Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: In Our Own Image

In Our Own Image is a book about the prospects of creating artificial intelligence as well as the cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, and political concerns about it by Greek author and scientist George Zarkadakis. The book considers the problem of AI from the perspectives of human evolution, cybernetics, neuroscience, programming, and computing power.

Zarkadakis begins by briefly speaking of his early years and doctoral research, then spends the rest of the introduction outlining what he will discuss in the rest of the book. The book proper is divided into three parts, each with five or six chapters. The first part covers the evolution of the human brain from the primate brain, especially the most recent 40,000 years. The role of language in accelerating human progress is discussed, as well as the effects of totemic thinking, story-telling, philosophical dualism, and theory of mind. The use of metaphor and narrative to understand the world is examined, along with the inaccuracies inherent in them. The invention, uses, and limitations of the Turing test are explored, as are Asimov’s laws of robotics and the role of AI in fictional stories throughout history.

The second part is about the nature of the mind. The differences in approach between dualism versus monism, rationalism versus empiricism, and materialism versus Platonism are discussed. The thought experiment of the philosophical zombie and the possibility of digital immortality are explained. On the matter of why there appears to be no other intelligent life in the cosmos, Zarkadakis shares an interesting hypothesis: science is an unnatural idea at odds with our cognitive architecture, and an intelligent alien species would be unlikely to widely adopt it. This means that the universe is likely full of Platos, as well as Ancient Greeces, Romes, Indias, Chinas, and Mayas, but is perhaps devoid of Aristotles and societies advanced beyond that of humanity in the early eighteenth century. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is overviewed, as well as the contributions of a great number of scientists to the field of cognitive psychology. Finally, the field of cybernetics and its offshoots are examined, showing that the hard problem of consciousness is actually solved with ease. The brain-in-a-vat paradigm of consciousness is shown to be insufficient by applying cybernetic theory.

Everything up to this point lays the foundation for understanding the last part of the book. The third part details the history of computers and programming, from ancient theorists to more recent mathematicians, and from punched cards to modern electronics. The limitations of symbolic logic and the implications thereof against AI in conventional computers are explored, and possible solutions in the form of new electronic components and computer architectures are explained. Charles Babbage’s inventions are discussed, as well as the lost potential of their lack of adoption in their own time. The role of computational technology during World War II is considered, along with the results of government spending on computer research at the time. The development of supercomputers, including IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, is outlined. The ‘Internet of things’ is compared and contrasted with true AI, and the possible societal impact of large-scale automation of jobs is considered. The possibility of evolving rather than creating AI is examined, as are the possible dispositions of an AI; friendly, malevolent, or apathetic. Interestingly, Zarkadakis shows that there is good reason to believe that a strong AI may exhibit autism spectrum disorders. A short epilogue that begins with a summary and then considers possible economic, political, and social implications of strong AI completes the book.

The book is well-researched and impeccably sourced, at least in its core subject matter. That being said, the book struggles to find an audience, as it can be a bit too technical for the average layperson, but does not venture deeply enough into the subjects it covers to interest a professional in AI-related fields. In other words, it is lukewarm where being either cold or hot is best. Zarkadakis also commits some ultracrepidarianism, particularly in the fields of economics and politics. He seems to believe that AI will overcome the limitations described by Hayek’s knowledge problem and Mises’s economic calculation problem, but unless AI can get inside of our heads and know us better than we know ourselves, this is impossible. In politics, he briefly mentions the possibilities of AI leading to anarchism or to neoreactionary-style absolute monarchies with computerized philosopher-kings, but does not give these possibilities the amount of consideration that they warrant. Finally, the book contains more typographical errors and grammatical abnormalities than a competent editor should fail to correct, though we may grant Zarkadakis some leeway because English is not his first language.

Overall, In Our Own Image is worth reading for those who already have some knowledge of the subject matter but would like to fill gaps in their understanding, but there is room for improvement and expansion.

Rating: 4/5

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

Resolve To Understand The Struggle

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two were argued against here, and the third will be argued against here.

To begin his case for revolution, Reece declares that the definition of the concept “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.”

I do not simply declare that the definition of revolution leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism. Oxford’s definition clearly does this.

The issue is that this “anti-political revolution” and “culture of resistance” are only a path to ongoing conflict and mass chaos.

A competent debater must consider the alternatives, then compare and contrast them. The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. Static means that the state continues, which leaves us in a world of ongoing conflict and mass chaos. This leaves the option of peaceful change, but as argued in “Liberty Requires Revolution,” all methods for peaceful change either lead to failure or to violent revolution. Underhill attempts to argue otherwise in his third counter-rebuttal, but does not succeed in making the case. The remainder of this response will explain his failure on a point-by-point basis.

At this point, Underhill leaves a powerful argument unchallenged, so we may regard it as valid:

“The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. …[T]he state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure.”

He also leaves unchallenged my arguments that cryptography, seasteading, education, and peaceful parenting are helpful but insufficient to end the state.

Reece starts off with criticizing non-violent means of resistance to the state. On many of these, particularly electoral politics, he may have a point.

Either I have a point or I do not; the law of excluded middle forbids any other possibility. Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here for neither accepting my points nor arguing against them, except as noted below.

But he fails to understand the power of other options. In particular, I will note his arguments on agorism and civil disobedience as being very wrong-headed.

I understand their power very well, which is why I described them as helpful non-solutions. These options are capable of weakening the state and growing the number of libertarians, but they will not bring down governments on their own.

He contends that there are “limitations of scale” to agorism; that “there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye”. Now, while it is true that, for instance, starting up a car factory would fall under the risk of government action, it is not inherently true that government is magically aware of the activities of even large scale anti-state endeavors, nor is it true that there is necessarily a central point of failure.

This does not refute the point being made. I have argued that X exists, and Underhill’s response is not to argue that X does not exist (as a proper refutation must), but to argue that the opposite of X exists.

Reece cites the case of Ross Ulbricht as evidence the state can react to agorism quickly, but seems to utterly fail to understand the power of decentralization and removal of central points of control here. Ulbricht may be in jail, but hundreds of copycats and better alternatives have taken his place.

Underhill seems to utterly fail to understand the fact that these operations are not fully decentralized. There is still a buyer, a seller, an exchange operator, and a manufacturer. If government agents can figure out who these people are (and they still do sometimes), those people will be violently victimized by the state.

We also see into the mind of Reece here, when he declares that “a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death.” Here it seems he would rather people die in the face of the state than work around it to survive and even thrive. How perverse is such a sentiment!

We also see into the mind of Murray Rothbard here, who made exactly the same point against Samuel Konkin, although in slightly gentler terms:

“It is possible that the Soviet black market, for example, is so productive that it keeps the entire monstrous Soviet regime afloat, and that without it the Soviet system would collapse. This does not mean, of course, that I scorn or oppose black market activities in Russia; it is just to reveal some of the unpleasant features of the real world.”

The reality is that people will die in the face of the state regardless of whether they revolt against it, and it is better for them to die fighting and damaging the enemy than for them to be farmed and slaughtered like animals. Far from perversity, the idea that people should make present sacrifices in order to secure future gains is the foundation of all meaningful progress.

He continues, stating that:

Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

But is this the sort of “violent revolution” being defended here? For Konkin’s approach did involve violence, but it was strictly that of self-defense and well after a libertarian society had been almost fully established.

Yes, it is. Underhill seems to be unaware that the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, and is therefore subject to logic in the form of consistency. To act aggressively against people and property, make no restitution for doing so, and refuse to stop aggressing is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle. Thus, the non-aggression principle does not apply to such a person, and the use of force against such a person is acceptable. Government agents fulfill this description, therefore using force against them meets the standard of self-defense.

Neither of these things are true in a “storm Washington and rout the bastards” type argument that seems so prevalent when actually discussing the concept of revolution.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that we should “storm Washington and rout the bastards.” (While the article picture for “Liberty Requires Revolution” depicts this, it was chosen solely for its pleasing aesthetic. Never is what it depicts actually advocated in the article.)

Nor does such an action seek to “replace” the current power structure – only resist its imposition upon people who choose to defend themselves. (In this sense, how can it really be called a “revolution”?)

Oxford’s definition says that a revolution is a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. In this case, the new system is one of a stateless society with individual sovereignty and private property. The current government and social order are overthrown by a sufficient number of people defending themselves from their imposition to end their functionality.

Moreover, this is – of necessity – in an environment where people are generally accepting of such anarchic society, not the current society where resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front.

This depends upon the meaning of “generally accepting.” This term could mean anything from enthusiastic support to inactionable hatred. If 95 percent of the people want a state but 5 percent do not, and the 5 percent are able and willing to impose anarchy by force but the 95 percent are not able or willing to impose statism by force, then there will be no state despite the fact that people are not generally accepting of anarchism.

Resistance to the state by Apple has not been demonized on nearly every front. Many people have voiced concerns over privacy and abuse of state power that are in line with Apple’s position.

On civil disobedience, Reece claims that:

multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience.

It’s true that civil disobedience carries with it risk of suffering violence. But in many ways, it is far superior to risk that violence without retaliation than it is to escalate it with further violence.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

In the February Revolution in Russia, the revolt was obtained mostly through non-violence because the military men whose task it was to subdue the populace refused to fire into a crowd of non-violent protesters, many of whom were women. On the other hand, escalation to levels of significant violence most often lead to protracted war – where the result is incalculable.

This is true, but irrelevant to the discussion. The point is that civil disobedience stops being civil when government agents decide to use force.

To reiterate the quote from Doctor Who I included in my original article:

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

Refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

Reece carries on with a comparison of the existence of the state and “power vacuums” to those of physics. Here he simply makes a categorical error. While talk of power vacuums constitutes a common analogy, it is also an inherently false one based on a sociological determinism. From this, Reece draws many erroneous conclusions about the use of force to defend a “partial vacuum”.

A categorical error is a logical fallacy in which one ascribes qualities to a noun that cannot possess those qualities. For example, the statement “that idea is the color red” is a categorical error because concepts in the mind do not reflect particular wavelengths of visible light. As no such quality was attributed to power vacuums, no such error was committed in the analogy between power vacuums and physical vacuums. Underhill then commits a straw man fallacy by invoking sociological determinism, which was not the motivation for the vacuum analogy.

He also notes that “the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states”. This is precisely true, but it is absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.

This is exactly wrong. The number of people enforcing the edicts of rulers is an important factor for estimating the number of people needed to thwart them.

These people will not come in with pistols to match the pistols libertarians might possess, but with tanks and military aircraft and missiles. There is no chance of any sort of determined minority resistance prepared to use violence leading any sort of peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles.

One could argue that technological superiority of states in other fields makes nonviolent resistance useless as well, but let us tackle the argument at face value. Using military hardware against the revolutionaries will cause many civilian casualties, especially if the revolutionaries are blended into the general population. This will cause more people to join the revolutionaries in order to avenge their fallen family members and friends, just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today. This would also result in damage to infrastructure that the state needs to keep operational in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Underhill seems to believe that military vehicles are invincible juggernauts that no resistance movement could hope to stop. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform those tasks, and someone must deliver the resources for those tasks and for the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves. Failing this, military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the revolutionaries present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build.

The point is not to lead a peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead. The point is to eliminate the threat.

His case is briefly summarized in this paragraph:

The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

This summarizes only the part of my case that describes the end goal of such a revolution.

He claims the revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret. I don’t know here if he is unaware of the spying operations of modern states, uncomprehending of the amount of force needed to bring to bear to resist a state military operation, or whether he is just too drawn in to the fantasy of taking up arms against the oppressor, but the scenario described here is almost laughable.

Underhill may be unaware of the potential strength of cryptography, unaware of how fragile the nation-state model of security really is, or just too much of an intellectual coward to think this through.

Further, he talks about a conclusion of this “decentralized revolution”, as if there would be any such conclusion outside of the annihilation of the armed resistance.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

By creating this long-term “culture of resistance” and relying on operation in secret to engage in guerrilla combat, he’s consigned this group to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all.

We are all consigned to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all. What revolution does is to allow innocent people to be something other than perpetual victims.

Any attempt to form a peaceful society based on market anarchist principles would be impossible – lives would instead be devoted to engaging in a fruitless violent resistance that could only lead to massive innocent deaths without any achievement of the goal of liberty.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

He answers the charge of the technologically superior military by pointing to the idea of guerrilla combat as well as blowback.

A more detailed answer may be found above.

But this only approaches the problem from the point of view of the anarchist revolutionary. The people would not be so kind as to side with the terrorists in their midst.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Which interpretation is held by the people of the anarchist revolutionaries depends on how numerous they are, how successful they are, how oppressive the state is, how popular alternative media is versus the establishment lapdog media, and so on.

No worries, Reece claims, we will have the “actions of revolutionaries .. carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands”. Certainly. But is he aware that the death of military members and police officers and other government agents, will be viewed as this “collateral damage”.

This also depends on the variables listed above.

The public does not take kindly to “cop-killers” now. Why would this suddenly change because the action is framed as self-defense by some apparent (to them) sociopaths?

This would not suddenly change, nor would it need to. The revolution is not to take place until there is a critical mass of people who are willing to participate. At that point in time, the public perception of those who kill government agents would be more favorable, as explained later.

Next, he arbitrarily claims that “the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets”. He provides no reason to believe this is true other than that they do not “vote with bullets”. He goes on to say that “[i]f the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves”.

There is nothing arbitrary about this claim; it is clearly in agreement with the observable facts. People vote on ballots to get politicians to use state power to give them that which they could not obtain themselves without directly committing crimes against people and property. Most people find it impractical to directly commit crimes not only because being productive is less risky and the state punishes (non-government) criminals, but because their would-be victims may use force to stop them. I then linked to an entire article devoted to explaining this point.

I can’t think of anything more likely to lead to an acceptance of an authoritarian state than rebels forcibly preventing democratic means of government in a nation where the vast majority believe wholeheartedly in democracy. Not only is this proposed “revolution” by Reece historically a bad idea, he seems from the outset trying to design something that will purposefully incense the state-loving populace to the point of cheering on the destruction of any and all libertarians or anarchists.

This is an argument from incredulity; just because Underhill cannot figure out how this will work does not mean that it must fail. Again, the majority of people can believe whatever they want, but if they will not use force and a minority who think differently will, then the minority will win.

In his response to the question of “what protects your revolution from the next one?”, he presents a simple answer: we’ll kill anyone who would resist our system and attempt to reimpose a state. (Presumably, if the rhetoric of Cantwell is any guide, also any leftists or anyone else who disagrees with our values.)

A person who would resist anarcho-capitalism and attempt to reimpose a state would necessarily be user of aggressive violence because doing so would require one to initiate the use of force against people and their property. The use of defensive violence to stop an aggressor is always morally justifiable. Perhaps the answer is simple, but it is also a priori true.

It is not necessary to kill anyone who disagrees with anarcho-capitalism, but it is necessary to keep them from acting upon that disagreement within an anarcho-capitalist society. This may take the form of anarcho-capitalists being too powerful to aggress against, the use of force in self-defense, or physical removal from the society.

This sounds like it would quickly devolve into the chaos of the “anarcho-statists” of Spain to me.

This sounds like Underhill cannot comprehend the case being made.

At the very least, it depends on a perpetually violent populace dedicated to the principles in question… which means it is very likely to fall to another revolution based on other ideas that people have accepted.

Any civilization that wishes to maintain its form must have some group of people who are able and willing to use force to defend that form against threats. The artificial vacuum of state power maintained by a culture of resistance is actually least likely to fall to another revolution; as discussed above, it has advantages that other forms of security do not.

Similarly, he denies the Iron Law of Oligarchy in his call for a “truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership.”

This is not a denial of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Each small cell of revolutionaries will likely develop a natural leader who is better than others at organization, strategy, martial skills, or some other important attribute. The idea is for no such leader to be allowed command and control of anything beyond the small cell.

While I completely agree that a revolution headed by “a charismatic leader against the state … will yet again fail to solve the problem”, a decentralized resistance is inevitably going to ignore all those special caveats and contentions about “collateral damage” and the like that Reece has already noted would be necessary for his ideal to even work.

The caveats are not necessary for the ideal to work; they just make success easier and shorten the conflict. If a certain group does ignore good strategy and attack innocents needlessly, then they can be disavowed as fakes. This would not be a no true Scotsman fallacy because they would be fake libertarians by definition.

Moreover, it’s extremely unlikely to ever get started.

Perhaps, but its success is more likely than any non-violent method.

Finally, he claims that it will be “time” to start when “enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution … more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end.” It seems that this would require a lot of people. Almost as many people, one might think, as would be necessary to simply refuse to cooperate with the state and force it to its knees without violence.

This is where the fact that the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states is far from “absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.” A quick strike by 1 percent of the population could subdue another 1 percent of the population with nothing more than revolvers. More realistically, it would probably take between 2 and 5 percent of the population to forcibly end the state and form a culture of resistance. That number of people could certainly disrupt the state through civil disobedience, but this disruption will result in state violence against the disobedient, which brings us back to the choice of either defending oneself with violence or being victimized while giving the state a victory.

We all agree that “[t]he state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper.” Where the disagreement lies is in the idea that resistance without violent revolution constitutes a “position of weakness”.

When aggressors are willing to escalate the use of force beyond the level to which their intended victims are willing to escalate the use of force, the intended victims are in a position of weakness.

Rather, the state is dependent on the people it oppresses for resources, both via taxation and via the acceptance of state-backed money. Remove these two aspects of the state’s power, and it cannot stand. The power of the state is only derived by the people who support it. In the words of Étienne de la Boetie:

How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?

[…]

From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. 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 in pieces.

This is not in dispute. What Underhill cannot seem to understand about this struggle is that the state will not magically disappear if the people it oppresses stop handing over resources. When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long. Even if he cannot get more arms to beat us with and feet to trample down our cities from us, he already has many. Even if we resolve to serve no more, this resolve means nothing if the masters are more able and willing to escalate the use of force than we are. Yes, we must resolve to serve no more, but we must also resolve to understand the struggle and do what is necessary to physically resist and defeat the enemy when it moves against us.

Liberty Requires Revolution

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. It was then republished at Liberty.me in a column by people who, judging by their other articles, should know better. In this rebuttal, I will argue that revolution is not only an appropriate method, but the only possible method.

Underhill’s Case

Underhill begins by denouncing the stereotype of the bomb-throwing, omnicidal anarcho-communist, and rightly so. He then notes that some right-libertarians, such as Christopher Cantwell, also advocate violent revolution. (His dig at Cantwell for supporting Donald Trump is ill-informed, though better-informed criticism on this point is valid.) Most of the rest of the article denounces the tactic of armed rebellion on the grounds that it has historically resulted in a greater degree of statism.

Underhill begins with the English Revolution (better known as the English Civil War), and the use of this term to refer to the execution of Charles I and rule of Oliver Cromwell is a Marxist historical revision. Contrary to Underhill’s claim that a great part of the property in private hands was seized, Austin Woolrych[1] notes that “painstaking research in county after county, in local record offices and family archives, has revealed that the changes in the ownership of real estate, and hence in the composition of the governing class, were nothing like as great as used to be thought.” While Cromwell was generally more oppressive than Charles I, Charles II was generally less oppressive than either Charles I or Cromwell.

Underhill’s description of the French Revolution is quite incomplete, and this leads to inaccuracies such as treating the rise of Napoleon as part of the French Revolution when in fact, he had to engineer a coup against the French Revolution in order to take power. Underhill also neglects to mention Napoleon’s positive achievements, such as the Napoleonic Code, the first abolition of the Spanish Inquisition, promotion of equal rights under law, and hastening the end of feudalism.

In his description of the Whiskey Rebellion following the American Revolution, Underhill actually undermines his argument by citing an example where a failure to engage in violent revolt led to a more powerful state. Had the rebels at their greatest extent marched against Washington’s forces, they stood a decent chance of defeating him in battle, which would have dealt a major blow to the power of the United States government, perhaps even a fatal one. Underhill also commits a factual error; the Whiskey Rebellion was not a non-violent affair. Some tax collectors were whipped, tarred, feathered, and run out of town. Three or four rebels were killed, along with two neutral civilians.

Instances like these are indeed why revolutionaries must seek to abolish state power rather than to wield it. Underhill attempts to rebut this idea with several fallacious arguments. First, he says that revolution against a powerful state historically does not succeed. The idea that something which has yet to happen must be impossible is a logical fallacy. If this idea were true, then there would be no innovation whatever and we would still be in the same state of affairs as our primitive ancestors. This sort of historical determinism is a sign that one lacks courage and imagination, especially the former. This argument is also a straw man because anarchists are not calling for revolution against a powerful state, but against weak states which only appear to be powerful. And even if this were not so, the idea that “peoples never rebel against a power which squeezes the life out of them and grinds them underfoot” is exactly wrong. The truth is as stated in the Declaration of Independence:

“[A]ll experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Until conditions become such that survival demands revolution, most people are not in the proper mindset to overthrow a government. Notably, famines were precursors to both the French and Russian revolutions.

Speaking of the Russian Revolution, Underhill misunderstands this as well. Once again, he conflates two revolutions into one. The February Revolution deposed Tsar Nicholas II and established Menshevik rule, then the October Revolution deposed the Mensheviks in favor of Vladimir Lenin. While the original communist ideal is a stateless society, it is much different from the sort of anarcho-capitalist society that is the desire of those who truly seek liberty. Note also that anarcho-communism is only the final step, and although Karl Marx and Lenin did speak of violence, the elimination of the state in communist ideology was not universally understood as a violent transition. Friedrich Engels writes[2],

“The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’; it withers away.”

Underhill fails to mention instances of violent political revolution which work against his argument. The Irish War of Independence neither increased the power of the British state in Ireland nor led to an Irish state more oppressive than the British state. The Romanian Revolution overthrew the despotic Ceausescu regime and led to much greater economic freedom. The case that historical revolutions result in growth of the state is further weakened by the fact that the state has generally grown regardless of whether revolutions occur.

A Different Revolution

With Underhill’s empirics refuted, let us consider the nature of a libertarian revolution. The word ‘revolution’ is defined as “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.” Historically, this new system has been another government, but this need not be the case. This definition leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.

The Nature of the Problem

The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. Those who bankroll political campaigns receive a far better return on investment than they would receive from any free market use of capital, and if they did not make such donations, their business rivals would. Wielding political power causes the same biochemical responses as drug abuse. There are people who carry weapons in the name of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of politicians because they lack the skills and temperament to be productive members of society. There is a dependent class of people who have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society. In sum, the state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure. In particular, various libertarians propose using electoral methods, agorism, cryptography, seasteading, civil disobedience, education, and peaceful parenting to end the state. Let us explore the faults of each of these methods.

Helpful Non-Solutions

Properly understood, libertarianism is antithetical to any kind of statism, but is particularly opposed to democracy. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, democracy promotes shortsightedness, capital waste, irresponsibility, and moral relativism. Whereas a monarch (or any other private property owner with allodial title) owns the capital stock of the property, elected officials serve as temporary stewards. This means that while an allodial title holder is incentivized to care for property to preserve it as an inheritance and capital good, an elected official is incentivized to plunder property while he or she can. Democracy encourages moral relativism by replacing objective ethics with an appeal to the masses. The results of the electoral process are all around us, and they are unquestionably disastrous. To quote Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we (or our forefathers) used when we (or they) created them. Democracy as a strategy for libertarians either requires uncomfortable truths to be more popular than comforting lies, or for hundreds of anarcho-capitalists to win elections under false pretenses. Even if the matter could be reduced to a simple referendum on the continued operation of the state apparatus, it would still require a majority of voters to support it in order to be successful.

Agorists and crypto-anarchists have the idea that using black and gray markets instead of state-approved markets can starve the state of funds and cause its demise. This method ignores limitations of scale; there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye. Perversely, a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death. We have also seen that the state is faster to react to agorist and crypto-anarchist activity than Konkin thought; the example of Ross Ulbricht is instructive here. Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

Some libertarians believe that escaping to the oceans will save us from statism. (The far more starry-eyed idea of colonizing space for libertarian purposes also belongs here.) The idea is to colonize the oceans by building permanent dwellings on the high seas outside of the territory claimed by any government. This would create an anarchist control zone that allows anyone to make an effort to live there, escape the state, and build a better future for oneself and one’s descendants. This is all well and good, but it fails to account for the response of governments. Governments do not have a track record of going gently into the night or of tolerating existential threats. If history is any guide, then the response by governments to seasteads that are brain-draining, talent-draining, youth-draining, and investment-draining their territories will be to initiate the use of force against them. When a government warship approaches a seastead and makes demands, the residents will have three options: they can give in, which defeats the purpose of the seastead; they can refuse and be sunk, which also defeats the purpose of the seastead; or they can defend themselves against the warship, thus resulting in a violent revolution.

Another method of resistance is civil disobedience, in which people refuse to obey laws until force is brought to bear. Civil disobedience is a better option than democracy, in that less than a voting majority could stop a government. But the historical examples frequently cited, those of the struggle for Indian independence from the British and the American civil rights movement, were anything but civil. In both cases, multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience. As taking civil disobedience to its logical conclusion requires the protesters to tolerate lethal violence being used against them while not fighting back or fleeing, most large attempts at civil disobedience result in either a defeat of the disobedient or an escalation to violent revolution.

Lastly, the strategy of relying upon education and peaceful parenting to defeat the state is essentially a surrender. To fall back upon this option is to write off a solution as impossible in our lifetimes, thus passing the problem on to our progeny. While it is true that if children were raised to initiate the use of reason rather than the use of force, the state would cease to function due to a lack of people willing to act on its behalf, statists will also be breeding and raising their children violently while libertarians try to raise a better next generation. This is also the worst solution in terms of the number of people required for success. Long before this strategy alone would succeed, a democratic effort would be successful, and the other methods all work before voting the state out of existence would.

None of this is to suggest that the above methods are useless. But at best, they will not defeat the state by themselves. At worst, they ease some of the pain of oppression, which gives people less incentive to end it. Their purpose, if any, must be to weaken the state and grow the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible, then to aid a revolutionary effort. In preparation for revolution, the electoralist should seek to elect politicians who will obstruct the passage of laws and budgets. The agorist or crypto-anarchist should find ways to sell illegal goods and services that directly target the state, such as forbidden arms and political assassinations. The seasteader should research ways to sink government warships and down government aircraft. The protester should plan events which can cripple infrastructure that is vital to the state but not to the general population. The educator should show people why the use of self-defense against government is no less legitimate than the use of self-defense against a common criminal. The peaceful parent should raise children to view the state as an alien parasite worthy only of destruction.

An Artificial Vacuum

Those who study physics will learn that nature abhors a vacuum. This is often said in politics as well; when a powerful leader is overthrown or a state fails, other actors seek to take for themselves the power that those people and institutions once had. Another lesson from physics is essential to understand what must be done in order to end the state. While it is true that no perfect vacuum exists, it is also true that a partial vacuum which is sufficient for practical purposes may be artificially maintained by the continuous application of force. The political equivalent of this is the goal of a libertarian revolution. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents (as well as warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals) to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically removed from the society by the continuous application of defensive force, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber. Notably, libertarians have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarians can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.

This method has advantages over the methods described above. Whereas peaceful parenting requires a vast majority, democracy requires a majority (or at least a plurality), and the other methods require large minorities, the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states. There are many historical examples of larger forces being defeated by smaller forces, so defeating the enforcement classes may not even require 1 percent of the population. Whereas the other methods either fail when force is brought to bear or deteriorate into violent conflict, a libertarian revolution deals with the problem of state aggression directly by not only defending against it, but by subjecting aggressors to a taste of their own medicine. Whereas the other methods require peacefully convincing a large number of people to support a movement, a libertarian revolution only requires convincing them not to oppose it so strongly as to bring overwhelming force to bear against it. The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

Objections

Naturally, such a bold approach will invite criticism. Let us address some of the most common objections to libertarian revolution.

The enemy is too technologically superior to defeat militarily.

For most high-tech attackers, there exist low-tech defenses which can be effective. Proper uses of terrain and stealth can blunt the advantages of government forces, as can hiding among the civilian population. If government forces resort to their usual methods, the result would be a large amount of civilian blood on the state’s hands, and if abroad examples of blowback are anything to go by, this will motivate surviving relatives of the dead civilians to join the effort to end the state. The most destructive government tactics, such as weapons of mass destruction and large-scale carpet bombing, are out of the question if statists care about winning because these destroy their own infrastructure and sources of sustenance. Also, a domestic deployment could endanger family members and friends of the soldiers, leading to loss of morale, disobedience of orders, and defections to the anarchist cause. Finally, a soldier who fights overseas hardly ever faces reprisals after the war by those who were victimized. But if a government fielded its military domestically, it would be much easier for the details of a person’s military service to be recorded and publicized by alternative media, resulting in a soldier having to watch out for revenge-seekers for the rest of his or her life even if the revolution fails.

Engaging the enemy on their terms will certainly end in disaster, but engaging them on our terms has a much more favorable outlook. Note that one could also argue that the enemy is too technologically superior to defeat peacefully. The whole argument reeks of nihilistic laziness.

Libertarians will be viewed as terrorists.

This is a concern to a certain degree. The actions of revolutionaries must be carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands. The side that is viewed as terrorists and oppressors, as well as the side that is viewed as heroes and saviors, are determined mostly by who wins. Might does not make right but it does make outcomes, and history is written by the victors.

The public is likely to resist a libertarian revolution.

This is not nearly the concern that it appears to be. While electoral results may make it seem like there is strong opposition to libertarian anarchism, the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets. If the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves, and their current behavior shows that they fear the latter.

If you force liberty upon people, they are not really free.

The only time that force can legitimately be used within the non-aggression principle is in an act of defensive violence to stop aggressors, reclaim stolen property, make criminals perform restitution, etc. Thus, forcing liberty upon people would only occur when people commit aggressions and are met with defensive force. As such, forcing liberty upon people is compatible with the non-aggression principle. Furthermore, let us remember that because the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of consistent application. In the case of statists, anarchists may impose liberty upon them because statists impose statism upon anarchists, thereby estopping themselves from complaining that force is being used to impose a way of life upon them.

If libertarians can do this, then so could someone else, like a group of statist communists.

This is true, and it demonstrates that the nation-state model of providing security is woefully inadequate. This is actually an argument in favor of ending the state monopoly on military defense in favor of market competition.

What protects your revolution from the next one?

The only thing that can; a population that is willing to fight, die, and most importantly, kill in order to defend its way of life against anyone who would try to establish any kind of new dominion over them.

How will co-option be prevented?

This is certainly a concern, as intelligent statists know that the best way to defeat opposition is to lead it themselves. The only way to be sure is to have a truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership. If libertarians look for a charismatic leader against the state, then we will get him, and we will yet again fail to solve the problem because we will demonstrate a lack of understanding of the problem.

Why don’t you start shooting?

The personnel and resources necessary for victory are not yet assembled. Moving too soon plays into the state’s hands. A losing revolution will only give the state more cause to grow and sour the reputation of libertarianism.

How will one know when it is time?

It has been time since the first states began. But the meaning of this question is more likely to be, how will one know that the personnel and resources necessary for victory are available? If enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution, then more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end. The signs of the times will therefore be obvious.

Conclusion

The state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper. It makes war upon us, regardless of whether we make war upon it. While some of its agents can be reasoned with, others speak only the language of force, and they must be communicated with in their native tongue. If our enemies will use force and we will not, then we will lose conflicts and negotiate from a position of weakness. If we are to negotiate, let us negotiate from a position of strength. If we are to resist, let us do so boldly. If we are serious about ending the state, let us do what is required for success.

References:

  1. Austin Woolrych (2002), Britain in Revolution, 1625–1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 794.
  2. “Withering Away of the State.” In The Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2015 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2015 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

In December 2014, an assassination of two NYPD officers prompted many libertarians to signal hard against the use of force against agents of the state. I decided to argue the opposing case. The harassment of the Meitiv family by Child Protective Services prompted another such article. Julian Adorney resolved that good government police exist, and I responded by explaining why this is impossible. I used another NYPD incident to argue that when government agents and common criminals fight, we should pull for no one. When Tremaine Wilbourn killed a police officer during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tenn, I wrote a list of observations on the event which mostly follow the aforementioned articles.

Many libertarians praise decentralization, and rightly so. But it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good or evil ends, and I explored the latter.

On Burns night, I observed that a proper haggis was unavailable in the United States and found that as usual, the state is to blame. Staying on the subject of food, economically illiterate researchers blamed Walmart for causing obesity, and I explained why this is fallacious.

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz gave cause to examine how such an atrocity could be carried out without the state. The answer, of course, is that it would be all but impossible.

Entering February, I allowed my cynicism to wax to the point of formalizing it as a razor. It could use more detailing and strengthening, which is a project for a later time. I used the razor to explain why the Obama administration might want to disarm elderly people.

Alleged Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht was convicted on February 4 and sentenced on May 29. I made lists of observations on both of these occasions. Some people were none too happy with the state’s treatment of Ulbricht, and their displeasure got them in hot water. This occasion also merited a list of observations.

The movie American Sniper did well at the box office, but a metaphor therein was left incomplete. I decided to complete the analogy of sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves by adding farmers of human livestock to the mix.

A video by Stefan Molyneux about two different types of statists compared them to warriors and wizards. I made the case that countering the state requires libertarians to be both character classes at once.

Ron Paul made a video appearance at the International Students For Liberty Conference, but some attendees decided to interrupt this by reading an open letter to him which was filled with leftist entryist nonsense. I wrote an open letter against them which gained wide recognition and helped run some of the people involved out of libertarian circles. It remains one of my proudest moments as a writer.

At the end of February, Republicans tried to use brinkmanship to force spending cuts, which failed miserably due to their track record of caving at the last minute. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

On March 9, I published my most popular article to date, which is also one of my most shallow, choir-preaching works. The correlation between the two can be most depressing at times. At any rate, here are 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals.

Several commenters have told me that I am at my best when I provide a sound defense for an idea that most people find to be outrageous. I did this several times in 2015, defending the killing of innocent shields in certain circumstances, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, letting Iran develop a nuclear deterrent, and the replacement of democratic elections with jousts to the death.

I went on a rebuttal streak in the spring of 2015. President Obama proposed that voting be made mandatory, and I argued the case against this. Michael Eliot argued that a violent revolution is not the correct strategy for creating a free society, and that the use of methods such as seasteading will be more successful. I explained why this is false. Walter Block argued in favor of Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, and I demonstrated why he is not a good choice. Austin Petersen effectively made a case against libertarianism itself, and I rebutted it.

Paul Krugman delivered some rather standard talking points about public goods, and I showed why they are wrong. I revisited the subject later in the year.

Rolling Stone decided to go ahead with a completely false story about campus rape, and did nothing beyond wrist-slapping to those involved in creating and editing the story. They also defended the ideas behind the story, with which I took great issue. Another sex-related story occurred on April 21 when the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration resigned due to a prostitution scandal that occurred on her watch. I explained why we should not be surprised, and should actually expect more of such behavior. The purity spiral of campus feminism has grown to such an extent that even left-wing feminist professors are not immune. Rape accusation culture struck once more at Amherst College, and the victim took the university to court.

Baltimore police officers arrested Freddie Gray, who died one week later as a result of injuries sustained during the arrest. Riots ensued, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Charles Murray published a book detailing a novel strategy for fighting the regulatory state: overwhelm it with civil disobedience, create a legal fund to defend victims of regulation, and start treating government fines as an insurable hazard. I argued that this would fail, but that it needs to be tried anyway.

The prohibition of excessive bail and fines, as well as cruel and unusual punishment, is a much-revered part of the United States Constitution. I argued that it should not be.

Dylann Roof carried out a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Late June is Supreme Court season, and they delivered at least two bad decisions in 2015. First, they ruled very narrowly in favor of raisin farmers, but left the rights-violating practice of eminent domain intact. Then, they crammed same-sex marriage down the throats of all Americans.

Litecoin exchange rates suddenly spiked in early July. I took an educated guess at why, but it ended up being pure speculation.

Turmoil in Greece threatened to boil over into a default or even a Grexit. I took a deep look into the situation and concluded that only anarchy can fix the problems there.

Two seemingly disparate stories concerning Planned Parenthood and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine had a common thread: there is no such thing as non-lethal aid to an organization that conducts lethal operations.

I wrote a three-part series about fascism and communism in America, as well as how a nation can be both. Although I lated discovered that Lawrence Britt does not appear to be a real person, I found the 14-point list of fascist characteristics to be sound, so I did not revise the article.

A problem which is frequently cited as a reason why we must have a state is the problem of pollution. I dealt with the issues of water ownership and pollution in order to show why the state cannot solve the problem of pollution.

In one of my more controversial articles, I argued that Vester Flanagan, the man who murdered a reporter and a cameraman in Roanoke, Va., was a model social justice warrior. Examiner decided to pull it for offending their audience, but you can find it here.

Everyone knows that the Libertarian Party is not exactly a bastion of excellent strategic thinkers. I decided to offer them help, and a response to my essay advocating an alternate strategy is also worth reading.

Liberty Mutual created a series of advertisements that air regularly in my area, and they are full of economic fallacies. They annoyed me enough to dedicate an article to debunking them.

Reservation scalping occurred at Disney World restaurants, which outraged many people. I applied Walter Block’s reasoning for defending ticket scalpers to argue against the outrage.

September 11 always brings about discussions on security. I argued that there can be no such thing; only temporary and imperfect protection from particular dangers.

The term ‘cuckservative’ arose from alt-right circles to describe those who are insufficiently conservative, selling out their constituents, and/or acting against their own rational self-interests. I created the term ‘cuckertarian‘ to describe a similar problem among libertarians. Another problem with the libertarian movement that I addressed is the embrace of hedonism when libertarianism only requires that we not use aggressive violence to stamp out non-violent degeneracy.

After several years in prison for tax resistance, Irwin Schiff passed away. I wrote a list of observations on the event that gained praise from his son Peter.

I belatedly refuted Matt Zwolinski’s six reasons for rejecting the non-aggression principle. I had meant to do so when he published his piece back in April 2013, but other work took precedence and it languished in development hell. Next, I dealt with Youliy Ninov’s arguments against anarcho-capitalism in what is my most verbose article to date.

Islamic terrorists attacked Beirut and Paris on November 12 and 13, respectively. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Many libertarians misunderstand immigration and borders, so after several pro-open-borders articles published in quick succession by other authors, I tried to set them straight.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I explained why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Robert Dear attacked a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people and wounding nine others. I made the case that although the use of force against Planned Parenthood is defensive in nature, it is frequently impractical and counterproductive.

The success of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, as well as growing support for it in libertarian and reactionary circles, led me to examine the phenomena. I concluded that Trumpism is not a libertarian form of reaction, though we may have some common enemies.

My final article of 2015 addressed the common phrase ‘give back to the community.’ In short, it is communist nonsense that must be rejected.

I began work on another case against a constitutional amendment, but it was not completed for publishing before the end of 2015, so it will appear first in next year’s review.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2016 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

An explanation of Litecoin’s price spike

On July 9, Litecoin reached exchange rates exceeding $7.75, €7.00, ¥48, and 0.029 Bitcoins. This represents a growth rate of over 22 percent in the past 24 hours. In the past week, Litecoin has gained over 79 percent against Bitcoin, 88 percent against the US dollar, and 90 percent against the Euro and the Chinese yuan. There are several reasons why this could be happening, and no one reason should be assumed to be fully responsible. Let us examine the most likely possibilities.

Pure speculation

Like all investments with a relatively small market cap and relatively low amount of liquidity, Litecoin attracts speculators who seek to profit off of pump-and-dump schemes. It also helps that financial regulators mostly turn a blind eye to cryptocurrencies at present, lessening the likelihood of legal troubles. Unlike lesser known altcoins with smaller market caps, Litecoin has enough users and size to make a bubble last for days or even weeks. This has happened before; in the price spike that occurred in the fourth quarter of 2013, Litecoin exchange rates surged as high as $55, €38.58, ¥253, and 0.06 Bitcoins.

Instability in Greece

As the situation in Greece continues to deteriorate, the government is tightening capital controls and may even attempt a bail-in where private funds are directly stolen from bank accounts to prop up the banking system, as occurred in Cyprus in 2013. Just as then, this has led affected citizens to look for safety, and cryptocurrencies are one avenue for this. Reuters reported that new customers depositing at least €50 with BTCGreece increased by 400 percent from May to June, and the average deposit increased by 300 percent in the same time period. While Coinbase is not available to Greek citizens, it is available in other financially troubled countries in the Eurozone, such as Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The number of new users of Coinbase in those countries has increased by 350 percent since the beginning of June, and average daily Bitcoin purchases have increased 250 percent in the first week of July.

Superiority to Bitcoin against spam attacks

On July 6-7, the Bitcoin blockchain was inundated with small, spam-like transactions that caused a backlog of transactions which delayed the processing of legitimate payments. Such a denial-of-service attack is made possible by the 1-megabyte cap on block size, which was originally intended to prevent denial-of-service attacks by means of sending an enormous “garbage block” that no one can process through the network. Litecoin suffered a similar attack in 2012, and Charlie Lee, its creator responded by implementing a sender fee for each instance of a small payment. In an interview with Coin Telegraph, he said of the incident, “I’ve fixed Litecoin to prevent this exact attack scenario three years ago, but at that time the Bitcoin devs did not agree with my fix and did not incorporate the fix into Bitcoin. …The fix implemented in Litecoin is just to charge the sender a fee for each tiny output he creates. For example, in this specific attack, the sender is charged one fee for sending to 34 tiny outputs of 0.00001 BTC. With the fix, that fee would be 34 times as much. So it would cost the attacker a lot more to perform the spam attack. The concept is fairly simple: the sender should pay for each tiny output he/she creates.”

Block halving

Like Bitcoin mining, Litecoin mining is set to unfold on a geometric series where half of the coins will be mined in roughly four years after its initial release, half of the remaining coins will be mined in roughly the next four years, and so on until all 84 million Litecoins are mined by the year 2150. (The year 2150 may be determined by noting that Bitcoin mining is to exhaust by the year 2140 and factoring in that Litecoin began two years later and will require two more four-year periods of mining than Bitcoin’s 21 million coin cap.) It is currently estimated that this block halving will occur on August 25, after which point Litecoin miners will only get half as many Litecoins for their efforts. All else being equal, halving the supply should double the price, and Litecoin exchange rates may be rising in anticipation of this event.

Eight observations on the subpoena of Reason Magazine

On June 2, Reason.com was issued a grand jury subpoena by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Assistant U.S. Attorney Niketh Velamoor to give evidence against six commenters on an article published by Nick Gillespie on May 31. The users with screen names Agammamon, Alan, Cloudbuster, croaker, ProductPlacement, and Rhywun are being accused of violating United States Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 41, Section 875, which forbids “transmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another,” and provides a fine, up to a five year prison term, or both for doing so. The six commenters said that Judge Katherine Forrest should and will be killed by vigilantes for her role in putting Ross Ulbricht in prison for life without parole. Their comment thread has since been deleted by moderators. They may also face accusations of violating Title 18, Part I, Chapter 7, Section 115, which outlaws threats against agents of the federal government and provides a fine, up to a ten year prison term, or both for doing so. Eight observations on the incident follow.

1. The First Amendment does not truly protect freedom of speech. Just as the Eighth Amendment is useless for protecting people from excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments, the First Amendment is useless in protecting freedom of speech. The interpretation of the First Amendment, like every other part of the Constitution and every law passed under it, is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Therefore…

2. The law is whatever people in black costumes say it is. Without any competition to government law courts, those who sit as judges in those courts get to decide the meaning of the law. This need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because there is no effective challenge to their power once the appeals process is exhausted. In fact, this need not even be consistent or impartial because they have the monopoly and their word stands unless their successors revisit a matter and decide otherwise.

3. Government laws will always grant unfair advantages to agents of the state. The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means erring on the side of expanding the size and scope of government and prioritizing the protection of government agents above a fair provision of justice. In this instance, two laws taken together say that anyone who communicates a threat against a federal judge may be subjected to a fine, up to a fifteen year prison term, or both. Title 18, Part I, Chapter 41, Section 875 applies to threats communicated to anyone across state lines, but Chapter 7, Section 115 only applies to threats made against agents of the federal government. The law is prioritizing the protection of government agents above a fair provision of justice by making it a more serious offense to threaten them than to threaten an average person.

4. The threat of power has power. In spite of the first three points, a case against the commenters is highly unlikely to succeed. This incident has none of the factors that have led to convictions under the relevant statutes in the past. But the fact that such an inquisition can even be made by government prosecutors creates a chilling effect on political speech, especially that which is critical of the government and its agents.

5. Power exists to be abused. Even though Reason.com has no control over what its commenters say and can only remove offending comments after they are made, and the case against the commenters is highly unlikely to succeed, this incident provides an opportunity to waste the time of Reason’s staff and make the organization pay legal costs, thereby abusing state power to harm a private organization that criticizes the state. Of course, this is precisely the purpose of state power. To quote Bastiat, “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

6. Evil prefers to lurk in the shadows. Niketh Velamoor clearly wanted to keep the subpoena a secret. It contained the standard language requesting non-disclosure:

The Government hereby requests that you voluntarily refrain from disclosing the existence of the subpoena to any third party. While you are under no obligation to comply with our request, we are requesting you not to make any disclosure in order to preserve the confidentiality of the investigation and because disclosure of the existence of this investigation might interfere with and impede the investigation.

Of course, a request made by an agent of the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization in human history will necessarily be interpreted differently than a request made by your neighbor or even your boss, to such an extent that a reasonable person might not think of this as a request. Velamoor went even farther than this, however, in a rather clear effort to intimidate Ken White into refraining from writing about the incident. The question of why government agents would want to keep such an action secret is easy to answer. They would rather restrict free speech without being seen doing so because while power exists to be abused, abusing it in broad daylight results in backlash.

7. The commenters were not calling for anything that is anti-libertarian. The commenters are being investigated for allegedly threatening to carry out a vigilante execution of Katherine Forrest. The initial knee-jerk reaction of most people will be to condemn such an act, but let us examine her conduct. In order for such an act to be within libertarian principles, it would have to be demonstrated that (A) Forrest has committed a crime for which a death sentence is acceptable and that (B) she cannot claim the right to a fair trial. As for (A), in the Ross Ulbricht case, she sentenced a man who was convicted of no malum in se offense to spend the rest of his life in a cage. This is a fate worse than a death sentence in many ways. If you or I did this to someone, we would be facing kidnapping charges, with possible charges of slavery and murder as well for destroying a person’s life and liberty without a legitimate reason. This is a crime for which a death sentence is acceptable, as it is inconsistent to assert one’s own rights to life and liberty while violating the same rights of another person. As for (B), Forrest allowed irregularities by the prosecution in the Ulbricht case and denied the jury important information that they would need in order to make a fair decision. This amounts to denying Ulbricht a fair trial, which means that she cannot consistently claim the right to a fair trial for herself. While it is illegal and tactically unwise to kill or threaten government agents at present, doing so in this case would not be immoral under a logical application of the non-aggression principle.

8. A heavy hand breeds defiance. That Bharara and Velamoor are overreaching is clear from the media coverage their actions have received. A number of the commenters at Reason have also stood in solidarity with the targeted commenters by adding “Woodchipper” to their names, in reference to the offending comments. The tighter the grip of the state becomes, the more people will slip through their fingers to a realization of the need for liberty.

Eight observations on the sentencing 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. When this happened, I made six observations on the event. On May 29, he was sentenced to two life sentences plus 35 years in prison with no chance for parole. He was also ordered to pay $183,961,921 in civil asset forfeiture. This event has at least eight important observations. Let us examine them.

1. Behaviors which have no unwilling victims should not be considered criminal. Under the standards of common law and the non-aggression principle, the commission of a crime requires that someone or their property has been harmed. State prosecutors argued that this occurred here, on the grounds that people died from using drugs purchased on Silk Road and Ulbricht is charged with hiring hitmen in a separate case. As for the people who died from using drugs, they took their own risks and suffered their own consequences, and the freedom to do this without external molestation is a fundamental aspect of liberty. By willfully using substances which have the power to end one’s life if used to excess, they implicitly consented to those “terms of use,” so to speak. Neither Ulbricht nor those who sold them the drugs should be held liable for this. In the cases of hiring hitmen to kill informants, Ulbricht was morally (if not legally) justified in doing this because they were threatening to send the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization in human history after him to kidnap and cage him for life, or kill him if he resisted.

2. By this standard, Judge Katherine Forrest is the real criminal here. As an agent of the state, she is paid with money that was extorted from the American people at gunpoint. By sentencing a man who has victimized no one to a lifetime in a cage, she has made herself an accessory to kidnapping. For her conduct toward the jury in denying them important information that they would need in order to make a fair decision, she has endeavored to influence, intimidate, or impede petit jurors. But because she is an agent of the state, and the state has a monopoly on criminal punishment, she will not face a life sentence for these activities as you or I would if one of us behaved identically.

3. This sentence was given more for a chilling effect than for justice. Prosecutors asked Judge Forrest to “send a clear message” with a sentence for Ulbricht well beyond the mandatory minimum, and she seemed all too happy to comply. “For those considering stepping into your shoes…they need to understand without equivocation that there will be severe consequences,” Forrest said. This is in keeping with typical statist tactics: pick a few high-profile defendants, preferably those who are viewed unsympathetically by the public, and make examples of them.

4. The chilling effect has already failed to deter the trend started by Ulbricht. The caging of Ulbricht for the rest of his natural life will do nothing to stop the dozens of new websites similar to Silk Road that sprung up following Ulbricht’s arrest and the seizure of the original site. Each time that agents of the state shut one down, more are created to replace it and their owners do not make the same mistakes that got the prior website owners identified and arrested. Also noteworthy is that marijuana, which made up the majority of sales on the original Silk Road, is quickly moving toward legalization.

5. Another dangerous precedent has been set. In the previous set of observations, I discussed how this case could create a chilling effect upon website owners, as Ulbricht is being harshly punished for creating a forum where illegal activities occurred when previously, only those who actually engaged in such activities directly were targeted by the state. But there is another precedent which has been set by the life sentence against Ulbricht. Had Judge Forrest been more lenient, perhaps only using the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, those who have yet to be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned by the state for engaging in similar activities would have some sense that they could serve some jail time and have a meaningful life after prison. With a sentence of life without parole, however, Ulbricht will likely die behind bars after serving more time there than many convicts who are sentenced to death. Those who will follow in his footsteps now have every incentive to take up arms and hold court in the street rather than submit to government agents who attempt to arrest them. After all, why not get your money’s worth and take a few costumed criminals with you on your way out if you are essentially facing a death sentence either way?

6. The state cares more about maintaining its power than about the well-being of its citizens. Reece’s razor says that whenever there are several possible explanations for a government action or policy, the most cynical explanation is the most likely to be correct. While starry-eyed state propagandists may argue that politicians want to make it harder for people to obtain substances that will harm or kill them as well as stop people from contracting for illegal services like assassinations because they care about their citizens and want them to be safe, the truth is that the rational self-interest of those who wield state power is to expand that power and remain in control of it. This is best accomplished by maintaining a boogeyman to scare the populace into supporting the state, and the creation of a site that decreases the amount of violence in the drug trade by undercutting the established cartels (and the CIA) is contrary to that goal. The idea that politicians value a rationale for government power more than the safety of their constituents are the most cynical explanations, so Reece’s razor selects them.

7. Events like this will keep happening until people put a stop to it. People will ultimately endure the level of oppression that they will tolerate. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that a large enough and strong enough culture of resistance could end the oppressions of statism by making a place ungovernable. Applied to this particular case, it means that the War on Drugs will continue until the people refuse to tolerate it and those like Ross Ulbricht will remain caged until the people demand their release. The only questions concern which combination of the soapbox, the ballot box, the jury box, and the ammo box they will use to express this refusal, and whether the victims of the War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex will gain their freedom by pardon or by jailbreak.

8. Agorism alone will not end the state. This observation was in the previous list of six, but it bears repeating. 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.

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.