Monthly Archives: July 2014

Libertarians And The Poor: A Missed Opportunity?

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Making Voluntaryism More Appealing to Your Neighbors

I ended a recent post, “Government Appeals to Your Better Instincts“, with this suggestion for improving our success in spreading Voluntaryism:

If attacking the logic or morality of Government makes people unconsciously uncomfortable with our message, perhaps we would accomplish more by simply sowing seeds of doubt – illustrating Government’s actual record of failure relative to achieving the goals of our common drives.

And, finally, to affect real change, we must begin to consistently tie Voluntaryism into people’s visions of satisfying their core drives. Rather than discussing the mechanics of providing roads, we need to convince them that in a voluntary society they will have better food, and safer communities, and more opportunities for their children.

I really like this new blog by Shawn Gregory. I think it is an excellent example of employing this approach…

Libertarians And The Poor: A Missed Opportunity?

When the general public pictures a typical libertarian, they might imagine that person to be intelligent, analytical, but they generally don’t think of libertarians as particularly compassionate. In fact, from the perspective those who are most needy, (i.e. the poor), libertarians tend to seem indifferent, if not outright hostile. After all, libertarians challenge things like safety nets and minimum wage laws as an overreach of the government – an immoral use of force on otherwise peaceful people. Based on these notions, a poor person may get the idea that libertarians are against everything that governments do to help them. From this point of view, the general anti-government sentiments that libertarians espouse become synonymous with anti-poor sentiments, and if libertarianism is to gain any traction going forward, it must be adopted by a larger segment of the poor and working class.

Unfortunately, for the many who do not dig very deeply beyond this superficial perception, this anti-poor stigma will remain firmly attached to libertarianism, but for the few who are willing to listen, we libertarians often miss an opportunity to explain our ideas in a way that would better resonate with the average poor or working class individual. Rather than painting a positive vision of how libertarian ideals benefit everyone, including the poor, we tend to focus on the equally important anti-State case that condemns much (if not all) of what governments do. Even while making the anti-State argument, we could do a better job of explaining how governments are not the friends of the people that they claim to be.

For example, consider security – the one function that most people across the political spectrum agree that government should provide, (this author not included). As most people recognize, the security that the State provides comes with a whole host of other laws and regulations that have nothing to do with security at all. From the war on drugs to prostitution to crackdowns on “illegal” lemonade stands, the standard and correct libertarian line is that it’s not the State’s business to interfere with what consenting individuals do, and that it is the State that commits a crime when it bars individuals from participating in consensual activities.

While this is true – I’ve made this exact point many times – it should also be noted that these policies actually hurt the poorest among us the most. The war on drugs is largely waged on people who live in low income neighborhoods, turning these areas into virtual war zones. Between SWAT teams raiding homes to street gangs fighting for drug turf, the effect of this government policy is to make the poor people who are affected by it far less secure than they would otherwise be. Ending the drug war would dramatically decrease the number of poor people in prison due to the disproportionate enforcement of drug possession laws, and would significantly reduce the prevalence of violent gangs due to the inability of those gangs to fund their activities via drug sales.

Similarly, allowing consenting adults to engage in activities like prostitution or unlicensed cosmetology would keep those activities above ground, making the circumstances under which those services are performed more open to public scrutiny and therefore more secure. It is no coincidence that organized crime thrives on these kinds of banned activities. Government prohibitions make such activities more profitable and far more dangerous for everyone involved.

Clearly, there is a case to be made for drastically reducing government provided security. Yet, it is also true that criminals will always exist and that they are far more likely to congregate in poor neighborhoods. So, when libertarians take their anti-State philosophy to it’s logical conclusion and suggest that security need not be provided by government at all, are we simply suggesting that the poor should fend for themselves against the very real threats that the face on a daily basis? Absolutely not. In fact, I believe strongly that the poor would be much better off without government provided security.

Imagine a security team in your neighborhood that you don’t fear when they approach you. Imagine a security team that believes their job is to make sure that you go home to your family, whether or not they make it home to theirs. (Contrary to the popular notion that government police are there to “protect and serve” the public, the reality is that “officer safety” trumps your safety legally and by policy.) Imagine a security team that is trained to defuse a potentially violent situation in hundred different ways. Now, imagine this service being provided largely for free to people in poor neighborhoods. Sound to good to be true? It’s already happening on a small scale:

What we emphasize is one hundred ways – in a situation that would normally be fatal force oriented – a hundred ways to not have a violent or fatal incident take place. We perform twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We protect communities here in Detroit – upscale communities, like Palmerwood, Sherwood Forest, and The Golf Course. We have approximately a thousand homes that depend on us for safety, responding to them and their family and emergencies, and we have approximately five hundred businesses that are our clients as well. And then, the people who can not afford our services, we help them for free, and the reason we can do that is because there is a healthy profit margin left over from excellence from providing for our major corporations.

It should be noted that this particular organization works with like-minded law enforcement. However, as a rule, they try to avoid using the legal system as much as possible. As Dale Brown, the founder of the Threat Management Center, explains, his whole service is based on a true desire to protect the people that they serve and not on the kind of bully mentality that often pervades government security forces. Dale Brown and his team get paid to actually protect people not just to drive around menacingly in rough neighborhoods. That, I believe, would be the fundamental difference between what we have now and what we could have with privately provided security.

Take note also that poor folks in these neighborhoods are getting the benefits for free which I also believe would be fairly commonplace as building owners, landlords, and local businesses would cover the costs of these kinds of services. After all, if they want people to live in their neighborhoods and shop at their stores, it will benefit them to make sure that their customers can do so in a safe environment.

This is the vision that poor people should have in their minds when they think of libertarianism – not just a philosophy that’s anti-State, but a philosophy that envisions all of humanity thriving in a much freer future. And, the people who will see the most dramatic change for the better are the people are likely the ones who are the poorest among us today.

Read this post and more of Shawn’s writing at his WeebulTree Blog.

Government Appeals to Your Better Instincts

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Sometimes you have to resist your better instincts.

The continuing revelations of pervasive spying by the US Government have led to a spike in sales of George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel, ‘1984’. In ‘1984’ Big Brother was always watching.

Another insightful aspect of Orwell’s prescient novel was the concept of ‘doublethink’. Doublethink is defined as simultaneously holding two mutually contradictory ideas in your mind and believing both of them.

One very common real-world example of doublethink has puzzled me for some time:

You can get almost unanimous agreement that ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ is a basic moral value that should apply to all people. Yet when Government, which is an organization made up of people, involuntarily takes people’s money (i.e. steals), almost no one declares it immoral.

People taking your money is immoral, but people from the Government taking your money is not immoral? Doublethink.

Creating and maintaining such a pervasive case of doublethink is an amazing accomplishment for the Government.

And even more amazing, they do it by appealing to your better instincts.

By appealing to your better instincts, they get you to accept immoral actions? Sounds like more doublethink, doesn’t it?

Here’s how it works…

Recent psychological research has identified sixteen core instinctive drives shared by most people.

‘Drives’ refers to non-conscious desires that cannot be permanently satisfied. Any time they are satiated they soon reassert themselves. These common drives range from basic survival goals like food, safety, and ‘amorousness’ to more civilized goals like social interaction, honor, and idealism.

It is important to distinguish that these drives are not the same as emotions. Drives are more like routines hardwired into the brain to ensure that you are constantly driven to attain these goals.

Even though we all share the same drives, we don’t all act the same because for each person the strength and priority of each drive is different.

And here’s an interesting twist…

Because we directly experience only the conscious part of our minds, we believe that we make all of our decisions consciously . But, it turns out that these non-conscious ‘drives’ drive our behavior much more powerfully than whatever we’re thinking consciously. And once any of the sixteen drives gets activated, it tends to stay active, non-consciously driving our behavior, until it reaches its immediate goal.

Here’s a problem: The list of powerful non-conscious drives does not include ‘not stealing’.

Mothers do teach us not to take the other kids’ toys. And pretty much all religions teach some version of Thou Shalt Not Steal. But it’s not hardwired in. We learn it and may fully accept it as valid, but only consciously, and that is what leaves it open to doublethink.

The hardwired non-conscious drives are focused on goals (ends).

Our consciously learned moral philosophy is focused on behavior (means).

When a drive is active, the desired end is what is important to the drive, not the means.

This sets you up for a battle between powerful, instinctive non-conscious drives focused only on ends, and consciously learned moral philosophies vainly attempting to control the means.

So, even though Mom also taught us that ‘the ends don’t justify the means’, meaning moral behavior should not be abandoned even for good goals, again, that’s a learned conscious concept. And from a practical standpoint, if the ends are tied to instinctive drives and the means are tied to learned philosophy, the ends may simply overpower and drive the means.

So, here’s the secret. Government triggers, and ties itself to, as many of the core drives as possible. Once a Government program is embraced as important to a core non-conscious goal, people become suddenly much more flexible on allowable behaviors.

(At this point, I was going to give examples for a couple of drives, but obvious examples leaped out for so many, that I ended up including 12 of the 16 drives without much effort.)

Let’s take a quick look at some of the common drives the US Government attaches itself to. You can start with our most basic drives like eating, and work your way all the way up to the our higher instincts like idealism.

Note: The statements below don’t reflect what Government actually does. These are just illustrations of how Government instills in you that it is critical to your drives.

Eating (goal: acquiring food)

  • Without Government Subsidies basic foods would be unaffordable
  • Without Government Regulations and Inspectors foods would be unsafe

Tranquility (goal: avoiding fear, anxiety, pain)

  • Without the Police the criminals will get you
  • Without the Military foreign powers will invade and take over
  • Without the NSA you will be in constant danger from terrorists

Family (goal: good parenting)

  • Without the Department of Education and Public School Systems, only the rich would be able to afford good schools for their children
  • Federal Student Loan Programs ensure that every child can have a college education

Saving (goal: preparing for future needs)

  • Without Social Security old people, and eventually you, too, will starve
  • Without Medicare, medical care will bankrupt you as you age

Acceptance (goal: avoiding criticism or rejection)

  • (Think about what would happen to any child that didn’t stand and recite The Pledge of Allegiance)
  • (Think about the reaction you’d get if you remained seated during the National Anthem at any large event)

Independence (goal: personal freedom)

  • The Constitution makes us free
  • Voting controls the Government

Power (goal: control over others)

  • As an American, you can claim you saved Europe from the Nazis and then saved the whole world from the Soviet Union
  • As an American, you are now the Hegemon, the greatest power the world has ever known

Status (goal: social standing, superiority)

  • America has the greatest form of Government in all of history, making Americans the best people ever

Vengeance (goal: revenge)

  • The Government has avenged 9/11 by killing the evil-doers in Afghanistan and Iraq

Order (goal: structure, rules)

  • The Congress represents the will of the people in creating Law and Order
  • The Justice Department and the State and Federal Courts ensure that all Americans are treated equally under The Law

Honor (goal: loyalty, tradition)

  • It is important to be a loyal American to honor all Those Who’ve Sacrificed to preserve the Freedom we enjoy today

Idealism (goal: improve social conditions)

  • The Government takes care of all those in need in America with Entitlement Programs so that none will go hungry or be excluded from all the benefits of being an American
  • American Foreign Aid prevents mass starvation around the world

So, even if you walk someone through an irrefutable logical argument proving that taxes amount to theft, they still won’t condemn taxes as immoral, because that would logically mean that Government, as the thief, is immoral. And that logical conclusion would be too emotionally unsettling, as it threatens the ‘government-linked’ attainment of so many of their core drive goals.

Thus, doublethink must be maintained.

Now, you would think that maintaining doublethink would lead to ‘cognitive dissonance’…

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions.

But perhaps another keen insight from ‘1984’ – Newspeak – helps explain how the Government prevents cognitive dissonance from interfering with its achievement of pervasive doublethink.

According to George Orwell,

“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc [The State], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.”

So taxation is never referred to with any words related to confiscation or theft. In fact, the word ‘tax’ is even avoided as much as possible. Instead we get Newspeak words like ‘revenues’ (hence IRS), ‘fees’, ‘assessments’, ‘withholding’, etc., etc.

Taken all together, this explains why, and how, people can so obstinately hold on to the doublethink necessary to believe in ‘good Government’.

This also helps us to see why we struggle to gain traction for our Voluntaryist message.

Perhaps our most brilliant arguments against the State have minimal impact because we’re aiming at the wrong targets. We’ve been blasting away at consciously held constructs like logic and morality, but that isn’t where the love of Government lies.

Government has burrowed deep into people’s unconscious and entwined itself within their most basic instinctive drives.

So to overcome people’s attachment to Government, I believe we need to re-target our efforts.

If attacking the logic or morality of Government makes people unconsciously uncomfortable with our message, perhaps we would accomplish more by simply sowing seeds of doubt – illustrating Government’s actual record of failure relative to achieving the goals of our common drives.

And, finally, to affect real change, we must begin to consistently tie Voluntaryism into people’s visions of satisfying their core drives. Rather than discussing the mechanics of providing roads, we need to convince them that in a voluntary society they will have better food, and safer communities, and more opportunities for their children.

 

Concurrent Voluntaryism via Direct Citizen Action

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A primary goal of Concurrent Voluntaryism is to explore and share opportunities to create a voluntary society now, without waiting for the demise of the State. Four years ago, libertarian writer and activist Jim Ostrowski wrote an excellent book providing ideas and resources for individuals and communities to increase the freedom in their lives without having to ‘use government’ to accomplish their goals.

Here is a segment of Mark Stoval’s review of Direct Citizen Action:

Ostrowski starts his book with a review of the sorry state of the nation at this time and then gives a good common sense platform to pursue and then he gives an excellent set of tactics on how to achieve it. Instead of trying to get certain politicians elected, Ostrowski argues for what he calls “Direct Citizen Action”. In Direct Citizen Action Ostrowski offers tactics which consist of influencing the State and its politicians without having to use government to do it. Instead of direct political participation, which has failed us time and time again, he argues you can help create a freer society by becoming self-sufficient and minimizing your contacts with government. Very rarely should we resort to voting or campaigning as this is a losing proposition.

Read the complete book review at On The Mark.