The video was very successful. It received more views in the first week it was up (50,000+) than all of Graham’s 22 other videos combined received in the many months they have been up. As I write this, “Government Explained” has been up for almost two weeks and it is now approaching 150,000 views. Also, it has been mirrored several times, adding on at least another 20,000-30,000 views.
At first it was not clear to me why “Government Explained” was so popular. Many of Graham’s other videos are of top quality as well—some are even better, in my opinion. So why was this video so popular?
For one you could say that it appealed to a much larger audience. You don’t have to be an anarchist or even a libertarian to agree with or like the message in the video. Rather, “Government Explained” appeals to the most general notion that there is something flawed about the governments that rule over today’s societies. With so many people disappointed in “their” governments’ actions today, one can understand why this video spread so far.
What else can we say about why “Government Explained” was so successful? I would add that the video effectively communicated to the typical person who believes in government that which it is often so difficult for the anarchist to communicate. That is, it effectively communicated the anarchist’s view that governments are unjust, immoral, violent, and unnecessary institutions. As an anarchist I know that when I usually share this view with others, the initial reaction that I generally receive tells me that the person I am talking to thinks I am crazy. I typically have a whole list of objections spewed at me all at once.
My guess is that there are others, including people who are not anarchists, but nevertheless are opposed to some aspect of government, who also experience similar reactions whenever they attempt to explain their political views to others. My guess is that there are a lot of people like this who also have difficulty explaining to the person who thinks that government “solutions” for everything are great that cutting government out of the equation on those issues is the best thing to do.
I think it can be said, then, that one of the reasons that “Government Explained” became so popular likely is the fact that it does such a good job portraying government as the barbaric institution of violence that it is. This is not an easy thing to explain to someone who supports government involvement in nearly every aspect of peoples’ lives. Anyone reading this likely knows this from experience. Thus, my guess is that many people saw this video and understood that if so effectively communicated thus idea, and thus decided to share it.
So what can we learn from this and how can we apply this idea to other videos? I would like to propose a sequel video to “Government Explained,” but before doing so I will examine what exactly it was about the video that managed to achieve the feat of effectively communicate the fact that government is an unjust, immoral, violent, and unnecessary institution.
The video accomplished this feat by having an outsider alien ask about government. If it was a human asking these questions, far fewer people would have listened. They would have dismissed the human’s questions as absurd and responded with commonly-heard statements like “Dude, just accept it. We need governments to have a civilized society.” More people would have thought that the human’s questions were nonsensical.
By having the questioner take the form of an alien, the audience did not blame the alien for not being aware of what they believed to be “obvious” reasons why government is necessary and so they did not just dismiss the alien’s questions. This thus made the audience actually care that the guy in the video actually gave good complete answers to the alien. So the audience listened to what the guy said, and truly listened to the alien’s questions to make sure that they understood exactly what difficulties the alien was having understanding government so that they could better answer his questions and better judge whether the guy answered the alien’s questions adequately.
The audience was thus successfully influenced to actually spend a few moments thinking about what government really is. During this time, because they were paying attention to make sure that the alien received good answers, they realized that the intelligent alien actually had a point with his questions. They glimpsed the anarchist’s perspective that they had previously dismissed as nonsensical without a second thought (or would have dismissed if a human anarchist ever mentioned it to them). And again, it’s not just the anarchist view that the alien so powerfully represented, but also the view of all advocates of limited government who believe that that there is something wrong with the leviathan states in today’s world, hence why the video became so popular (the anarchist audience isn’t nearly as large as the minarchist / limited government audience).
The powerful effect that a dialogue with an alien evidently has to cause people to question what they otherwise would just assume has lead me to think of some variations of this dialogue that may also have the potential to be enlightening. No doubt this idea of having an outsider ask questions to get people to really think about something that they usually assume for granted can also be used in other contexts, but for now I am just going to apply it to this idea of a dialogue between an alien and a human.
“Government Explained” takes the form of (1) Alien Anarchist and Human Statist. But, there are three other combinations for this dialogue:
(2) Alien Statist and Human Statist.
(3) Alien Statist and Human Anarchist.
(4) Alien Anarchist and Human Anarchist.
After considering my above analysis, it seems that the ability of the dialogue to effectively communicate an idea about the nasty nature of government to those who support government comes from the fact that the outsider alien takes the anarchist or anti-statist position. That is, the alien does not come from a land with these governments and is able to enlighten the audience by asking questions about what this “government” thing is and why there are governments at all. In light of this observation, I am going to cut options 2 and 3 from the list. Option 4, the dialogue between an Alien Anarchist and a Human Anarchist, however, appears to have some potential and may be worthy of another video.
First, the reason why having a human anarchist in the conversation may be of value is so that the audience realizes that governments aren’t just obsolete for intelligent alien species, but actually are unnecessary for our present society of regular humans as well. Further, I read many of the comments on “Government Explained” and many people said things to the effect of “But, the alien didn’t offer any reasonable alternatives to government.” Despite how these people agreed with the alien’s criticisms of government, they still believed that without government there would be a world of chaos and violence and thus that we really don’t have a choice but to accept governments as necessary given human nature, even governments aren’t perfect. Adding a human anarchist to the conversation could thus potentially allow for a way to effectively communicate the idea that a human world without governments would not be so bad, but in fact would be preferred to a world with government, even given human nature.
I imagine the dialogue beginning with the alien coming down to Earth, as before. Again, “Hey, an alien!” But, this time, rather than say, “Shall I take you to our leader?” the Human Anarchist could say, “A lot of other people would think of taking you to see the President or Prime Minister of the government that rules over the people of this land, but I don’t have much respect for them.” The alien asks the human to explain, as he does not know of any such ‘government’ that rules over people in this way. The human replies, “Well, in our society despite how people almost always manages to get along with each other in their personal lives without resorting to violence, almost everybody supports coercing others indirectly through the institution known as government.” In the video the Human Anarchist could go on explaining the violent nature of government (how it is a coercion apparatus, etc) as the Alien Anarchist asks about it.
The dialogue would thus take the form of a typical conversation between an anarchist explaining his/her views of government to someone, but could be crafted to effectively communicate the anarchist’s views to a statist audience by using the anarchist alien to ask questions about what the ruling government thing is.
Actually, the more I think about it, I think the effectiveness of “Government Explained” came not only from the fact that the alien questioning government was an outsider, but also the fact that the human answering the alien’s questions was someone who supported governments. The audience thus agreed with the human’s answers to the alien’s questions about what government is. If a Human Anarchist thus answered the Alien Anarchist’s questions about what government is, then a statist audience might just dismiss their answers and fail to gain anything from observation of the dialogue.
Perhaps then a better way to add in the human anarchist’s perspective to the video would be to have a three person conversation. That is, have the Alien Anarchist and Human Statist as in the original “Government Explained,” but this time add a third character, a Human Anarchist, to communicate the idea mentioned previously: that an anarchist society of present day humans (human nature and all) would be an orderly, prosperous, and peaceful society to live in (to prevent the statist audience from dismissing the anarchist position with the erroneous reason that alien nature may allow for a decent alternative to society with government, but that human nature means that a society without government would spiral into violence and chaos and thus is not a preferable alternative, despite the flaws of government).
The idea for a sequel to “Government Explained” did not fall into place as easy as I expected it to when I started writing this an hour or so ago. I think there is certainly still potential, but it will take much more thought and analysis before I could possibly come up with another script to rival that of “Government Explained.” Perhaps the Alien Anarchist and Human Statist combination in the original dialogue was the most powerful combination, but then again perhaps not. I am certainly not done analyzing it, but I will take a break for now. I am still hopeful that another great idea for an enlightening dialogue (between two, three, or possibly more persons) can come out of this general idea of using an alien’s “outsider” perspective to get people to question the institution of government in a way that they previously never have before.
If anyone has any ideas on this I would love to hear them. In the meantime, I will have this subject in the back of my mind and hopefully will come up with a more specific and detailed idea for a possible sequel to the original “Government Explained” dialogue, which I will post as soon as I come up with it. Great video, Graham. I know that Larken Rose came up with the initial idea, but you did a great job executing it.