There’s a premise that I’ve accepted as true since I was in high school. The premise’s survival in the face on many years of new information tends to suggest that the premise has some validity.
The premise is this: The human system, as a whole, is anarchic.
Yes, we have nation-states. Yes, we have corporations. Yes, we have elites. Yes, there are people in charge. But, try as they might, there is no single entity that has absolute control over humanity.
At the very top of the global social ladder, there are opposing interests, offsetting forces and competing entities. And, as this is the top of the pyramid, with nothing governing it, the churn here is subject to the laws of emergence and market dynamics.
And as above, so below. From the yacht clubs of Massachusettes to the black hole of Calcutta, governance exists in pockets. Control exists in finite zones that emerge within an overall system of anarchy. And if these zones are seen as discreet bodies within the anarchic system, we can see that they emerge and behave according to the laws of the system that they inhabit.
In other words, a government is the product of a free market.
Empires rise and fall. Kings are as subject to economics as a business owner. Certainly, a king may control the money supply in his realm, but he can’t violate natural law. A king can’t print money indiscriminately and avoid the consequences any more than he can hover in midair.
Between kingdoms there are natural laws, too. As von Clausewitz said, war begins when diplomacy fails. Between individuals a fist fight might result from failed negotiations at a tavern. Of course, there are laws pertaining to that. But what law stops one nation from invading another? Only alliances, quasi-influential international bodies and other artifices have any effect on international relations. These artifices are the product of an anarchic system.
So, seen from the moon, we realize that we already live in a free market system. When anyone talks about, or lobbies, for market freedom they are doing it on a local basis. To work for free markets is a dismantling process, an uncovering of human layers to reveal what lies below.
But let’s remember that these zones of control are temporary. They may last for a long time. Just as an overfunded business can operate at a loss for years on end, a government with faulty financial policies can run for a long long time. But in the end they will fail. No entity, coporeal or corporate, can evade the laws of its environment.
“Nature Bats Last” says the bumper sticker. It’s really true. And if we believe that market forces are natural laws, then the agorist has already won. His only struggle is with his local situation.
I was thinking about writing a post about agorism, when by improbable coincidence a couple of related chunks turned up in my media consumption.
Firstly, the always fun Dave Emory covers seasteading and Patri Friedman in episode #744 of his For The Record radio program. This chunk of media doesn’t relate directly to agorism, but seasteading is a concept out of what you might call SciFi Libertarianism, which is the same ground as has spawned agorism. Making the connection more resonant is the fact that Patri Friedman runs a PUA blog.
(PUA, if you don’t know, stands for Pick Up Artist. The PUA community/industry is an outgrowth of a new, loosely associating Social Tactics movement that claims to have good advice about convincing women to have sex with you. More often than not, though, things labeled PUA are rackets for breaking cash off of sexually frustrated men. Recession-proof, that.)
The reason why Patri Friedman’s activity as a Pickup Artist is resonant is complicated. You may want to break out your Illuminati! deck to follow along. These PUA guys are the hucksters of the Social Tactics movement, separating out Game–the sexy part–and repackaging it for resale at inflated prices.
(Game, as with Social Tactics in general, is available for free. All you need to do is figure out the right books to read and get them from the library. Meanwhile, you get out there and talk to people. It’s all really no more than a more self-conscious method of Growing the Fuck Up. You know, put down the controller and get involved in life.)
The thing about Game, though, is that it becomes political because it must consider feminism. Feminism is a constant specter for players because feminism wants to make bad Game illegal–literally. Good Game is invisible. Bad Game is harassment, or so it would be if feminists succeed. This means that any player’s game must be flawless %100 of the time. Otherwise he’s a harasser.
The place where Game butts up against feminism is quite a busy one. There you’ll find a rich array of men who question the wisdom of feminism’s mission and premises. And out of this grows an increasing suspicion of leftism, Marxism, postmodernism, multiculturalism and… governmental social programs. So then, a minarchist, if not completely anarcho-capitalist sensibility pairs very well with the study of Game, and especially well for the PUAs who have decided to turn Game into a business (as shady as it may be).
While agorism doesn’t require anarcho-capitalism theory–any illiterate thug can become an agorist–anarcho-capitalism does provide a theory to support agorism. And here is where criticism of Patri Friedman gets weird for me. To some degree, Friedman and myself are fellow travelers. I think seasteading is a brilliant idea, and I’ve written mediocre science fiction exploring the topic. Also, I study Social Tactics. For a long time I’ve been frustrated on a handful of fronts, not just with women, but in earning a living, excercising my creative impulses, and keeping the Other People from fucking up my day to day. Being kind of nerdy I’ve turned to reading to see if I can’t find some insight that could help me break through. After an excruciatingly long time I’ve come to realize that it’s eye contact and conversations that determine our lives, and that social competence is the most important skill. Meanwhile, the unfolding of history has made me realize that I can rely on neither government welfare nor corporate employment to take me where I want to go. The only way I’m going to fund my adventures in this life is through my own entrepeneurial spirit. Hence agorism. Because agorism is the methodology of the proletariat capitalist in the belly of the corporate plutocracy.
So Friedman and I have similar views on some things. The difference is that he’s a high roller and associates with people like Peter Theil a major investor in Facebook. Facebook is of course a data mining operation for the government. There is no arguing against this fact, because at the very least these two statements are undeniable: 1. Facebook has lots of data about lots of people. 2. Facebook will comply with practically any subpoena.
So, we’ve rounded the corner of our ass and our elbow looms on the horizon. The point is that my interest in agorism, not to mention a few other ideas I carry around, have been linked to fascism. That is, after all, Emory’s greater premise–that the Third Reich did not collapse after WWII but went underground, and that it is now making a gradual comeback.
Secondly, idle web surfing lead me to this sentence at The Exiled:
“I did a brief check on what sort of “libertarian anarchists” were at Hunter College in the early 1970s, and discovered this: some libertarian hack named J. Neil Schulman waxing nostalgic about his libertarian youth, including some forgettable “libertarian anarchist” lectures at Hunter College in the early 1970s.”
Interesting. Schulman is the author of the 1979 novel Alongside Night, the preeminent work of literary agorist illustration. In the tradition of Moore’s Utopia, Skinner’s Walden Two or Ayn Rand’s novels, the book paints a fictional picture of what well-developed agorism looks like. The book is more than 30 years old, but Schulman is still alive and active publishing a blog at http://jneilschulman.rationalreview.com/
As part of a longer pastoral that excortiates libertarianism as a faux-radical movement that plays to the needs of the existing hegemonies to the degree that the FBI has consciously passed on infiltrating it, the Exiled article portrays Schulman as an establishment stooge with a–oh no!–pro-gun point of view. The piece is idealogical but written well enough to give a thoughtful person pause.
Fortunately, though, Schulman actually comments on this Exiled article, resulting in a dialectical clash that spills over to his own blog. The comments section of Schulman’s blog entry becomes an excellent back and forth addressing differences between Marxist and market anarchisms.
Yeah, it’s a big convoluted mess. I’m relieved, though, because I’ve been reading about agorism for a few weeks now and finding myself comfortable with the practical aspects of it–counter-economics and so on. As the agorist story goes, capitalists have consolidated their wealth and power all these years by hamstringing the little guy via governmental regulation. This seems true enough in the United States. International corporations can operate the different facets of their businesses anywhere in the world, according to profitability. Labor costs and taxation are the clearest examples of this. For years manufacturing has thrived in countries with the weakest labor laws. Meanwhile, income has been streamed to nations with the lowest tax rates and stashed in the countries with the most discrete banks. Middle-class Americans, though, can’t usually skirt the law by changing locations. (And I’ll skip the opportunity to point out how these facts contribute to the lack of productive growth in the United States.)
The agorist solution to this is to ignore the law and operate under the radar. Agorism in action, called counter-economics, includes black market and grey market business. A meth lab is counter-economical, but so is a bake sale. While these are radically different types of operations, they are the same in that they are motivated by a desire for cash income, and not by a desire for political change. Agorism gives sub-market business a political underpinning and provides points of solidarity for those who want them.
It’s a heartening set of ideas for hustlers of all types, but it’s also viable and relevant. Claims that agorists collaborate unknowingly with the establishment are launched from confused minds.
Maybe you’re aware of the recent federal raid on Gibson Guitars. There’s been a lot of talk about this around the internet. It’s sad, sick, wrong, etc. etc. that a job-creating American manufacturing company has been crippled by the federal government for hazy legal reasons.
There’s something that’s been bothering me about the discussion of this situation though. Several times I’ve heard that Gibson is anomalous in this day and age, an American manufacturing company making a profit.
And it’s great. Manufacturing is the basis of a healthy economy. That so little is actually made in the United States is a fantastic proportion of the reason that we are in decline. Wealth comes from creation. Turning raw materials into something a person can use is the most direct way of creating wealth. Importation, marketing, retail, service and all of the other activity that comes between the creation and consumption of a product are important to the economy, but without the manufacturing none of it is possible. And the more we allow manufacturing to take place outside of our country, the less self-sufficient we become. For years we have been the world’s customer, and recently we’ve been borrowing the money needed to buy the world’s goods. By creating money instead of wealth we’ve allowed the world’s economy to become balanced on the tip of a needle.
So any manufacturing that happens in the United States is something to be celebrated. But it strikes me that the success of this particular company is kind of perverse. They are making guitars, a recreational product for sale to persons with disposable income.
Other paragons of American manufacturing are similar. Harley Davidson makes a lifestyle product. Apple products are useful for industry, but the company’s success is a result of addressing identity concerns in its marketing. Philip Morris makes a fairly useless product. The list goes on.
Certainly there are lots of American companies that make things that have little to do with entertainment, lifestyle, recreation or rely on their customers having disposable income. Caterpillar comes to mind. Case IH and Marlin Wire make products that are truly necessary for the ongoing interests of civilization.
Any manufacturing is good for America. And a diversity of manufacturing is even better. But as the decline goes on, it’s the companies that depend on disposable income that are going to fail soonest. There are only so many people on the earth that truly need a new guitar. The rest of Gibson’s customers will fall off as their money loses value and their incomes wear thin. Meanwhile, the guitar heroes of the world will be selling fewer records.
There’s a parallel universe where things are simpler and more honest. In that universe the citizens of the United States all take turns at opposite sides of the bar. Six hours mixing drinks, six hours drinking drinks, six hours drunken slumber, and six hours nursing a hangover. Repeat.
Ha… quick note: I just scheduled three sorta long posts for this blog. They’ll go up Monday mornings for the next 3 weeks. Which means the rest of Sept. 2011.
I’m hoping to stick some more posts in between those and then hopefully stack up enough content to keep this blog alive for a while.
Re: the posts I’ve got so far… OMG wordy! I’ve got a berzerk way of writing which involves backing into my point half the time and meandering around it with a thesaurus the other. Also, I can’t seem to wind anything up in a satisfying way so I just quit and go have a cigarette. Then I come back and say “m’eh, print it, whatever.”
Problem is I’m out of practice with the whole putting-one-word-after-the-other thing. I’ll get better, I promise.
The subject of “hard work” keeps coming up in my life. Not in appropriate places, such as the job site, but on the periphery of life as a concept, something to think about in the abstract, something to casually dissect to see if immutable truth can be separated from folk talkes and nonsense. Something to subject to analysis, not because I want to prove it wrong, but because I want to find the parts of the concept that are going to help me live a better life.
Hard Work, as it is generally presented to young people in need of advice, tends to be sold as a magical act. If you work hard, everything will work out. Hard work is the key to success. It takes no talent to hustle. If you want to make it look easy, you’ve got to work hard.
Hard work is lauded with regularity, and I wonder if it is this routine celebration of something that is seldom defined that has caused hard work to take on a kind of mystic halo that obscures the real thing that sits at the core.
I feel an urge to deconstruct these ideas that we have about hard work, but unfortunately even after the stretches of time that I have thought about the subject, I still can’t seem to put my finger on hard work as a mythology. Maybe I should leave that kind of stuff to cultural anthropologists. Lots has been said on the subject. A favorite book of mine is Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America by Tom Lutz. If I remember correctly, he dismantled the American work ethic and the mythology of hard work pretty well.
So instead of pissing around with useless interpretation that will be done in eventual time, if it hasn’t been done already, I think it would be more useful to detail some of the things that I know for sure about hard work.
1. Hard work good and hard work fine, but not always. All work is not equal. Some work is more important that other work. And here I don’t mean that cleaning the latrine is less important than being president of the USA. Instead I mean that it’s less important to hose the latrine out if you haven’t dumped the sanitage yet. First things first. You’ve got to think. You’ve got to plan. The power of hard work is neutralized when you jump in and get going before you even know what you’re doing.
2. Hard work is for you, not for them. On a job, you work as hard as you can at the task you’re assigned. Even if you know that the task is unnecessary. (Yes, it’s recommended to try to point out inefficiencies when possible, but often enough the “problem” will be fixed by eliminating the guy that’s making it visible. The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.) But as you kill yourself to acheive nothing, remember that you are not doing this for the boss, the company, your colleagues or anyone else. You are working hard for your own purposes. You took the job for a reason, whether it be the money, the benefits, the resume entry or to stay out of prison. Always re-evaluate your work situation, but when you’re there work hard to the point that it’s necessary in order to be a good employee. Still, don’t waste your time working hard if no one knows about it. Despite any propaganda that might say otherwise, there is no team. You work for you. For several reasons, being a team player will make your life easier at work. But ultimately your motives are still selfish, aren’t they? Less grief, less stress. Maybe the best way to say it is that when you’re working at a “job” (ie something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t getting money for it) you want to get as much money as you can at the least cost of effort and spirt to yourself.
Off the job is different. You may have a family, and that requires work. You may be single. That also requires work. You have a yard, or a pet or a hobby or any of a thousand other things that are important to you just because they’re important to you. You put effort into these things and no one tells you twice to work hard. And that’s all for you. Nothing could be simpler.
Simultaneously, there is that aggravating crap that comes up in life that promises no financial gain or personal satisfaction, but still must be conquered because the result of ignoring it would result in disaster. These things are called problems. They must be eliminated with all haste.
It’s normal to grumble about the work that problems require. You shouldn’t have to be doing this, you say. Why do you have to go downtown on your day off? Why do you have to spend hours on the phone hassling with the insurance company? Why do you have to pick the neighbors dog crap up off the lawn every morning? Etcetera etcetera.
The fact is, though, if you didn’t have the specific problems you have, you would have other problems. The world is problematic and always falling apart. In nature, the floors are always dirty. Nothing is ever exactly how we would like it to be, because as human beings we have an unalterable need for things to be other than they are. So much suffering goes away when you accept the fact that maintenance is inevitable. Fix it and move on.
3. Hard work now makes easy work later. Stamina is measured by our upper limit of exertion. The higher that upper limit, the easier the average things become. The classic illustration of this fact is the man-on-deck in a baseball game swinging two or three bats to make swinging one feel all the more easy. And since the harder you work now the easier your work will feel later no hard work is ever completely pointless. At the very least you are contributing to your stamina. So why not push a little further every time? Go the extra inch in everything you do and by the end of every day you will have gone the extra mile.
4. Hard work impresses people. Usually it’s not the boss. Bosses, for some reason, never give enough credit where credit is due. Maybe it’s part of their job. (And also, incidentally, maybe it is why we are always our worst critics, because in reality we all work for ourselves.) But your coworker, your customer, your friend or family member may be watching closely enough to see that you are busting your ass. Maybe. Often times not. So much work goes unnoticed. But still, you never know. It’s not rare for someone to admire hard work and say absolutely nothing about it. The point, fortunately, is not to garner compliments, but to improve your image. Yes, image is important because perception has such an effect on everything. If you are seen as a hard worker, that perception will prevail even when you aren’t putting your whole self into the project. There is a thing called “confirmation bias”. If you aren’t aware of this phenominon, Google it now. I will define it quickly for you in any case: Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to find evidence for things they already believe. Whether that thing be right or wrong, the human mind has a way of supporting what has already been decided. Once you are aware of this psychological phenominon, you should start seeing it all around you. (… though this itself may be an instance of the phenominon, which leads to some paradoxes. That is another subject.)
5. What else are you going to do? You’ve got things to do. They aren’t going to go away. There’s no way around it, you’ve got to do your work. So why not make the most of it and do your best job? Of course, this goes beyond working hard. To do your best requires attention and care. But working hard is a good start. Roll up your sleeves, remind your body who’s in charge and dive right in. It’ll be over soon enough.