Brock Lorber

More About: Philosophy: Anarchism

Market-Based Intolerance of Tyranny

In "Tolerating Tyranny" and "Violence by Any Other Name...", thoughtful man of action, Larken Rose, rightfully excoriates slacktivists and authoritarians. He artfully describes the problem which must be overcome, and damns the individuals who recognize that problem but are either too lazy or unimaginative to take action to solve it.

In "Violence by Any Other Name...", Larken zeros in on the fundamental delusion held by the vast majority of otherwise rational individuals: a belief in the legitimacy of the State. More precisely, he identifies the initiation of violence by individuals in the name of the State as illegitimate yet widely accepted as non-violence or just simply tolerated.

I would have liked Larken to go a step further and explicitly recognize that there is no physical State. There are buildings and bureaucrats, politicians and paper, enforcement and equipment, but the State itself is merely a concept existing in the minds of individuals. The legitimacy of the State, therefore, rests on the strength of belief in that concept.

If you instead presume, as most do, that the State is embodied in its actors, you must eventually come to the paradox Larken presents. A man taking your possessions from your home is a "burglar" and illegitimate, therefore resistance is judged good. That same man with an IRS badge is legitimate, therefore resistance is judged bad. While in both cases you resist a man, in the latter case you also resist the concept of the State, which is not, in fact, embodied in the man, but exists separately in the minds of individuals.

This is an important distinction. Honestly, most people do not give a hoot about the complete stranger that you resisted who just happened to carry a badge. What they do care about is the perceived harm you inflicted on the concept, "the State", that they carry in their mind and wholly own. Since the concept is incapable of any action, let alone initiation of violence, any harm you inflict on the concept is, to the owner, de facto initiation of violence against their personal property.

Whether their belief in the concept of the State is delusional, lunacy, or hypocrisy is completely irrelevant. It is what it is and explains a plethora of intellectual contradictions.

Someone who holds that taxes are not theft is merely verbalizing his belief that taxes are nothing but ledger entries transferring property from one column to another, but remaining his personal property. He can simultaneously claim all applicable tax deductions while denouncing your claim of other deductions; taxes you pay enrich his concept, while taxes he pays are a zero sum game.

No matter that you feel the law is an ass, you must follow it while he may pick and choose which laws he obeys. Service to the State is man\'s highest calling. Collateral damage is acceptable, because those people do nothing for his concept. State actors should have sovereign immunity. If you\'ve got nothing to hide...and so forth.

It is also important to note that, while they bear the same name, there is no one State; rather there are billions of concepts owned by billions of people. Everyone knows, intellectually, that when State actors move against an individual, a hive mind did not make the decision to do so. Rather, individuals made the decision to act in the name of the concept they hold called the State.

If you violently resist State actors, "blowing their damn heads off" as Larken suggests in "Tolerating Tyranny", you only eliminate the State as a concept in the head you blew off. Billions of other concepts called the State remain in billions of other minds, including those who do not believe in the State\'s legitimacy. To completely eliminate the State, you would have to blow off billions of heads, including your own.

Ironically, with every head you blow off, you strengthen and reinforce the belief in the legitimacy of the concept called the State. Individuals think, "someone has to stop this madman before he blows off my head, too." To do so, they give their concept of the State moral license to complete the job the State actors set out to do, now with extreme prejudice.

But, that\'s not to say that individuals cannot sympathize with others they feel have been wronged by their concept of the State. Each individual sets acceptable rules and standards for their concept. While it is typically a higher burden of proof than with non-State actors, if a State actor can be shown to have operated contrary to those rules and standards, the individual will place blame for harm to the State on that State actor.

Notice that this is different from placing the blame on the State actor for harm to the victim. It is the reputation and coffers of the State that is really concerning. What we call sympathy in this case is actually remorse that a State actor has forced or warranted a transfer from the State concept to the victim concept in our minds. Whereas the State concept cannot act of its own volition, the victim concept possesses free will, so any transfer to the victim removes those assets from our control.

For this, individuals blame the State actor and feel aggravation that the victim may have been, in some way, enriched by this encounter. That aggravation manifests itself as a suspicion, no matter how slight, that regardless of any atrocity committed by the State actor, the victim may have deserved it. Violent resistance, despite the State actor\'s behavior, is confirmation of this suspicion.

Remember, the State actor is just a man; your resistance to the State actor may be just, but it is de facto initiation of violence against the State (a non-acting concept) and therefore harmful to the state. In the end, the State actor may have created a liability on the part of the state, but your violent resistance offset the liability, and then some.

Larken begins "Tolerating Tyranny" with derision for the "anticlimactic call-to-not-really-action." I share his disdain, as I share his disdain for the State-legitimizing actions of calling politicians and threatening to not vote them out of office. Unfortunately, the only call to action Larken gives is to hole up in your home and ambush State actors that come calling. Or, there can be armed riots in the streets, but not really because you have to wait for the Marxian ideal of the proletarian revolution to rise up in violent resistance with you.

But, the mob is just another mental concept, that the individuals composing the mob would give moral license to initiate violence against the State. What if the mob is successful? Certainly the idea is not to maintain mob violence, is it? On the other hand, is there even a remote possibility that the conceived moral license for a legitimate use of violence will dissipate forever once the mob has disbanded? That\'s what Marx thought.

I would have hoped for Larken to advocate non-violent resistance like he has practiced. Direct tax resistance is good, but even better is indirect tax resistance. Tax avoidance techniques and schemes are not valuable because they bear scrutiny in tax court, but because they plant the seeds of doubt as the legitimacy of the State as a concept.

Creation and distribution of propaganda is a simple non-violent resistance technique, although the pro-State propaganda machines will always be better funded. The key to effective propaganda is not the funding, but the persuasiveness of the message. Craft and display a message which promotes the personal benefits of relinquishing belief in the State as a deified concept.

But, if you believe, as I do, that human cooperation (the market) is the key to solving social problems, then you should look to the market to solve the social problem of the State. Specifically, use your influence in the market to de-legitimize the State.

Larken says, "buy a gun". Great advice, but from whom? An FFL holder? That pretty much defines counter-productive. Instead, buy from a private source.

Do you like everyday low prices? Thank the owners whose property was taken through eminent domain. Of course, the prices could be lower still if the company wasn\'t engaged in a pro-State health care propaganda campaign.

Speaking of health care, many libertarians were shocked recently to find that Whole Foods is run by a libertarian-minded CEO who\'s not afraid to be socially conscious and speak his anti-State mind. A few libertarians actually did some business with Whole Foods as a result. Those few probably won\'t make much of an armed rebellion, but they did something better: direct, market-based action in support of an anti-State message.

While it\'s not so easy to divine the belief in the State concept of some businesses, there are many who have taken straight payoffs of your cash in the last year. Those banks and manufacturers are well-known names. You aren\'t still doing business with them, are you? How about with other businesses that are doing business with them?

You can structure your economic transactions to be Stateless, organize wildcat strikes and Stateless trading networks, hide your wealth off-shore, and do a million other direct, non-violent, market-based actions of resistance every day, all by yourself. And, contrary to violent resistance, these actions actually do net harm to the concept of the State.

But, I suppose you may think your market influence is too little to make a difference. It is easier to do nothing but wait for a chance to pick up a gun and engage in a violent revolution. Like Larken, I believe you\'ll grow old waiting for that perfect chance to come along, but you\'ll fuel a lot of pro-State propaganda in the meantime.

4 Comments in Response to

Comment by Brock Lorber
Entered on:

I don't think there's enough difference of opinion to have an argument.  If there is a difference, it is that I do not believe that you will ever sway the Statist to recognize your moral justification for defending yourself from the State.  By definition, the Statist holds an immoral, contradictory view of human interaction; what possible mechanism would allow a Statist to afford you a morally consistent envelope of operation that he cannot even conceive?

There is no moral or ethical barrier to the depravity a State actor is willing to visit on anyone he or she feels has resisted the State.  There is no moral or ethical barrier to the depravity a Statist is willing to condone.  There is only the fear of facing prosecution for their own actions, and the economic barrier of having the physical resources required to maintain their repugnant charade.

In your own case, not one of the State actors gave a hoot about the money – it was all about "you must obey, slave."  In the DOJ's press release, it is clear the important part of your conviction (besides jail time) was the forced filing of returns; the fines and taxes were almost afterthoughts.  Is there any doubt that, were it not for a fear of legal ramifications, the judge and his prosecutors would have sodomized and executed you on the spot?  You were lucky they let you live to get a trial.

If State actors were deprived of the resources they need to continue their malicious ways, then their influence becomes nil and the encouragement of the Statists is irrelevant.  It has the double blessing of not requiring a recognition of your moral justification of defending yourself and removing the power to initiate violence against you in the first place.

But, any method for accomplishing this goal by expecting homo economicus to rise up en masse and act in contravention of his own personal interest is doomed to failure.  Violent resistance before the State is economically disarmed is most decidedly against the personal interest of homo economicus.  After the State is disarmed, there is no need for violent resistance.

The trick is to align the economic incentives so that actors disregard the State in their transactions.  Although you pooh-poohed the idea (disingenuously, I might add), that is the one thing you can guarantee every person from the smallest child to the most rabid Statist will do, with no need for direction or persuasion, if they see a personal advantage in it.

The good news is, all the heavy mental lifting proving the personal economic advantages of a Stateless society has been voluminous over the past decades.  All that remains is for you and I to encourage our trading networks to become Stateless by example.

Will that happen?  I dunno.  But, I heard your buddy Stephan Molyneux make a salient point yesterday on a related question: how on earth can you expect a class of Super-Patriot to form and maintain a government that will stay within its bounds if you do not believe those same people will make basic economic choices in their best interest?

Comment by Larken Rose
Entered on:

We seem to be arguing over two different things. Of course, being morally justified in combat doesn't make someone bullet-proof. Righteously resisting tyranny by force usually results in dead resistors, which is not my goal (whether I'm the resistor or someone else is). 

My goal is to get enough people to see that 1) initiating violence is immoral, even if it's called "law," and; 2) using force in self-defense, even against aggressors wearing the label of "authority," is moral. If enough people understood that, resistance would be not only justified, but effective.

One cannot de-legitimize the state without destroying the myth of "authority," and without exposing "government" as the initiatory violence it is, and without also demonstrating that resist against aggressors is justified (whether it is a good idea practically or not). In other words, you can't believe that the state is bogus AND that disobeying it and resisting it is a sin.


Comment by Brock Lorber
Entered on:

Larken, thank you for your comments.  While I know you have advocated non-violent means under other cover, the two opinion pieces I cited did not – as stand-alone pieces, they explicitly describe violence as the direct action, maybe not of choice, but of concern.

While you are certainly correct that one cannot initiate violence against a non-entity, I must point out that I did not say the State does not exist.  In fact, I spared no length describing the fact that the State absolutely exists in billions of minds as a wholly-owned, non-acting concept.

Compare that to the identity some sports fans have with their favorite team.  Who hasn't heard someone who watched the game in his living room with a six-pack and nachos say, "we got beat," as if he has a personal stake in the franchise.  In a very real sense, he does have a personal stake: he owns a mental concept of the franchise and judges the value of that concept by the performance of the physical team out on the field.

Since he owns that concept, to a certain extent he judges his own self-worth by the value of that concept.  If we could peer into another person's head, we could rank everyone on a scale running from "disinterested" through "fan" and "big fan" to "unhealthy" or even "insane" based on the weighting they give a team's performance on their own self-worth.  Since we cannot peer into other's heads, we can only guesstimate that weighting based on their reactions to external events. 

Although an unscientific poll, I have observed that vast swathes of people in North America give their State concept a similar weighting that is unhealthy, bordering on insane.  I observed a lower level of statism in Asia, but a higher level of weighting given to the "tribal hierarchy" concept.  In Europe, class hierarchy is given the higher weight.

But back home, you must know you are absolutely surrounded by people with a personal stake in "Team America".  Their self-worth has an unhealthy tie to the value of their State concept.  They don't give a hoot about the bureaucrats, politicians, buildings, tanks, airplanes, roads, parks, or any of the rest of it, except to consider it all (people included) property of their State concept.

If you harm the property they assign to their State concept, even in self defense, they don't care about the physical harm.  They only care about the harm to the value of their State concept, and the effect it has on their self-worth.  So, even if you are completely morally justified in violent resistance against a State actor, in the minds of "Team America" you are the aggressor.

You asked why resistance to a burglar is considered OK, but resistance to a tax collector is not; that's the reason.

Now, you can imagine all sorts of lining up for the boxcar scenarios where you will be perfectly justified in using all the violence you want to defend yourself.  I would never disabuse you of that notion, as I would be a rabid tiger in the same situation.

But, whether by firing squad, starvation in the camp, or in your imagined gun battle, the only possible out come is you being dead.  You will be dead, your kids will be dead, your wife will be dead, and your dog will be dead.  And, bonus, "Team America" will be cheering on the fox hunt until you are dead.

Even if you temporarily win the gun battle, it's Pyhrric.

Rather, Plans A – Z should focus on avoiding those scenarios.  Unless you find yourself in one of those situations right now, as you read this, they are completely avoidable.  To deny that is to embrace fatalism where the outcome of the scenario is already determined, so a person's willingness to violently resist is a complete non-issue.

However, if the doomsday scenarios can be avoided non-violently, then violent resistance is not the only option nor is it the moral option.  The people coming out of the rallies you described with the "call-to-not-really-action" know that there is an array of non-violent, direct actions they could take today to change the foreseeable future.  They have no excuse for leaving any action undone if they feel it has the slightest possibility of avoiding a situation where suicide or surrender are the only two options.

It is not blaming the rape victim to say beforehand, "look, if you go down that dark alley, dressed like that, there is little or no chance you will come out the other end unviolated."

Comment by Larken Rose
Entered on:

For starters, yes, there is no "government." I've said that many times before, though not in my recent rants. But allow me to respond to a few specific points: 1) "If you violently resist State actors, "blowing their damn heads off" as Larken suggests in "Tolerating Tyranny", you only eliminate the State as a concept in the head you blew off." True, but the purpose of resorting to violence against fascists in a certain situation is not to persuade them of anything, but to stop a particular act of oppression. I would assume that Brock isn't suggesting, for example, that an intended victim of the Third Reich had any obligation to persuade all of Germany of the immorality of Naziism before having the right to defend himself, or that defending himself would somehow be bad, because the Nazis would use it as pro-statist propaganda (which they would). The question is, at what point does the attempt to rationally persuade give way to self-preservation and enforcement of liberty, no matter what the thugs or the masses think? (Oddly, this exact debate occurs in my novel, "The Iron Web.") But note that Brock is not responding to me shooting someone, but to me posting an article. In other words, attempted persuasion is what I was doing. Understanding the right to defend against attackers, even when they call themselves "authority," and even when most people view the attack as somehow righteous and legitimate, is at the HEART of giving up the belief in the state. 2) "Remember, the State actor is just a man; your resistance to the State actor may be just, but it is de facto initiation of violence against the State (a non-acting concept) and therefore harmful to the state. In the end, the State actor may have created a liability on the part of the state, but your violent resistance offset the liability, and then some." I must admit, I don't know what that meant. First of all, defensive force is not "initiating" violence against anyone. Second, you can't initiate violence against the state, because (as Brock already said) it doesn't exist. 3) "Unfortunately, the only call to action Larken gives is to hole up in your home and ambush State actors that come calling." Now that was just plain dishonest. I said nothing of the sort. But people should have the MEANS to resist. If state thugs comes to haul your children away, I wonder what response Brock would advocate. Let them, but complain a lot? Rearrange who you do business with? The point is, there comes a time when, regardless of what anyone else thinks, people who value freedom have to have the ability--and that means the physical means (e.g., a gun) and the mental means (i.e., the will to use it)--to enforce justice themselves. Most of what I write about resistance is in the hopes that it might help some people acquire the WILL to at some point resist tyranny. (And when I tell them to get a gun, it's so they have the tools for doing so.) 4) "I would have hoped for Larken to advocate non-violent resistance like he has practiced." And I do, in a lot of instances. But "non-violent" resistance alone rarely accomplishes anything. And in a sense, non-violent resistance actually legitimizes the state. Who, for example, would engage in non-violent resistance against a purse-snatcher? And how much good would it do? The most effective, moral response starts with slugging the guy who took the purse, and giving the purse back to its rightful owner. To allow his violence to go unchecked is to, at least in one sense, CONDONE it. And the same is true of the state. To passively submit to the violence of the state implies that it somehow has MORE of a right to oppress you than you do to resist it. The myth of "authority" is the idea that political rituals can bestow upon some people the RIGHT to rule. It is that belief that gives the state its pretend legitimacy. To say that the so-called state does NOT have the right to rule you IS to say that its violence is illegitimate, and that RESISTING IT IS JUSTIFIED. The two are flip sides of the same thing. To say, for example, that the "cops" have no right to randomly stop people, while also implying that people have no right to RESIST such oppression, is contradictory. There are often practical reasons why resistance to the state's mercenaries in a given situation would be a bad idea, but understanding the moral legitimacy of resistance is essential to understanding individual liberty. 5) "Specifically, use your influence in the market to de-legitimize the State." How productive will it be to try to use market forces to topple the state, when it can forcibly steal trillions of dollars a year, and can fabricate out of thin air as much pseudo-money as it wants? I'm all for people being as state-free as they can, but that is never going to defeat tyranny, especially when most people LIKE tyranny (when it's called something else). 6) "Larken says, "buy a gun". Great advice, but from whom? An FFL holder? That pretty much defines counter-productive. Instead, buy from a private source." While I think a private source would be better, what's counter-productive about doing it from a gun store? When you pull the trigger, bullets will still come out.

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