You are self-controlled.
Beyond obvious, yes?
Here is the corollary to that proposition, which just about everyone vehemently rejects:
So is everyone else.
What is the purpose of a statute law if not to affect to pretend to make believe that other people do not control their own behavior? What is the objective of a threat — like the threats of fines or imprisonment undergirding every statute law — if not to attempt to effect external control over other people’s lives?
What is it you hope to gain from traffic laws, the ones you and everyone else routinely violate? What do you expect to happen as the result of passing ever more onerous business regulations? How is that War On Drugs working out for you?
You are self-controlled and you know it, and, in consequence, you do as you choose without worrying about the law or its blustering, empty threats.
Everyone else is also self-controlled, and you devote massive amounts of frenzied effort trying to come up with schemes to contravene that simple and obvious fact — even though you know the whole while that their own frenzied efforts to control you cannot possibly work.
So here’s a question you might want to contemplate calmly and carefully in the silence and solitude of your mind:
What the hell is wrong with you?!?
Cognitive dissonance consists of striving to uphold two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time.
Other people cannot control my behavior.
I can control the behavior of other people.
These propositions cannot both be true, but trying to affect to pretend to make believe that they can is not just wasteful mental wheel-spinning. By insisting that you somehow can control your neighbor’s purposive actions, if you can just come up with the right laws and the right threats, you close your mind off to courses of action that might achieve your real objective: To live among other people to maximum benefit and minimum loss.
So how might you do that?
How are your doing it now?
Because you are doing it now, virtually all the time. The truth of your life is that you experience almost no conflict with other people almost all of the time, and, when you do, you resolve your disputes peacefully — typically to mutual satisfaction with no lingering rancor. The laws and the threats are all about hypothetical events you have been trained to dread but which almost never happen.
Yes, there can be exceptions — if you are very poor or if you spend time in very poor neighborhoods. But if you are the typical middle-class American, most of the the conflicts you will encounter in your life will be with people you know well and say you love. Outside of your own home, your life is peaceful to the point of being placid, and it is no trouble at all for you to sustain that predictably-reasonable status.
So here’s my next question for you: Why are you paying forty-cents or more of every dollar you earn to “keep the peace” when the peace is already perfectly well-kept at no cost? You can’t control other people’s behavior, as we have established, but you don’t need to, anyway. They control their own behavior for the same reason you control yours: Because they have nothing to gain and much to lose from conflict — and everything to gain from placidly peaceful cooperation.
But, but, but! But what about the bad guys?! Which ones? The real ones, who cost you perhaps a few hundreds bucks a year in extra insurance premiums? Or are we talking about all the terrifying boojums in your fevered imagination? Meanwhile, why aren’t we talking about the real bad guys, the ones who are stealing forty-cents or more of every dollar you make?
When we dare to speak the truth, we are willing to admit that the money we piss away on taxes is wasted. But the truth of that matter is much worse. When wealth is wasted, it is not just trashed, flushed down the toilet. All the good that could have been done with that money is also destroyed, along with the compounded value of all of the new wealth that could have been created thereby.
Calculate the compound interest value of all the opportunity costs of all the taxes, regulations and other economic intrusions in the U.S. since the 1789 Constitution. By now we might have conquered death itself! That is the price we pay for living in fear of our actual nature as human beings.
But, but, but! We can’t live in anarchy!! We already do. There is no alternative to human self-control. There is no way for you to control my behavior from the outside, and no way for me to control yours. We are indomitable as a manifestation of our nature as organisms. This is a matter of fact, not malleable by opinion, by rage, by threats or by torture. You can delay my exercise of my in-born freedom with chains or cages, and you can inhibit it forevermore by killing me. But while I am alive as a human being, I am solely in control of my own behavior.
Now here is a very hard question, one which most of humanity has managed to get wrong for all of human history:
Taking account that human beings are exclusively self-controlled as a matter of undeniable, inescapable, unavoidable fact, what is the appropriate thing to do?
Stop trying to push other people around!
If I cannot possibly control your behavior, what benefit could there be to me in trying to?
By attempting to micro-manage your actions with threats, am I making my life better, richer and more secure? Or am I manufacturing enemies and giving them a rationale to kill me?
Moreover, since, when we leave each other alone, almost all of us manage to get along just fine — with each one of us producing amazing things that none of the others could have foreseen — why would I ever deliberately choose to make my own life and everyone else’s lives worse instead?
These are important questions. Government does not work because it cannot work. It is a fist shaken angrily at a thunderstorm, a comically invalid, ineffectual response to reality. Human civilization works not because a gaggle of paranoid frauds sputter dire threats but because most human beings just want to live their own lives, providing for themselves and for their loved ones, cooperating with each other profitably and resolving their few conflicts peacefully. If you plan to dispute this, I will want to take an inventory of all your many wounds first — the non-imaginary ones.
Meanwhile, there is no need to wet yourself. Government is fiction and Autonomism — self-control — is all the governance of human behavior that can ever exist. But there is no threat that the fiction that is government is going to “wither away” any time soon. Too many people believe the lie. My objective, for now, is to peel away as many of those believers as I can. Once you understand your own autonomy, the state will lose all its hold over you.
You cannot vote your way out of slavery, not ever. But you can quit being a slave right now.
If you think carefully about this one question, the world will open up before you:
Who can stop you?
This is an Autonomism FAQ I wrote a few years ago. I am getting ready to update it, so I would love it if you would hit me with questions you want the answers to. For all of me, once we have established that human beings cannot be other than self-controlled, everything else is just details. But if addressing those details will make the idea of Autonomism clearer and more palatable, I will take away every objection you can come up with.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Isn’t anarchy a creed of chaos and violence?
1. No, that would be socialism in its collapsing phase.
2. No, that is what you have been told by people who want you to volunteer to be their slaves and toadies.
3. No. Anarchism as I define it is the politics of egoism, which itself is the ethics of self-adoration. People actively pursuing self-adoration will tend to avoid chaos and violence except when chaos and violence are the only means of avoiding even worse fates. When might this be the case? When socialism undergoes its collapsing phase, for example.
So what is anarchism “as you define it”?
I am discussing a body of ideas I used to call Janioism, this after the first name of a character in a book I wrote in 1988. This was a poor appellation, for a couple of reasons. First, if you don’t already know what I’m talking about, a name consisting of a proper noun offers you no guidance. And second, doctrines named after people imply a cult of personality, which Autonomism most certainly is not.
I chose the name Autonomism because it perfectly describes the kind of anarchy that already exists, that has always existed for all of human history. Some anarchists in my general philosophical neighborhood use the term “autarky” — self-sufficiency — but this seems inexact to me. Few humans lead self-sufficient — solitary — lives. Virtually all of us thrive by living in social groups and cooperating with each other. We are autonomous as a manifestation of being, but we are also social animals. The challenge we face is successfully living among each other to maximum gain at minimum cost, most especially with the minimum of crimes committed against each other.
Note that I coined the term Autonomism independently, but I subsequently discovered that the word has been used by communists to denote a state or movement that claims it is in some meaningful way free of the international communist conspiracy — which protestation is the confession that it is a lie, as if anyone cares.
So why give Autonomism a name at all? Simply as a distinction from other flavors of free-market anarchist doctrines. Any one of these names can be accurately applied to Autonomism as a member of a distinct category of political philosophy: Anarcho-Capitalism, Market-Anarchism, Agorism. There are a number of different theorists of free-market anarchism, along with a great many more advocates of a doctrine serious libertarians usually call minarchism — arguments for an extremely minimal style of government.
What’s different about Autonomism?
Minarchism obviously entails systemic coercion against anyone who does not freely volunteer to join the polity and to accept its terms of governance in all particulars. Minarchist philosophers (such as Ayn Rand or Robert Nozick) either deny this coercion or insist that it cannot be avoided.
In general, advocates of free-market anarchism will insist that the polities they envision will be entirely voluntary. I dispute this claim. The two best known defenders of free-market anarchism — David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) and Murray Rothbard — both envision free-market police forces that would engage in violent trespass onto private property and forceful coercion of individuals suspected of having injured other members of the polity. I think this is simply thoughtlessness — the failure to have thought through the unwillingness of each member of the polity to volunteer for this kind of abuse. But, to my knowledge, Autonomism is the only argument for free-market anarchism that foreswears systemic coercion both of members of the polity and of strangers who might find themselves subject to the dispute resolution systems of a Autonomist polity.
Why does Autonomism foreswear systemic coercion?
I can offer an infinite number of arguments against systemic coercion, but these are the three — in ascending order of philosophical importance — that I think are most useful for understanding a truly human civilization:
1. As a practical matter, no volunteer to a polity is going to consent to the kind of behavior that has become all too routine among statist police forces: Trespass, breaking-and-entering, physically-devastating and violently-intrusive searches, wholesale expropriation of personal property, coercion and imprisonment of your person, torture and, ultimately, murder. All of these things are possible, of course, but no sane person would risk having them done to him, if given a choice.
2. As a matter of ontology, each human being is equal, as an entity, to all the others. To assert any sort of dominance over a human being is, tacitly, to argue that you are super-human and your victim is sub-human. This much is false to fact. Still worse, acting upon this false premise can be demonstrated to have persistently and acceleratingly unhappy consequences, resulting, ultimately, in the chaotic and ultra-violent collapse of any civilization built on a creed of dominance of some people by others.
3. As a matter of ethics, the coercion of one person by another is damaging to the ego of the person effecting that coercion. There are a number of reasons for this, but what matters most is that behaving coercively toward other people requires the coercive party to make war on his own mind: You must first argue to yourself that you are super-human and your victim is sub-human. Then, while you are coercing your victim, you must make false mental claims about your own real-time behavior. And then, after the fact and for as long as you live, you must work constantly to deny your own self-knowledge of the kind of person you have made of yourself. If you have ever wondered why so many bad people are drunks or drug-addicts, now you know. You cannot ever hide from your own self-image.
The corollary proposition — actually the primary proposition — is that acting upon other people as they are, in full cognizance of their autonomy — is the best path to achieving peace, prosperity and the greatest attainable level of self-adoration while living among other people.
In other words, Autonomism foreswears coercion not for political reasons but as the best expression of ethical egoism in a social context.
As is obvious, there can be occasions when a coercive response to a real-time infliction of injury by another person can be necessary — as the means to avoiding an even worse injury. But even then it is important to understand that you will be acting in a way that will result in enduring and irreparable damage to your own ego. Human life, most fundamentally, is the awareness of being alive as a human being — awareness in real-time, memories of past awareness, anticipation of future awareness. That your having acted coercively was preferable to failing to act, in that particular circumstance, does not imply that that damage you will have done to your own self-image is therefore somehow not damage.
The proper goal of egoism is self-construction, the progressive assembly of an image of your own life and mind that is worthy of your own highest adoration. This is what I mean by the word Splendor. Acting coercively, even in morally-justifiable self-defense against an attack on your person or property as it is happening, will result in the partial destruction of your self-image. It’s a calculus of loss, and less-worse is obviously greater than still-more-worse, but worse is still less than better.
The fundamental equation of my philosophy, which can be applied to any sort of ethical or political dilemma, is this:
If there is no systemic coercion, how will people resolve disputes?
By mutual agreement, of course, just like now.
Almost everyone is sane and normal. Few people understand egoism as I defend it, but that’s simply because the forces of evil in our civilization do everything they can think of to smear ideas like egoism, individualism, capitalism, anarchism, etc. Their dominance games will not work without your active, continual surrender, so they indoctrinate you from childbirth to submit to their authority, to fear and resist your own desires, to yield to them in any conflict, to be their perfect little slave at all times. And it works, too. Not only do you sacrifice forty percent or more of every dollar you produce, you will defend with righteous indignation your glorious servitude.
But even so, you’re only a sucker where the government is concerned. In everyday life, you’re almost certainly sweet, personable, generous, forgiving and non-confrontational. You let the lady with just two items go ahead of you on line at the supermarket. You smile and wave back when a nice man waves you into traffic. When your kid’s foul ball puts out the neighbor’s window, you tape a note to the door saying you’ve already called the glazier to make the repair. When the geeky teenager at MacDonald’s gives you too much money back in change at the drive-through, you park your car and go into the store to give back the excess bills. You are a proud and noble trader, neither giving nor taking of the unearned — even if it never occurs to you to be proud of your nobility.
Yes, there are sociopaths among us, and megalomaniacs and malignant narcissists. They’re everywhere, but they comprise less than one percent of the population. If you want to find them in significant concentrations, you have to look to various branches of the state: Psychotic politicians like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon stand out, but government is a magnet for every sort of sadist, paranoiac, control freak and martinet. This is not to imply that there cannot be decent people in government, but systemic, pandemic, epidemic coercion is a drug most people in government learn to crave more and more over time. Every decision a government makes is necessarily arbitrary and corrupt, so I find it hard to argue that even the nicest person could stay nice in an environment that rewards only evil and penalizes — eventually unto death — every form of the good.
But none of that matters in a Autonomist agora. In a civilization composed entirely of volunteers, dispute resolution would be effected, in the overwhelming majority of cases, as a matter of ordinary human social contact — just as it already is right now. “Your visitor parked in my spot. Could you ask him to move?” “My daughter accidentally dripped her ice cream on your front walk, so she’s coming over to clean up the mess.” “I mistakenly took your overcoat instead of my own from the church cloak room, so I had it dry-cleaned for you.” This is the way civilized human beings behave when they have caused an injury or loss to another person.
But what if the parties don’t agree about the nature of the injury or loss — or about its proper redress?
Where their dispute is not obviously and easily addressed, sane, normal people might reasonably take their arguments to a neutral third party. Who? How about that wise old geezer up the street? He can cut through any knot! Where the stakes are higher, one or both parties might take the dispute to a free-market judge for resolution.
How could anyone trust a free-market judge?
Because his sole stock in trade will be his reputation for fairness. In a free-market, a corrupt judge would have no customers.
But if “one or both” parties could go to the judge, doesn’t that imply that a trial could be held in absentia?
Yes, of course. There is no systemic coercion in a Autonomist agora, so no one could be compelled to go to court against his will.
But if there is no coercion, who will enforce the judge’s rulings?
Anyone who wants to — which means everyone who is living in pursuit of Splendor.
Assuming a normal injury, resulting in a small financial loss, the judge’s verdict would consist of a financial judgment against the losing party, possibly also including all the attendant court costs — an incentive for both parties to go to the old geezer up the street instead.
What good is a judgment if no one is compelled to pay it?
I can think of a lot of different ways to organize a non-coercive polity, so this is just one of them — one I happen to like a lot because it fits well with the way we already conduct our financial affairs. Here is what I would propose: The judgment is entered as a debt into the credit reporting system. This is how judgments work now in civil court. You have the “right” to be paid, but you do not have the power to coerce your compensation. If the party found against repays or makes arrangements to repay the debt within a reasonable span of time, life goes on as before.
But if the party found against refuses to pay the debt, every member of the polity who feels that civilized people should make good the injuries and losses they cause to other people can and should boycott the offending party entirely, refusing to trade with that person in any way.
This is non-coercive. Trade is always mutually-voluntarily, so if I unilaterally withhold my commerce from you, I am not denying you anything to which you have an enforceable claim. Yes, it is an ultimatum-based response to injury, but neither the person nor the property of the party found against is being coerced in any way. That party can choose to pay the debt, thus regaining his former status in the polity. But he can also choose not to pay.
What will happen if someone fails to pay a judgment?
Death by starvation. Remember that all property is privately owned. If you are met with an agora-wide economic boycott, you cannot traverse any land except your own — not without trespassing. You cannot buy food or any other sort of economic good — and your access to the trading medium has been cut off entirely. In most cases, your alternatives will be to pay the debt, run away as far and as fast as you can, or starve to death. In any of those cases, the objectives of the other members of the polity will have been met: If you cannot live as a sane, normal, civilized person, our individual pursuits of Splendor will be best served by your absence.
If the debtor runs away, what happens to the creditor’s loss?
Dang. Bad things happen. Not my fault. Not my problem. Importantly: Penalizing me because someone else has suffered a misfortune is the worst kind of injustice.
What if the debtor is really and truly innocent of having caused the injury?
Dang. Bad things happen. My advice would be to pay the debt and then work toward restoring your good name. Or run away. Or just shrug your shoulders and acknowledge that perfection is an attribute of a world other than this one.
What if the debtor doesn’t run but doesn’t pay up, either?
If he stays on his own property, I don’t much care. My goal is to be rid of people who won’t cooperate in a civilized fashion. If an offender elects to become a hermit, he presents no on-going peril to me. The judgment would stand until it is paid, of course. And if our hermit decides to invade my home, perhaps in quest of jam for his bread, I will end his life in defense of my own, if this seems needful.
But what about people who are not sane and normal, who insist on trying to live by the coercive, violent domination of other people?
A free people, civilized volunteers who have not been legally or psychologically disarmed by the state, will administer as many free injections of lead as are necessarily to change that person’s behavior. This is not brutality. This is how sane people deal with predators who will not change their bad behavior. Each one of us has volunteered to join this polity in pursuit of our own values. If someone in our presence presents a clear and present danger to our own lives, one or more of us must either kill that person or suffer under his domination.
This would be the rarest kind of circumstance in a truly free society, first because there are no mechanisms in place to reward and exalt criminal insanity — the incentives all run the other way — and second because young people who are predisposed to criminal insanity would probably not survive very long into adulthood. But if the only way to be rid of a pestilential threat to your own survival is to take another human being’s life, then this you must do — or live thenceforth as that person’s slave.
What about people who either do not or cannot complain, when they are injured?
Dang. Bad things happen. Not my fault. Not my problem. Their business — or, at a minimum, none of my business. If you absolutely cannot leave your neighbors free to pursue their own values in their own way, it could be that you yourself are suffering from a lead deficiency.
What if the army of a vicious tyrant tries to conquer our Autonomist agora?
I’m fond of the motivating premises of the cult of the Hashishin: Assassinate the big boss, and keep on assassinating each new big boss until the only stooge willing to wear the crown is an incompetent fool. Why don’t governments fight this way? Among other things, government is a mutual protection racket for big bosses everywhere.
Obviously there are all kinds of other ways of defending our lives and property, each of us acting alone or in mutually-voluntary groups. A war of conquest would have to be fought house-by-house, since there is no centralized Quisling to surrender for everyone. And people who understand that they own their lives, their land and their chattels only to the extent that they can defend them are apt to come up with some very effective active and passive defenses.
But suppose all of this fails. Suppose the conqueror succeeds. What then?
Dang. Bad things happen. It is all but universally common to lament and decry failures of anarchism that are present in every other form of human political organization. “What would prevent rape in an anarchy?!?” What prevents it now? “What would prevent unintentional injustices?” What prevents them now? “What would prevent conquest by ill-tempered foreigners with bad breath?” What prevents it now?
If all property is privately owned, why would anyone ever build a road?
For profit. Obviously, only profitable roads would be built, so the footprint of a Autonomist agora on the land is likely to be much smaller than our current state of sprawl.
Why would anyone build a dam or a canal — or internet backbone?
For profit. All forms of transportation and communication were built for profit before governments monopolized these businesses.
What about free riders?
Dang. If you didn’t negotiate your compensation before you baked the bread, Henny Penny, don’t come crying to me afterward.
Everything we’re talking about already exists, in the form of written commercial contracts and tort law. What we now call the civil courts would no longer be a statist monopoly, and there would be no criminal courts at all — nor any fiat law nor fiat money nor fiat dictates issued by armed functionaries of the state. Everything that you might want to do — that you cannot do by yourself — you would have to work out by negotiation with free and equal traders, but there would be no statist tyranny forbidding you to do as you choose.
If there is no fiat money, what will we do for currency?
Whatever free and equal traders choose. We already understand that the clearinghouse function is the sine qua non of thriving economies, so this is not a huge problem to work out.
Would there be competing currencies?
How would you prevent this, without systemic coercion?
Whenever matters like this are discussed, there are all kinds of highly-detailed speculations about how things would have to work out, in the absence of the state. My take is that most of these propositions are useless. How will things work out in an anarchy? However the participants want them to.
Would there be fractional-reserve currencies?
How would you prevent this, without systemic coercion? But since the trading value of any currency could be compared with that of any other by reference to its exchange value, any stupidly inflationary fractional-reserve currency would have nowhere to hide in the marketplace. Does this mean no one would trade in that currency? Of course not. In the long run, no one can win by gambling. But some people will always choose to take their chances in the short run, and you cannot claim there is any justice in preventing them from defying the odds.
But wouldn’t competing currencies be inconvenient?
Less inconvenient than being pushed around by thugs who use coercive-monopoly fractional-reserve currencies as a hidden tax on all honestly-produced wealth? Your fear of criminals is irrational: You claim that you fear them so much that your only possible salvation is to put the most rapaciously corrupt criminals, the absolute worst kind of sociopaths, in monopoly control of the money supply. How stupid is that?
What about marriage and the family?
Why don’t you learn how to mind your own business? I’m sure that’s what you would say if I poked my nose into your family life.
What if my neighbors are abusing their child, in my opinion?
Dang. What if the kid gets stung by a wasp? Bad things happen — and we know nothing about any of it, all over the world, virtually all of the time.
If you really think the child’s life, health or safety are at risk, and if you think failing to act would result in an injury worse than breaking into your neighbor’s house and kidnapping his kid, knock yourself out — and live with the consequences after the fact in court. If you’re right, you’ll be a hero. If you’re wrong — or if your neighbor is a good shot — you’re screwed. Not my problem, either way.
Please understand: You have spent your whole life being lectured about the vitally important necessity of minding other people’s business. But actually doing it — poking your nose into your neighbor’s business — is crime, and the people who do this habitually are almost certainly a greater threat to my own pursuit of Splendor than are the supposedly-evil people they propose to protect me from.
If you think that unilaterally taking a forceful action is the best way to preserve the peace in a particular circumstance, then take the action and live with the consequences. But if I decide that you are the greater threat to my peace, it will be you I will want to see gone from my life.
Here’s what matters: There is no group. There is no collective. There is no “us” — no state, no chosen people, no glorious proletariat. There is only you, a free and equal individual. You can do anything you are capable of doing, and for the most part I can’t stop you. But you are responsible for everything you do — and don’t do. In a free society, the state is not going to push your neighbors around for you at your behest, but it won’t be there to push you around, either. If you want something done, and no one else is doing it, you will have to do it yourself, persuading your neighbors to join you if you can. But you may be amazed to discover just how many things aren’t worth fighting about if you have to fight with your own body and your own money — with both of them at risk.
So how do we get there from here?
Good news: We’re already here. You’re already a sane, normal person, and you already live among your neighbors in peace and prosperity. Yes, the state preys upon you like a vast, hideous vampire, reeking of death, impetuously random in its predations. But it matters less and less to civilized people with every passing day.
I don’t ever favor trying to defeat or take over evil institutions. It is sufficient to supplant them. And this sane and civilized people are already doing, just by living their sane and civilized lives. Consider eBay. Consider PayPal. Now think of a clearinghouse like PayPal unknown to anyone except its depositors. Does anything like this already exist? How would you know if it does? How hard would it be to create, now that you know it could exist?
It is very useful, in talking about political philosophy, to think in terms of zero, one, two or three people. Three postulated people are sufficient for describing every politically-interesting social arrangement. But there is no “state of nature” — no unpopulated world, no unclaimed land. In real life, land is acquired either by purchase, by bequest or by conquest, never by being appropriated from the unclaimed. We have to learn to get along with each other not alone because we are all already here.
But the truth is, this is very easy to do. We are already very good at it, and we will only improve as we learn the equation cited above — that zero is never greater than one. We live in a sick civilization because we have all been indoctrinated from childbirth to cling to the zero — pain, guilt, suffering, doubt, poverty, anger, resentment, fear — while always yielding up the one to our self-proclaimed “betters.”
Do you want to see Autonomism in real life? Stop worshipping the zero and devote all of your attention to the pursuit of the one. Seek profit only — never loss. Live, work and play only with people who share and support your values — never with those who denounce or deride or denigrate your pursuit of Splendor. Don’t wait endlessly for some universal epiphany among everyone else — a mass awakening that will never, ever happen. Shun evil now. Boycott crime now. Be who you are. Do what you want. Have what you love — now.
It were well to pursue indestructibility — as much as you can. Defend what you have, and find ways to make yourself unappetizing to predators. But life is not about avoiding loss — this is the worship of the zero. Life is about earning and deserving every profit you can attain with your mind, your time and your unrelenting effort. Live for the one and let the zero go straight to hell — where it belongs.