"As for adopting the ways which the state has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways." ~ Henry David Thoreau
The Path Is (The Destination Is the Path)
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Voluntaryists are by definition in favor of the elimination of the State. This is all well and good, but who will eliminate it, and by what method? It makes sense that the Voluntaryist himself must actively participate in the process, as those who are not with him are against him and are resistant to the idea of a Stateless society. But by what methods can the Voluntaryist overcome the inertia of those who support the status quo in order to bring about the desired change?
Voluntaryists in the spirit of Carl Watner claim that violent resistance to the State is not the answer. Violent revolutions that successfully destroy the State have invariably installed a new State in place of the old one. As Rose Wilder Lane brilliantly pointed out, “they are revolutions only in the sense that a wheel’s turning is a revolution. An Old World revolution is only a movement around a motionless center; it never breaks out of the circle. Firm in the center is belief in Authority.”
The State is quite literally a state of mind—an idea—and one cannot attack an idea with force, but only with a better idea. If the State exists due to the beliefs of non-Voluntaryists, then the action that the Voluntaryist must undertake is to introduce the better idea of Voluntaryism to non-Voluntaryists so that the State meme eventually becomes widely regarded as inferior as far as societal organizational ideas go.
But this seems to speak of a rather slow pace for change. People do not want to wade through pages of arguments that require critical thinking capabilities, ethics, morals, and are laden with propositions that go directly against everything they have ever been taught.
If the Voluntaryist examines the path he took to reach his anti-State philosophy (assuming he came from the Statist assumptions taught in school), it is apparent that the road is not all that easy, even for the person who becomes motivated to pursue the subject on his own. Attempting to change the mind of someone who does not want to change his mind can certainly burn much Voluntaryist energy and yield little or no results.
There must be some way to sway the masses quickly—some way to turn on the lights in their heads and spark the idea that the State is immoral and unethical and unnecessary and we’re not going to take it anymore!
Some Voluntaryists believe that non-violent civil disobedience (NVCD) is a strategy that can be used to this end. Let’s examine the validity of this premise.
I am going to split NVCD into two categories and make two unwieldy acronyms, one for utilitarian non-violent civil disobedience (UNVCD) and another for conscientious non-violent civil disobedience (CNVCD).
CNVCD is a decision to not obey a law based on conscientious objection. There is no “goal to change society” behind the action, but rather the action is taken because the individual is compelled to act in a manner that is against the law because he rejects the ethics or morality associated with obeying that law. Thoreau, by not paying his poll tax, was not looking to start a movement to change the world, he was simply refusing to participate in what he regarded as unethical and immoral behavior.
Every individual will decide which injustices he will tolerate and which he will not or cannot. CNVCD is a personal decision that can educate onlookers, but it is not a strategy for changing society. When the State meme becomes held in lower esteem than the Voluntaryist meme, these acts of CNVCD will occur more and more often as people become emboldened by the oh-so-obvious-to-all waning power of the State.
UNVCD, on the other hand, is a decision to not obey the law in the hopes that publicity generated by unjust State action will “wake up” the citizenry and cause them to see the injustice inherent in State policy. This is best accomplished if a large number of people participate in the UNVCD and the news transmits the confrontation to millions of viewers who will be able to see firsthand from their comfortable living room couches the unjust violence perpetrated by the State against peaceful citizens who are standing up for what they believe is right. It is a direct appeal to human instinct and emotion—all the justifications in the world can fall apart when peaceful demonstrators are seen being assaulted with clubs, tear gas, dogs, and fire hoses.
Of course the civil rights movement in the 1960s is a prime illustration of such UNVCD in action. But what was accomplished? The State had enforced a set of unjust laws, and the people petitioned for change. The State responded by changing some of its laws, but more importantly, the State created new laws that didn’t exist before. This new legislation was an increase in State power and a reduction in overall freedom. Sure, a minority of suffering citizens benefited, but at the expense of all members of society. Sounds a little like taxation, doesn’t it?
The pertinent question is: How is this different from voting, or lobbying? Threatening politicians with votes for desired legislation is exactly how the State operates. How can UNVCD be a Voluntaryist strategy when it is in fact operating within the Statist system?
But wait—you object!—UNVCD is breaking the State’s laws, so how can you claim that it is working within the system?
The proof is in your kids’ history books. Why are Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King heroes in the State indoctrination texts? They should be characterized as villains for breaking the law, no? How is this to be explained?
Any politician will say that the system is not perfect, and that it is the duty of citizens to call attention to unjust legislation so it can be fixed. If all legal and proper channels fail, the people must take it upon themselves to follow their conscience and show that the law is unjust in order to change things for the better. Rosa Parks and MLK were only performing their civic duty. Our “democracy” depends on such brave individuals, the pols proudly proclaim.
I realize that the civil rights movement was not an attempt to eliminate the State, but rather an attempt to change State policy. But isn’t that the basis for and the limitation of all UNVCD?
Doesn’t each act of UNVCD have to focus on a single or small set of injustices? Pointing out unjust laws is all well and good, but this is merely highlighting flaws in an acknowledged imperfect system, and the logical response to such discovery is to fix the problem, not to jettison the entire system.
UNVCD provides visual examples of injustice, but an example is not an argument. The subject of whether or not society should be organized through voluntary associations or through coercive force is a complex argument, and while examples may prove useful in building an argument, they are just a few pieces of a larger puzzle.
When the target audience sees UNVCD, what will they make of it? The State can be stupid and cumbersome, but it has figured out mass media public relations pretty well by now. How will the news portray the UNVCD, assuming they don’t ignore it altogether? Will the media filter actually cause the UNVCD to be damaging to the efforts of Voluntaryists looking to illustrate their point, as the media calmly explains to the indoctrinated target audience that the actions are being undertaken by a group of lawbreaking radicals and hooligans?
Even terrorists, perhaps?
I completely respect anyone who practices CNVCD or UNCVD, in that they are acting justly, which ethically and morally trumps the legality of their actions. But I do not see this as a strategy for rapidly educating and “converting” non-Voluntaryists, but rather just one tool that can be used to help construct the argument.
The tree of State is full of unjust branches, and while it is helpful to hack away at those branches, is it not better to strike at the root? The root is the Statist mindset. People must unlearn Statism and begin to understand the concept of freedom and choose to live as sovereign individuals in order for a free society to exist. Nothing else can possibly work. Voluntaryism must be voluntary.
So up to this point, I have rejected violent revolution and questioned the effectiveness of nonviolent civil disobedience. In doing so, I have not yet positively answered the principal question I posed at the outset: What can the Voluntaryist do to help bring about the desired change—the end of the State?
The Dao of Voluntaryism
It is natural to want to confront an enemy in order to defeat it—to expend energy against it through positive action. Meet force with force: Smash the State! It’s a war—fight! But we have already denounced this strategy. If not positive action, then perhaps… negative action? But what would negative action look like?
We now venture into the world of Zen Voluntaryism.
Negative action is withdrawing from the State. Not confrontation, but avoidance. The State grows powerful through each interaction it provokes. Hide. Let the State spend its energy trying to find and engage you. Evade. Flow. Be water, my friend.
According to Sun Tzu, the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Lao Tzu admonished not to conquer with force, as force causes resistance. Bruce Lee promoted being in harmony with, not in opposition to, the strength and force of the opposition.
This is your mindset. This is how you deal with a stressful environment with a peaceful mind.
Too flaky? Stick with me a little more. Negative action is based on a solid logical foundation.
Gandhi said, “As the means, so the end. There is no wall of separation between means and ends.” In other words, the means are the ends in process.
If the Voluntaryist’s desired end is to live as a free individual, then the means to achieve that end is, quite simply, to live as a free individual.
Of course it is impossible to live in a state of complete individual freedom within the context of a society that is subject to a State. So while it is not possible to live the end as means, one must attempt to approach this ideal as much as possible.
This is the path, is the destination. Is the path.
And so you have your mantra: There is no way to individual liberty—individual liberty is the way.
If all this still sounds too touchy-feely, new age-y to you, then perhaps you haven’t yet truly grokked the message. There are no blueprints here; no recipes. No bulleted and numbered lists in a Powerpoint presentation. The State is a state of mind and freedom is another state of mind: It’s all between your ears.
Only you can change those neuron-firings, and you really can’t do a darn thing about changing the neuron-firings of others if they don’t want them changed.
Which means that none of this will prevent others from trying to oppress you if that is what they decide to do. But when enough people understand the state of mind that is freedom, and reject the state of mind that is the State, then the game changes.
And that’s where we’re headed.
When you have learned to live your own individual freedom, then you can show others how to do the same, both by example and through education.
And Voluntaryists possess the tool that is perfectly geared to the purpose of mass education: The rapid and free dissemination of information through noncentralized, distributed, voluntary networks of people. It’s as close to a free market structure as one could hope for, and it is available for use right now.
Yes, I speak of Teh Interwebs. The internet is the perfect instrument for spreading the Voluntaryist meme, and that’s exactly what it is doing. Such a powerful communication device, free from central control, has never been available in all of human history. It is the decisive game-changer.
But you must first begin with yourself. Practice negative action. Live in accordance with the desired ends as much as possible. Understand why you are forced to live portions of your life unfreely, but also possess the ability to explain what would be better and why you submit to coercion in some cases.
Yes, I use the roads, I send mail, I go to school, etc., because the absence of other options due to government monopolies causes me to take these actions. Also, considering that I am forced to pay for these services, why should I feel guilty about using them? When I actually have a free choice, as in deciding whether or not to vote, I abstain from participating.
You now become an example for others to follow. You are now a source of information and inspiration. Point individuals to the path and encourage them to walk it. There is no need to exert yourself by pressing too hard on anyone—remember—every individual must arrive at volunatryism voluntarily.
The leap from Statism to Voluntaryism is large, but there are many intermediate stepping stones along the way that can be useful. Ron Paul is part of the Statist structure, but his ideas are a move away from the traditional left/right paradigm, and in the general direction of voluntaryism. Constitutionalism and minarchism are good launching points for exiting the typical State-indoctrinated
mindset. The “End the Fed” and “Tea Party” movements can spark an awakening process.
Once attention is drawn to such matters, perhaps a person next discovers Ayn Rand’s philosophy or investigates some of the free state projects or state secession movements. While none of these ideas represent logical stopping points, they can help a person make incremental steps toward the desired end.
Any and all steps forward are positive in that each opens other doors behind which lie ideas to consider that previously were miles off the radar. The path to Voluntaryism is indeed a journey rather than a single great leap, and it requires time to reach the destination. But for those who do not believe that government—that coercive
system that has dominated much of human history—is a necessary evil for human survival, then there is no stopping along the way.
Eventually, as has been the history of every State that has ever existed, the State takes and takes until it breaks. The people finally cannot stand it any more, and they refuse en masse to further give their support, and then that is the end of that.
But if a critical mass of the people know of no other way to organize society but to install a State, then a new State will inevitably follow. This, unfortunately, has also been part of the history of almost every State that has ever existed.
It is indeed a race. The State will fall, but I believe that if the State falls tomorrow we will be cursed with a new State in its place, though I could very well be wrong. But make no mistake—the end is coming, and it may be soon. Meanwhile, there is work to be done.
Get busy. Work smart.
Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.
~ Étienne de la Boétie, The Discourse of Voluntary
Servitude, written in the 1550s