Saturday, 10 March 2012

Re: What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

This is a response to the article, "What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist", by N. Stephan Kinsella. The article can be found here:

The first thing I want to say is that not every article written by everyone will be written with the main intention to be as logical or internally consistent as possible. In many cases, people will simply be expressing their passion. After reading this article, it seemed to me that this 1 fits largely in the latter category. I realise, then, that this is probably not Kinsella at his best. I'm well aware of his significance among the anarchist communities and his academic credentials. However, responding to this article as if it fits in the aforementioned former category, I believe, has great worth here. There are several important general points that can be made as a result of taking this approach.

He begins by outlining the anarchist position as not necessarily believing that anarchy will work or can be achieved, but instead opposing aggression. Libertarians, he says, have been arguing against a straw man when they think that anarchists are looking to achieve an actual stateless society. Right off the bat, I have a huge issue with this. Many anarchists, and I've spoken to a few, do want a stateless society. Kinsella is presuming to speak on behalf of anarchists in general, instead of only himself and anyone who agrees with him. It is not a straw man for someone to attack the position of some anarchists when you, as an anarchist, don't agree with them. If the extent of your anarchism is that you simply oppose the government on the grounds that it necessarily acts with aggression, that's all well and good, but some anarchists go further. In short, Kinsella is addressing an argument that wasn't addressed to, or doesn't include him to begin with.

The next statement is a perfect example of why this is a passion-driven article rather than Kinsella at his best.

"It's an ethical view, so no surprise it confuses utilitarians."

I don't doubt that he has a basis for this dig at utilitarians but he doesn't provide one in the article. In my view, utilitarianism is the most ethical philosophy on morality and ethics because it is based on actual information about how people feel. If someone makes someone else happy, they have done a morally good thing. If someone causes someone else harm, they have done a morally bad thing. It is the foundational philosophy of Sam Harris' proposed "science of morality" which seeks to use neuroscience and real-life data about the amount of happiness and suffering which certain actions cause to place a mathematical value on a particular moral action. I will expand on my thoughts on utilitarianism, and any objections people might have with it, I can deal with on that post, but for now, back to the article.

"Accordingly, anyone who is not an anarchist must maintain either: (a) aggression is justified; or (b) states (in particular, minimal states) do not necessarily employ aggression."

I have no problem admitting that states behave aggressively. It would be extremely hard to argue against this: a military, by definition, is aggressive, a police force will need to employ aggression to arrest people etc. I reject part (b). Let's discuss (a).

Kinsella defines for us how he is using the word aggression: "the initiation of force against innocent victims". The obvious consequence of this definition is that "innocent" can't be being used here in the legal sense. Kinsella has already pointed to taxation and outlawing competing defence agencies as acts of aggression. By not paying tax, someone would be committing a crime, and would therefore not be innocent in the legal sense. "Innocent", then, is being used in a different way. The consequence of this is that someone trying to defend Kinsella could exploit the ambiguity over Kinsella's use of "innocent".

Kinsella then makes his biggest mistake. He says that it is not possible to show that aggression is justified. The words "not possible" and "this" are links to other literature. It really doesn't matter what he's linked to, Kinsella's argument is inherently flawed. Claiming that it isn't possible to justify something necessarily implies objective morality. This is impossible: The existence of morality is contingent upon our existence. It is something we invented to keep ourselves in check. To believe otherwise, you would have to invoke the supernatural, specifically religion. Saying that something is justified is not a statement that can be grouped into a "true" or "false" category, then. It is a matter of opinion. Technically, then, Kinsella is correct, as it is not possible to show that aggression is justified, but it's also not possible to show that it isn't. Kinsella does later state that it is a "normative or ethical position".

"Conservatives and libertarians all agree that private crime (murder, robbery, rape) is unjustified, and "should" not occur. Yet no matter how good most men become, there will always be at least some small element who will resort to crime. Crime will always be with us. Yet we still condemn crime and work to reduce it."

In the same way, Kinsella condemns the aggression of the state, and since he argues that the state necessarily employs aggression, this leads him to condemn the state itself (anarchism). There is a problem with saying this, though, and it goes back to the practicality of anarchism. I don't know about other people, but if I were to make the statement that "anarchy won't work", I am not talking about how likely it is that it can be achieved. I am talking about the results the system produces. If it can't produce a populous that feels happy and free, if it creates problems for the every day person going about their business, it is not a society I could ever support, and if anarchy cannot achieve my aforementioned criteria in any form, it is impractical. It's got nothing to do with whether enough people support it. Reducing crime to zero, regardless of if it can be achieved, results in a happy populous. If reducing aggression to zero wouldn't do the same, the analogy is flawed.

Finally, Kinsella compares anyone who supports any form of state aggression to criminals. It doesn't matter if we "need it", we are criminally-minded if we support it. Well OK if you feel that way, billions of us are no worse than criminals. Only anarchists are civilized. This once again becomes a popularity contest of views where logic can go no further so let me make my case.

Aggression is certainly not something I intentionally support in principle. However, principles, while they may leave you with a warm sensation that a person who has them is consistent and can be trusted, have to be chosen wisely. I don't think condemning aggression in principle can be considered wise. If there is ever a case where employing aggression can do enormous amounts of good where nothing else can, I wouldn't hesitate to support it. The question, then, once again comes back to whether an anarchist society can provide for the physical, psychological, and social needs of its populous. If an anarchist society can't facilitate a scenario where the populous can be safe, where they can be taken care of when ill, where they can generally feel happy and free, it would be, in my opinion, morally wrong to support such a society. In this case, the morality of the use of aggression goes head-to-head with the morality of accepting an inherently inferior and unimprovable (without the use of aggression) society. Finding out whether an anarchist society of such a sort is possible would mean reading the other literature I was linked to, so give me some time to get to it. Until then:



  1. I always manage to make longer replies than what I am replying to. I hope I don't meet someone else like me on the internet (or if I do, I hope I finally learn how to be concise).

    Here is my reply to this post:

    Take your time learning about anarchy. I will be available not only in the near future, but several months and more later too and will be able to reply to you then, so no rush. Seriously, take your time. Peace.

    1. For some reason it's not letting me post a reply on your blog. It keeps saying I need to sign in even though I already have. So I'll post my response here.

      I'll admit that my only knowledge of Kinsella is his article and his Wikipedia page. As such, I'm quite happy to concede any point relating to my interpretation of the article where yours conflicts. I did have some idea of what "innocent" meant in his definition of aggression, I just had trouble articulating it, but now I think I can. A person would be innocent if they are not using aggression. In that sense, using force against someone who was would be justifiable. If you agree with me, I can begin to assess the question of whether that definition of aggression is justified from my utilitarian perspective. I'll predict right now that if our moral foundations are different, we're probably not going to come to an agreement, but it's still worth the discussion.

      A lot of my criticisms of Kinsella were quite anal. They took at face value statements which were clearly a simplification of what he would've really meant. On both my channel and my blog, my main shtick is promoting skepticism and critical thought, so those criticisms were intended for that purpose. It's clear to me though that I've yet to perfect my responses that are done for that reason.

      There's a few big life things that are coming before any exploration of the resources you provided me with but I still have every intention of looking at them. Thank you once again for your response.