Monday, 10 January 2011

I am Terrified of Statists.

Of course it's worthwhile for all of us to imagine the kind of society we would want in an ideal world. I mean to properly sit down and consider what jobs we would have, what kind of homes we would live in, how we would get around and how we would tackle issues like poverty, violence, disease and inequality.

Those reading this who have already been some way down the path of anarchist thinking will already have done so in some detail, and will be sure that whatever the solution will ultimately be, statism isn't it.

But in 99% of all conversations with statists they expect you to know the answers to every conceivable aspect of a stateless society. What would you do about healthcare? What about crime? What happens if you get invaded by a country that has a government and a military?

Although there are some excellent theses that have been put forward by anarchist thinkers over the years on all these topics, no one person can be an expert on all these thing and have the perfect answer. If they did then surely that would be an argument for dictatorship! We would all be perfectly happy to let the omniscient guy who always knew what was in everyone's best interests in every situation be in charge.

But that guy doesn't exist, and frankly even if he did, it isn't you, so you end up rushing back to Google and dragging up statistics and charts and historical references to Spain or Somalia or the Kibbutz system to which people either cry 'bias' about whatever source you got the information from, or don't know the history of the references you bring up, or know enough of the history to know that none of them where ultimately successful. Or worse they just turn it back on you and say 'well the government is a social contract, you either agree to what they tell you, or you're free to leave the country'.

In short, trying to encapsulate the entirety of anarchist theory into a single argument-winning sound bite to change a statists' mind is nigh on impossible.

There will always be a "what about?" And "what happens when?" that you just don't have the answer to off the top of your head and the statist knows if they just keep plugging away with these questions, they will eventually catch you out and when you can't give a satisfactory answer to "who would decide the rules of the road in a stateless society" or some such minutia they take your personal lack of omniscience to be a failure of the anarchist position.

Consequently, anarchism is dying in these arguments. And worse; reason, logic, empiricism - in fact philosophy itself is dying because of this ability statists have to use your imperfect knowledge of a future society to sideline the underlying ethical issues.

In 1794 when the Slave Trade Act was passed in America, no-one could have told you that 200 years on there would still be racial segregation and inequality, but for the last 40 years or so things would be at least moving in the right direction. Or that when a predominantly black neighbourhood in New Orleans would be wiped out by floods in 2005 after a hurricane, no-one would come to help, but that just four years later, the United States would have it's first black president.

Of course, the argument against slavery was not framed in terms of what society could look like without it. It was put in much more visceral terms. The case was simple: To force people to work for no money, with no choice about the future of their own lives was immoral. That's what won the argument and that is what will win this one too.

Because the government does act in an immoral way. It acts in a way that none of us would accept from any individual or group of individuals in any other conceivable circumstance. It takes money from us by force and uses it to run our lives in a way we have little or no say over.

That is the stark moral case here. That is the link between the intangible, intellectualised concepts we all use when we're debating with statists, and the cold dark underbelly of what all advocates of a stateless society know to be the reality.

So the time has come to get off the defensive. To stop running off to answer every inane question that a statist asks you because frankly who cares if a mutual society or a dispute resolution organisation is the best answer to dispute resolution. For all we know, it could be both, or neither, or there could be some new technological advancement around the corner that negates the whole issue. There's just no way of knowing.

Instead get on the offensive. Take the moral high ground. Get them to justify the violence and coercion inherent in the status quo, rather than feeling you have to solve every hypothetical problem in an unknown future. And use an argument like the Molyneux “against me” premise. Get them to make the choice between supporting state violence and their relationship with you.

I had a conversation with my dad last night in which he took the position that the only answer to healthcare was to socialise it. I explained that you can't expect the same people who send young men and women off to die in illegal wars in the Middle East to have your 'health care' at the top of their priority list. They either care about all their citizens, in which case we would not be in Afghanistan or Iraq in the first place - OR they care about none of us, which is why we're in Afghanistan and Iraq because they don't care about the lives of the soldiers out there, or the lives of the civilians back home who are exposed to a greater risk of attacks from overseas in which case, I'm not sure they are the best people to trust when allocating what doctors, hospitals and drugs I need to make me better if I'm sick.

I also tried to explain that the reason for the enormous growth in the NHS which costs us over £110 billion annually and now employs 1.5 million people was due to successive governments building up a dependent class with our tax money and then offering them a combination of tax breaks and government programs to secure votes.

He told me this was cynical and much too black and white and that life is all about making compromises and that he used to have these conversations when he was younger but now he is older he has realised that you need the state for some things so you have to put up with some of the unpleasant stuff as well.

In other words the standard, generic unthinking reaction that statists have when either they are faced with concepts they haven't computed before so don't have anything to say about them, or that can't be bothered to have the debate, or that really don't want to admit that the last 30, 40, 50, 60 years of their lives have been lived supporting a violent and coercive regime.

So I changed tack. I told him that I supported his belief that statism was the answer. I didn't agree with it in any way shape or form but that I was happy for him to support the state and write a cheque to the government to pay for the NHS or the war in Iraq or whatever he liked. I would not try and oppose him by force. It was entirely up to him to make the decision he saw fit.

He looked puzzled.

I went on to ask him if he would extend to me the same courtesy; that I could disagree with him and that he would not use force to try and oppose his will on me if I acted on my beliefs because after all, you can't have the freedom to believe something without the freedom to act on it, right?

He agreed that of course I could disagree with him and that he wouldn't try and use force if I acted on my beliefs.

So I asked him then if I was to stop paying my taxes because I didn't want to pay for the murder in the Middle East, would he support my choice, or would be ok with the men in blue crashing through my door and dragging me forcibly into a van, and driving me off to a secure building where I would be held against my will until I paid up.

He said he would be ok with that. He said that conscientious objectors had to go through that so why shouldn't I?

I was stunned. I've had innumerable conversations with him over the years about my anarchist principles and he has always held the opposing view. He has always been politically left and from a generation when that meant increased state control in health, welfare and education.

Up till now our conversations had always been about theoretical economic or social points; just chucking 'stats 'n' facts' around really.

But to have this stark reminder of the implicit use of force in behind ALL statist philosophy right there in my face was impossible to ignore for both of us. He could no longer claim that statism stood for morality, or plurality or freedom. He had chosen the enforcement of tax law over his own son's right to liberty and personal safety.

I am at the time of writing this still reeling from the implications of this and what it means for our relationship. Clearly the pretence that there had ever been a valid debate between us has now gone. After all, you can't debate with someone who's got a gun to your head! 

Editors note: Unless you are prepared to learn some fucking harsh truths from people you love and trust DO NOT attempt this line of questioning. It is not easy. I do not feel good about the outcome of this conversation. There is no doubt about it, statism grabs people as tightly as religion does, and the fervour with which statists will parrot the statist message is frightening. 

As an atheist living in the UK I do not fear theists here, but as an anarchist living in the UK I am absolutely shit scared of statists in this country.

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