Evicting Politics

Chris Sciabarra asks:

Do you have anything specifically in mind, John, with regard to practical efforts in large-scale social, political, or economic change?

I do: The production of means by which individuals may increasingly evict collective politics from their lives.

An example of this would be Phil Zimmermann’s creation Pretty Good Privacy. The question of whether or not individuals ought to be free to communicate privately was previously subject to collective politics, but Zimmerman and a handful of other individuals largely evicted politics from the question. States may still assert authority to read your email, but whether they can is now up to the individual. I think a significant reason the Soviet Union fell when it did was that it lost it’s war on private communication. That wasn’t the result of strong encryption, but it’s another example of how technologies can enable individuals to increasingly evict politics from their lives. People typically assume the state will have it’s way as long as enough people approve of it, but that is simply not the case in many areas, and those areas can be expanded.

I find it striking that Rand’s great protagonists were inventors and businessmen, yet her admirers tend to focus almost exclusively on rational evangelism. The most powerful model for collective action appropriate to individualists is business, yet business gets short shrift from libertarians as a means for curtailing the state – they tend to devote themselves instead to collective political movements.


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21 thoughts on “Evicting Politics”

  1. People typically assume the state will have it’s way as long as enough people approve of it, but that is simply not the case in many areas, and those areas can be expanded.

    We’ve been over this territory already. The LP is largely ineffective, yet you’re too optimistic about the alternatives.

    First, your examples from internet communication have a slight problem. There is a way for the state to stop you from communicating privately by email; namely, disable the internet. You’d probably respond that government officials would never oppose their self-interest, yet by the same token if the internet were perceived as a genuine threat to the state’s existence you can be pretty sure destroying it would be seriously considered. One possible way around this objection is to postulate, as you have before, not a single but multiple avenues for individuals to secure their rights from predation.

    Yet even so, there is an even bigger problem, which is that it’s very possible no technology or business solution will arise to do what you’re asking. For example, if everyone in the US figured out a way to hide their taxes from government, then nothing stops IRS agents from just going door to door collecting taxes directly. And if a local zoning board decides to demolition your house, all the anonymity in the world won’t save you. And even in Patri’s floating-island scenario where the houses move around, I find it likely that many people would just put their floating cells all together into large communities that fence in most of the residents and prevent them from leaving.

    The moral is that as long as the majority of people in a society want a majority of people to be coerced, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

  2. One possible way around this objection is to postulate, as you have before, not a single but multiple avenues for individuals to secure their rights from predation.

    Yet even so, there is an even bigger problem, which is that it’s very possible no technology or business solution will arise to do what you’re asking.

    You had it right with the first sentence, then completely ignored what you’d just said with the second. No single technology or business strategem will suffice to evict the state from one’s private life, but there’s some evidence to suggest that multiple technologies, used in concert, might do the trick, at least to the extent that one desires.

  3. Chris Sciabarra responds:

    I have always been of the view that there are many different strategies (not all of which are mutually exclusive) in which one might engage in an attempt to roll back tyranny. I wish I had all the answers here; for example, I wish it were easier to distinguish between “milking the inner contradictions” of a system, and becoming “co-opted” by it.

    What is genuinely awful about the system that is currently in place is what Rand pinpointed many years ago: that statism creates a “class of beggars” and that, in that context, no power on earth can prevent the institutionalization of a civil war among groups. And as Hayek said: When political power becomes the only power worth having, it will touch off a war among groups who are most adept at using that power. That’s why “the worst get on top.”

    Abstaining from these structural dynamics and creating parallel institutions is one important strategy; I’m just not sure how effective this will be without a corresponding change in the overall culture that generates institutions, whether they be social, economic, or political.

  4. Stefan,

    Yet even so, there is an even bigger problem, which is that it’s very possible no technology or business solution will arise to do what you’re asking.

    Okay, let’s assume that’s the case. Which is the more effective strategy for gaining freedom, mass politics or the market?

    Mass politics has given us… The Libertarian Party.

    Market strategies have given us encryption and the internet, which means illegal-but-safe-gambling/tax-free-shopping/work-from-anywhere to name a few. Yes, not everyone or maybe much of anyone can benefit from those things.

    But who does the LP provide freedom to? Nobody.

    Even further, a market-based approach encourages individuals to think of ways manufacture their own freedom. A mass-movement approach encourages individuals to submit to the collective, so that the collective will manufacture their freedom for them.

  5. Trite: Let’s collectively agree to individually pursue individualism, intellectually sequestered from the collective of other individualists.

    Agreement: Seriously though, evolution does operate at the level of the individual organism first, then successful changes are handed down to progeny, forming superior groups.

    Conclusion: Voters shouldn’t breed, breeders shouldn’t vote.

  6. Trite: Let’s collectively agree to individually pursue individualism, intellectually sequestered from the collective of other individualists.

    Is recognition of reality really “collective agree[ment]”? Maybe, but only by coincidence. Does non-participation in biennial LP-follies really meant that one is “intellectually sequestered”? Not at all.

  7. The problem with the internet analogy is that illegal online poker and 1/2 of one percent of missing sales tax revenue isn’t about to take down the state. If either of these were real trouble, Congress or the various state legislatures would press the issue, and they would be gone (or almost completely marginalised).

    As Paul Birch pointed out once before, the state is happy to let you sneak one past it every once in a while: you feel a little freer even though you really aren’t. But when something threatens the state’s existence, the state’s liable to break its back fairly quickly.

    Point: you won’t get liberty if your neighbours want you to be enslaved, no matter the number of gadgets you have.

    – Josh

  8. Josh,

    “The problem with the internet analogy is that illegal online poker and 1/2 of one percent of missing sales tax revenue isn’t about to take down the state.”

    It’s not an analogy, the internet is real.

    And it’s not necessary to take down the state, you just need states to compete for your business.

    “Point: you won’t get liberty if your neighbours want you to be enslaved, no matter the number of gadgets you have.”

    Few people primarily want to enslave you, they want something else and they think enslaving you is the only or easiest way to get it. When enslaving you is more expensive than it’s worth they lose interest in enslaving you.

  9. It’s not an analogy, the internet is real.

    It is an analogy, because you’re comparing a process that allows people to sneak a bit of income past the state to a process that would allow many people to sneak much income past the state.

    Few people primarily want to enslave you, they want something else and they think enslaving you is the only or easiest way to get it. When enslaving you is more expensive than it’s worth they lose interest in enslaving you.

    I disagree. There is a large, vociferous, bipartisan majority in this country that does desire slavery. They, of course, don’t even think of it that way, but that’s exactly what they’re espousing. And that majority is egged-on by the real beneficiaries of the slavery – the political class and its buddies/beneficiaries in the media.

    If that majority’s power to enslave begins to unravel, the political class will stoke the majority’s rage into a fire, and the offending technologies and people will likely be destroyed. History is littered with such sorry episodes. And although I hate to beat a dead horse – Reichstag to Nazis to Kristallnacht to the Blitzkrieg to the Shoah. One easy step at a time.

    Think of how the public reacts to tax “cheats”. Is enslaving that cheat for his .03% of the annual revenue going to accomplish any goals of the majority – free shit and beat-up bad guys? Nope. So how do the people react? Anger, and a sense of satisfaction when the “cheat” is brought to “justice”. They want to enslave, my friend. It’s the sorry truth.

  10. Perhaps not, although I should note that studies have shown that envy is a powerful motivator – people will give up benefits to tear down those with more. If people were monetary profit maximisers, yes, I think your comment would be totally germaine. But while people are motivated by hatred and envy, they will forgo benefits to make others worse off. There are probably enough of them to depress either of us.

    Of course, your comment is also more suited to a society already free. Right now, enslaving others is essentially costless at the point of slavery, so to speak. The costs are sunken. The costs will still be sunken until the state is near death. Long before that, the state will be on the move to crush it.

  11. Josh,

    You can drive up the cost of governing and drive down the cost of economic exit today. That’s real progress and it’s in your immediate self interest. You can market such benefits to others at a profit because it’s in their immediate self interest.

  12. I only skimmed the comments so someone else may have said this, but I want to point out that the argument “Founding these types of business won’t take down the state” does *not* contradict the excellent point JTK is making. The question is not whether or not libertarian businesses will lead to libertopia, the point is whether they will have *more* of a positive impact on libery than libertarian evangelizing.

    Framing the debate in terms of whether this will eliminate the state is wrong because there may not be a way to eliminate the state – its an extraordinarily difficult problem. The question is what has more practical impact on people’s lives. I think there is some room for evangelism – but a lot more room for business.

    And if you found a successful business, you *know* you have made the world a better place, whether or not you ended up helping the cause of liberty. Successful evangelism has a dubious impact, unfortunately.

  13. Few people primarily want to enslave you, they want something else and they think enslaving you is the only or easiest way to get it. When enslaving you is more expensive than it’s worth they lose interest in enslaving you.

    !

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Evicting Politics

Chris Sciabarra asks:

: Do you have anything specifically in mind, John, with regard to practical efforts in large-scale social, political, or economic change?

I do – the production of means by which individuals may increasingly evict collective politics from their own lives.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *