bang:

Libertarians believe that there is, fundamentally, only one right: the right not to be aggressed against. All further rights are simply applications of, rather than supplements to, this basic right. Hence the vast panoply of other rights – positive rights, welfare rights – recognized by existing political regimes is dismissed as illegitimate.

And we run into our first problem. How is this “right not to be aggressed against” (merely a restatement of the Non-Aggression Principle, it seems like) justified? Long himself says that his goal is not to justify this supposedly all-encompassing right, because his objective is merely to show that it is not strange. He then dismisses this strangeness in one fell swoop:

But whatever the grounds, even those who reject the Positive Thesis will agree that it is attractive and that there is nothing mysterious about embracing it…

So Long actually wants to glide over the first part of his entire thesis. He does not, in fact, want to demonstrate that the “right not to be aggressed against” is derived from an “ordinary set of values”: he actually wants to use the “right not to be aggressed against” as his “ordinary values” and the bedrock of his argument that Libertarianism is not bizarre.

The problem with the “right not to be aggressed against” is not its bizarreness (although he could at least have pretended to care about that issue, since it was his avowed objective at the beginning of the article) but the fact that it is utterly meaningless. The concept of aggression is not primary, and in itself it has no content, but rather depends on a whole conceptual underpinning of freedom, equality, power, and so on. How wide or narrow these concepts are defined will inevitably lead us to wildly different concepts of aggression. To a believer in rights1 like Long, aggression necessarily means aggression1, in which anything other than physical or verbal coercion is not aggression.

Long’s prestidigitation act involves smuggling in premises while pretending to remain objective. And this is where the misdirection happens:

If an activity involves no use of force, then there can be no right to suppress it by force, since such a use of force would be aggression, and so would violate the obligation component of the right not to be aggressed against.

So the use of force is used as Long’s standard to determine whether an action is a form of aggression or not. But how does he define force? The premises of his formal argument for the “right not to be aggressed against” include the following premises:

2. Aggression = initiatory force. (Premise.)

5. An activity constitutes non-initiatory force just in case it is a use of force to restrain others from initiating force against one. (Premise.)

Force is defined in terms of force: we are trapped in the circular file. But as we will see, Long does have a very specific conception of aggression/force in mind: a conception which includes “property rights” as non-aggression, and egalitarianism or self-government as aggression. He’s misdirecting us on purpose: as long as he doesn’t define “aggression” or “force,” he can keep us agreeing with him with his vague-sounding principles (no one likes the word “aggression”) and keep us agreeing when he starts getting into specifics. So let’s get into these specifics.

Since libertarians accept the Positive Thesis, they can acknowledge a right to control external resources only insofar as interference with such control would constitute initiatory force. This brings us back to the question of specifying what counts as force. Imagine a world in which people freely expropriate other people’s possessions; nobody initiates force directly against another person’s body, but subject to that constraint, people regularly grab any external resource they can get their hands on, regardless of who has made or been using the resource. Any conception of aggression according to which the world so described is free of aggression is not a plausible one.

I agree with Long that such a conception of aggression is not a plausible one. No one would want to live in a “grab-all-you-can” ownership system. And yet it is the most “objective” system that anyone can come up with; Matt Bruenig even argues that it is the system most consistent with non-aggression:

Since grabbing pieces of the world is permissible and violently preventing grabbing is not, the grab-what-you-can world satisifes the non-aggression principle and no other world does.

I think it is that second clause that is most important here. Bruenig is arguing that all other ownership systems we can conceive, or at least all the ownership systems people propose, involve using force against people’s bodies. “Property rights,” as conceived by Long, are inherently based on force in that they delimitate some forms of “grabbing” which must be stopped by force and some which must not, and the patterns of land ownership we observe today are the result of massive worldwide violence (the enclosure of the commons). The necessity of using force is true of any libsoc system as well, or any other ownership system that is not “grab-what-you-can.”

You might say, so what? Obviously no one subscribes to the “grab-what-you-can” system, so it’s not relevant. Libertarians don’t believe all forms of physical violence are aggression. That’s true enough, but, as I pointed out before, that belief is not primary but is rather based on prior premises about freedom, equality, power, and so on. Unless those premises are explicitly listed and justified, there is no reason to accept any specific conception of aggression.

Another reason to consider the “grab-what-you-can” system is that it’s a great metaphor for “negative right” dissociated from “positive right.” In the Libertarian view, we have “negative rights,” rights not to be aggressed in our body or actions, but we have no “positive rights,” rights to access resources to support that body or actions.

But, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog, a “negative right” dissociated from its corresponding “positive right” is not a right at all: the right to life is meaningless without the right to access health care and other life necessities, the right to assemble is meaningless without access to a place to assemble in, the right to free expression is meaningless without access to the tools of that expression, that the right to justice is meaningless without the means to be treated as an equal, and so on. A “negative right” is not a tool of freedom but a mere theoretical curiosity which reduces itself to “the more money you have, the more power you have.” In short, might makes right.

I say the “grab-what-you-can” system is a good metaphor for the Libertarian “negative rights” construct because they are both scenarios in which you are protected from physical harm (in theory) but where you can make no claim on the resources necessary for your survival. Libertarians seem to intuitively understand that the “grab-what-you-can” system is a horrible idea for that very reason.

You might reply that Libertarians also believe in “property rights,” so the two scenarios are different. First, I did say it was a metaphor, not a literal identity. Second, adding “property rights” into the mix only makes the scenario even worse: now not only can you lack the resources for your continued survival, but other people can exclude you from those resources as well. How does that provide any sort of improvement over the “grab-what-you-can” system? At least in that system there is more equality in that no one can appropriate anything, and a person in need can always grab resources from other people in order to survive.

So it seems at least somewhat problematic for Long to reject the “grab-what-you-can” system out of hand. There is a deeper problem there. I contend that this is because the notion of stand-alone “negative rights” is absurd on its face.

Now, remember the magic act? This is where you’re supposed to clap:

Libertarian property rights are, famously, governed by principles of justice in initial appropriation (mixing one’s labour with previously unowned resources), justice in transfer (mutual consent), and justice in rectification (say, restitution plus damages).

It is easy to see how the right not to be aggressed against will be interpreted here: I count as initiating force against a person if I seize an external resource that she is entitled to by the application of those three principles.

So now Long has put actual content into the term “aggression”: aggression means seizing resources that didn’t involve mixing your labor, transferring a resource that was obtained in this way, or is not the result of an act of restitution.

There are fatal problems with this already: the whole “mixing your labor” principle is incompatible with “property rights”, and, even if you can justify a person’s initial property claim, there’s no way to logically justify transferring a property claim to someone else. So Long’s list of “libertarian property rights” are conceptually dead in the water.

More importantly, Long does not even try to demonstrate that these “property rights” are not strange, which I thought was part of his intent. Remember that Long is proceeding backwards from logic, establishing his “right to not be aggressed” as primary and stating that the “right to property” is nothing but “an instantiation” of it. As I’ve already discussed, this is illogical: aggression cannot be primary to property, because our beliefs about property determine to a large extent what we consider to be aggression. So Long’s “property rights” are a very strange animal indeed, and he fails to answer to that.

To me, this failure, coupled with his refusal to normalize the “right to not be aggressed,” means that he has not at all discussed the supposed topic of his entry, which was to show that Libertarian norms are not strange.

I could simply end here, but he goes into some specifics against the welfare-statism position. I am not a statist and therefore these objections do not apply to my libsoc position, but I find that his questions entail interesting questions for Long, and the Libertarian position as well.

Suppose that the disparity of wealth between Scrooge and Cratchit is great enough to trigger an entitlement on Cratchit’s part to some portion of Scrooge’s resources. Several difficulties immediately arise.

First, if Cratchit was initially as wealthy as Scrooge, and through some misfortune has become poor overnight, then Scrooge, through no action of his own, has unwittingly passed from rightful possession to wrongful possession of the resources in question. If seizing resources is to count as force, as it must if property rights are to be based on the right not to be aggressed against, then from Cratchit’s suddenly acquiring title to (and thus a right to seize) these resources in Scrooge’s possession, it follows that Scrooge’s possession of them must suddenly have come to count as aggression (since otherwise Cratchit’s seizure of the resources would be initiatory force). But any conception of aggression according to which one can become an aggressor merely by undergoing a [one-sided, quantified] change seems inadequate.

First of all, I want to point out that this is an invalid definition of the welfare-statist position. Long speaks as if the welfare-statist position describes ownership relations between individuals. But in reality the welfare-statist position describes ownership relations between individuals and the State. It is the “property rights” position, Long’s position, which describes ownership relations between individuals mediated by the State. So Long has this exactly backwards.

This basic error dictates Long’s subsequent errors. He wonders how a simple change in one person’s bank account changes Scrooge from not being an aggressor, because his possession is entirely legitimate, to being an aggressor towards Cratchit, because his possession of a certain portion of money is no longer legitimate. But surely that can’t be right: if the State can decide at any time that a portion of your resources is no longer yours, then it was never your property in the first place; property implies exclusive control, and you clearly did not have exclusive control over that portion of resources if the State can suddenly claim control over it and supersede your claim.

Cratchit, on the other hand, cannot take that portion of resources legitimately. Such a thing would be considered theft and severely punished by the State, because the State claims a monopoly over violence or threats of violence, including resource redistribution. Long claims that Cratchit acquires a title to some of Scrooge’s possessions, but this is fantasy: nothing like this actually happens in a welfare state in real life.

This whole passage from Long is a garbled mess, and the effects of his error continue in this next passage:

Moreover, how great must the disparity of wealth between Scrooge and Cratchit be before the transfer of property rights is triggered? To what percentage of Scrooge’s resources does Cratchit become entitled? If there are many Scrooges and many Cratchits, by what means are we determine how much which Cratchits may take from which Scrooges? The Rawlsian Difference Principle and other such guidelines would be of little help here, for they specify no determinate outcome; one cannot say, e.g., that any given Cratchit has a right to keep seizing resources from any given Scrooge until the disparity in their respective socioeconomic conditions is reduced to a point that is favorable to the worst-off person, for that yields no concrete guidance.

No, Cratchit is not entitled to any percentage of Scrooge’s resources because he is not entitled to any specific person’s resources; Cratchit is entitled to a portion of the resources seized by the State, from all manners of private and corporate sources, for redistribution purposes. Again, no Cratchit can take anything from any Scrooge for their personal gain, even if they work for the IRS.

But consider Long’s main criticism against welfare-statism, that the redistribution process is essentially arbitrary. How does that criticism not apply to any ownership system? Free market economic theory entails that the owners of means of production deserve to receive their employees’ entire production and pay back wages set by the market. There is no more justification for such an arrangement than there is for particular welfare redistributions, which are determined by the democratic interplay of political interests. Neither of them are arrived at by any kind of objective process.

In the previous quote, Long also complained about the arbitrariness of a conception of aggression where the status of aggressor can change based on a specific variable. Fair enough. But all hierarchical systems are ultimately arbitrary: why should certain specific people have the power to define ethics for an entire society and enforce them, and everyone else not have that power?

Libertarians are divided on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, immigration and Intellectual Property. Who gets to decide which positions on these issues are right for their society? Why those people and those positions and not others? The answer has to be some form of interplay of political interests; but that’s also where the arbitrariness of welfare-statism comes from. So what’s the difference really?

This leads us to a conclusion by Long:

Since governments, on any liberal view, are not mystical bodies of social union but are simply collections of individuals, on an equal moral footing with the individuals they govern, a government can have no rights in excess of the sum of the rights of the individuals composing it.

This is a radical proposition by Long, and it doesn’t sound very Libertarian at all. After all, I know of no Libertarian who advocates against State police (although they might want it to be privatized), and having a police implies unequal powers. A cop is not, by definition, on an “equal moral footing” with his targets, and must, by definition, have “rights in excess of the sum of the rights of the individuals” he targets.

I know Long fancies himself an “anarcho-capitalist,” a laughable chimera of anti-authoritarianism and economic tyranny, and therefore does not claim any belief in State police. Nevertheless, any implementation of capitalism requires government; no free society could structurally withstand the kind of massive inequalities generated by capitalism, and it’s been a rule of history that lack of freedom goes hand-in-hand with inequality levels (see for example the city-states of the Middle Ages or the difference between Amerindian societies and their oppressors).

That’s the end of my review of Long’s article. The basic reasoning is all wrong, and the stated goal of the article is not even touched on. There is a serious attempt to address counter-arguments, but not on any of the main points. Using welfare-statism as his opposition is pointless since, as he points out himself, welfare-statism also upholds “property rights.” The analysis would have been much deeper if Long had chosen as his opposition a position which rejects “property rights” (e.g. actual Anarchism).

So what is the “quite ordinary set of values” which Long believes underlies Libertarianism?

1. The “right not to be aggressed.” This may look ordinary simply from the use of the word “aggressed.” Of course I value not being aggressed, and who doesn’t? But we all have different conceptions of what aggression means. This value is only “ordinary” because it is a rhetorical trick.

2. We have no other rights than the “right not to be aggressed.” This is a very bizarre value, and I certainly do not share it. Long can only demonstrate this because he’s banking on the abstracted meaning of “aggression” as being a bad thing. But this is sophistry, not reasoning.

3. “Property rights.” This is perhaps an ordinary value insofar as our Western societies go, but Long’s ultra-right-wing stand against welfare certainly is not ordinary at all, and is not a value shared by many. He tries to answer this point by stating that the Libertarian conception of property is more consistent than the welfare-statist one, but in that he failed.

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.

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).

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.

Voluntaryism: it’s not just about capitalism…

Voluntaryism is the belief that whatever people voluntarily agree to is inherently good, regardless of what that agreement actually is. People don’t tend to follow it to its logical conclusion, as few voluntaryists would say that, for instance, slave contracts should be allowed. Voluntaryists don’t usually identify as voluntaryists, but they follow various schools, most likely capitalists and “anarcho-capitalism,” Libertarianism, and sometimes liberals (although liberals tend to be voluntaryists only on social issues).

I have written numerous entries against voluntaryism and its logical consequences. This may seem like a strange, overly abstract target. The reason why I attack voluntaryism so much is because we need to strike at the roots that support the institutionalized evils around us, and voluntaryism is one of those roots.

I think radical feminism is an eloquent confirmation of that fact. When radical feminists address issues such as femininity, sexism, porn, prostitution, the rape culture, and so on, their opponents will without fail invoke some form of voluntaryism as a counter-argument. As I’ve seen it happen again and again, it usually goes something like this:

RF: “Pornography participates to the objectification of women and the molding of women’s sexuality to the requirements of men’s orgasms. It also contributes to the rape culture. Pornography is an obstacle to feminism as a whole.”
FF: “I watch pornography and I’m a feminist! How can you say that’s bad or anti-feminist? The pornography I like is the one where female sexuality is respected. So you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
RF: “I’m not saying what you should or should not do. I’m stating facts about pornography as an industry and as a force against women’s interests. The fact that you watch pornography is not anti-feminist, but you can’t claim it’s feminist, either.”
FF: “You’re trying to tell me what to do, you fascist! I can be a feminist and do whatever turns me on! Stop shaming me!”

Having read an innumerable number of comments threads on various radfem blogs, I can tell you that this is actually not much of an exaggeration. The same exact voluntaryist arguments are used than for capitalism, just in a different context. So it seems there is at least some connection. Nine Deuce, of Rage Against the Man-chine, operates under the thesis that there are three stages of reasoning about radfem issues:

1. Reactionary: People who have absorbed what the patriarchy has to teach about women’s sexual suboordination are frightened by women exercising their sexuality and voicing their desires, so they attempt to shame women who transgress patriarchal norms to force them back into line.
2. Libertarian: Anyone with a brain can see that’s bullshit, so many women have fought for our right to participate in and enjoy sex without the fear of recrimination. That’s a good thing, but women’s sexual liberation has yet to be achieved, and sexual libertarianism has led to some problematic ways of looking at things. Many women have absorbed the idea that women’s sexual liberation is the goal, and then have gone on to assume that any sex act a woman might want to participate in is liberating and thus unproblematic and/or unassailable.
3. Liberationist: It is taken for granted that women ought to be free to express and explore their sexuality, but that does not mean that sex is a sacred cow and that we have no right to question the morality of a sexual behavior. Does a sex act hinder the cause of women’s wholesale sexual liberation or the progress toward women’s legal, social, and cultural liberation? Does it pose the risk of harm to individual women? A sexual Liberationist would never argue that a sex act ought to be banned or that women ought to not be allowed to participate in whatever activities they deem appropriate, but she might question the choice to do so and the impact that choice has on women as a whole. With freedom comes responsibility, blah blah.

In political terms, “libertarian” is voluntaryism, and “Liberationist” is libsoc or libertarian in the Anarchist sense. Not much difference there, and the schemes of thinking are very similar. Egalitarian concerns as a bulwark against capitalistic voluntaryism is strongly analogous to radical feminist concerns as a bulwark against sexual voluntaryism.

My main criticism of voluntaryism is that it assumes actions exist in a vacuum. Like the political Libertarians, sexual libertarians can only arrive at their positive conclusions about “laissez-faire”/sexual liberation by completely omitting the institutions which embody past coercion and continue to exploit these “liberated” individuals and the energy they devote to “make the best out of it.”

There is of course a lot of intersection between sexual exploitation and economic exploitation. Many women enter prostitution because of the fact that women suffer more from unemployment, are paid less, and the fact that approximately one female child out of five is sexually abused in North America, making them more vulnerable to sex traffickers. These are all directly or indirectly the result of economic inequality.

So there is this personal/political dichotomy that we have to be very much aware of. Now granted, the personal is the political, and the political is the personal, and there’s not too much point in distinguishing the two as concepts. But there is clearly a difference between putting all the blame on a woman who works in pornography and putting the blame on pornography as an institution which exploits women, objectifies them, and reduces their sexuality to that of men. It’s more of a blame dichotomy, or a responsibility dichotomy, or a cause and effect dichotomy (“the political causes the personal”), than an ontological one (“the personal is not the political”).

There’s absolutely no point in blaming women who work for the interests of the patriarchy, as they usually have very good reasons for doing so. Those motives are constructed by the patriarchy itself, and their work serves to further bolster said motives for other women. But by far the most important cause and effect relations are between patriarchal institutions and incentive systems, and between incentive systems and individual decisions. Any given women only adds a tiny bit of credibility to the patriarchy, but the patriarchy is in a great part responsible for any given woman’s choice.

Anti-theist, socialist, antinatalist or feminist, every individual has to decide how best to deal with a corrupt society on a long-term basis. What we attack is that corruption, not the individual. This never stops people from claiming that we want to tell them what to do. This is based on the implicit belief that telling people what they shouldn’t do represents a real harm to those people. But this is a strange belief. If person A thinks person B shouldn’t do something, should A not tell B? If A is right, then ey is doing a service to B. If A is not right, or the issue is not an ethical one, then ey is merely expressing an opinion, which should be seen as such.

This is a point I seem to have to repeat over and over: we most certainly do want to tell people what they shouldn’t do. We definitely want to tell people not to kill each other, and we’ll go to great lengths to prevent them from doing so. We definitely want to tell people not to lie to each other for profit, or break someone’s legs, or stalk them and make them live in fear. To go towards more feminist topics, we also definitely want to tell people that they shouldn’t sexually harass women, sexually assault women, or rape women. So I don’t think any Libertarian “feminist” has a leg to stand on as regards to “not telling people what they shouldn’t do.”

One may argue that the things I listed are, in fact, illegal. So what? Laws are written by the power elite for the power elite. This can be somewhat reduced to saying that laws are written by men and for men, although they are written against men as well as against women (and no, I am not aiming for a “the patriarchy hurts men too” argument… no offense, but it’s just a laughable argument in my opinion). One should not see the rule of law as a feminist construct, especially when it’s always been used, and is still used, as a way for men to oppress women. That makes about as much sense as gay people defending organized Christianity or black people defending the Drug War; and before you start flaming me, note that the irony that these things actually happen does not escape me… and no, I am not blaming them for what they do, although I do blame them for deploying illogical or unethical arguments.

There is an even deeper problem with the voluntaryist argument, and that’s the confusion between voluntary and consensual. Here’s a discussion of this on Womononajourney:

In reality, consent is something people lower in the hierarchy give to people higher in the hierarchy all the time. For example, we may “consent” to the TSA screening system at the airports in Amerika, but that’s only because if we don’t go through them (or “consent” to be patted down by a stranger), we will not be able to fly.

Think about other times you have to give your consent. Just by being born in a specific location at a certain time, you are “consenting” to a specific legal system… one you did not create, and that may not have been created by anyone who resembled you in terms of sex, race, and/or ethnicity…

The people who having their homes taken out from under them because of an inability to pay, “consented,” to pay a certain amount over a specific period. yet, I don’t hear too many progressives faulting them for “consenting” to payment and not being able to follow through with it. Guess consent isn’t so sexy when the ones being fucked over are men.

This brings up again the point of the law being a tool of oppression used against women, which I think is very important. The age of consent draws a line beyond which anything that happens is your fault, making it possible for prostitution activists to draw a line between child trafficking and “normal” prostitution:

People chose though, before and after those in-between years, whether I was blameless or blameworthy. In the interim, while I existed in the in-between, each individual who looked at me or fucked me had the privilege of making up their own mind. Many did, and most chose the latter.

After that, when I was identifiably a woman, it was not a case of ‘most’ anymore, but ‘almost all’ – because almost all those who looked at me in my young adulthood decided that I’d chosen what was happening, and saw it as what I was doing rather than what was being done to me.

The ‘done to me’ aspect died, you see, along with my adolescence in the perspectives of other people. The problem was it didn’t die, and I was still alive, living the ‘done to me’ reality every day.

It also brings out the confusion between something being voluntary and something being consensual. As I’ve discussed before, consent is a much, much more specific criterion than voluntary agreement. To take one example from above:

by being born in a specific location at a certain time, you are “consenting” to a specific legal system

Note the quotes around “consenting” here, which are quite appropriate. At the most, we can be said to agree to a specific legal system by virtue of acquiescing to its representatives (cops, judges, jailers, etc), but consent with any such monopoloid legal system, one which we not only did not create but had absolutely no hand in and towards which we have no alternatives, is literally and completely impossible. The example of a justice system is perhaps not the best, since its legitimacy is said to derive from an ownership claim on us, not on agreement at all, but I hope you get the gist of what I am talking about here.

Capitalism works and adapts itself by commodifying (and thereby profiting from) everything it can, including that which initially opposes it. We can see this process of absorption and regurgitation all throughout the history of capitalism, including unions and labor in general, warmongering, fascism and patriotism, the free press, rebellious music styles, and nowadays environmentalism, the Internet, anti-sexism, “fair trade” and “organic foods,” just to name these.

So are love and sexuality. A loving relation and a healthy sexuality by themselves are threatening to the capitalist order because they form a closed, self-defining, self-sufficient circle. In order for capitalism to function, it must constantly penetrate closed systems (whether cultures, sub-cultures, or direct relations) and permeate them with material desires. The traditional ways to smash the circle of love and sexuality are through the institution of marriage and its association with material success, mandatory or strongly encoureged procreation, and by giving men an ownership claim over women. Nowadays the latter is no longer acceptable, but pornography, prostitution, the rape culture, and so on, reinforce men’s biological desire to objectify women and constitute a more implicit, but probably as powerful, ownership claim over women.

It is probable that these things would still exist in a socialist economy, but it’s hard to imagine that they would exist in the same form. Imagine, for instance, that the women who work in pornography get an equal say (or more say- after all, they are the ones actually doing it) in what gets filmed than the men behind the camera. Would we still see as many cumshots to the face, anal sex, sexual slurs against women, women getting dick-slapped, simulated rape, underage porn, etc etc? I really don’t think so.

Capitalism does, however, provide funfems with an argument, which is that some women do these things willingly and make a lot of money from it. As Mary Tracy pointed out, and I thought this was a great insight on her part, if someone was to argue with a group of Marxists by saying “well capitalism is great because it allows some workers to make a lot of money,” ey would rightly be laughed out of the room. The fact that an unethical and competitive system deigns to crown a few winners does not justify the existence of that system. Some fucked up, abused little six year old girl will win the pageant, but that doesn’t make the pageant wonderful.

In capitalist thought, this is related to the myth of the heroic entrepreneur who is “rewarded” by the market for eir downright ascetic self-denial in saving enough money and eir skillful exploitation of eir fellow humans by ever-increasing profit margins. The entrepreneur is the capitalist’s idea of a winner as well as a justification for the losers, who just weren’t ascetic or skillful enough. Social Darwinism ho!

When one pushes back on these “feminists” or any other person on the margins of an ideology, one is bound to get the inevitable backlash of “who are you to tell me what feminism is about?” They want feminism to be purely about allowing individual women’s choices. In my entry “Anomie is tyranny,” I point out that this can only lead to the rule of the most powerful, in this case, the most powerful institutions that have an effect on women’s choices. To flip the maxim around, what we refuse to see is what can most hurt us, because we have no defenses against it. Acting as if the patriarchy doesn’t exist makes you all the more vulnerable to its baleful effects.

There may be some connection between this and positive thinking/Panglossian thinking. It’s understandable that these women don’t want to think about how they are exploited and vilified on a daily basis, so they just ignore it and hope that there actually is equality and that there’s really nothing to worry about. Voluntaryism does slip rather easily into “the bliss of ignorance” and then further into outright Stockholm-like identification with our oppressors, and this happens in feminism as well.

The key word in our opponents’ arsenal is “agency.” Standard sociological theories define agency and structure as two countervailing forces, the former being the capacity of individuals to make their own “free choices” (free will), and the latter being the limits on those “free choices” imposed by social patterns. So the word “agency” is the banner behind which they rally.

There is no such thing as a “free choice,” and the residual of social patterns is not choice but rather genetics. So whatever is labeled “agency” can be more accurately described as the result of genetic diversity in humans. There is no fundamental opposition between these forces, as all social patterns are ultimately the product of the interactions of beings possessing human genetics. Where the opposition occurs is when the interests of people clash in a stratified class society (e.g. workers v property owners, slaves and abolitionists v slaveowners, women v misogynists, or, more individually, the clash between an inferior and a superior), and the issue is a solely structural one of class pitted against class.

So even in individual cases, agency is not relevant. All acts are political acts, all issues are structural, all personal problems are ultimately the result of institutional failures. To promote people’s agency is gibberish insofar as it does not designate an actual phenomenon. No one freely chooses anything. The “voluntaryist” attitude only serves to divert attention from the structures which provide negative incentives to people, and therefore perpetuate inequality, crime and slavery.

Also, concentrating solely on agency ultimately leads to blaming the victim. While, for example, funfems would vehemently deny that they are blaming the victims (and accusing people like me of doing so), this is a projection. And this can be seen in how they treat the prostitution issue: funfem believe that women who get raped in prostitution are not really being raped (but rather being not!raped) because they chose to become prostitutes, and we have to respect their choice (to get not!raped). Likewise, workers who have to take on dangerous or psychologically degrading jobs in order to survive are merely expressing their agency through the Almighty Free Market (Praise Be Upon It), which is merely an aggregate of choices. The victims, therefore, must be blamed for making choices which led to their not!rape or their psychological degradation. There is only one small step from that to blaming female rape victims for choosing to be drunk or choosing to wear short skirts, or blaming people for choosing to remain on welfare.

I’ve concentrated on feminism as one counterpoint, but voluntaryism is not just an opposition to feminism. It is also, for instance, an opposition to atheism. One of the claims made about God, and perhaps the most egregious example of religious insanity, is that whatever God declares good, in his subjective opinion, is good, regardless of what it is. But voluntaryists preach that whatever an individual wants to do should be permitted. I find it hard to see any difference between that and saying that the individual declares what is good for emself based on eir own subjective opinion.

It may be that when Christians accuse atheists of being autotheists (belief that one is god), this is what they have in mind. Well, I can’t speak for them. But I certainly think that voluntaryism comes dangerously close to autotheism. Insofar as voluntaryists claim that any person’s subjective opinion must be respected above and beyond the facts, they are putting that person in a God-like position. Granted, they are not saying that we should all obey everyone’s ideal of what morality is, which would be self-contradictory, but they are saying that the individual’s subjective evaluation of eir own actions trump the facts of the matter (some may argue that there are no “facts of the matter” when talking about morality, but this is a rather bizarre sort of statement which is easily disproven).

Arguing against voluntaryism within such a broad scope is difficult because the voluntaryist ideology is widely associated with self-ownership and freedom (“my body” -> “my choice” -> “freedom to act”). Therefore, anyone who argues against voluntaryism is believed to be arguing against freedom. But it should be clear to anyone who’s interested in freedom that voluntaryism clearly goes against said freedom when it sustains the existence of institutions which attack it. Free market capitalism is “voluntaryist” but it is not “freedom.” The patriarchy is “voluntaryist” but it is not “freedom,” at least not for women.

We see echoes here of the distinction between voluntary and consensual: the former is atomistic and the latter is systemic. This is not too surprising because consensus and freedom are necessary for each other. Voluntaryism presents itself as an ideology of freedom but, by removing systemic analysis from the ethical equation and only considering the individual’s actions faced with an abstracted context, supports the dominant worldview. Once again, my entry “Anomie is tyranny” gives a full explanation of this phenomenon.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 320 other followers