Can Voluntaryism Fix the Machine?

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

The much vaunted libertarian journalist and commentator H.L. Mencken once wrote: “I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.”
 
I don’t consider it a stretch at all to say that this is how any voluntaryist worthy of the title feels. But statists – left, right, and centrist – most obviously disagree. They still remain adamantly convinced that government – whether minimal or all-pervasive – and in spite of all historical evidence to the contrary, remains both a legitimate and useful vehicle for producing an orderly, just, and productive society. And, most maddeningly, they are enamored of conveniently going to whatever lengths necessary to ignore and evade what is perhaps the most important point of voluntaryism: That governments, of whatever variety, can only and ever sustain themselves by the constant, unwavering threat of lethal violence.
 
I have tried to hammer this point home time and time again to government believers and apologists of all varying persuasions (though, of course, governments are essentially reduceable to the same foundational elements in every case – another unanswerable point that the statists nevertheless pathologically contest time and again), and yet the almost invariable response is pure denial. In fact, I have – though by no means deliberately -- made manifest through my efforts a fairly long list of people who refuse to converse with me ever again, who’ve “unfriended” me on Facebook and other social media, etc. Yet, not one of them has to date ever provided a rational, consistent rebuttal of the very simple and perfectly comprehensible tenets of voluntaryism/anarchism/libertarianism. Not ONE.
 
In 1968, the writer Arthur Koestler published what is arguably his best known work, The Ghost in the Machine (and yes, you rock and roll fans, The Police named their 1981 album after Koestler’s book). A socio-psychological treatise that owes much of its thesis to Descartes' “duality” concept, the main thrust of Koestler’s theory is that during man’s evolutionary process, the more advanced functions and aspects of cerebral activity developed before other more primal and often irrational instincts and tendencies had sufficient time to be purged from the human cranial cortex, as it were. Consequently, by the 20th Century, a species of being had arisen on Earth both capable of reaching out for the stars, and blowing their native habitat away in a hail of atomic bombs. It suggested an apocalyptic dichotomy without clear resolution.
 
Similarly, I have, in a prior STR piece, referred to statism as a “poisoned mind.” I still hold to that description, except that I would now expand and clarify that definition by referring to such a philosophy as a disease – similar to alcoholism or drug addiction. The statist pro-government apologist does not rely upon logic as the basis of his or her conviction. The statist, on the contrary, relies exclusively on an emotional investment in the particular wing of statist philosophy they have chosen to hew to, as a means by which to attempt to rationalize what is, at both day’s beginning and day’s end, an entirely indefensible moral and intellectual position. Like the problem drinker or the heroin shooter, the statist has become reliant upon the narcotic concept of aggressive authority as the resolution to all problems, and the imposer of the statist’s ideals on the rest of society. The statist has even come to see governmental authority – in fine Stockholm Syndrome fashion – as a source of personal empowerment, rather than his or her subjugation and enslavement.
 
Such is the nature and blindness of addiction and disease. And in the case of statism, currently, 99% or more of humanity is infected.
 
Does this leave voluntaryists – the < 1% -- in a hopeless position? Can voluntaryism fix the proverbial ghost in the machine, and replace statist thought with an entirely different paradigm? Or is the governmental axiom so firmly embedded in the human psyche, the lust for “correcting” the world with aggressive force so great, that there is no hope of any such seismic philosophical shift – much less one in time to save humanity from wiping itself out on the shoals of statism?
 
I think the first answer to those very pertinent questions is that regardless of perceived odds, it’s incumbent upon us to try. Few listen to us, true enough, and even fewer who actually will listen can comprehend what we’re saying – at least the first time around. That leaves us with those who are willing to listen a second time, and those numbers can get pretty depressing indeed.
 
That said, statism and government, like all man-made constructs, isn’t and never was a part of Earth’s natural environment. If we were actually crazy enough to be talking about trying to eradicate the sky or the oceans or trees (or marijuana plants, as government at least tells us they want to do), then I’d have to concede that the cause is truly hopeless. Thankfully, however, our ambitions are not directed towards indelible aspects of our environment. What man and woman create, they can uncreate.
 
You might argue that there’s a catch, though: What about that statist disease I just discussed above? If it’s that endemic to human belief and behavior, what chance is there for ever achieving a voluntary society?
 
We know that alcoholics and drug addicts, with work, can recover. They can renounce their former ways and get better. There is absolutely no reason – even in spite of some 5,000 years or so of recorded human history – to believe that statists (believers in government) cannot do likewise with sufficient education and environmentally demonstrated example. And these examples are everyday. I walk into a store and buy a loaf of bread. I want the bread more than the medium of exchange (typically money, in some form), and the store owner wants just the opposite. We make the exchange, thank each other, and continue our day. There is no aggression involved. No coercion. No weapons or threats. Only a peaceful, voluntary exchange.
 
In other words, that feared and hated word: Anarchy.
 
In addition, here are some things that, not all that long ago on history’s timeline, were almost universally believed by everyone. In fact, those who did not believe these things were considered utter lunatics, heretics, rebels, and dangerous criminals:
 
*Blacks are meant to be slaves.
 
*The Earth is at the center of the universe and the sun revolves around it.
 
*Women are not equal to men in any regard.
 
*The Earth is, other than a few hills and mountains, a flat plane.
 
*Aviation is impossible. Only birds can fly.
 
*Tomatoes are deadly poison. Eat one, and you will die.
 
*Bleeding a person with leeches will cure their sickness.
 
*Thunder and lightning means that the gods are angry.
 
*Governments are necessary for an orderly, peaceful, just, and prosperous society to exist.
 
Only that last one today remains. There is no reason to believe that it always will. It is possible, I think, to fix the machine – to repair, in other words, what amounts to a centuries-old myth, albeit an exceptionally widespread and destructive one, and reconstruct the world of human affairs based on truth and reality.
 
And like all before me who have challenged the status quo, I continue to defy the world to prove I’m wrong.  

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales, including Tales from Dark 7.  He has also written and published poetry; non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues; and is former Communications Director for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.  In 1998, he was awarded Activist of the Year for that organization.  He now lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University, and looks forward to living in a governmentless society of liberty.

Comments

Jim Davies's picture

Outstanding!

alexeth's picture

>>
*Governments are necessary for an orderly, peaceful, just, and prosperous society to exist.
<<
That can be shortened to "Governments are a necessary evil" and it's still a myth. Many "anti-government" folks still believe it, but it's just as dangerous to have faith in the necessity of evil government as it is to have faith in beneficial government.

Yaron Brook described it as a flawed underlying philosophy that colors what people believe about the facts. Fact prove government doesn't work and they still go on believing it. As a Randian he goes a bit deeper to say the underlying flawed philosophy is the belief in sacrifice in lieu of trade, that the lose-win scenario of sacrificed personal interest is morally superior than the win-win scenario of trade. So from this morally flawed faith in self-anti-interest provides the way for guilt to make an emotional lever for politicians to convince folks they should allow themselves to be ruled, because they can't be trusted to have sufficient self-anti-interest because of their 'evil' self-interest prevents it.

Anyway, nice article. Sorry for the YB re-cap but it's fresh on the mind from recent talk.

Suverans2's picture

"We know that alcoholics and drug addicts, with work, can recover." ~ Alex R. Knight III

Only if the drug* addict has a sincere desire to recover.
(*Alcohol is a drug.)

Aside from that, assisting in the recovery of a statist won't eradicate statism, any more than helping a drug addict recover won't do away with drug addiction. For every statist that you convince to renounce the state there are literally millions of replacements being mass produced by the government indoctrination centers to take his place.

    You must be the change you want to see in the world”. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

The only one you can cure of statism is you. Lead by example, renounce the state, withdraw from membership in the political corporation.

    “All governments must have citizens in order to exist.”. ~ tzo
Samarami's picture

Many years ago in a mag editorial the writer was lamenting upon frustrations of the day: "...We can go to the moon, but we can't solve the drug problem!"

I wrote back, "...I can't go to the moon, but I have solved the drug problem (mine)!"

Needless to say my comment never saw the light of day.

(This was well before internet, and before I accepted the futility of fooling with "letters to the editor").

Sam

Glock27's picture

Cheers Sam,

Great point. I don't think the government wants to solve the drug problem. Look at all the guns they gave the cartels to use besides, solving that problem would cost a lot of jobs, unemployment would go up even higher

Suverans2's picture

I thought this to be as appropriate a place as any to put my newly discovered H.L. Mencken quote.

    "[The average man] is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty – and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies." ~ Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)
Paul's picture

Couple of comments. First, is it really our job to "fix" other people?

Second, the voluntaryist/statist split is a bit arbitrary, and falls into the language trap that Tso has described with his "Slavespeak" articles. "A is a statist" is a very questionable formulation (see the article he linked to: http://www.buildfreedom.com/tl/tl07a.shtml, about usage of the verb "to be").

What we are talking about is a collection of memes, held in varying degrees by different people. Some of these memes (like the infallibility of the Pope or of the Catholic Church dogma) have already fallen out of favor. The belief in the state as a provider of good is not that far behind it. As you yourself point out, the vast majority of interactions are voluntary, and of those that are not, virtually everyone resents them at some level or another.

It's not a matter of us fixing others. It's a matter of cutting through the crap in the language, pointing out "slavespeak" when we can in terms that can be absorbed by others, and for others to see and to fix themselves. Maybe, just purging our own use of terms like "statists" and "sheeple" would be a big help with that.