I won’t pretend Henry David Thoreau’s writing thoroughly interests me, as much as I admire him. Truth be told, I find much of his work boring and wordy. His ideas on government however, are quite interesting, especially coming from someone of his time period. He is among the ranks of abolitionist thinkers, like Josiah Warren, who correctly see in direct slavery the same basic injustices a subject suffers under a government. Continue reading
What does it mean to be organized? Usually it means “stuff” is defined based on it’s individual characteristics, and put in a place based on that classification.
We organize our desk by recognizing pens, pencils, and markers as writing utensils, and putting them in the drawer. Then we categorize pencils, pens, and markers separately based on their individual characteristics, and put them on the left, middle, and right. Continue reading
The age of fear is coming to a close, and love is taking it’s place. People are trending towards getting along, and the media makes people fear because fear is one of two ways to control. It is the last stand of a dying beast. Continue reading
How can something be considered a crime if there is no victim? This is a problem: people cannot simply make sure they don’t hurt others; they can’t just base their actions off common sense and respect for the standards of their community to stay out of trouble.
Cats Get What They Want
Humans didn’t domesticate cats, cats domesticated themselves. They marketed themselves properly to show their value to humans, and in exchange got value back from the humans. Continue reading
In the past I have fallen into the habit of talking about the problems society faces, mostly from coercive government. These are real problems of which most of us are aware, and there is copious discussion on these topics in older posts on this blog. But at some point, we need to stop identifying the problems with society, and start formulating solutions. Continue reading
Everyone, especially parents, should read this article by Carol Black called On the Wilderness of Children. In it she most eloquently lays out several ideas that I have been, perhaps less articulately, trying to point out. We are ruining children by forcing them through public education, we are ruining ourselves with a coercive society, and we are perpetuating this destruction every generation.
She’s not glorifying tribalism, and she’s not pretending there is a simple equation that will make kids perfect angels; Carol is pointing out how many social problems are created by treating children like caged zoo animals. In fact, when public education was created, the authorities were very upfront about removing children from their natural habitat, and raising them in a way to get them used to working in industrial factories.
And we never left that model behind. Practically everything sick about our society can be traced back to the systematized abuse children suffer that many consider integral to raising children. I recently summarized a different article with the same general theme, that our society is sick with coercion, and it is literally driving us crazy!
And Carol points out that this coercion is normalized in a public school environment, so that a master/ slave paradigm seems like the only way to solve problems.
But as Odawa elder and educator Wilfred Peltier tells us, learning -– like all human relationships –– must be based in the ethical principal of non-interference, in the right of all human beings to make their own choices, as long as they’re not interfering with anybody else. As Nishnaabeg scholar and author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson tells us, learning –– like all human relationships –– must be based in the ethical principal of consent, in the right of all human beings to be free of violence and the use of force. Simpson explains:
If children learn to normalize dominance and non-consent within the context of education, then non-consent becomes a normalized part of the ‘tool kit’ of those who have and wield power… This is unthinkable within Nishnaabeg intelligence.
Interestingly, the most brilliant artists and scientists in Euro-western societies tell us exactly the same thing: that it is precisely this state of open attention, curiosity, freedom, collaboration, consent, that is necessary for all true learning, discovery, creation.
Once you think about the causes of social problems, it all becomes so clear! Why do we think there are huge drug problems–both prescription and illicit–in our society? People do drugs for much the same reason that they starve themselves, behave violently, become depressed, or “act out”: they can’t stand the environment they are in and have no idea how to remedy what has been done to them.
For decades our model of drug addiction has been based on research done on laboratory rats provided with a lever they could press to deliver water laced with heroin or cocaine. Researchers found the rats would press the lever and consume the drug until it killed them, and they concluded that the drug itself was the cause of the addictive behavior. But then a psychologist named Bruce Alexander noticed something. The rats who killed themselves in this way were isolated in an unnatural environment, a barren Skinner box where there was nothing rewarding to do but self-stimulate with drugs. When they were placed in a more varied, more natural setting, able to interact freely with the environment and with other rats, their drug use was reduced by more than three quarters. In other words, if you gave them a life they wanted to live, and a world they wanted to live in, they did not destroy themselves. Or, as author Johann Hari has put it:
“It’s not you. It’s your cage.”
And as a byproduct of our cages, most people end up being terrified by the prospect of free humans. Many people do not understand the world outside the cage, and simply assume it would be chaos. Maybe the cage is a bleak, depressing, violent place to live, but its all I know! The outside must be worse.
But by studying un-caged societies, and the progress being made on un-schooling the “civilized” humans, it is a pretty safe bet that free animals are happy, productive, well adjusted animals.
Political theorist Toby Rollo has pointed out how the forcible subjugation of children by adults forms the psychological underpinning of every other model of political and economic subjugation. This is not a metaphor; it’s a structuring principle of political reality. During the days of overt empire and colonialism –– the same days in which our modern school system was created –– Indigenous people, people of color, women of all colors, and lower-class whites were all viewed as childlike, in need of fatherly tutelage and discipline. And because it was understood that children often required violent “chastisement” –– for their own good! –– it was natural that childlike adults would require the same.
Those who realize how harmful “traditional” education is to children have the opportunity to create a better society in one generation. We can break the cycle, we can cure the human race, and we can set in motion a cycle of freedom, love, and happiness, instead of a cycle of oppression.
I try to play devil’s advocate with myself, in order to always move closer and closer to truth in my beliefs. So the other day while running, which is a great outlet for getting the mind flowing as much as the blood, it occurred to me that there must be examples of government advancing civilization at certain times.
It is practically impossible to tease apart all the factors in a society that contribute to its advance, stagnation, or decline. Clearly it is easy to point to the “benefit” government creates in one sector, while ignoring the cost in another sector (for example corn subsidies might be good for the farmer, but bad for the taxpayer). That is not what I am talking about.
I am talking about examples of government force being wielded so as to prevent a cataclysmic catastrophe, or bring about a monumental advance. Perhaps an example would be Chinese government funded invention and discovery of the 15th century.
Now per usual, I have to remind readers that I still do not believe the end justifies the means. Even if I stole $10,000 from my neighbors, knowing they would blow it on booze and cigarettes, and invested it for a return of 20% over just one year, returning $12,000 to them, this would still be wrong. Even if I do know how to manage their money better than them, it is still theft, and it is still aggression to take it in the first place, even if I return it with interest, and even if I buy them something with their stolen money that would greatly improve their quality of life.
But anyway suppose government could advance civilization, on the whole, without harming anyone in the sense that everyone’s life was actually improved in some objective manner. Yes, already a big what if, but considering extreme examples can help define our philosophy. So for argument’s sake say a government has in the past over a ten, twenty, hundred, or five hundred year period “advanced civilization”.
The Marathon to Become Civilized
To run a marathon in just under three and a half hours takes about an 8 minute per mile pace, and this is a respectable marathon time for any amateur. Now, in order to hit the target time, the best way to run it is slightly negative splits, that is, to get just a little faster each mile. No one is perfect, and most people end up varying a bit from mile to mile, but it is hard to hit your target time if you are off by more than about about ten seconds on either side, per mile.
What happens if our marathoner decides to go out with the elite runners, and does a 4:40 first mile? Well he is sure as hell not going to hit his target marathon time of 3:30. Most likely he will have to drop out of the race because he has never sprinted so fast in his life, and his legs now feel like jello. If our runner manages to push himself the rest of the way after that first mile, we are looking at a five hour marathon at best.
Relying on government to advance civilization is like forcing an 8 minute mile pace marathoner to sprint at random times throughout the race, “because it will more quickly get him to the finish”. And sure, for 4 minutes and 40 seconds of that marathon, it was easy to argue that he was quickly advancing towards his goal. But at what overall cost?
Civilization will naturally progress, and some miles might be slower than others, but government does not get us any closer to our overall goal in any real sense. It may feel like we are rapidly advancing at times, but the hidden costs of that advance are bound to slow progress down later. The monster we allow in government force will always come back to haunt us with a destructive war, genocide, epidemic, or any number of other unintended consequences of allow some people to break the rules of society that the rest of us must live by.
Chinese Versus European Progress
An old article I wrote based on Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel contrasted the centralized authority of Chinese government in the early 1400’s, with the diverse competing governments of Europe in the late 1400’s. China had 400 foot ships going on treasure expeditions as early as 1405, but when a rival faction took over the government, they grounded the fleet, dismantled the shipyards, and made shipping illegal in order to centralize their power. This one decision possibly set China back a thousand years; but it was the same type of power which initially gave China a navy more advanced than would again appear on earth until the 18th century.
Columbus had a 62 foot ship almost a hundred years after the Chinese were sailing to Africa on 400 foot ships. But even though Europe was initially behind in technological development, their progress was steady according to Diamond.
The story was the same with Europe’s cannon, electric lighting, printing, small firearms, and innumerable other innovations: each was first neglected or opposed in some parts of Europe for idiosyncratic reasons, but once adopted in one area, it eventually spread to the rest of Europe…
Europe’s geographic balkanization resulted in dozens or hundreds of independent, competing statelets and centers of innovation. If one state did not pursue some particular innovation, another did, forcing neighboring states to do likewise or else be conquered or left economically behind. Europe’s barriers were sufficient to prevent political unification, but insufficient to halt the spread of technology and ideas. There has never been one despot who could turn off the tap for all of Europe, as of China. (413-416)
I’m using Europe as a “free market” example because the states were competing with each other. But clearly their power was also a government sprint versus a steady pace. Perhaps the Portuguese fishermen who had already discovered North America would have set a different tone for the new world than Columbus’s government funded expedition, and the government armadas which followed.
Maybe working together with the Native Americans in the interest of mutually beneficial transactions would have advanced society naturally so that we stayed on pace to reach our marathon goal. Instead we are still at mile 18 when we wanted to be finishing.
Why is there such a negative connotation for feudalism? I mean, the whole “Dark Ages” thing probably tarnishes anything that happened in the middle ages, but it seems like it was a decent set-up for a scary, violent world. If you were a vulnerable peasant, you got the protection of a lord from invading hordes and robbing neighbors. The lord got labor, but only if he could keep his laborers alive and well enough to grow the turnip.
True, whatever the lord’s version of justice, was what the serfs had to live with, and certainly some lords took advantage of their power. But if peasants could choose which lord they worked for–and gave them protection–then it would quickly become royal suicide to mistreat those below you. It seems the worst aspects of feudalism seem to be the only ones we haven’t done away with!
Of course I don’t really support historical feudalism, because it was still coercive. Feudalism was quite unjust when peasants were literally forced into the system, not allowed to leave, or forced to work, especially if they were already inhabiting a piece of land that the lord claimed.
In that sense though, feudalism was a dream come true for the progressive left! Everything within the state, nothing outside of it. The government provided security, food, medicine, and regulation. I mean sure, sometimes the security would kill the peasants. And the food was actually grown by the serfs, of which they only got to keep a small percentage. And the medicine was really just quackery and sometimes got people sicker than the disease. And the regulation really just benefited the lord by allowing him and his friends to do whatever they wanted. So pretty much exactly like modern government.
But with a few changes, feudalism would be something to consider. Especially since proximity to your feudal lord would not be necessary in the age of the internet.
Imagine a modern feudal system: you choose which company to work for, in exchange for protection from the company, healthcare, food, and anything else the company might offer in order to make their “realm” (or company) more inviting to potential “serfs” (or employees).
Imagine a feudal system that didn’t have to be physically centered in one location. This would just up-the-ante for companies to compete to see who can offer their workers the best conditions, working environments, and compensation.
In order for it to be a truly just system, feudal lords would not be able to force anyone to accept their protection, nor force anyone to work for them–this would be enforced by other feudal lords vying for the labor and business of the serfs. The best feudal lord would attract the most serfs, and the serfs wouldn’t have to physically change their location these days–at least not more than for the typical job.
Lords also could not claim land owned by others to be under their jurisdiction. They can make whatever rules they want on their own land, and others can voluntarily organize their estates under the feudal lord if they so desire. And again, the land need not be connected into one parcel, a lord may command his knights to protect any plot of land one of his serfs may live on.
Of course, I am really just describing a modern, complex, totally free market society. But it is not that far fetched, because as you see from my example, people have historically been able to organize for survival. Eventually, when peasants became more free, they were able to become merchants and artisans, which increased the wealth of all, as measured by quality of life.
With more wealth former peasants were able to demand a certain amount of rights, rights that today, only the government can violate. Now that the earth has unprecedented wealth and quality of life, it is time to do away with the number one threat to progress, the government. We can keep business in check, we cannot keep government in check.
Peasants accepted the violence of the lords back then, and assumed warring nobility was just the way it had to be. But these days, people will not patronize or work for outwardly violent companies–unless it is a government job. With the internet, it is easier than ever to report back on what the nobility is doing. The only thing missing is being able to withdraw our consent. The only thing missing is being able to remove our funding and our labor from our lord.
It is possible that the United States government collapses under its own weight. Though many scoff at the idea of the U.S. government collapsing, it would actually be stranger if it didn’t. We need look no further than the collapse of Rome in 476, which fell due to many of the same conditions which affect the U.S. today.
But the U.S. has 50 states to pick up the pieces. Because of the unique setup of the United States, these 50 states could cushion the blow of an immediate collapse, stopping another strongman from taking over the whole landmass in the turmoil. Instead, we may see 50 competing countries emerge, which would give free markets, and eventually a stateless society a fighting chance.
But first, let’s quickly review why Rome fell, and how America is in a similar place.
The Writing on the Wall for Rome and America
History.com summarizes eight main reasons why Rome fell, which I would suggest checking out. But the main reasons were, 1) “Invasion by barbarian tribes,” 2) “Economic troubles and over reliance on slave labor,” 3) “The rise of the Eastern Empire” or splitting in two of the Roman empire, 4) “Over expansion and military overspending,” 5) “Government corruption and political instability,” 6) “The arrival of the Huns and the migration of the barbarian tribes,” 7) “Christianity and the loss of traditional values,” 8) “Weakening of the Roman legions.”
Without getting into a long discussion about the similarities between the current United States and Rome just before it collapsed, I would like to just point out a few highlights. Towards the end, Rome was “crumbling from within thanks to a severe financial crisis. Constant wars and overspending had significantly lightened imperial coffers, and oppressive taxation and inflation had widened the gap between rich and poor.”
That quotation applies unaltered directly to the United States government. The United States is over $18 trillion dollars in debt, and while Bernie Sanders might have you believe the widening wealth gap is because of capitalism, the truth is that the government directly causes large wealth gaps by confiscating money through taxation and inflation, and upwardly redistributing it.
“At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Euphrates River in the Middle East, but its grandeur may have also been its downfall. With such a vast territory to govern, the empire faced an administrative and logistical nightmare…As more and more funds were funneled into the military upkeep of the empire, technological advancement slowed and Rome’s civil infrastructure fell into disrepair.” Again, I struggle to add anything. This very same situation grips the United States today. The endless wars and military expansion in the middle east could be the United States’ downfall. It has become more profitable to be a government contracted bomb maker than to invent new standard-of-living-raising technology.
“If Rome’s sheer size made it difficult to govern, ineffective and inconsistent leadership only served to magnify the problem…As the situation worsened, civic pride waned and many Roman citizens lost trust in their leadership.” I don’t think many Americans trust their leadership right now, but they just don’t know what to do to fix it! We have been scared into thinking government is the only way, somehow still better than markets, even as the empire crumbles under the inmates running the asylum from DC.
After the Hun invasion forced many Germanic tribes to flee their land, “[t]he Romans grudgingly allowed members of the Visigoth tribe to cross south of the Danube and into the safety of Roman territory, but they treated them with extreme cruelty.” I find this interesting as some have called for illegal immigrants to earn their citizenship through military service. This would seem to fit with the Roman plan, as many displaced Germanic tribes ended up fighting for Rome as mercenaries, and then eventually sacking Rome twice.
America also has refugees to deal with, caused by the wars which the U.S. created and escalated. This also leads to a loss of traditional values, which I am not saying is necessarily bad, but will certainly add to the troubles of keeping the American Empire afloat. For instance, a predominantly Spanish speaking area of the U.S. might want to split off to form its own little society.
But the Collapse of the American Empire Could Do More Good than Harm
This is the thing: saying all these things pose problems for the empire does not mean all these things pose problems for the American people. In fact, the American Empire is the biggest risk to our life, liberty, and property. The fear is that things will devolve into chaos in the absence of mammoth government. Now lessons from after the Roman fall might seem to suggest this is true.
The Dark Ages did indeed follow Rome’s fall. But these were conquered lands, which have historically felt turmoil when an invading empire departs. I would start by suggesting the actual United States territory would not devolve the same way conquered lands did under Rome. State governments would probably pick up the slack. It seems there may be a mixture of competition between states and rich landowners who may become like modern feudal lords.
Since the government and military broke down, people began searching for protection and access to resources. Rich landholders provided a respite for the desperate. The rich allowed the poor onto their lands and provided protection. In return, the poor worked the lands for the landowner and provided a portion of the crop to pay rent. This was the beginning of the feudal system.
At the time, peasants would seem to have had little options in terms of which Lord to work for. But these days, moving to gain protection from a better more fair “Lord” would be easier. Also, “as a result of several factors, the European economy degraded to barter,” which means it was hard to aggregate capital as a peasant, without a way to protect it. Today things like bitcoin give the opportunity to use alternative currencies in the event of a U.S. dollar collapse. Since these currencies would not be centralized and controlled by government or one corporation, it would be that much harder to hold economic power over others. If an entity with a lot of one type of currency became aggressive, simply refusing to accept or use that currency would take their power away.
This could cause an equilibrium between government and industry, with people choosing who they think can do a better job of providing security and other services. If the government ended up oppressing people, powerful corporations could offer protection, and vice versa. Since companies, at their base level, offer a valuable product and must compete to attract customers, it would seem that they would be likely to outcompete government. This is because government is inherently violent, forces you to accept their services, and steals your money to fund them, meaning you cannot defund bad services.
Without a monolithic state to back up the aggression, smaller states would have to ease up on their oppression, allowing people the viable alternative of not participating in the government system. Without a centralized United States Currency (because it would almost certainly be one of the causes of collapse, or at least collapse with the rest of the government) it would be harder for government to have control over corporations, and corporations would have less to gain from taking control of a government.
Since people would be using voluntary currencies, this would make it more difficult for one state or corporation to aggregate vast amounts of wealth that allow them to monopolize with the same ease that the United States government does today. Using force would cost them more than they could gain from it.
What do you think? Is my assessment naive and overly hopeful? Or would this collapse lead to the regrowth of the economy into the conditions depicted in my fiction novel, “Anarchy in New England”?