Five observations on the Department of Homeland Security funding debacle

On Feb. 27, the United States Congress passed a temporary funding resolution to avoid a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. Five observations follow.

1. The repetition of the same action under the same circumstances while expecting different results is a form of insanity. This is not the first time that Republicans have tried to stop President Obama and Congressional Democrats by using the power of the purse. House Republicans have tried to tie spending freezes or cuts to debt ceiling increases on multiple occasions, and have tried to defund Obamacare in a similar fashion. In each case, including the October 2013 government slowdown, the Republicans have ultimately been blamed by the American people for threatening to incite what many of them have been propagandized to believe will be a disaster. (Whether they deserve such blame is another matter, but that they get it is clearly true.) Yet the Republicans continue to threaten to defund various departments and programs without having the courage and determination to hold such a stance long enough to force the changes they are supposedly seeking. And the insanity is set to continue; the current funding resolution is for one week, at which point this is set to happen again.

2. If one is going to talk radical, eventually one must either act radical or lose credibility. The idea of brinkmanship is to push dangerous events to the brink of disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome. But a threat is worthless if it is not credible, and the Democrats had the above cases to suggest that the threat is not credible. As such, they did not budge. This was a strategic victory for them; not only did the Republicans cave on shutting down the Department of Homeland Security, they did not even use the less radical tactic of abolishing the filibuster rules in the US Senate followed by passing the bill they wanted in both houses of Congress.

3. The Republicans are trying to create the appearance of doing something while doing nothing. Given the first and second points above, it is clear that this method of achieving the political goal of stopping President Obama’s executive actions concerning immigration policy will not be successful, and that the Republicans are unwilling to use other methods available to them which are more likely to succeed. This leaves the more cynical, and therefore more likely to be correct, answer that Republicans do not actually want to solve this problem. It is in their rational self-interest, to the detriment of Americans as a whole, to leave this problem unsolved so that it can be used as a political issue to blame Democrats for leaving the Mexican border unsecured and allowing immigrants to enter illegally, which can motivate certain voter demographics to vote Republican. (Again, whether this is a correct stance on immigration is unimportant; for the voters in question, emotions tend to trump reason and reality.)

4. If one believes in free markets and voluntary competition, then having a government monopoly on security is nonsensical. Many Republicans will at least pay lip service to the ideas of free markets and voluntary competition among most providers of goods and services, even if they frequently act in opposition to such ideas once elected. But to quote Gustave de Molinari,

“If there is one well-established truth in political economy, it is this: That in all cases, for all commodities that serve to provide for the tangible or intangible needs of the consumer, it is in the consumer’s best interest that labor and trade remain free, because the freedom of labor and of trade have as their necessary and permanent result the maximum reduction of price. And this: That the interests of the consumer of any commodity whatsoever should always prevail over the interests of the producer. Now in pursuing these principles, one arrives at this rigorous conclusion: That the production of security should, in the interests of the consumers of this intangible commodity, remain subject to the law of free competition. Whence it follows: That no government should have the right to prevent another government from going into competition with it, or to require consumers of security to come exclusively to it for this commodity. …True economists are generally agreed, on the one had, that the government should restrict itself to guaranteeing the security of its citizens, and on the other hand, that the freedom of labor and of trade should otherwise be whole and absolute. But why should there be an exception relative to security? What special reason is there that the production of security cannot be relegated to free competition? Why should it be subjected to a different principle and organized according to a different system? On this point, the masters of the science are silent, and M. Charles Dunoyer, who has clearly noted this exception, does not investigate the grounds on which it is based.”

But one cannot find a Republican in a position of power today who will oppose the Department of Homeland Security, the US military, or any other such agency on logical, free market grounds.

5. The path to liberty is anti-political. Many libertarian-leaning voters continue to support politicians as a means of advancing liberty. But once in office, those politicians are all but unaccountable for their actions until the next election, which they may or may not care about winning. And as shown above, they may engage in insanity, hollow brinkmanship, selfish posturing, and/or unprincipled policies. The solution to the problem of immigration is to have respect for private property rights and freedom of association, both of which require anarchy. Attempting to use the political process to solve a problem that is caused by the very presence of such a process is an exercise in futility.

An open letter against an open letter to Ron Paul

Dear Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino,

I would have liked to have prefaced this letter by pointing out that it is written not to condemn its recipients, but in the hope that its recipients might gain a better understanding of the freedom philosophy and of human liberty. Unfortunately, the numerous misquotations you have made as well as the anti-libertarian positions you have taken in your letter do not allow me to do this.

There is not so much an age gap in the libertarian movement as an ideological gap. This is nothing new; the thick versus thin debate has been going back and forth for decades, as have the debates between a rational versus an empirical understanding of libertarianism and a deontological versus a consequentialist ethical framework. Most recently, there has been a debate between what Jeffrey Tucker has termed humanitarianism versus brutalism. While it is true that “millennial” or “second-wave” libertarianism is not going away, to call “old-guard” or “first-wave” libertarianism obsolete simply because it is older or because it can accommodate viewpoints which are politically incorrect and/or antisocial constitutes a logical fallacy.

Let us examine the accusations you made of “racist, homophobic, and sexist undertones present in [the] writings” of Lew Rockwell, Hans Hermann-Hoppe, Walter Block, and Ron Paul. (I will not defend Gary North, as I agree that he holds many positions which are antithetical to libertarian philosophy and therefore do not consider him to be a libertarian.)

You note that Rockwell has compared the lives of people living under modern nation-states to chattel slavery. Whether this analogy offends anyone has no bearing on its truth value, and a reference to slavery does not have obvious racist undertones because there have been many instances throughout human history of slavery which was not race-based, some instances in the antebellum United States included. As for the truth value of this analogy, human farming theory goes a long way toward confirming it.

Hoppe wrote that “it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved the highest average living standards.” This is an empirically observable historical fact. Facts are not racist, sexist, or homophobic, even if they concern results which could be partially attributed to such discrimination. After this, you take Hoppe out of context. When he says, “There can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They-the advocates of alternative, non-family-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order,” he is talking about the conditions inside of a covenant community whose residents have decided to use their private property rights and freedom of association to set standards of conduct inside of that community. These are not the conditions which would necessarily prevail throughout the entirety of a libertarian social order. There is no reason why another covenant community made up of individual hedonists, parasites, nature-environment worshipers, homosexuals, or communists would not be able to exclude people who do not agree to their standards of conduct. At issue is not puritanism, homophobia, or religious intolerance, but private property rights and freedom of association, neither of which can be rejected without committing a performative contradiction.

You have also misquoted Block once and taken him out of context twice. First, he did not say, “Feminists and gays aren’t libertarians.” He said, “[M]ost feminists are not libertarians, and neither are most gays,” which implies that some feminists and some gays are libertarians. He goes on to oppose rape and defend the rights of women to be armed so that they can protect themselves from rapists. Then, he defends the Stonewall Riots as gays acting in self-defense against aggressors. This is far from an instance of misogyny and homophobia.

Second, his full context is, with your quote in bold, “Consider a boy aged seventeen or over, where this the statutory cut off point between adults and children. The very idea of him joining the North American Man Boy Love Association, and engaging in sex with adult men, is personally repulsive to me. But as a libertarian, I have to realize that only coercive acts against such a youngster should be punishable. Not non-coercive ones. If a seventeen year old is an adult, and voluntarily wants to have sex with an adult homosexual man, I may not like it. I may be revolted by it. But gays too have rights. They should not be put in jail for consensual behavior with adults of a young age. The exact same situation should obtain for heterosexuals. That is, it should be legal for a 17 year old girl to engage in sexual relations with a male of any age, given this cut off point.” He is not being homophobic at all, but is questioning the wisdom of age-of-consent laws as they currently stand. One could even argue that he is defending gay rights more so than almost anyone else, as NAMBLA is an organization that almost no one else would touch with a ten-foot pole.

Third, his full context is, with your quote in bold, “Here, there is of course no question of legally prohibiting these actions; as we are evaluating them according to a very different standard. But still, it is of great interest how we view them. Just because a libertarian may refuse to incarcerate perverts, it does not mean he must remain morally neutral about such behavior. So, do we favor or oppose? Support or resist? Root for or against? In this dimension, I am a cultural conservative. This means that I abhor homosexuality, bestiality, and sadomasochism, as well as pimping, prostituting, drugging, and other such degenerate behavior. The basic theme…of libertarianism is that all non-aggressive behavior should be legal; people and their legitimately held private property should be sacrosanct. This does not mean that non-aggressive acts such as drug selling, prostitution, etc., are good, nice or moral activities. In my view, they are not. It means only that the forces of law and order should not incarcerate people from indulging in them.” Each person is entitled to an opinion about personal conduct, and one may disagree with Block if one chooses. One may even consider him to be a bigot. But one’s personal views on such behaviors are separate and distinct from libertarianism as long as no force is being used to impose one’s personal views on other people.

Finally, you accuse Block of racism simply for wondering whether the disparity between blacks and whites were the result of socioeconomic disparities and historical injustices towards blacks or “lower black IQ’s.” To be inquisitive is not racist. And again, facts, whatever they may be, are not racist, even if they concern results which could be partially or fully attributed to racism. I say “whatever they may be” because white slave-owners had a significant amount of power to decide which black slaves were bred together from the beginning of race-based slavery in the colonies in 1662 until the abolition of chattel slavery in 1865, and it was in their self-interest to try to breed physically superior and mentally inferior slaves. It is impossible to know exactly how effective their efforts were because these results cannot be separated out from the results of unequal educational opportunities and socioeconomic disparities.

Finally, there is Ron Paul. There are certainly many contents of the newsletters bearing his name which are indefensible, and allowing such content to go forth with his name on it does not speak well of his judgment, attentiveness, or management skills. But to blame him completely for this rather than whoever wrote the offensive content is tantamount to blaming the owner of a stolen car for a fatal accident caused by the car thief who sped away in it. You incorrectly quote Paul as having told the Dallas Morning News in 1996, “Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” This was an excerpt from the newsletters, not something that he told the Dallas Morning News.

You say, “Liberty cannot exist if individuals of any group are viewed as inferior, whether it is outright, or merely in the connotations of an argument.” The only way for no individuals of any group to be viewed as inferior without such a view being false is for all people to be equal and for all opinions to be equally valid. This is logically impossible. People are not, cannot, and should not be equals. Each of us has our own strengths, weaknesses, interests, and disinterests. These are capable of making one person objectively more capable than another, or people who share a certain characteristic objectively more capable than people who share a different characteristic. This does not mean that such people have more logical rights than others, but it could mean that they are able to acquire more private property rights and thusly have more influence in society. As for the idea that all opinions are equally valid, all one must do to disprove this idea is to have the opinion that all opinions are not equally valid and show the resulting contradiction.

While Mises identified tolerance as a fundamental value of a free society, he was speaking of liberalism, not libertarianism. Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the legitimate use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable and using force to defend against initiatory force is always acceptable. It must also be noted that there is a difference between acceptance and tolerance. Libertarianism does not demand that we must have positive feelings toward every person or group of people (acceptance); it only demands that we never initiate the use of force against them to stop them from living peacefully (tolerance). Pitiful, wasteful, and unpleasant though it may be, people may use liberty “to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on politically incorrect standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used as a means, to shout down people based on their demographics or political opinions, to be openly racist and sexist, to exclude and isolate and be generally malcontented with modernity, and to reject civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of antisocial norms,” if they so choose. To call such ideas “evil” is an assertion made without logic or evidence and may therefore be dismissed without logic or evidence.

You say that the purpose of your letter was “never to insult or belittle the influence of leading figures of liberty,” but its content trumps your intent. You say that your goal was “to address issues that push away people who would otherwise support our ideas if it wasn’t for certain people with problematic histories and those who espouse disenfranchising ideologies,” but this is a double-edged sword. There are people who currently support libertarianism who would stop doing so were it to become a logically inconsistent hodge-podge of political correctness rather than a rigorously rational approach to understanding what constitutes preferable behavior. After all, if they may not exercise their private property rights and freedom of association as they choose, then they are the ones who are being disenfranchised. You say you “want to open up the freedom philosophy as an avenue for all marginalized people,” but this should not come at the expense of marginalizing other people. And while it is true that we must allow the most subjugated peoples a voice in order to create a better world, this does not mean that anyone should be forced to listen to that voice.

The positions taken by the three of you are more akin to the anti-propertarian, politically correct collectivism of the statist left than to libertarianism. The misquotations are sufficiently numerous to call your motivations into question. As a principled libertarian, I must therefore denounce the three of you as fake libertarians.

Sincerely and for Liberty and Logic,

Matthew Reece

Special thanks to Lucy Steigerwald, Martin Brock, and Andkon for making my research easier.

Libertarians Must Be Spellwarriors

In a recent video, Stefan Molyneux discussed the reasons for the prevalence of left-leaning political views among history faculty at universities. In so doing, he used an analogy from Dungeons and Dragons-type fantasy environments to explain the two major types of statists. In fantasy settings, there are two major types of combat characters: those who fight with swords, bows, and other such conventional pre-modern weaponry, and those who fight with magic. The warriors are stronger than wizards at lower levels, but peak early due to physical limitations, such as injuries and aging. But wizards continually grow stronger at a rate that outpaces the warriors, eventually becoming very powerful.

In the real world, the wizards are the politicians, government regulators, and academics, while the warriors are the government police, soldiers, and other armed agents. Just like fantasy wizards, politicians and academics use words and gestures to effect changes in the material world. But unlike their fictional counterparts, the wizards of this world do not have the magical power to force reality to conform to their wills. They must use their words and gestures to convince other people to support their agendas and carry them out. The purpose of universities, then, is to teach the wizards how to use public speaking effectively to cast a sort of spell over the citizenry.

The warriors are not so different from their fantasy counterparts. Police and soldiers grow in effectiveness with training and experience, but will suffer from injuries and aging, eventually to the point of no longer being useful. And just as fantasy warriors protect the wizards in the party from the types of threats that they cannot deal with so easily themselves, the main function of police and soldiers is to protect the ruling classes from a violent rebellion by the citizenry or an invasion by soldiers in the employ of rulers of another country. The only major difference is that police and soldiers carry out the spell effects of politicians, while fantasy wizards need no such help.

Clearly, both the wizards and the warriors present a threat to liberty. One option for dealing with them is the wizard’s approach. We can counter the wizards’ spells by refuting the arguments made by politicians and academics who seek to propose new government policies and justify existing ones. While this is useful for convincing people of the evils of government policies and for educating future generations to be less statist, wizardry alone will not stop the victimization of innocent people. Some of the warriors may be persuaded to drop their arms and discontinue their service to the state, and some of the citizenry will join the ranks of libertarianism. But others will be dismissive or even violent in response to such arguments.

Another option is the warrior’s approach. Violent rebellion has been tried many times throughout history with varying results, but it has never produced a lasting success. One reason for this is that simply overthrowing a state creates a power vacuum, and as no one has ever been able to apply the force necessary to maintain such a vacuum, some ruler fills that vacuum. Another reason is that without a desire for liberty and an understanding of the dangers of statism, people will simply create another government after toppling the established order. There is also the matter that while violence in self-defense against agents of the state is always morally justifiable, it tends to end very badly for those rebels who do not have sufficient manpower and resources to win that conflict.

So, how does a libertarian respond in terms of this analogy? There is a third type of character: the spellwarrior, also known as the mystic warrior or battlemage. In fantasy settings, a spellwarrior is competent with both the sword and the spell. Such a character may not be as good at fighting as a pure warrior or as good at magic as a pure wizard, but is more well-rounded than either and can respond to a wider range of foes. By combining both approaches, a spellwarrior gains the benefits of each character type while blunting some of the drawbacks. This is what libertarians must do in order to be successful against the state. We must counter both the words and the weapons of the enemies of liberty. We must rebut arguments in favor of state power, convince others to join the cause of liberty, and eventually muster both the intellectual prowess and military might to end the state and maintain a free society. Neither the path of a pure wizard nor the path of a pure warrior can be sufficient. Libertarians must be spellwarriors.

On American Sniper And Human Farming

The movie American Sniper, which profiles Chris Kyle, has received a mixed response from critics. Kyle is viewed by various observers as anything between a hero who did what he had to do and a mass murderer who was part of a foreign invasion force. But let us consider something else.

While the public perception of Kyle has gotten the bulk of the attention among libertarians, there is a metaphor in the film that bears further examination. During a scene that occurs in Kyle’s childhood, his father tells him that there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, who “don’t believe evil exists”; wolves, the evil men who prey upon them; and sheepdogs, men with “the gift of aggression,” a “rare breed that lives to confront the wolf.” Kyle understands that his father means for him to be a sheepdog. But a more insightful boy might have asked, “In this analogy, who are the farmers?”

The analogy, as relevant to Kyle’s life and profession, is that the sheep represent good civilians, the wolves represent criminals and terrorists, and the sheepdogs represent military personnel. Taking this analogy further, the farmers represent the ruling classes of politicians, bureaucrats, and regulators. Now let us examine all of the relationships between the four.

  1. The Sheep and the Wolf – The Quest For Protection

Long ago, sheep were wild animals. They had to find their own food and water, fight their own illnesses, and be subject to killing and eating by wolves and other predators. One view of the origin of farming is that people realized that domesticating and exploiting animals is easier than hunting and killing them. Another view is that the sheep (or natural selection guiding the sheep) made the more clever move. Becoming farmed means that sheep are guaranteed food, water, medicine, and protection.

Long ago, humans had no governments. There were natural leaders who were stronger and/or smarter than other members of one’s tribe, but there was no monopoly on initiatory force. The limited amount of resources available to paleolithic hunters and gatherers simply could not sustain a state apparatus as we know it. One way to look at the evolution of civilization is through the concept of human farming. The idea is that the world has become a series of farms where human farmers own human livestock. Humans perceive a benefit from outsourcing their problems of finding food, water, medicine, and protection, just as sheep do.

  1. The Sheep and the Farmer – The False Refuge

Becoming farmed means that sheep suffer a loss of free mating and a periodic loss of wool and milk. Those with a potentially dangerous set of horns might be stripped of those as well. But sheep do not tend to miss what is taken from them. This is because animals have little concept of the future. Thus, they do not care that the farm is a false refuge and that they will eventually be slaughtered for meat once their usefulness as dairy sheep or wool sheep is outlived, or their farmers have a demand for mutton and haggis.

As useful as animal farming is to its practitioners, human farming is far more useful. Unlike any other species on this planet, humans are capable of perceiving future loss and our own mortality. This means that humans have innate aspects that make us easier to control, as we interpret threats differently than members of other species. One cannot get more milk or wool by threatening a sheep, but one can get a man to give one milk and wool from a sheep he farms by threatening him. Moreover, there is the possibility to take some of the products of human labor, which can grant far more wealth to a farmer than the products animal labor.

  1. The Sheep and the Sheepdog – Livestock Management

There are two basic kinds of sheepdogs that manage sheep. Livestock guardian dogs protect the flock from wolves and other predators, while herding dogs direct the flock as an extension of the farmers and enforcer of their will. Notably, these tend to be different breeds of dog, and very few dogs perform well at both tasks. Of course, these dogs are never intended to protect the sheep in an objective sense, as this would entail preventing humans from exploiting them, which is the whole point of the operation. They are only there to make farming less difficult and more profitable for humans.

The sheepdogs of human livestock management are the enforcement classes of the state, consisting mainly of the police and military. The division between the two varies from farm to farm, but one can make the analogy that livestock guardian dogs are to military personnel as herding dogs are to police officers. Just as with sheep dogs, the purpose of the police and military is not the objective protection of the civilian population, as starry-eyed state propagandists would have us believe. The true purpose is threefold: protect the human farmers from the human livestock by making it very difficult for citizens to violently overthrow the government, provide a last line of defense for the institution of human farming in the form of martial law should the citizens succeed in violently overthrowing the government, and present a deterrent to other human farmers elsewhere in the world who might seek to take over the farm and capture the human livestock for themselves.

  1. The Wolf and the Farmer – Not So Different

A pack of wolves simply seek to hunt and kill a sheep for a satisfying meal. The behavior of a farmer is more complex; a farmer protects sheep from wolves and other predators while providing for their needs. But the endgame is the same; the farmer will eventually slaughter a sheep for meat, just as a wolf will. The farmer is simply less direct and timely about it, a wolf in sheep’s clothing (in more ways than one, as the farmer has likely dressed himself in wool).

Long ago, cannibalism was rather common among humans. This is analogous to wolves eating sheep in the case of animal farming. But while this was effective in the short-term, it was vastly inferior to various forms of slavery practiced by human farmers over their human livestock. After all, humans take a long time to develop, and their uniquely exploitable nature makes it far more profitable to control their muscles and minds than to consume them. Over time, those who preferred to merely exploit their fellow human beings won out over those who preferred to eat them.

Today, wolves are more analogous to non-government criminals while farmers are analogous to politicians. And still, they are not so different. One could even argue that they need each other; the politicians need there to be non-government criminals to convince the population of the necessity of state power, and non-government criminals need politicians to create a monopoly on criminal justice which they can then pervert for their benefit.

  1. The Wolf and the Sheepdog – Evolution of Evil

The sheepdog, like all domesticated dogs, is a descendant of the wolf. Over the course of millennia, humans have modified the behavior of sheepdogs to be beneficial to farmers rather than fatal to sheep. Rather than use lethal aggression against the flock, the sheepdogs will use toned-down aggressive behaviors to make the sheep move where the farmer wants them to go. Livestock guardian dogs are even able to blend into the flock and be perceived by the sheep as one of them.

The police officer or soldier, like all government agents, is a criminal in a costume. If anyone who is not a government agent committed the same actions as government agents, such a person would face a lengthy prison term and hefty fine. But rather than modify the behavior of policemen or soldiers in a significant way, the human farmers have forcibly indoctrinated their human livestock over the course of millennia to accept that it is not only moral, but necessary for certain people in the employ of the state to do what no one else is allowed to do. While police officers and soldiers will kill civilians who resist them, they typically use toned-down aggressive behaviors to make citizens obey their political masters. In most settings, few people think anything is amiss about a police officer or soldier being present.

  1. The Farmer and the Sheepdog – Partners in Crime

From a young age, trainers prepare sheepdogs to work with farmers in their efforts to control flocks of sheep. A farmer takes good care of his sheepdogs, as they are the means by which he can control large numbers of sheep. A number of sheepdogs would also be capable of inflicting great harm upon a farmer if they were to attack him as a pack, so abuse of sheepdogs by farmers is disincentivized. The sheepdogs likewise perform their duties for the farmer, as the farmer maintains them even more so than the sheep, who find most of their own food. A sheepdog that is unreliable or mean to the farmer will be expelled from the farm or even killed, so abuse of farmers by sheepdogs is disincentivized. Thus a symbiotic relationship emerges.

From a young age, many children are raised in a violent manner that makes them more likely to initiate the use of force as adults. While some of these people do not join the state and end up in prison, others are found to have the sort of upbringing that human farmers find useful in a human sheepdog. Just like farmers and sheepdogs, politicians and their enforcers have a symbiotic relationship. Politicians are always quick to defend police and military spending, as the enforcement classes are the means by which they can control large numbers of civilians. The enforcement classes would also be capable of carrying out a coup d’état if the politicians presented them with sufficient cause for doing so. The members of the enforcement classes likewise perform their duties for the ruling classes, as the ruling classes maintain them even more so than the civilians, who mostly make their own livelihoods. Police and soldiers who are unreliable or defiant will lose their jobs, face jail time, or even die suspiciously in the field, so compliance with the system is encouraged.

  1. Conclusion

So, what is a sheep to do? Not much. Sheep lack the intelligence and physical implements necessary to free themselves from the condition of being farmed. But what is a human to do? Unlike sheep, we have options. We are facing other members of our own species, not alien-looking predators or even more alien-looking super-intelligent masters. We can outsmart them through technological innovation that frees us from the ability of human farmers to exploit us and our resources. We can outrun them by finding ways over, under, around, and through the fences they build for us. We can out-breed them by raising children peacefully and teaching them to reason objectively, thereby draining the pool of aggressors that human farmers can hire to be their sheepdogs. We can out-debate them by convincing people of the immorality of treating fellow human beings like livestock. And someday, we will be able to outgun them as well by using force to defend ourselves from them and their minions. The future is bright for us human livestock; unlike the sheep, many of us will soon leave the farm alive.

Six observations on the conviction of Ross Ulbricht

On Feb. 4, Ross Ulbricht was convicted on all counts of the charges he faced for allegedly creating and running Silk Road, a Dark Web marketplace where state-disapproved goods and services were sold. This case has at least six important lessons. Let us examine them.

1. Making and keeping notes of one’s state-disapproved activities in a place where they can be found is unwise. From revealing his real name on an Internet forum using an unencrypted connection, to storing large amounts of incriminating information on his laptop, Ulbricht made many security errors that allowed government investigators to discover his identity and track him down. Those who are engaged in state-disapproved activities must be more careful. They must be correct every time; government agents only need to be correct a few times.

2. A fair trial requires an impartial judge. Unfortunately, Judge Katherine Forrest was anything but impartial, siding with the prosecution at every turn and essentially railroading Ulbricht to a guilty verdict. The simple fact is that having a government judge decide a case prosecuted by government agents is a conflict of interest, and an independent judge who is not in the government’s employ should be used for cases involving the government, as all criminal cases currently do.

3. A fair trial requires an informed jury. Because a jury cannot be punished for its verdict and a defendant found not guilty cannot be tried again, a jury has the power to nullify unjust laws by refusing to convict defendants of breaking them. The prosecution in the Ulbricht case explicitly motioned to prevent the defense from making such an argument. Judge Forrest took measures to prevent potential jurors who read information about jury nullification from being seated on the case, even threatening to sequester the jury.

4. The state will violate its own laws. The Fourth Amendment is supposed to prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures and require a search warrant given upon probable cause describing particular places to be searched and things to be seized. The FBI appears to have disregarded this, and Judge Forrest rejected the defense’s argument that the FBI’s conduct was illegal, thus barring them from raising such an objection at trial.

There is also the matter of the contract killings that Ulbricht allegedly ordered. He was never indicted in New York for any of them, and the FBI has even admitted in a sworn affidavit that there is no evidence that any homicides occurred, yet the prosecution was allowed to mention this allegation to the jury. It was included as a surplusage in the narcotics trafficking charge. A surplusage is essentially an uncharged crime for which the prosecution bears no burden of proof, and can be used to assassinate the character of the defendant.

5. Dangerous precedents have been set. Under present law, website hosts are not held responsible for illegal actions that occur on their websites unless they are directly involved with those activities. This case brings that standard into question and creates the possibility that those who create a forum where criminal activity occurs may now be held liable.

There is also a risk that the aforementioned questionable behavior regarding the Fourth Amendment will become enshrined in case law, thereby eroding civil liberties in cases involving online activities.

6. Agorism alone will not end the state. Silk Road (and its successors) are experiments in agorism, which is the idea that a stateless society can eventually be achieved by using gray and black markets as much as possible while relying less on state-sanctioned markets. The trouble with this approach, as seen in the Ulbricht case, is that black market enterprises will eventually be revealed to government authorities, whether by an active search by the authorities, carelessness by those who run the black market enterprise, or snitching by those who run state-sanctioned enterprises. When this inevitably happens, those who run black market enterprises must either surrender to agents of the state or try to forcefully repel them. While agorism can be a positive force for freedom, meeting statist violence with non-violence will only continue to get good people like Ulbricht imprisoned or killed.

Introducing Reece’s Razor

The motivations of those who wield state power can sometimes be difficult to decipher. In some cases, there are multiple plausible explanations for why politicians want to achieve certain goals, why judges make certain decisions, and why the enforcers of state policy behave the way they do. As such, I suggest a heuristic to simplify the matter, which I will name after myself because I have never seen it expressed in the following manner.

Reece’s razor: Whenever there are several possible explanations for a government action or policy, the most cynical explanation is the most likely to be correct.

Here, cynicism is to be understood in its modern sense: a belief that other people are motivated primarily by selfish interests, to the detriment of what is best for society as a whole. It should also be understood that the razor is to be applied in cases where all else is equal; i.e. the available evidence does not clearly favor one explanation over another.

Now, let us see Reece’s razor in action. We will examine five examples of government action or policy, come up with several possible explanations for each, and see which explanations are selected by Reece’s razor.

1. Why do local governments want to ban ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft?

One possibility is that politicians are simply concerned for the safety of those who would use ride-sharing services. Another possibility is that established taxi services do not want to lose their government-protected monopolies and have asked politicians to ban their upstart competitors. Yet another possibility is that ride-sharing services have decreased the number of DUI arrests, each of which puts thousands of dollars into local coffers. The idea that politicians care more about a source of government revenue than about human lives that could be saved by decreasing the number of impaired drivers on the roads is the most cynical explanation, so Reece’s razor selects it.

2. Why is public education of such low and declining quality?

One possibility is that there is not enough money being spent on education. Another possibility is that is that there is no free market competition with education options that have other curricular requirements than those mandated by the state, leading to a curriculum that is of inferior rigor. Yet another possibility is that in an economy where both parents must work to support a family, they cannot spend enough time with their children and teachers cannot compensate for this. Still another possibility is that public education is of low quality because those who wield power do not want an enlightened population who can reason for themselves. The idea that politicians and business leaders care more about having obedient workers who are intelligent enough to perform needed labors but not intelligent enough to realize the extent to which they are being exploited than about giving children a quality education is the most cynical explanation, so Reece’s razor selects it.

3. Why has the War on Terrorism taken so long?

One possibility is that government militaries are ill-designed to fight such a decentralized foe, which makes a war against terrorists take longer to win than a war against another state. Another possibility is that tactical blunders have caused Western powers to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, thereby prolonging a war that should have been won years ago. Yet another possibility is that a refusal to properly identify the enemies as a large number of individual Islamic extremists has prevented a victory, as an enemy must first be identified before it can be defeated. Still another possibility is that a perpetual war is in the rational self-interest of politicians. If the War on Terrorism were won, then the rationale for police statism and massive military spending would vanish. If the War on Terrorism were lost, then the state would fail at the one job that it is supposedly solely capable of performing, namely keeping its people safe. The ideology of Islamic terrorists disallows a draw, so the only other option is an endless war. The idea that politicians care more about expanding state power and getting money into the hands of the defense contractors who fund their campaigns than about the human lives lost on both sides of the conflict is the most cynical explanation, so Reece’s razor selects it.

4. Why is the government going after Ross Ulbricht and others who create drug exchanges?

One possibility is that politicians care about their citizens and want to make it harder for them to obtain substances that will harm or kill them, while drug exchanges like Silk Road make it easier. Another possibility is that such exchanges make it easier to contract other illegal services, such as assassinations, and the state has an interest in protecting its people from such victimization. Yet another possibility is that tales of hidden Internet activities that violate the law are useful propaganda pieces to convince people of a need for government to monitor and spy on Internet use. Still another possibility is that violence in the drug trade provides a rationale for spending on police forces and the prison industrial complex, and sites like Silk Road were making the drug trade less violent. The ideas that politicians value a rationale for government spending and spying on citizens more than the safety of their constituents are the most cynical explanations, so Reece’s razor selects them.

5. Why do war crimes tribunals focus more on those of higher rank who give orders and less on those of lower rank who carry out the orders?

One possibility is that popular views of morality hold those with more authority as being more responsible, and that governments reflect these views. Another possibility is that resources only allow for a certain number of trials, and these resources should be spent to try those with command responsibility. Yet another possibility is that trying those of lower rank for their activities would lead people to question the deeds of their own nation’s soldiers, which is against the interest of the ruling classes. The idea that the ruling classes care more about staying in power than about seeking justice is the most cynical explanation, so Reece’s razor selects it.