Peace Requires Anarchy


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Jason Brennan: “Justice requires cooperative anarchy”

Jason Brennan recently published a short post on the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog titled Statism as Accepting Moral Extortion.

The impetus to share the post here is Jason’s statement that “Justice requires cooperative anarchy,” which is similar to my chosen title of this blog, Peace Requires Anarchy, which in turn is inspired by Roderick Long’s statement that “A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.”

Over nine years after first accepting anarchism I still embrace anarchism. I believe the argument Jason makes in the linked post for statism is an argument that in principle could succeed in justifying (or at least excusing, per Brennan) a state.

However, it seems to me that in the real world the consequences of the state not engaging in any pre-emptive coercive acts (roughly those violating rights that people hold according to libertarian theory) would not be sufficiently bad so as to justify/excuse the state. As I have quoted before, in the words of Mike Huemer, “We’re nowhere close to the case where government would be justified.”

In the spirit of trying to update and learn, I will reflect now to see if I can identify how my views on this topic may have shifted at all, or see if I can have any thoughts now that may cause my views to shift as I write this post.

During the first several years after I became an anarchist my views shifted further in the direction of the state not being justified in the real world. For example, in 2016 I wrote:

“Stringham’s book [Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life] definitely increased my awareness and appreciation of the extent of private governance solutions that exist. This was not the first time that my beliefs about how well private actors could solve problems was changed in this direction. Rather, my views have shifted further in this direction a great deal over time as my views changed from default-statism to minarchist libertarianism to anarchist-libertarianism (and then even kept shifting further from legal centrism even after I became an anarchist). While my views on this hadn’t changed much lately, this book definitely shifted my beliefs further.”

(For a summary of my intellectual journey to libertarian anarchism, see my 2014 post What is Humerian Anarchist Libertarianism?)

Since 2016, I haven’t thought much more about the question. In my spare time, I tend to think about topics related to effective altruism, long-termism, and existential risk.

We appear to live in a world in which we have the ability to do an unusually large amount of good. There are mountains of tractable problems in the world and we do not have enough resources to solve everything. As such, we are in triage every second of every day.

GiveWell’s most recently published median estimate (2019) is that a mere $2,300 given to Against Malaria Foundation can avert a death in expectation. That’s cheap.

The suffering of animals can arguably be alleviated for even less. E.g. See Corporate campaigns affect 9 to 120 years of chicken life per dollar spent.

And perhaps we can do even more good by working to ensure beneficial long-term outcomes by helping put civilization on a safer course. I am excited for Toby Ord’s new book coming out next month The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, which I am hopeful will be useful to helping a wider group of people appreciate the shear scale of the future and our incredible position of power and influence today to make a profound difference.

Over the last few years my views have shifted toward more robustly believing that our current era is one where what we do as a civilization matters very significantly. I have on many occasions in recent years been able to appreciate the great importance of the experiences of single individuals. Then I often think about the vast number of sentient beings alive today that could be living much better lives. And when I think of the future, I struggle to wrap my head around the seemingly unimaginably large number of future generations that can potentially exist if we navigate the next few centuries well.

All this is to say that if one were looking for something new in my worldview today that could be used to overcome the presumption at the foundation of my anarchist libertarian views that I intuitively have against using physical coercion, it is probably that consequences of actions matter a lot.

Long before I heard of effective altruism or libertarian anarchism I thought about the future and wanted it to be great. However, I have never had as much confidence that it matters so much that we get things right. As a kid it never really even occurred to me that animals may be experiencing an insane amount of terrible suffering on farms and in nature. And I also hadn’t properly done the math to try to imagine the astronomical scale of our cosmic endowment (Timelapse of the Future, Existential Risk Prevention as Global Priority).

That said, even though I think the consequentialist stakes of actions are higher than I used to think, I have yet to come across a proposal of state aggression that I feel comfortable endorsing on the grounds that the consequentialist outcome is sufficiently better than what could be achieved without committing the rights-violation. The reality is that I do possess a lot of uncertainty about what exact course of action is optimal. There are basic questions in population ethics that I am not certain about that other thoughtful caring people disagree with me on. Very smart members of the effective altruism community who I respect disagree with each other on which organizations in which cause areas will make the best use of marginal dollars. And I am uncertain as well. Even just today I made the choice to allocate $200 to an organization I have not previously chosen to donate to.

In light of all this, it is difficult to see how I could think a particular use of state-scale pre-emptive coercion in the real world is justified or excusable. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree. I admit that I have become more humble than I once was at times when it seems to me that I am right and others are wrong. It seems I am right, but I know somehow that I may not be and I cannot hold my view with complete confidence. As such, that presumption against coercion is rarely overridden in practice.


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Something I learned at Voice & Exit 2015

Originally published on WilliamKiely.com.

How to Develop a Trait that is Essential for Human Flourishing

I attended Voice & Exit in Austin, TX this weekend. I learned a lot, but here I’ll share just one idea that’s now in my head as a result of attending the conference.

Brian Robertson spoke about Holacracy, a system for creating a self-management structure for one’s business or other organization. As he described ways in which businesses with Holacracy structures differ from businesses with more traditional hierarchical management structures, I began thinking about how a certain trait that appeared to be essential for a person working in an autonomous role in such a holacratic business might be the same as or similar to an important trait that I believe traditional public schools fail to develop in students.

What is this trait?

In his wonderful book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, psychologist Peter Gray lists “seven sins of our system of forced education.” The second sin he lists is “Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction.” Personal responsibility and self-direction, or how to handle autonomy and not feel the need to look to an authority figure such as a teacher, parent or manager to make a decision for oneself, is the trait. Gray writes:

Sin 2: Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction. When Civil War hero David Glascow Farragut was nine years old, he was appointed midshipman in the US Navy. At age twelve, in the War of 1812, he temporarily led a navy team that included adults two to four times his age, when he was appointed commander of a ship captured from the British. The great inventor Thomas Edison left school three months after starting it, at age eight, having been judged by his teacher to be unfit for it because of his “addled brain” (a condition that would probably be diagnosed today as ADHD). He then began systematically educating himself. By age twelve he was making an adultsize income from several businesses he had started, and two years after that he was publishing, on his own, a successful newspaper.

Farragut and Edison were exceptional people, but the practice of children’s assuming adult-like responsibilities was not exceptional in the early to mid-nineteenth century, before the era of state-enforced compulsory schooling. Today the typical twelve-year-old in a middle-class suburb is not trusted to babysit or even walk home from school unaccompanied by an adult. We have become a society that assumes that children are, merely because of their age, irresponsible and incompetent.

The belief that children and even teenagers are incapable of rational decision-making and self-direction is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By confining children to school and other adult-directed school-like settings, and by fulfilling their time with forced busywork, which serves no productive purpose, we deprive them of the time and opportunities they need to practice self-direction and responsibility. And so, children themselves, as well as their parents and teachers, come to think that children are incompetent. Over time, as forced schooling has been extended to include people of ever-older ages, the belief in incompetence has been extended upward.

An implicit and sometimes explicit message of our forced schooling system is this: “If you do what you are told to do in school, everything will work our well for you.” Children who buy into that message stop taking responsibility for their own education. They assume, falsely, that someone else has figured out what they need to do and know to become successful adults. If their life doesn’t work out well, they take the role of a victim: “My school (or parents or society) failed me, and that’s why my life is screwed up.” This attitude of victimization, set up in childhood, may then persist for a lifetime. As schooling has become an ever more dominant force in young people’s lives, the sense of individual helplessness has increased in our society, as I discussed in Chapter 1. Mark Twain was fond of saying, “I’ve never let school interfere with my education.” Unfortunately, today, because of the great expansion of forced schooling since Twain’s time, it’s becoming harder and harder for anyone to live by that maxim.

I asked Brian whether he thought that employees in the 300+ existing Holacratic businesses tended to be more responsible, adult-like, and able to handle autonomy in the first place, or whether they learn how to be like this over time by working in the autonomous roles of a Holacracy business.

Brian said that without a doubt people acquire this trait–learn how to be responsible, adult-like, handle autonomy, and own decisions they make–by working in a Holacratic business. That is, they develop this trait so they are better at it than before.

I then asked whether this personal responsibility that they develop only manifests itself in their success at their work for the Holacratic business, or whether it also shows in their life outside their work.

Again he confirmed my suspicion that taking on this kind of work teaches a person general responsibility, as opposed to a superficial responsibility that applies only to the specific job position in which they work. Brian told me that people tell him all the time that the increased sense of personal responsibility and ability to handle autonomy that they gained from working in the Holacracy business also gave rise to positive change in how they handle responsibility in their family and other aspects of their life.

Peter Gray offers a solution to the problem of schools interfering with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction. In fact, his wording of the problem makes the solution obvious: Don’t interfere with the development of this important life trait! How can this be done? Give children the freedom to play, direct their own activities, make decisions for themselves, so that they can learn to hand the responsibility well, and not continue as they age into adulthood to feel the need to defer to a parent, manager, or other authority figure to make a decision that they ought to make and own themselves.

And as for teenagers and adults, let and encourage them to take on jobs or other roles with responsibilities of the kind all employees of Holacracy businesses must handle. Because, whether this is the only way to develop personal responsibility and self-direction or not, taking on more responsibility than you’re used to handling is an effective way to develop this trait of personal responsibility and self-direction.

Having this trait is essential to being an entrepreneur, and flourishing as an adult in life in general. Since the tagline of Voice & Exit is to maximize human flourishing, it seemed obvious to me that this was the most important new idea in my head to share.

I intend to read Brian Robertson’s book Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World soon (before the end of September) to learn more about the Holacracy management structure and how it is different from traditional management structures (which I also poorly understand and want to learn more about).

I also intend to obtain a job in which I have a good deal of autonomy and responsibility and in which I can make decisions and own them, rather than merely make recommendations to a manager or senior employer in a hierarchical organization who would ultimately traditionally be the responsible decision-maker. I want a job with these characteristics for reasons of personal growth, so that I can get better at the trait discussed in this post that I feel I was cheated on developing when I made the mistaken assumption that all I had to do to be successful was do what teachers and professors in school and college laid out before me–steps to get good grades. Foolish me. I will not take the role of victim. Even if I wouldn’t blame my past self for not realizing that the assumption was false, I do currently take responsibility for developing personal responsibility and self-direction in myself so that one day I can have the confidence to achieve my goals, whether as an entrepreneur or just a flourishing true adult.

(In addition to Peter Gray’s book mentioned above, I recommend his Psychology Today blog Freedom to Learn.)


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“The Most Dangerous Superstition” – Insightful, but poorly argued

Following is my Amazon Review of Larken Rose’s book The Most Dangerous Superstition.

3 stars out of 5

I believe that the two very controversial central claims of Larken Rose’s book “The Most Dangerous Superstition” are correct:

(1) No government genuinely has the special moral authority that most people think governments have.

(2) The belief in government authority is incredibly dangerous and destructive.

Indeed, as Rose writes on the back cover, “The vast majority of theft, extortion, intimidation, harassment, assault, and even murder––the vast majority of man’s inhumanity to man––comes [from the belief in government authority]. If humankind could give up this one false idea, even without otherwise acquiring another scrap of wisdom or compassion, the vast majority of injustice and oppression would instantly cease.”

Further, I agree with Larken Rose’s statement that the belief in government authority is “the most important issue in the world.”

So why am I rating this book only 3 stars?

Briefly, because I believe Rose’s arguments defending his two main claims are rather weak.

To give one example, Rose begs the question when he writes: “There is no ritual or document through which any group of people can delegate to someone else a right which no one in the group possesses. And that self-evident truth, all by itself, demolishes any possibility of legitimate ‘government'” (p. 35).

For a much stronger defense of the anarchist libertarian view that no government has political authority, see the first half of Professor Michael Huemer’s outstanding book “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.”

Rose also does a poor job making a case for the position that the belief in government authority is the most dangerous superstition. While he succeeds in showing that it is dangerous and can make basically good people do wicked things, he does not include an economic analysis showing the magnitude of the impact. Certainly this economic discussion would be needed to adequately defend the thesis that the belief in political authority is the *most* dangerous superstition in the world today.

Lastly, I would like to say that I greatly appreciated the valuable insights into the nature of the belief in political authority in Larken Rose’s book. The insights in his book go beyond those presented in his popular YouTube animations. He expertly illustrates the many senses in which people believe that governments have a special right to rule and the many senses in which people believe subjects have an obligation to obey. (In fact, Rose’s book may be more aptly titled “The Nature of the Belief in Government Authority.”) Most of these insights are not to be found in Michael Huemer’s book. For this reason, I recommend “The Most Dangerous Superstition.”

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Other Blog Posts on The Most Dangerous Superstition:


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The Enormous Effects of the Widespread Belief in Government Authority

The back cover of Larken Rose’s book The Most Dangerous Superstition reads:

Most people, looking at our troubled world with its long history of injustice and human suffering, will attribute social evils to the greed, ignorance, hatred, or lack of compassion of others. Rarely does anyone consider the possibility that his own attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs may be the root cause of most of the world’s suffering.

But in almost every case, they are.

The vast majority of theft, extortion, intimidation, harassment, assault, and even murder–the vast majority of man’s inhumanity to man–comes not from the greed, hatred, and intolerance that lurks in our hearts, but from one pernicious and almost universal assumption, one unquestioned belief, one irrational, self-contradictory superstition that infects all races, all religions, all nationalities, ages, and income levels.

If humankind could give up this one false idea, even without otherwise acquiring another scrap of wisdom or compassion, the vast majority of injustice and oppression would instantly cease. But this cannot happen until people are ready and willing to turn their judgmental eyes upon themselves–to objectively examine their own belief systems, to recognize and understand, and finally to abandon, the most dangerous superstition.

This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not–I think he’s right about the absolutely enormous magnitude of the negative effects of this widespread superstition. (And no, the positive effects are nowhere near as great.) The superstition Rose is talking about is of course the belief in political authority.

In the words of Professor Michael Huemer:

The Problem of Political AuthorityPolitical authority (hereafter, just ‘authority’) is the hypothesized moral property in virtue of which governments may coerce people in certain ways not permitted to anyone else, and in virtue of which citizens must obey governments in situations in which they would not be obligated to obey anyone else. Authority, then, has two aspects:

(i)   Political legitimacy: the right, on the part of a government, to make certain sorts of laws and enforce them by coercion against the members of its society–in short, the right to rule.

(ii)  Political obligation: the obligation on the part of citizens to obey their government, even in circumstances in which one would not be obligated to obey similar commands issued by a non-governmental agent.

If a government has ‘authority’, then both (i) and (ii) exist: the government has the right to rule, and the citizens have the obligation to obey.

In his book The Problem of Political Authority, Huemer argues that political authority is an illusion. No government, nor anyone else, actually possesses the special moral status that most people believe governments have.

While Rose also argues that nobody has political authority, he only devotes a portion of a single chapter (“Disproving the Myth”) to this task and the arguments he makes are quite weak. For example, in the section “Who Gave Them the Right?” Rose writes:

There are several ways to demonstrate that the mythology the public is taught about “government” is self-contradictory and irrational. One of the simplest ways is to ask the question: How does someone acquire the right to rule another? The old superstitions asserted that certain people were specifically ordained by a god, or a group of gods, to rule over others. Various legends tell of supernatural events (the Lady of the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, etc.) that determined who would have the right to rule over others. Thankfully, humanity has, for the most part, outgrown those silly superstitions. Unfortunately, they have replaced by new superstitions that are even less rational.

At least the old myths attributed to some mysterious “higher power” the task of appointing certain individuals as rulers over others – something a deity could at least theoretically do. The new justifications for “authority,” however, claim to accomplish the same amazing feat, but without supernatural assistance. In short, despite all of the complex rituals and convoluted rationalizations, all modern belief in “government” rests on the notion that mere mortals can, through certain political procedures, bestow upon some people various rights which none of the people possessed to begin with. The inherent lunacy of such a notion should be obvious. There is no ritual or document through which any group of people can delegate to someone else a right which no one in the group possesses. And that self-evident truth, all by itself, demolishes any possibility of legitimate “government.”

In reality, what Rose says above is true only given a certain individualistic conception of rights, such as Lockean property rights. Those who have not already been convinced that moral rights should work this way would be correct to point out that this is a weak argument.

Huemer’s arguments against political authority do not rest on controversial assumptions such as this, and I invite anyone who is not convinced by Rose’s rhetoric to consult Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority. (Note: Prof. Bryan Caplan has said the same.)

Despite Rose’s arguments against political authority being less rigorous than Huemer’s, The Most Dangerous Superstition definitely has its strengths. A majority of the book is dedicated to describing the effects that the belief in authority has on peoples’ actions. Politicians, law enforcers, their targets, spectators, and advocates of government all behave significantly differently as a result of their belief in political authority.

For example, consider one effect of the belief in authority on police officers:

It is very telling that many modern “law enforcers” quickly become angry, even violent, when an average citizen simply speaks to the “officer” as an equal, instead of assuming the tone and demeanor of a subjugated underling. Again, this reaction is precisely the same – and has the same cause – as the reaction a slave master would have to an “uppity” slave speaking to him as an equal. There are plenty of examples, depicted in numerous police abuse videos on the internet, of supposed representatives of “authority” going into a rage and resorting to open violence, simply because someone they approached spoke to them as one adult would speak to another instead of speaking as a subject would speak to a master. The state mercenaries refer to this lack of groveling as someone having an “attitude.” In their eyes, someone treating them as mere mortals, as if they are on the same level as everyone else, amounts to showing disrespect for their alleged “authority.”

Similarly, anyone who does not consent to be detained, questioned, or searched by “officers of the law” is automatically perceived, by the mercenaries of the state, as some sort of troublemaker who has something to hide. Again, the real reason such lack of “cooperation” annoys authoritarian enforcers is because it amounts to people treating them as mere humans instead of treating them as superior beings, which is what they imagine themselves to be. To wit, if someone was confronted by a stranger (without a badge) who started interrogating the person in an obviously accusatory way and then asked to be allowed to search the person’s pockets, his car, and his home, not only would the person being accosted almost certainly refuse, out he also would probably be outraged at the request. “Of course you can’t rummage through my stuff! Who do you think you are?” But when strangers with badges make such requests, they are the ones offended when the targets of their intrusive, unjustified harassments, accusations and searches object, and refuse to “cooperate.” Even when the “officers” know full well that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution specifically dictate that a person has no “Legal” duty to answer questions or consent to searches, such “lack of cooperation” – i.e., the failure to unquestioningly bow to the enforcer’s every whim and request – is still seen by the “police” as a sign that the person must be some sort of criminal and enemy of the state. From the perspective of “law enforcers,” only a despicable lowlife would ever treat representatives of “authority” in the same manner as he treats everyone else. [pp. 64-5 (PDF pp. 60-1)]

Now consider the effect of the belief in authority on spectators observing conflicts between police and others:

The double standard in the minds of those who have been indoctrinated into authoritarianism, when it comes to the use of physical force, is enormous. When, for example, a “law enforcer” is caught on film brutally assaulting an unarmed, innocent person, the talk is usually about whether the officer should be reprimanded, or maybe even lose his job. If, on the other hand, some citizen assaults a “police officer,” nearly everyone will enthusiastically demand – often without even wondering or asking why the person did it – that the person be caged for many years. And if a person resorts to the use of deadly force against a supposed agent of “authority,” hardly anyone even bothers to ask why he did it. In their minds, no matter what the agent of “authority” did, it is never okay to kill a representative of the god called “government.” To the believers in “authority,” nothing is worse than a “cop-killer” regardless of why he did it. [pp. 103-4 (PDF p. 97)]

Given Larken Rose’s understanding of the two points above about how the belief in government authority influences peoples actions, I am sure that he would not be surprised by the recent case of Kelly Thomas, which I learned of last night. Police were caught on film brutally murdering Kelly Thomas in July 2011. The jury saw the video and, on Monday, amazingly declared the police not guilty. As Scott Wilson writes:

Kelly Thomas was a homeless, mentally ill man who was murdered by Fullerton, CA police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. The police told him before they beat him to death that they were about to beat him. That is a fact that was part of the evidence, not a suppostion or hearsay — and was on video. The victim never resisted, unless you count trying to stop them from killing you by trying to get away “resisting.”

In this video, http://youtu.be/e6yaeD-E_MY?t=15m21s, at 15:21, killer cop Manuel Ramos says “see my fist, they’re getting ready to fuck you up,” and within 30 seconds they begin to beat him to death. As they were beating the life out of him, he was calling for his daddy saying “they are killing me.”

The cops outweighed the man by 60+ pounds, and there were first two of them and eventually six of them wailing on him, tasing him, literally physically suffocating him.

Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were merely charged with “striking Kelly Thomas with a baton and a stun gun in a beating that left him comatose.” Got it? Not charged with murder, or even manslaughter, even though they absolutely killed him — an uncontested fact. He died five days later from injuries they gave him, on video, with audio.

Today they were found not guilty and walked as free “men.” Clearly, if you are a cop, you can put on gloves to deliver a beating to someone who hasn’t raised a hand to you, tell them you are going to “fuck them up,” and then beat them into a bloody pulp, then tase them and beat them some more, and having it all caught on video AND audio, means that you are innocent.

The four other police officers who took part in what amounts to a gang slaying weren’t even charged.

Ramos and Cicinelli are now free to rejoin the force, make fists, threaten beatings on camera, deliver the beatings that lead to the death of victims — and they know they can do it with impunity. So do all the other officers in that police department and region — and around the country.

Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, told reporters: “These peace officers were doing their jobs…they did what they were trained to do.”

~Scott Wilson

The most powerful and important, uninfluenced witness testimony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYJi3lgXLBU ~Antonio Buehler

Both the police’s attack and the jury’s not guilty decision demonstrate the powerful influence of the belief in government authority.

Kelly Thomas

It should be noted that observations about police only make up one part of the analysis of the effects of the belief in political authority. If people stopped believing in political authority, many other things would change as well.

For example, essentially everyone would come to view immigration restrictions as unjust and they would soon be abolished. The effects of this would be substantial. As economist Bryan Caplan points out, “Under free migration, labor would relocate to more productive regions, massively increasing total production.  Standard cost-benefit analysis predicts that global GDP would roughly double.”

This is just one other example of many. For more, see the first section, “Some Policy Implications,” of Chapter 7, “What If There Is No Authority?” of The Problem of Political Authority.

Lastly, while my intention with this blog post was not to convince you to read either of the two books that I have mentioned, I do believe that they are both books that are definitely worth reading, regardless of whether or not you have already been convinced that there is no political authority. I highly recommend them both.


Advertisement: I tried Grammarly’s plagiarism checker free of charge because while copying is not theftcredit is still due. (See The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide for an overview of the many reasons why copyright, patent, and other laws protecting so-called “intellectual property” should be abolished.)