Category Archives: Anti-voluntaryism

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 voluntaryist.com, 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.

Voluntary slavery: a hypothetical scenario…

James at Diabasis, an antinatalist blog, posted an interesting (and at least somewhat realistic) hypothetical scenario:

It is 2070, and the plutocracy has won. Neither Occupy Wall Street nor anything else succeeded in checking the forward march of society’s top 0.1% to vast, indeed obscene, amounts of wealth while everyone else sank into comparative poverty. But there are at least some people in the bottom 99.9% who’ve found a way of making a living, at least for a while. Fertile young women with “good genes,” that is, genes likely to produce sexually attractive (or otherwise talented) offspring, can rent themselves out to be artificially inseminated with sperm from men who similarly have “good genes.” Upon giving birth their babies are spirited away without ever been seen by their birth mothers — a practice familiar from the bad old days before legal abortion. Where the babies are spirited away to are institutions that combine aspects of the orphanage and the bordello, where they are raised to become obedient and skillful slaves: living sex toys mostly, although some of the boys who show signs of musical talent will be given extensive singing lessons and then castrated — thus reviving an ancient and refined musical tradition for the pleasure of the elite. There are specialized corporations which manage the entire process from recruitment of wombs through insemination, training, and assignment to high-paying clients. The practice taken as a whole is called the Peculiar Institution.

One argument above all, though, was thought to silence all criticism of the Peculiar Institution, and it was this. Were it not for the Peculiar Institution, the children who were its “victims” would not exist at all! Iron logic shows this to be the case. No Peculiar Institution, no impregnation contracts. No contracts, no impregnations. No impregnations, no children. But if there were no children, then how could they get the Beautiful Precious Gift that is life? Sure, maybe it’s not fun to be castrated or to be used for…well, maybe best not to think too much about that. But you slaves surely wouldn’t reject your own lives, would you?

The point here is not that natalists are heartless assholes who support slavery, but that natalism logically leads to the acceptance of any authoritarian system, even clearly evil ones such as slavery. All James did was take the premises of natalism to their logical conclusion.

As for the Block Corollary, where “anarcho-capitalists” tediously argued that they don’t really believe in sexual harassment, natalists may argue that they don’t actually believe in slavery and that the conclusion is invalid. But that would miss the point. That natalists do not believe in slavery I cheerfully concede; but the premises of natalism themselves lead us to choose slavery in this hypothetical scenario (life is a gift, the Peculiar Institution allows many lives to exist, therefore the Peculiar Institution is good). That is to say, if they were in this scenario in real life, natalists would have to be for slavery or contradict their own beliefs (that life is a gift, that having children is an ethical act, and that therefore anything that helps women have children is good).

The only viable counter I can see for natalists is to argue that those children’s futures are too harsh to justify giving them life. But this contradicts the natalist argument that people do not regret having been born, and that the vast majority of people do not kill themselves. Surely this argument would apply to the slaves as well.

Here are some approximate suicide rates in 1850 United States:

2.12 per 100,000 for white people
1.15 for freed black people
0.72 for black slaves

(source: Suicide: individual, cultural, international perspectives, edited by Leenaars, Maris, Takahashi)

That is to say, most of the suicides from African slaves took place before their arrival, or shortly after their arrival. Settled African slaves killed themselves at far lower rates than their masters. So from this we can conclude, following natalist logic, that slave lives were worth living more than their masters’ lives. Granted, I have no data on whether the slaves considered their lives worth living. Based on the fact that people will make that claim even in the worse conditions possible, I assume most of them did.

So this is just my roundabout way of saying that the slaves in our hypothetical would probably say their lives are worth it, and that according to natalist arguments this means that their lives are actually worth it. So the natalist objection doesn’t actually disprove this form of slavery, but rather bolsters it.

I think that the scenario not only has antinatalist implications, but political ones as well. From the voluntaryist perspective, this slave system is entirely voluntary and contractual, so they should support it as well. Since we already allow slavery-like conditions to exist in cults on the basis that “they joined of their own free will,” it’s hard to see how they could not support slavery outside of such a context as well. My child renter argument is a simpler but similar sort of scenario, where children are born into a system of subjection and never chose it.

One may reply that selling a future child to slavery is an attack against the rights of the future child; but like the natalist, the voluntaryist should naturally argue that the consent of the fetus, not being a person, is irrelevant, and that the future child will be free to break out of the contract in any way prescribed by the contract. If this seems heartless to you, then I agree completely: treating human relations as contracts and not considering the rights of future persons is extremely heartless. But that is the consequence of voluntaryist policies.

If anyone objects and believes that voluntaryism or natalism do not imply agreeing to this scenario, then ey is free to try to prove it to me. My experience with the Block Corollary tells me that a lot of people will protest but no one will try to give any evidence as to why the scenario is not a logical corollary of their beliefs. I hope to be proven wrong this time, but I’m not holding my breath.

To be honest, if you are thinking of posting a comment trying to deny the corollaries of your ideology, I’m not going to authorize it unless you provide a rational justification as to why you believe the corollary is not a logical consequence of your ideology. You need to provide actual evidence either way. I am really tired of people just saying “but that’s not what voluntaryism is about!” Either you can demonstrate it logically or you shouldn’t be saying it.

Here is a question for each category of advocates to answer if they wish to try to defeat this hypothetical:

For natalists- What is your standard to determine when procreation is unethical? Where do you draw the line? How do you reconcile the contradiction between this line and your belief that life is a gift? If you start getting into relativism (“well, usually life is a gift, but not in this case”), then how do you conclude that life a gift in reality, especially given that many people experience lives as bad, or worse, as the ones described in the scenario? Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

For voluntaryists- Given the fact that contracts can and frequently do clash with human rights, where do you draw the line between desirable and undesirable contracts? If you draw such a line, keeping in mind that voluntaryists believe that anything voluntary is ethical by its very nature, why do you still call yourself a voluntaryist?

The voluntaryist delusion.

NOTE: if you’re interested in more entries against voluntaryism, check out my anti-voluntaryism category.
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Voluntaryism is a popular ideology amongst people who like Anarchism but recoil at its leftist implications. By adopting the simple principle, “whatever is voluntary is ethical,” they believe that they have found the high ground, the ruler with which all other ideologies must be evaluated.

Some openly advocate a “rule by landlords,” a sort of extra-small minarchism where whoever owns the land can impose whatever laws he wishes on anyone who works or lives within his land. This is the “ultimate decision-making power” which defines the State: these landowners are effectively rulers over that land. Although they refuse to see this pretty direct deduction (but to be fair, even Rothbard was too blinded by his pro-property bias to see it), it is clear that the voluntaryists who hold to this ideology have nothing to do with Anarchism.

One famous example from the Mises forum is the question of whether we are justified in shaking off someone who is hanging for his life on a flagpole that we own. Many people there were of the opinion that “property rights” alone justified an act which is, to be clear, nothing more than murder.

Most voluntaryists recoil at the idea that their ideology might justify this sort of baseless murder, and as such adopt a “softer” position. They then try to draw a line, beyond which their belief in “property rights” becomes harmless and does not affect other people’s rights. But as I have pointed out in my past exposé of “anarcho-capitalism,” there is no line beyond which voluntaryism, in its support of “property rights,” does not suffer from this sort of contradiction, because “property rights” are by their very nature an obstacle to all other, real human rights.

In fact, we don’t need to go beyond real life to see that this is the case. Voluntaryism, under the form of STV (Subjective Theory of Value, which basically states that any price or usury people agree upon is just, by circular definition), is the core justification for capitalist exploitation. Of course, they strenuously object to the word “exploitation,” because they believe that anything voluntary is by definition good and thus cannot be “exploitation.” But this is circular reasoning.

In the same way, they object equally strenuously to any attempt to unincentivize or prevent what they see as “voluntary acts,” saying things like “you just want to tell people what they can’t do!” And yet no one disputes that we must often “tell people what they can’t do.” We don’t want to live in a society where people are free to hurt or defraud each other without being stopped, because these actions go against innate morality and go against the free will of the victim. Many “voluntary acts” are equally unacceptable (some of which I will discuss in the points below).

Even some crimes, especially clever frauds, can be said to be voluntary, but that does not make them any less criminal; like these “voluntary acts,” they rely on false beliefs in order to foster acceptance or even cheerful participation in the harming of the person’s life. Religion, I suppose, should be added to that category of clever frauds as well.

“Whatever is voluntary is ethical; whatever is not voluntary is not ethical.” Like the Golden Rule, this rule is simple and wrong. There are four main reasons why it is wrong.

1. It reduces ethics to a matter of mere personal opinion. Because of this, it goes against all other ethical principles ever put forward by man, since one may at any time hold an opinion contrary to them, even if those principles are logically sound and empirically demonstrated.

Voluntaryists, however, do their best to redefine other people’s terms so they fit within their own worldview. For instance, an Anarchist may rightly points out that the voluntaryist would allow people to form hierarchies, and that this is contrary to our goal of freedom. The voluntaryist will then generally either define freedom as “doing whatever you feel like” (omitting the fact that forming hierarchies restricts our desire to “do whatever we feel like” later on), or redefine hierarchy so as to exclude willing obedience (as if the willing or unwilling nature of obedience had any relevance to the unethical nature of hierarchies).

Also, when I discussed the arguments against STV, I briefly pointed out that there can be no “true subjectivity” in a world where indoctrination is a constant fact. The same objection can be leveled against voluntaryism in general. The voluntaryist cannot ensure that one’s opinion is really one’s personal opinion, and not just someone else’s attempt at indoctrination that was internalized in the past. And if opinions are molded by whoever has the money or power to make its message heard by the masses, then voluntaryism basically reduces itself to “might makes right.”

2. It does not take into account the coercion embodied by our institutions. In the same way that we say that commodities embody (give a concrete form to) a certain amount of labor, we can also say that institutions embody coercion. This is ignored by voluntaryists, who examine actions towards any institution in a vacuum, divorced from context, and thus do not acknowledge the coercion that was necessary for the institution to exist.

Let me give you a simple example to illustrate what I mean by this. A group of people goes around breaking people’s legs. A significant percentage of people’s legs have been broken, and now they all need crutches. Crutch-makers, who are few (since many people simply can’t work at all due to having their legs broken, and because we still need people to produce food, potable water, houses, and other vital commodities), are now forming a cartel and are asking for thousands of dollars in exchange for crutches, because there are so few crutches being made and so many people vitally need them.

My example is not an analogy, as I don’t have any specific system in mind while writing it (I am not making a statement about cartels or health care or anything like that). All I am pointing out is that the system of crutch production is dependent for its power on acts of coercion that were done “in the past,” “by other people.” The fact that it was done “in the past” and “by other people” makes voluntaryists say that the system in the present is voluntary, but the system embodies the coercion of the leg-breaking which occurred before the rise of the cartel, and would not exist without it.

This means that voluntaryists are good at identifying institutions which rely on force “in the present” and “by the people in charge,” but they are very bad at identifying these institutions when time has passed and coercion is no longer directly necessary.

For instance, the fact that land was initially distributed through coercive acts like the extermination of the natives, the enclosure of the commons, the selling of unused land by auction. These acts of coercion are embodied by landlordism, laws against squatting and beggars, “gentrification,” and capitalism as a whole, because capitalism everywhere necessitated the creation of a class of people uprooted from their land who would serve as its workers. And of course we cannot dissociate land ownership issues from that of statism, which is a form of ownership claim over a piece of land and its inhabitants.

Therefore, when voluntaryists claim that landlordism and capitalism are voluntary and therefore benign, they are not only omitting the facts of landlordist and capitalist exploitation, but they are also omitting the coercion embodied by those institutions. To take a more concrete example of this, the Zapatista revolutions were brought about because natives were chased from their land and were forced to sell their labor to the new land owners who bought their land at auction. It would do no good for a voluntaryist to point out that the work contract they signed was voluntary: the work contract is merely an extension of the violent acts of enclosure and selling.

If my point is not clear enough, the Scientology “billion year contract” might provide for a simpler example. Even though capitalists may scoff at a “billion year contract,” the concept is logically acceptable for people who believe that their souls are immortal. That issue aside, the contract is entirely “voluntary,” if you refuse to examine the fact that the person was brainwashed “in the past” and “by different people.” But this is obviously nonsense (although, since most forms of brainwashing are voluntary, I suppose that wouldn’t bother them anyway).

As a conclusion to this point, it is hard not to consider the fact that all human activity has as its cause a non-voluntary act, the act of being born and the breeding/parenting institution in general.

3. There are fundamental contradictions between the belief in “voluntary contract” and the belief in human rights. If a “voluntary contract” includes clauses which go against a person’s human rights, such as pretty much all capitalist work contracts ever written, then the voluntaryist is forced to reject human rights in favour of the contract. This can get to rather extreme lengths, as I have shown in my discussions of the Block Corollary. Basically, the voluntaryist response is to call the victims crybabies for complaining about a contract they signed “voluntarily.”

In practice, people sign such contracts because they have no viable alternatives, and a lot of this is related to point 2. The background conditions of society are molded by the coercion of the past much more than that of the present. The more power workers have in a given field, the better conditions they get, but businesses have more power than the workers. This is why they end up routinely having the upper hand and are able to demand concession from the workers which would be considered unacceptable or even absurd in any other context.

4. The term “voluntary” is weaker than the term “consensual.” What is consensual is necessarily voluntary, but what is voluntary is not necessarily consensual. For a person to perform a voluntary choice only requires acceptance on the part of the person, but for a person to perform a consensual choice requires a viable possibility of refusal. This means that the concept of consent includes consideration of structural issues (such as whether a viable alternative exists) which are not part of voluntariness. I have examined the issue of consent in detail in my entry Some considerations on consent (see part 1 and part 2).

The upshot of all this is that a totalizing system like capital-democracy, or capitalism or democracy alone, precludes the possibility of consent. The same can be applied to any totalizing system whatsoever, since by definition totalizing systems does not accept, or permit the rise of, viable alternatives. Therefore, any such system, or any part of such a system, may be “voluntary,” but it cannot be consensual.

This presents a problem for the voluntaryist, as he is either forced to abandon the notion of consent or to trivialize the non-consensual nature of whatever he is defending. Because consensus relies on structural issues which voluntariness does not, the voluntaryist can accomplish the second goal by examining actions and systems in a vacuum. In this way, the voluntaryist joins the right-winger in his stubborn refusal to consider society’s ever-present influence on people’s actions (let alone society’s role in the formation of the self). To the voluntaryist, ongoing coercion alone accounts for all social ills. If there is no coercion present, all responsibility falls on the individual. This is only one step better than the right-winger, and not a big step at that.

If the voluntaryist abandons the notion of consent on the basis that it is too restrictive, then we must conclude that his professed love of freedom is a lie. How can people be free when they are forced to live in non-consensual ways?

It is like saying that surrendering one’s wallet to an armed robber means you were free to take that decision. There is nothing voluntary about being attacked by an armed robber, but the choice itself is voluntary, in the same sense that voting or paying taxes is voluntary: one can decide to do it, or not to do it. And if we look only at the choice itself, in a vacuum, this analysis might make sense. The same might be said of the decision to surrender one’s labour or starve. But these are not the choices that make life happy or meaningful or purposeful. There is more meaning in deciding what to eat for breakfast than in any such non-consensual choice.

This is related to the principle of embodied coercion, given that most non-consensual actions or choices are the result of embodied coercion. But in certain cases, they are not. To follow the right-wing stereotype, what if a specific person is poor because he is dumb or lazy? Well, so what? His dumbness or laziness is his responsibility, but this does not turn non-consent into consent by magic. And the dumbness or laziness of any given person surely has a marginal effect on the nature of the structure that frames his choices.

The child renter argument, which I posted last year, provides an example of a distinction between a voluntary choice and a consensual choice. One may argue that the child has the voluntary choice of staying, and paying the rent, or leaving, and finding another place to live (or becoming homeless). One may also argue that the scenario as a whole is voluntary, since no coercion was involved at any step of the way. But one cannot argue that the choice is consensual: he never consented to the lease contract, and any choice he makes is surely out of necessity (either because he has no other place to live, or because he doesn’t have the money to stay).

Voluntaryism is subjectivism run rampant; it is, at its roots, a might makes right ideology, and can only lead to the perpetuation of power relations and all the suffering that comes with them. The fact that an action is voluntary is not a sufficient criterion for calling it moral or ethical. As one part of an ethical worldview, it is essential. As an independent standard, it is pure nonsense.

“Rape contracts”: the nail in the coffin of voluntaryism.

If people will voluntarily sign contracts which say you can’t sue the corporation for rape, then does that make the rape just?

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her Halliburton/KBR co-workers while working in Iraq and locked in a shipping container for over a day to prevent her from reporting her attack. The rape occurred outside of U.S. criminal jurisdiction, but to add serious insult to serious injury she was not allowed to sue KBR because her employment contract said that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration–a process that overwhelmingly favors corporations.

Voluntaryists, it’s time for you to wake up. You’ve been indoctrinated and sold a false bill of goods. Stop being subjectivists and come back to reality, where good and evil do not depend on whether people sign on it or not.

Rape is unethical, regardless of what any piece of paper says. That is a fact. Stop believing pieces of paper trump facts.