A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Articles

by on February 8th, 2015



The Real Reason You Don’t Know The Truth About Everything Ever…It’ll Surprise You!

The above is a fantastic info-graphic and gets to the heart of what makes a lot of so-called “science” unfalsifiable or otherwise hard to prove in one direction or the next. A particular pet peeve of mine is the sensational headlines which seem to be in vogue today for one reason or another. Everyone seems to think that they know “the truth” of the situation or that the truth will come out via this one study that had a really small sample bias but never mind the results because pop culture!

You see it in the Huffington Post among other places like the always obnoxious Buzzfeed always talking about how they seemingly found the one answer to an incredibly complex issue that has been debated for hundreds of years. But thanks to these few studies we’re citing from (of course) prominent institutions we can just lay the topic to rest.

Oh, and please mail the check to…

So yes, this an issue in fairly mainstream or at least widely-received publications that should know better. But how does this relate to articles? I think we can relate this practice to some similar problems with articles, maybe enough to sketch up a rough guide to notice some warning signs that the article in question may not be the best at telling you what the truth of the matter is.


Review of, “Eek! A Male!”


Recently someone on my friends list on Facebook (two actually) posted this which tackles a pretty serious issue: how society deals with child predators.

Now, my own opinion is that society goes a bit nuts when it comes to “the children” whatever the case may be. Which makes sense to some degree since children are seen as a given society’s “future”. And if the children are harmed physically or otherwise on a grand enough scale then repercussions might indeed be catastrophic for the given society. So I can see why things like child predators and other exploiters of children may be seen more harshly than others.

Besides this common notion of children being “the future” it’s also worth noting that adults typically see children as much more vulnerable, innocent and (frankly) cuter and thus may tend to have more compassion for them then, say, an adult who had to deal with these problems. It’s this sort of visceral reaction that also informs us while some people take abuse of pets less non-nonchalantly than domestic violence. Domestic violence, on some level, is much more expected than a pet’s owner being very abusive.

The problem in trying to rectify how viscerally people react so that children can actually be protected more often is that you run into the trope of, “well if you’re against the current way of protecting children you must not care yourself!” or worse still you’re accused of being a child predator yourself. The latter, potentially, could hold a lot of social power over your head if the right people are convinced of that and report you to the police or something.

I don’t have any statistics on hand for how often the above happens and I’m not about to claim it’s some systematic problem when I don’t have said data and could only vaguely refer to intimations, vague anecdotes and so on. But I do think the above situations are entirely possible in a society that seems to treat “safety” (whatever that means) as more important than the children themselves.

A less auspicious example of taking safety more seriously than children is when people build parks out of “safer” equipment or when an old park that’s now deemed “dangerous” is covered with safer material so the children won’t get hurt.

Of course, I’m all in favor of children having an environment that is less likely to harm themselves on and in general protecting people who are probably going to be more vulnerable to harm than you (on average anyhow) is usually a good idea. But these sorts of changes don’t strike me as particularly helpful. It’s giving the children the idea that if life ever becomes tough or there’s even a risk of it that someone can just bail them out or make it safer. It’s also fairly infantalizing to some extent to expect most children to be so reckless that they’re going to seriously injure themselves in a park.

Again, I have no statistics about how often kids get seriously (and by that I mean needing to go to the ER or the like) injured at playgrounds. But I’m going to engage in some speculation here (so grain of salt please!) that more kids get injured in car accidents and cars in general than they do at playgrounds. That’s speculation but it seems fairly intuitively right for whatever that’s worth.

In the cases I’ve cited above, you’ll note that I’ve given some individual examples, common cultural perceptions and so on without any statistics. But that’s fine because I’m not claiming this is a societal issue or an issue that happens any number of times. I’m just claiming it’s a thing that happens and has happened and that we ought to be suspicious about it inasmuch as that is possible.

Where the article that I link above goes wrong is that, from some anecdotes and no larger evidence or study, it concludes that men are seen de facto as predators in many places. It seems to repeatedly imply that men are seen as the problem. For the author, Lenore Skenazy, it doesn’t seem like a problem of predators themselves but who predators are associated with.

But how does she prove this? She seems to rely on various news stories and personal stories but as I said before has no larger proof of evidence that this is a societal problem that happens often and in many places. She just extrapolates from the handful of situations she cites that this is something that needs to be stopped.

Indeed, if Skenazy was right and this was a larger issue about men and does happen often then I’d probably agree that it needs to be rectified. But what happens if we take some of my advice from above? Stop infantalizing children, treat “safety” as more of a spectrum than a binary of “safe” and “unsafe”and so on. I speculate that if we did that then it’d also stop the persecution of men that Skenazy is deriding without even specifically addressing the part about men.

This shows to me that the issue isn’t about men or at least not per se’, it’s about how society thinks and deals with children and their safety. And I think that’s definitely an issue that I can see needs to be rewritten.

That idea of children and safety certainly hurts men but it can also hurt women just as well. It can make women who trust their kid to be by themselves for a minute to be a bad mother because maybe women are supposed to “always be close” to their kids. That opinion depends heavily on what counts as “close” though. Being on a park bench while your kid plays a bunch of feet away isn’t anything new and is often depicted in media. Is that “close” enough. What if you only live across the street and watch from your porch or look out the window every 10 minutes or so?

All of this is just to say that Skenazy’s points here aren’t well argued for and I think we should take a look at her article more closely to get a sort of study case on spotting bad articles.


Response to, “Eek! A Male!”


Let’s first notice the subtitle: “Treating all men as potential predators doesn’t make our kids safer.” (emphasis added)

So is Skenazy’s claim that all men are actually being treated as potential predators? I doubt it and in an attempt to reconstruct her premise as charitably as possible I’ll presume that she’s just going for a sensational headline (or in this case, subtitle) which is a part of spotting bad science and perhaps a bad (or at least problematic) article.

So Skenazy thinks that most men or at least a large percentage of the population’s male section are being treated as potential predators. Okay, so what is her evidence for this?

Skenazy starts with a story:

Last week, the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Timothy Murray, noticed smoke coming out of a minivan in his hometown of Worcester. He raced over and pulled out two small children, moments before the van’s tire exploded into flames. At which point, according to the AP account, the kids’ grandmother, who had been driving, nearly punched our hero in the face.


Mr. Murray said she told him she thought he might be a kidnapper.

It’s not clear from this story the sequence of events. Did the grandmother see Murray? Did she know it was a man? She clearly didn’t see the smoke so if the smoke was in her line of vision somehow would it have been possible that she did what most people would do if someone came racing at your car and picked out your kids? I think that’s entirely possible.

The problem here more fundamentally is that we don’t know whether the grandmother almost punched him because he was male or because she thought he was going to steal her grandchildren. And if that’s not exactly clear then this story doesn’t do much for Skenazy’s case. She could have almost punched him out of a visceral reaction or more specifically a reaction to adrenaline to her body and not be thinking.

And where exactly did Murray come at from the car?

I know this sounds like I’m nitpicking but it is actually pretty important to the story to know whether the grandmother could tell it was a man to begin with. Maybe asking her a question like, “would you have had the same reaction if it was a woman or a non-binary person?” or something would be a good way to control for outside factors. Otherwise we just have no good way to know or conclude that she did it because Murray was a man.

Skenazy continues:

And so it goes these days, when almost any man who has anything to do with a child can find himself suspected of being a creep. I call it “Worst-First” thinking: Gripped by pedophile panic, we jump to the very worst, even least likely, conclusion first. Then we congratulate ourselves for being so vigilant.

Notice even Skenazy doesn’t say male panic even though the whole point of her article is that this is a male problem and not a problem with how society sees pedophilia and children. It’s possible I’ve misinterpreted Skenazy’s point but if so then why does she only mention males? Why not have pedophilia and children in the main title and not just the subtitle? Why only use examples that include men? It seems hard to me to interpret Skenazy’s argument any other way.

But regardless I think Skenazy points out something here that’s certainly true in my experience: people love having the moral high ground.

Consider the game, The Walking Dead. There’s a scene where someone saves their kid instead of someone else’s kid and runs away to safety. The player has the choice to moralize, shame and guilt the already explicitly guilty NPC who is trying to deal with his demons. When I considered my (time-sensitive) options the solution seemed fairly obvious: why would I shame him anymore than he already feels shame? I should console him as he is no good to the group (or less good to the group) if he’s feeling shitty about himself and his life choices.

And besides that, uh, it’s the zombie apocalypse…what the hell does having the moral high ground have to do with surviving?

Don’t get me wrong, in some cases being able to tell someone they’re wrong or make them reconsider their past actions might help you not associate with unreliable or otherwise not pleasant people. These are the sort of people who you wouldn’t want to survive with and you may even be better off without them in some cases.

…So yeah, I’ve been playing a lot of The Walking Dead lately, sorry.

Back to the point though, I do think that Skenazy is right to point out that sometimes we get so caught up in having morality on our side that we forget that morality involves other people too. And even if they’ve done something wrong this doesn’t always mean they’re a bad person (I could make another TWD reference here but I’ll stay my tongue…).

Skenazy cites another example however:

Consider the Iowa daycare center where Nichole Adkins works. The one male aide employed there, she told me in an interview, is not allowed to change diapers. “In fact,” Ms. Adkins said, “he has been asked to leave the classroom when diapering was happening.”

Now, a guy turned on by diaper changes has got to be even rarer than a guy turned on by Sponge Bob. But “Worst-First” thinking means suspecting the motives of any man who chooses to work around kids.

I disagree with the Iowa daycare center’s decision, for whatever that’s worth. I think that it may be, at least in part, based in the sexist notion that only women can take care of children and men are too “rough and tough” or whatever to handle children delicately like they need to be (do you see the infantalizing returning and now intersecting with sexism?).

Yes, sexism hurts men.

But, again, is Nichole choosing this because Ms. Adkins and others see him as a man? Or is it because of the scare of pedophilia that, I agree, seems overblown in this specific case?

It’s not clear why but I can certainly understand why Skenazy would reach this conclusion. I could certainly see it being the case but if all we have to go on are insinuations and implications then this evidence seems weaker then Skenazy is hoping it will be.

And even though I tried to reconstruct Skenazy’s argument more charitably she again says “any man” instead of “some men” or “most men”. I’m not sure if she’s just doing it for rhetoric purposes (likely) or actually believes it’s all men which seems to be a apriori ridiculous claim or assertion to make. Regardless her evidence so far isn’t compelling enough and mostly seem to rely on knee-jerk emotional reactions than cautious study and analysis of his reasoning.

Further, what do all of these single cases prove? Just because someone in Worcester and someone in Idaho (allegedly) targeted someone because they were male (which isn’t clear to me, but even if it was I would require more evidence on a larger scale to accept Skenazy’s conclusion) doesn’t necessarily entail that this is a larger societal issue.

That conclusion just doesn’t seem to follow to me. There are other explanations (which I’ve tried to give above) such as inftalization of children, panic over pedophilia and so on.

Skenazy is determined to prove her point though, she says next that:

Maybe the daycare center felt it had to be extra cautious, to avoid lawsuits. But regular folk are suspicious, too. Last February, a woman followed a man around at a store berating him for clutching a pile of girls’ panties. “I can’t believe this! You’re disgusting. This is a public place, you pervert!” she said—until the guy, who posted about the episode on a website, fished out his ID. He was a clerk restocking the underwear department.

Okay…so let me get this straight.

Someone carries panties in stores while other customers are around…how often exactly? Like, would this be something someone would expect? And why weren’t the panties like…in a box? I’ve done retail before and I’ve never seen them done while customers are in the store (specifically girls and women’s underwear).

I’m not saying that the story isn’t true (I’m sure it is) but it just seems like something someone wouldn’t expect to see. You can also usually tell a clerk is a clerk because they’re often dressed in a certain way that the customers may not tend to be.

Regardless, let’s accept this as true and presume that it was because he was a man (a safe assumption here, perhaps)…so what? Does a guy who gets called a pervert for carrying around girls panties in a store somehow mean that all (or even more charitably, most) men are presumed perverts?

Could anyone see this situation and think,

“Wow that woman only targeted him because he was a guy! What a jerk!”

Like, if I saw someone carrying around girls panties and they were a full grown man with no children nearby and they didn’t look like an employee maybe I’d be weirded out and maybe I wouldn’t, I don’t know. It’s never happened to me or anyone I know.

But, like, I don’t think it was unreasonable for this woman to presume something was going on. I probably wouldn’t have said anything and just thought it was a bit weird…but either way does this situation prove much? I’m not really convinced it does. I mean, it can prove people are quick to judge in certain situations but honestly I don’t see how this woman is blame-worthy let alone indicative of some bigger social issue Skenazy has yet to prove.

We’re going to move on though:

Given the level of distrust, is it any wonder that, as the London Telegraph reported last month, the British Musicians’ Union warned its members they are no longer to touch a child’s fingers, even to position them correctly on the keys? Or that a public pool in Sydney, Australia last fall prohibited boys from changing in the same locker room as the men? (According to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the men demanded this, fearing false accusations.)

Skenazy’s case may seem stronger here because now she’s citing examples outside of the US which maybe makes her claim stronger than most (all?) men are suspect of being pedophilic. But it’s really just the same sorts of “evidence” she has cited before. Individual and story/news based cases that have gotten a lot of attention and are therefore indicative of a larger problem in some way.

Now Skenazy is just extending her weak foundation for basing evidence to other parts of the world. But the fact of the matter without knowing more about these situations, without having empirical evidence or studies and even just without only flooding the reader with news stories Skenazy just doesn’t have much to offer here.

There is an interesting part which is contained in the last part about false allegations. If the men were concerned about false allegations then that begs the question: was that a reasonable concern? How often do false allegations for pedophilia happen in Australia, exactly? Elsewhere? Skenazy doesn’t give us any references or citations to determine for ourselves which is another sign of a troubling article.

I can’t find a good claim from a quick Google search, at least for Australia. In case anyone is wondering why I’m not giving you any statistics to munch on.

Skenazy continues by referencing (of all things) Fox News to make his point:

What’s really ironic about all this emphasis on perverts is that it’s making us think like them. Remember the story that broke right before Christmas? The FBI warned law-enforcement agencies that the new Video Barbie could be used to make kiddie porn. The warning was not intended for the public but it leaked out. TV news celebrated the joy of the season by telling parents that any man nice enough to play dolls with their daughters could really be videotaping “under their little skirts!” as one Fox News reporter said.

It’s unclear who “celebrated” by telling parents about men playing with dolls but this is a pretty common way to keep the gender binary in line anyhow. So I suppose I wouldn’t be too surprised if a bunch of places did this.

But…I mean, are we surprised that Fox News said that? Are they a representative sample of the larger media reaction? I don’t know, Skenazy is, as usual, not very helpful with the details. I think she just wants emotional reactions and outrage.

And sure I’ve got a small amount of outrage…but it’s more to do with this poorly argued article than anything else.

Skenazy tries to close up his case further by citing the “climate” these attitudes

This queasy climate is making men think twice about things they used to do unselfconsciously. A friend of mine, Eric Kozak, was working for a while as a courier. Driving around an unfamiliar neighborhood, he says, “I got lost. I saw a couple kids by the side of the road and rolled down my window to ask, ‘Where is such-and-such road?’ They ran off screaming.”

Well…did they run off because he was a guy or because stranger danger?

One of the other huge problems with Skenazy’s “evidence” is that a lot of it has pretty easy alternative explanations you could draw from the situations. Thus making her conclusion seem a lot less likely than she’d like it to be.

Another dad told me about taking his three-year-old to play football in the local park, where he’d help organize the slightly older kids into a game. Over time, one of the kids started to look up to him. “He wanted to stand close to me, wanted approval, Dad stuff, I guess. And because of this whole ‘stranger danger’ mentality, I could sense this sort of wary disapproval from the few other parents at the playground. So I just stopped going.”

And that’s not the worst.

Here, Skenazy’s “evidence” is reduced to an individuals vague feeling of disapproval from a few of the other parents. So instead of, like, explaining the situation he just stopped going?

At this point I’m just flabbergasted. It isn’t even that his examples don’t prove his premise in the least (even if charitably interpreted) but her evidence is just poorly argued from start to finish and often aren’t conclusive enough to obviously and clearly only point to his interpretations of the events.

Let’s finish this up:

In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.

We think we’re protecting our kids by treating all men as potential predators. But that’s not a society that’s safe. Just sick.

Okay, that’s just plain irresponsible. I understand the reasoning but holy crap man, what would you rather have, a toddler being abducted by an actual child molester or you who know you know isn’t one?

Again, I get not wanting the stigma but it’s debatable whether that would have happened to begin with and what’s much more likely is that a toddler might accidentally do something to hurt themselves.

To finish up, Skenazy seems to double down on the worst possible iteration of her claim which is “all men” and again she seems to hold to it. But even if I downgraded his premise via guarding terms (e.g. most and many instead of all) nothing she’s said has really proven that much.



Some of the problems I noticed in that article were:

  • Sensationalism
  • Small sample size
  • Misinterpreted Results
  • Lack of empirical research/studies/data
  • Overly news-worthy based and anecdote based (“the plural of anecdotes isn’t evidence”)

A lot of this adds up to a really underdeveloped and poorly argued for article.

Hopefully my review of it and me pointing out the particular problems helps you realize what makes an article better or worse in some capacity.

Response to, “5 Legal Rights Women Have That Men Don’t”

by on December 21st, 2014

(Nick’s Notes: Responding to this.)

A surely healthy alternative!

>Genital integrity

How many legal abortion clinics exist in the US? Apparently over 1,000 as of 2011 which isn’t very many.

And as reported by Guttmacher (“Is it difficult for women in the United States to reach a provider?”):

Some 87% of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider and 35% of women aged 15–44 live in those counties.[32] The proportions are lower in the Northeast (53% and 18%) and the West (74% and 13%). In 2005, nonhospital providers estimated that while more than seven in 10 women traveled less than 50 miles to access abortion services, nearly two in 10 traveled 50–100 miles and almost one in 10 traveled more than 100 miles.

Given all of that it doesn’t seem very likely that women’s genital integrity is valued too highly either.

>The draft

No argument here. The draft is a barbaric system of privileging traditional concepts of masculinity and what it means to be a man over individual’s rights and liberties. All things most feminists seem to oppose.

>right to parenthood

This is built on a lot of assertions about legality without a lot of citations or backing. I find it plausible but the author gives me no compelling evidence to believe this is true.

>women assumed caregivers

Again, plausible. If so, it’s largely based on pre-conceived notions of what a woman is or isn’t. Another thing feminists want to take apart or at least challenge.

But again, no compelling evidence is given (besides, again, a fairly sketchy looking site that doesn’t seem to contain much information pertinent to the previous assertions).

>right to call “unwanted, coerced sex, rape”

I don’t see the statistic they link anywhere.

I do, however, see the rates of the US:

In the United States, an estimated 19.3% of women and 1.7% of men have been raped during their lifetimes; an estimated 1.6% of women reported that they were raped in the 12 months preceding the survey. The case count for men reporting rape in the preceding 12 months was too small to produce a statistically reliable prevalence estimate. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men experienced other forms of sexual violence during their lifetimes, including being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences. The percentages of women and men who experienced these other forms of sexual violence victimization in the 12 months preceding the survey were an estimated 5.5% and 5.1%, respectively.

Seems pretty disparate and not that close in terms of nationally within the US, pending on their definitions of rape, which the article does not give nor have I found skimming through the study.

That said, male rape is a problem and one that should be taken more seriously. The fact that it’s under-reported much like female rape and dismissed (much like female rape) and laughed at (much like female rape) is disgusting and should be discussed more.

I don’t see the legal rights this gives women. Men can claim rape as well and probably got the same sort of ridicule that women often do.

“Women have more rights than men and those discrepancies need to be addressed. “

Even if women had these five legal rights that doesn’t necessitate that they have overall more rights than men do. That’s a much larger claim that needs a lot more backing through empirical research, legal analysis, etc.

Overall this article is poorly cited, argued and in general I’m just not buying it’s overall point.

Never Apologize for “Stealing” My Work

by on December 20th, 2014

Hands off my brain!

I just noticed, for the first time ever, that there is a little (C) at the bottom of this webpage. If you’ve ever noticed this or notice it now then it may signal to you that my work is copyrighted, or that the coding for this site is or the design of it or any conceptual part of it.

And there can only be one response to this so we can make things totally clear:

Fuck. That. Shit.

To quote Charles Johnson at length:

All of the original work on this website is free content.

It’s free content because I am against copyright, and indeed all forms of so-called intellectual property. Copying is not theft, and when you reprint, duplicate or imitate you don’t deprive anyone of the work or the ideas that they had. If you like it, or you’re interested by it, or you want to single it out for mockery, you can feature it on your web page, you can print it in your newsletter, you can hang a copy on a bar wall and throw darts at it. If you do any of that, I’d love to hear about what you’re doing, but you don’t need to ask permission. Copy, reprint, translate, make derivative works as you please. If you want to support the work, you can do that. But anyone found copying the content on these pages without permission, will be a real good friend of mine.

So-called intellectual property is in fact nothing more than a legally fabricated monopoly, suppressing competition and emulation, constraining creativity, confining culture, science and technology to captive, capitalist-dominated markets, and violently depriving many of the poorest and most marginalized from access to critical resources for education and life-saving medicines. The legal fictions of copyright and patent are despotic attempts to monopolize the human mind; power-psychotic burdens crippling and destroying individual ownership and the progress of grassroots culture and technologies; outrageous constraints on human intelligence and creativity; and a destructive and desperate protectionist scheme for the profit of powerful corporations.

This web project is, in spirit and in letter, at war with every aspect of Intellectual Protectionism, in its principles — of monopolizing power, entitlement, social control and economic privilege — and in its operation — through increasingly invasive government policing and legal coercion — and in the disastrous global effects of patent and copyright restrictions.

This machine kills intellectual monopolists.

For more see:

The Libertarian Case Against IP

IP Impedes Progress

On the Subject of Genocidal Rage

Tucker’s Big Four: Patents

And if you’re really hungering for more…

Consequences Will Never Be the Same: Rebutting Singer’s Drowning Child Scenario

by on December 19th, 2014

(Nick’s Notes: With many thanks to my friend Jason Byas for his help in providing these links and feedback!)

Peter Singer (Sing-her? I hardly even know her!)

The situation is this:

To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.
I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child so far outweighs the cost of getting one’s clothes muddy and missing a class, that they refuse to consider it any kind of excuse for not saving the child. Does it make a difference, I ask, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do.

Once we are all clear about our obligations to rescue the drowning child in front of us, I ask: would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself? Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no moral difference to the situation. I then point out that we are all in that situation of the person passing the shallow pond: we can all save lives of people, both children and adults, who would otherwise die, and we can do so at a very small cost to us: the cost of a new CD, a shirt or a night out at a restaurant or concert, can mean the difference between life and death to more than one person somewhere in the world – and overseas aid agencies like Oxfam overcome the problem of acting at a distance.

First off, what makes the child-drowning scenario so appealing for people to use?

It seems like it’s the uniqueness of the situation. The idea that this is an odd situation to occur and that if we didn’t do it then we’d have little reason to be able to defend our actions morally. But things like global poverty and disease and widespread effects of disease and all of the complicated reasons why the disease exists and not only exists but is widespread most likely isn’t going to be fixed by just giving money to charities. And some may argue  that the kids IQs will go up due to better nutrition because of better access to food, etc.

And even if it’s true that their IQ will rise this doesn’t necessitate better living conditions because the people with better IQs might still be systematically dis-privileged due to political powers. It would make sense given that often the people who are most affected by disease are the poorest of people and thus the people with the least amount of ability to fight back. Just being able to live won’t make a government’s despotism go away. It may make it less burdensom in some important ways but it doesn’t solve that issue.

Now, of course, giving these children more vitality in their life, improving their IQs, etc. are all praise-worthy things but by themselves they simply may not do much in the end to meaningfully change anything of their conditions. And even if you’d try to argue otherwise I suspect that in the end there’s no real way to say either way without engaging in idle speculation about many things that are simply outside our frame of reference.

Whereas with the child-drowning situation we don’t need to speculate about what’s going to happen if we save the kid or what our $5 gum will go too. But the level at which the third world charities are operating at are much larger.

As Bryan caplan argues:

Singer is quick to move from the moral obligation to rescue a Drowning Child to a moral obligation to rescue lots of strangers. But suppose we revise his initial hypothetical: Instead of one Drowning Child on a random day, there’s a new Drowning Child every day. Indeed, suppose there are Drowning Children as far as the eye can see, 24/7. What then? Now it seems clear that a policy of rescuing strangers is above and beyond the call of duty. And sadly, as Singer himself points out, this is the world we live in.

So it’s simply not practical to try and rescue all of the strangers or at least act as if the situations are comparable in scope or effort, they simply aren’t.

Or as Matt Zwolinski argues:

It’s reasonable to think that people have a moral obligation (even an enforceable one) to save any drowning children they come across because the expected cost this obligation imposes on any given individual is vanishingly low, while the expected social benefits are high. If, however, we held that people had the same obligation to rescue starving children abroad as they do to rescue drowning toddlers in ponds, then the costs to individuals would be immense. We can live a rich, normal life being fully committed to rescuing every single drowning child who crosses our path. A commitment to rescue every starving child in the world, in contrast, would consume our life.

There then seems like there isn’t any way to persuasively argue that people should dedicate their lives to what amounts to misery just because some other people aren’t having a good life themselves.

Given all of this it seems, arguably, times where, yes, spending the $5 is better than saving a child in the third world’s life.

Lastly, although it may be tempting to distance ourselves from “dirtying” our hands with poltical approaches, this view point seems to me to be a big negative here. Because what interacts with these charities as they try to distribute resources? Inevitably governments will. And moving away from analyzing how that organization will interact with the charities means opening yourself up to blind spots. Most noticeably it may mean that the $5 you donate could go to the charity and the kid fine but multiple things could happen after to nullify, deaden or even worsen their condition. The government could improperly distribute the resources if the charity has to give control over them, they may impose severe or even just multiple minor restrictions on the charity that make the $5 you spent a lot less effective than appreciating a good painting worth $5 that also goes to a starving artist who needs that $5 and it goes directly to them and so on.

In the end, these situations aren’t morally analogous as Singer and other utilitarians or consequentialists want to argue. The drowning child relies on the uniqueness of the situation while people suffering in the third world is like a 24/7 child-drowning problem. There’s no end in sight to this and consequentialism and utilitarianism seem to, in the end, want us all to suffer, so we can make a certain part of the world a (possibly) better place.

Part of the reason for this moral distinctiveness is that the child is uniquely dependent on my actions, the children in the third world are not. The child will live or die if I act/don’t act but the children in the third world may live, get better, the companies may figure something out, governments may make it so that donations do negligible good, the charity may be inefficient, there may be no good charity to pick from, etc. etc. etc. There are so many confounding factors to the third world country child in contrast to the child-drowning case that at this point it just seems intuitive which is makes more moral sense to do on a given basis.

David Boonin explains more about the unique dependence going on here:

The reason that your act of sending money to UNICEF does not provide uniquely directed aid is simple. When you send UNICEF some money, it does not treat the money as a discrete sum to be used for a discrete purchase to be given to a discrete individual. Rather, UNICEF adds the money to the other money that it already has. Having more money rather than less, in turn, has an effect not just on how it spends the particular amount of money it received from you, but also on how it spends some of the money it received from other people. And this, in turn, means that when you send UNICEF enough money to ensure that one fewer child dies prematurely, there is no particular child at whom your aid is uniquely directed.

You could argue the “perfect scenario” or “unique dependence” on the third world child but this is almost de facto impossible in practice due to the existence of the third party: the charity. This isn’t keeping into mind governments, competing companies or charities, culture, how much different this’ll actually do, etc. There are just too many variables for it to be a safe bet that’ll it’ll result in good consequences or be a useful heuristic.

Or as another commentator on the Bryan Caplan thread commented:

The fact is that foreign aid is very hard to orgsnize [sic]. There are big informational and/or incentive problems at every stage: in choosing a charity, in how the charity chooses projects, in how they deal with the governments of poor countries, in how they handle staffing, logistics, and compensation– and there may be a trade-off between competence and willingness to volunteer– and in creating special kinds of dependency among target populations and undermining communities’ traditions of self-reliance. I am not saying international private charity is bad, but that it is tenable that it does little good at the margin, perhaps such a small fraction of the initial value that you would help the world’s poor more by buying made-in-China trinkets.

Indeed, if I wanted to be snarky about it I could posit that the advocate in this situation is being a pretty bad utilitarian or consequentialist here.

Why? Well, because which situation is more likely to generate positive results or consequences at this point? The one with many confounding factors and intervening variables? Or the situation that has unique dependence involved in it? The one that’s a one-one relationships seems clearly more practical and morally relevant to us as individuals. While the third world child would probably be helped better than creating potential dependence systems (which charities could conceivably create) by systematically trying to change the way a society relates to itself.

This is, obviously, a much bigger practice and probably requires feet on the ground. But like I said, if you’re serious about something then I think it makes sense to go all in, rather than donate a measly $5.

This commenter in Bryan Caplan’s thread is actually making an argument against someone who I agree with but still manages to, overall, make a point in my favor:

If we’re going to start with moral intuition, I don’t think it makes sense to discard it when it becomes inconvenient. So let’s take the premise that we have an obligation to help that drowning child. The logical extension that we have a responsibility to help children in faraway countries dooms itself on practicality: it doesn’t scale very well. But I don’t think it makes sense to say that you then didn’t have the original obligation to help the drowning child. You can reconcile the two situations by saying that the person who holds that obligation is the one who is in the best situation to help. So I have an obligation to save the drowning child in front of me and some person in China has the obligation to save the drowning child in from of him in China. Then, the solution scales.

Indeed, the solution scales. But even in *that* situation the solution is more likely to be along the explicitly political lines than the allegedly (and I am suspicious of this allegation, for the record) “a-political” or “distantly political” act of funding charities in third world countries.

As mentioned before, you can’t get away from politics as an absolute rule, possibly not even as a useful heuristic. You can only grapple with it to some extent and I suspect distancing yourself and possibly even ignoring, aren’t the ways to deal with it effectively.

Finally, Singer makes a response to some of this:

At this point the students raise various practical difficulties. Can we be sure that our donation will really get to the people who need it? Doesn’t most aid get swallowed up in administrative costs, or waste, or downright corruption? Isn’t the real problem the growing world population, and is there any point in saving lives until the problem has been solved? These questions can all be answered: but I also point out that even if a substantial proportion of our donations were wasted, the cost to us of making the donation is so small, compared to the benefits that it provides when it, or some of it, does get through to those who need our help, that we would still be saving lives at a small cost to ourselves – even if aid organizations were much less efficient than they actually are.

Singer seems to be fundamentally missing the point here though. The cost is too high if it won’t have our intended effects. If we wish to save lives but it only prolongs the misery more is that a price worth paying even if it’s a low-cost endeavor? If enough money gets gouged up by the given charities overhead costs and only one child is saved instead of (say, for the sake of argument) we wanted five saved, is it still worth the low cost? In that case, perhaps. But the program surely isn’t doing it’s job and neither are our donations. It seems like then that there should be alternative ways to instigate more long-lasting and meaningful changes than relying on institutional ones.

There are also reasons of organizationalsim, institutions qua institutions, problems of high overhead mixed with knowledge and incentive problems that may strike at large firms in particular. This isn’t even including the problems with the non-profit industrial complex, problems with hierarchy and the list goes on and on.

The fact that there seems like so much going against the funding of these programs against the simple (in this scenario anyways) act of saving a drowning child makes the situation a lot more clear to me about which is more praise-worthy and why the two cases are morally distinct. I hope it’s helped shed some light on the situation for you as well.

“Labor Struggle in a Free Market” (By Kevin Carson)

by on December 8th, 2014

Re-posted from here

But without the ‘mericah.

One of the most common questions raised about a hypothetical free market society concerns worker protection laws of various kinds. As Roderick Long puts it,

In a free nation, will employees be at the mercy of employers?… Under current law, employers are often forbidden to pay wages lower than a certain amount; to demand that employees work in hazardous conditions (or sleep with the boss); or to fire without cause or notice. What would be the fate of employees without these protections?

Long argues that, despite the absence of many of today’s formal legal protections, the shift of bargaining power toward workers in a free labor market will result in “a reduction in the petty tyrannies of the job world.”

Employers will be legally free to demand anything they want of their employees. They will be permitted to sexually harass them, to make them perform hazardous work under risky conditions, to fire them without notice, and so forth. But bargaining power will have shifted to favor the employee. Since prosperous economies generally see an increase in the number of new ventures but a decrease in the birth rate, jobs will be chasing workers rather than vice versa. Employees will not feel coerced into accepting mistreatment because it will be so much easier to find a new job. And workers will have more clout, when initially hired, to demand a contract which rules out certain treatment, mandates reasonable notice for layoffs, stipulates parental leave, or whatever. And the kind of horizontal coordination made possible by telecommunications networking opens up the prospect that unions could become effective at collective bargaining without having to surrender authority to a union boss.

This last is especially important. Present-day labor law limits the bargaining power of labor at least as much as it reinforces it. That’s especially true of reactionary legislation like Taft-Hartley and state right-to-work laws. Both are clearly abhorrent to free market principles.

Taft-Hartley, for example, prohibited many of the most successful labor strategies during the CIO organizing strikes of the early ’30s. The CIO planned strikes like a general staff plans a campaign, with strikes in a plant supported by sympathy and boycott strikes up and down the production chain, from suppliers to outlets, and supported by transport workers refusing to haul scab cargo. At their best, the CIO’s strikes turned into regional general strikes.

Right-wing libertarians of the vulgar sort like to argue that unions depend primarily on the threat of force, backed by the state, to exclude non-union workers (see here and here). Without forcible exclusion of scabs, they say, strikes would almost always turn into lockouts and union defeats. Although this has acquired the status of dogma at Mises.Org, it’s nonsense on stilts. The primary reason for the effectiveness of a strike is not the exclusion of scabs, but the transaction costs involved in hiring and training replacement workers, and the steep loss of productivity entailed in the disruption of human capital, institutional memory, and tacit knowledge.

With the strike is organized in depth, with multiple lines of defense — those sympathy and boycott strikes at every stage of production — the cost and disruption have a multiplier effect far beyond that of a strike in a single plant. Under such conditions, even a large minority of workers walking off the job at each stage of production can be quite effective.

Taft-Hartley greatly reduced the effectiveness of strikes at individual plants by prohibiting such coordination of actions across multiple plants or industries. Taft-Hartley’s cooling off periods also gave employers advance warning time to prepare for such disruptions, and greatly reduced the informational rents embodied in the training of the existing workforce. Were such restrictions on sympathy and boycott strikes in suppliers [not] in place, today’s “just-in-time” economy would likely be far more vulnerable to disruption than that of the 1930s.

But long before Taft-Hartley, the labor law regime of the New Deal had already created a fundamental shift in the form of labor struggle.

Before Wagner and the NLRB-enforced collective bargaining process, labor struggle was less focused on strikes, and more focused on what workers did in the workplace itself to exert leverage against management. They focused, in other words, on what the Wobblies call “direct action on the job”; or in the colorful phrase of a British radical workers’ daily at the turn of the century, “staying in on strike.” The reasoning was explained in the Wobbly Pamphlet “How to Fire Your Boss: A Worker’s Guide to Direct Action“:

The bosses, with their large financial reserves, are better able to withstand a long drawn-out strike than the workers. In many cases, court injunctions will freeze or confiscate the union’s strike funds. And worst of all, a long walk-out only gives the boss a chance to replace striking workers with a scab (replacement) workforce.

Workers are far more effective when they take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss’ profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job.

Such tactics included slowdowns, sick-ins, random one-day walkouts at unannounced intervals, working to rule, “good work” strikes, and “open mouth sabotage.” Labor followed, in other words, a classic asymmetric warfare model. Instead of playing by the enemy’s rules and suffering one honorable defeat after another, they played by their own rules and mercilessly exploited the enemy’s weak points.

The whole purpose of the Wagner regime was to put an end to this asymmetric warfare model. As Thomas Ferguson and G. William Domhoff have both argued, corporate backing for the New Deal labor accord came mainly from capital-intensive industry — the heart of the New Deal coalition in general. Because of the complicated technical nature of their production processes and their long planning horizons, their management required long-term stability and predictability. At the same time, because they were extremely capital-intensive, labor costs were a relatively modest part of total costs. Management, therefore, was willing to trade significant wage increases and job security for social peace on the job. Wagner came about, not because the workers were begging for it, but because the bosses were begging for a regime of enforceable labor contracts.

The purpose of the Wagner regime was to divert labor away from the asymmetric warfare model to a new one, in which union bureaucrats enforced the terms of contracts on their own membership. The primary function of union bureaucracies, under the new order, was to suppress wildcat action by their rank and file, to suppress direct action on the job, and to limit labor action to declared strikes under NLRB rules.

The New Deal labor agenda had the same practical effect as telling the militiamen at Lexington and Concord to come out from behind the rocks, put on bright red uniforms, and march in parade ground formation, in return for a system of arbitration to guarantee they didn’t lose all the time.

The problem is that the bosses decided, long ago, that labor was still winning too much of the time even under the Wagner regime. Their first response was Taft-Hartley and the right-to-work laws. From that point on, union membership stopped growing and then began a slow and inexorable process of decline that continues to the present day. The process picked up momentum around 1970, when management decided that the New Deal labor accord had outlived its usefulness altogether, and embraced the full union-busting potential under Taft-Hartley in earnest. But the official labor movement still foregoes the weapons it lay down in the 1930s. It sticks to wearing its bright red uniforms and marching in parade-ground formation, and gets massacred every time.

Labor needs to reconsider its strategy, and in particular to take a new look at the asymmetric warfare techniques it has abandoned for so long.

The effectiveness of these techniques is a logical result of the incomplete nature of the labor contract. According to Michael Reich and James Devine,

Conflict is inherent in the employment relation because the employer does not purchase a specified quantity of performed labor, but rather control over the worker’s capacity to work over a given time period, and because the workers’ goals differ from those of the employer. The amount of labor actually done is determined by a struggle between workers and capitalists.

The labor contract is incomplete because it is impossible for a contract to specify, ahead of time, the exact levels of effort and standards of performance expected of workers. The specific terms of the contract can only be worked out in the contested terrain of the workplace.

The problem is compounded by the fact that management’s authority in the workplace isn’t exogenous: that is, it isn’t enforced by the external legal system, at zero cost to the employer. Rather, it’s endogenous: management’s authority is enforced entirely with the resources and at the expense of the company. And workers’ compliance with directives is frequently costly — and sometimes impossible — to enforce. Employers are forced to resort to endogenous enforcement

when there is no relevant third party…, when the contested attribute can be measured only imperfectly or at considerable cost (work effort, for example, or the degree of risk assumed by a firm’s management), when the relevant evidence is not admissible in a court of law…[,] when there is no possible means of redress…, or when the nature of the contingencies concerning future states of the world relevant to the exchange precludes writing a fully specified contract.

In such cases the ex post terms of exchange are determined by the structure of the interaction between A and B, and in particular on the strategies A is able to adopt to induce B to provide the desired level of the contested attribute, and the counter strategies available to B….

An employment relationship is established when, in return for a wage, the worker B agrees to submit to the authority of the employer A for a specified period of time in return for a wage w. While the employer’s promise to pay the wage is legally enforceable, the worker’s promise to bestow an adequate level of effort and care upon the tasks assigned, even if offered, is not. Work is subjectively costly for the worker to provide, valuable to the employer, and costly to measure. The manager-worker relationship is thus a contested exchange. [Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, “Is the Demand for Workplace Democracy Redundant in a Liberal Economy?,” in Ugo Pagano and Robert Rowthorn, eds., Democracy and Effciency in the Economic Enterprise.]

Since it is impossible to define the terms of the contract exhaustively up front, “bargaining” — as Oliver Williamson puts it — “is pervasive.”

The classic illustration of the contested nature of the workplace under incomplete labor contracting, and the pervasiveness of bargaining, is the struggle over the pace and intensity of work, reflected in both the slowdown and working to rule.

At its most basic, the struggle over the pace of work is displayed in what Oliver Williamson calls “perfunctory cooperation” (as opposed to consummate cooperation):

Consummate cooperation is an affirmative job attitude–to include the use of judgment, filling gaps, and taking initiative in an instrumental way. Perfunctory cooperation, by contrast, involves job performance of a minimally acceptable sort…. The upshot is that workers, by shifting to a perfunctory performance mode, are in a position to “destroy” idiosyncratic efficiency gains.

He quotes Peter Blau and Richard Scott’s observation to the same effect:

…[T]he contract obligates employees to perform only a set of duties in accordance with minimum standards and does not assure their striving to achieve optimum performance…. [L]egal authority does not and cannot command the employee’s willingness to devote his ingenuity and energy to performing his tasks to the best of his ability…. It promotes compliance with directives and discipline, but does not encourage employees to exert effort, to accept responsibilities, or to exercise initiative.

Legal authority, likewise, “does not and cannot” proscribe working to rule, which is nothing but obeying management’s directives literally and without question. If they’re the brains behind the operation, and we get paid to shut up and do what we’re told, then by God that’s just what we’ll do.

Disgruntled workers, Williamson suggests, will respond to intrusive or authoritarian attempts at surveillance and monitoring with a passive-aggressive strategy of compliance in areas where effective metering is possible — while shifting their perfunctory compliance (or worse) into areas where it is impossible. True to the asymmetric warfare model, the costs of management measures for verifying compliance are generally far greater than the costs of circumventing those measures.

As frequent commenter Jeremy Weiland says, “You are the monkey wrench“:

Their need for us to behave in an orderly, predictable manner is a vulnerability of theirs; it can be exploited. You have the ability to transform from a replaceable part into a monkey wrench.

At this point, some libertarians are probably stopping up their ears and going “La la la la, I can’t hear you, la la la la!” Under the values most of us have been encultured into, values which are reinforced by the decidely pro-employer and anti-worker libertarian mainstream, such deliberate sabotage of productivity and witholding of effort are tantamount to lèse majesté.

But there’s no rational basis for this emotional reaction. The fact that we take such a viscerally asymmetrical view of the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees is, itself, evidence that cultural hangovers from master-servant relationships have contaminated our understanding of the employment relation in a free market.

The employer and employee, under free market principles, are equal parties to the employment contract. As things normally work now, and as mainstream libertarianism unfortunately take for granted, the employer is expected as a normal matter of course to take advantage of the incomplete nature of the employment contract. One can hardly go to Cato or Mises.Org on any given day without stumbling across an article lionizing the employer’s right to extract maximum effort in return for minimum pay, if he can get away with it. His rights to change the terms of the employment relation, to speed up the work process, to maximize work per dollar of wages, are his by the grace of God.

Well, if the worker and employer really are equal parties to a voluntary contract, as free market theory says they are, then it works both ways. The worker’s attempts to maximize his own utility, under the contested terms of an incomplete contract, are every bit as morally legitimate as those of the boss. The worker has every bit as much of a right to attempt to minimize his effort per dollar of wages as the boss has to attempt to maximize it. What constitutes a fair level of effort is entirely a subjective cultural norm, that can only be determined by the real-world bargaining strength of bosses and workers in a particular workplace.

And as Kevin Depew argues, the continued barrage of downsizing, speedups, and stress will likely result in a drastic shift in workers’ subjective perceptions of a fair level of effort and of the legitimate ways to slow down.

Productivity, like most “financial virtues,” is the product of positive social mood trends.

As social mood transitions to negative, we can expect to see less and less “virtue” in hard work.

Think about it: real wages are virtually stagnant, so it’s not as if people have experienced real reward for their work.

What has been experienced is an unconscious and shared herding impulse trending upward; a shared optimistic mood finding “joy” and “happiness” in work and denigrating the sole pursuit of leisure, idleness.

If social mood has, in fact, peaked, we can expect to see a different attitude toward work and productivity emerge.

The problem is that, to date, bosses have fully capitalized on the potential of the incomplete contract, whereas workers have not. And the only thing preventing workers from doing so is the little boss inside their heads, the cultural holdover from master-servant days, that tells them it’s wrong to do so. I aim to kill that little guy. And I believe that when workers fully realize the potential of the incomplete labor contract, and become as willing to exploit it as the bosses have all these years, we’ll mop the floor with their asses. And we can do it in a free market, without any “help” from the NLRB. Let the bosses beg for help.

One aspect of direct action that especially interests me is so-called “open-mouth sabotage,” which (like most forms of networked resistance) has seen its potential increased by several orders of magnitude by the Internet.

Labor struggle, at least the kind conducted on asymmetric warfare principles, is just one subset of the general category of networked resistance. In the military realm, networked resistance is commonly discussed under the general heading of FourthGeneration Warfare.

In the field of radical political activism, networked organization represents a quantum increase in the “crisis of governability” that Samuel Huntington complained of in the early ’70s. The coupling of networked political organization with the Internet in the ’90s was the subject of a rather panic-stricken genre of literature at the Rand Corporation, most of it written by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla. The first major Rand study on the subject concerned the Zapatistas’ global political support network, and was written before the Seattle demos. Loosely networked coalitions of affinity groups, organizing through the Internet, could throw together large demonstrations with little notice, and “swarm” government and mainstream media with phone calls, letters, and emails far beyond their capacity to absorb. Given this elite reaction to what turned out to be a mere foreshadowing, the Seattle demonstrations of December 1999 and the anti-globalization demonstrations that followed must have been especially dramatic. There is strong evidence (which I discussed here) that the “counter-terrorism” powers sought by Clinton, and by the Bush administration after 9/11, were desired by federal law enforcement mainly to go after the anti-globalization movement.

Let’s review just what was entailed in the traditional technique of “open-mouth sabotage.” From the same Wobbly pamphlet quoted above:

Sometimes simply telling people the truth about what goes on at work can put a lot of pressure on the boss. Consumer industries like restaurants and packing plants are the most vulnerable. And again, as in the case of the Good Work Strike, you’ll be gaining the support of the public, whose patronage can make or break a business.

Whistle Blowing can be as simple as a face-to-face conversation with a customer, or it can be as dramatic as the P.G.&E. engineer who revealed that the blueprints to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor had been reversed. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle blew the lid off the scandalous health standards and working conditions of the meatpacking industry when it was published earlier this century.

Waiters can tell their restaurant clients about the various shortcuts and substitutions that go into creating the faux-haute cuisine being served to them. Just as Work to Rule puts an end to the usual relaxation of standards, Whistle Blowing reveals it for all to know.

The Internet has increased the potential for “open mouth sabotage” by several orders of magnitude.

The first really prominent example of the open mouth, in the networked age, was the so-called McLibel case, in which McDonalds used a SLAPP lawsuit to suppress pamphleteers highly critical of their company. Even in the early days of the Internet, bad publicity over the trial and the defendants’ savvy use of the trial as a platform, drew far, far more negative attention to McDonalds than the pamphleteers could have done without the company’s help.

In 2004, the Sinclair Media and Diebold cases showed that, in a world of bittorrent and mirror sites, it was literally impossible to suppress information once it had been made public. As recounted by Yochai Benkler, Sinclair Media resorted to a SLAPP lawsuit to stop a boycott campaign against their company, aimed at both shareholders and advertisers, over their airing of an anti-Kerry documentary by the SwiftBoaters. Sinclair found the movement impossible to suppress, as the original campaign websites were mirrored faster than they could be shut down, and the value of their stock imploded. As also reported by Benkler, Diebold resorted to tactics much like those the RIAA uses against file-sharers, to shut down sites which published internal company documents about their voting machines. The memos were quickly distributed, by bittorrent, to more hard drives than anybody could count, and Diebold found itself playing whack-a-mole as the mirror sites displaying the information proliferated exponentially.

One of the most entertaining cases involved the MPAA’s attempt to suppress DeCSS, Jon Johansen’s CSS descrambler for DVDs. The code was posted all over the blogosphere, in a deliberate act of defiance, and even printed on T-shirts.

In the Alisher Usmanov case, the blogosphere lined up in defense of Craig Murray, who exposed the corruption of post-Soviet Uzbek oligarch Usmanov, against the latter’s attempt to suppress Murray’s site.

Finally, in the recent Wikileaks case, a judge’s order to disable the site

didn’t have any real impact on the availability of the Baer documents. Because Wikileaks operates sites like Wikileaks.cx in other countries, the documents remained widely available, both in the United States and abroad, and the effort to suppress access to them caused them to rocket across the Internet, drawing millions of hits on other web sites.

This is what’s known as the “Streisand Effect”: attempts to suppress embarrassing information result in more negative publicity than the original information itself.

The Streisand Effect is displayed every time an employer fires a blogger (the phenomenon known as “Doocing,” after the first prominent example of it) over embarrassing comments about the workplace. The phenomenon has attracted considerable attention in the mainstream media. In most cases, employers who attempt to suppress embarrassing comments by disgruntled workers are blindsided by the much, much worse publicity resulting from the suppression attempt itself. Instead of a regular blog readership of a few hundred reading that “Employer X Sucks,” the blogosphere or a wire service picks up the story, and tens of millions of people read “Blogger Fired for Revealing Employer X Sucks.” It may take a while, but the bosses will eventually learn that, for the first time since the rise of the large corporation and the broadcast culture, we can talk back –- and not only is it absolutely impossible to shut us up, but we’ll keep making more and more noise the more they try to do so.

To grasp just how breathtaking the potential is for open-mouth sabotage, and for networked anti-corporate resistance by consumers and workers, just consider the proliferation of anonymous employernamesucks.com sites. The potential results from the anonymity of the writeable web, the comparative ease of setting up anonymous sites (through third country proxy servers, if necessary), and the possibility of simply emailing large volumes of embarrassing information to everyone you can think of whose knowledge might be embarrassing to an employer.

Regarding this last, it’s pretty easy to compile a devastating email distribution list with a little Internet legwork. You might include the management of your company’s suppliers, outlets, and other business clients, reporters who specialize in your industry, mainstream media outlets, alternative news outlets, worker and consumer advocacy groups, corporate watchdog organizations specializing in your industry, and the major bloggers who specialize in such news. If your problem is with the management of a local branch of a corporate chain, you might add to the distribution list all the community service organizations your bosses belong to, and CC it to corporate headquarters to let them know just how much embarrassment your bosses have caused them. The next step is to set up a dedicated, web-based email account accessed from someplace secure. Then it’s pretty easy to compile a textfile of all the dirt on their corruption and mismanagement, and the poor quality of customer service (with management contact info, of course). The only thing left is to click “Attach,” and then click “Send.” The barrage of emails, phone calls and faxes should hit the management suite like an A-bomb.

So what model will labor need to follow, in the vacuum left by the near total collapse of the Wagner regime and the near-total defeat of the establishment unions? Part of the answer lies with the Wobbly “direct action on the job” model discussed above. A great deal of it, in particular, lies with the application of “open mouth sabotage” on a society-wide scale as exemplified by cases like McLibel, Sinclair, Diebold, and Wikileaks, described above.

Another piece of the puzzle has been suggested by the I.W.W.’s Alexis Buss, in her writing on “minority unionism”:

If unionism is to become a movement again, we need to break out of the current model, one that has come to rely on a recipe increasingly difficult to prepare: a majority of workers vote a union in, a contract is bargained. We need to return to the sort of rank-and-file on-the-job agitating that won the 8-hour day and built unions as a vital force….

Minority unionism happens on our own terms, regardless of legal recognition….

U.S. & Canadian labor relations regimes are set up on the premise that you need a majority of workers to have a union, generally government-certified in a worldwide context[;] this is a relatively rare set-up. And even in North America, the notion that a union needs official recognition or majority status to have the right to represent its members is of relatively recent origin, thanks mostly to the choice of business unions to trade rank-and-file strength for legal maintenance of membership guarantees.

The labor movement was not built through majority unionism-it couldn’t have been.

How are we going to get off of this road? We must stop making gaining legal recognition and a contract the point of our organizing….

We have to bring about a situation where the bosses, not the union, want the contract. We need to create situations where bosses will offer us concessions to get our cooperation. Make them beg for It.

But more than anything, the future is being worked out in the current practice of labor struggle itself. We’re already seeing a series of prominent labor victories resulting from the networked resistance model.

The Wal-Mart Workers’ Association, although it doesn’t have an NLRB-certified local in a single Wal-Mart store, is a de facto labor union. And it has achieved victories through “associates” picketing and pamphleting stories on their own time, through swarming via the strategic use of press releases and networking, and through the same sort of support network that Ronfeldt and Arquilla remarked on in the case of the pro-Zapatista campaign. By using negative publicity to emabarrass the company, the Association has repeatedly obtained concessions from Wal-Mart. Even a conventional liberal like Ezra Klein understands the importance of such unconventional action.

The Coalition of Imolakee Workers, a movement of Indian agricultural laborers who supply many of the tomatoes used by the fast food industry, has used a similar support network, with the coordinated use of leaflets and picketing, petition drives, and boycotts, to obtain major concessions from Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC. Blogger Charles Johnson provides inspiring details here and here.

In another example of open-mouth sabotage, the IWW-affiliated Starbucks union publicly embarrassed Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz. It organized a mass email campaign, notifying the board of a co-op apartment he was seeking to buy into of his union-busting activities.

Such networked labor resistance is making inroads even in China, the capitalist motherland of sweatshop employers. Michel Bauwens, at P2P Blog, quotes a story from the Taiwanese press:

The factory closure last November was a scenario that has been repeated across southern China, where more than 1,000 shoe factories — about a fifth of the total — have closed down in the past year. The majority were in Houjie, a concrete sprawl on the outskirts of Dongguan known as China’s “Shoe Town.”

“In the past, workers would just swallow all the insults and humiliation. Now they resist,” said Jenny Chan, chief coordinator of the Hong Kong-based pressure group Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior, which investigates factory conditions in southern China.

“They collect money and they gather signatures. They use the shop floors and the dormitories to gather the collective forces to put themselves in better negotiating positions with factory owners and managers,” she said.

Technology has made this possible.

“They use their mobile phones to receive news and send messages,” Chan said “Internet cafes are very important, too. They exchange news about which cities or which factories are recruiting and what they are offering, and that news spreads very quickly.”

As a result, she says, factories are seeing huge turnover rates. In Houjie, some factories have tripled workers’ salaries, but there are still more than 100,000 vacancies.”

The AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland once suggested, half-heartedly, that things would be easier if Congress repealed all labor laws, and let labor and management go at it “mano a mano.” It’s time to take this proposal seriously. So here it is — a free market proposal to employers:

We give you the repeal of Wagner, of the anti-yellow dog provisions of Norris-LaGuardia, of legal protections against punitive firing of union organizers, and of all the workplace safety, overtime, and fair practices legislation. You give us the repeal of Taft-Hartley, of the Railway Labor Relations Act and its counterparts in other industries, of all state right-to-work laws, and of SLAPP lawsuits. All we’ll leave in place, out of the whole labor law regime, is the provisions of Norris-LaGuardia taking intrusion by federal troops and court injunctions out of the equation.

And we’ll mop the floor with your asses.

Anarchism and Comics: V for Vendetta (Stone Soup Presentation)

by on November 21st, 2014

Used for the flyer!

Introduction – Defining Comics, Defining Anarchism




My name is Nick Ford and I am a huge comic book enthusiast, in other words a huge nerd. I write for the Center for a Stateless Society and edit their Youtube videos and maybe make a buck or two while I’m at it.

I consider myself an individualist anarchist or mutualist anarchist. Mainly in the tradition of people like Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner and more contemporary folks like Kevin Carson. I also sometimes just simply consider myself an anarchist without adjectives via Voltairine de Cleyre who was a late 19th and early 20th century anarchist. She was a brilliant writer, poet, critic and an all around amazing person. I’m happy to rant about her to you after the presentation is over.

I am also a member of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left of New England (ALL-oNE for short). We’re tabling at the Boston Anarchist Bookfair this year (it’s our fourth!) and I encourage you to drop by, check out our dirt cheap pamphlets, fancy smancy books and chat!

Finally, most of my writings these days can be found at my site, abolishwork.com. I’ll be speaking about anti-work at the Boston Anarchist Bookfair on Sunday from 4:45 to 5:45 PM. If you want to know more about the site, my opposition to work, my presentation at the B(A)B or anything else related to this come talk to me after the presentation is over!

This presentation will be focused around a case-study of anarchism and its relation to comics. I will be specifically focusing on the character from V for Vendetta, V.

I fully acknowledge in this particular presentation that I’m using one of the biggest or most notable examples and that there are also probably others I could speak about. I spoke at last year’s book fair about the DC character Anarky and the Image character Scarlet so this is me wrapping up the rest of that presentation by focusing solely on V. But I’m sure I could work on other anarchist or anarchic comic book characters so if you know some other characters I should check out please let me know after the presentation is over.


What are Comics?

Now, before I get started let’s lay out some quick and basic definitions of comics and anarchism.

For comics, I’ll be using Scott McCloud’s seminal work Understanding Comics (1993) for my definition of comics which builds on Will Eisner’s book Comics and Sequential Art. (1985). McCloud first gives us Eisner’s basic definition of comics as sequential art but wants us to be more specific.

He asks from a comic book looking audience for suggestions and eventually comes to this definition:

com.ics (kom’iks) n. plural in form, used with singular verb, 1. Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer. (p. 9)


McCloud’s seems more specific and more comprehensive but Eisner’s seems much more poppy and easily integratable into casual conversation. So it’s a matter of context in some aspects of this definitional dispute.

But for my purposes I’ll be using the following to define comics:

Sequential art that consists of juxtaposed static images.

I think this is a fair combination of Eisner and McCloud’s definitions. I think it’s punchy enough to be at least somewhat memorable while at the same time being “academic” enough for my own purposes. It’s also leaving the same possibilities that McLoud leaves open.

It doesn’t dictate that comics must include the already overly-saturated market of super-heroes, nor does it box it into any particular genre like horror or comedy. Nor that there must be words for it to be a comic or a certain philosophy must be abided by. Or that a certain tool, method or material must be used for a comic book to be a comic book.

So as opposed to some definitions that you may hear I think my combination of Eisner’s classic definition with McCloud’s, coupled with my own little tweaks makes for a fairly succinct but also pretty accurate definition that also leaves many possibilities open.


Defining Anarchism

I know that many here are already familiar with anarchism but I also recognize that there may be a few here that aren’t terribly familiar with it or perhaps even a few who may not mind a quick refresher. So at worst, hopefully this’ll just be a welcomed refresher of stuff you already know.

Now, the trouble with defining anarchism is that there are many more definitions for this word than with the word comic books. From the typical misinformation of it being a society that lacks rules, structures or order to the better definition of a truly voluntary society and order.

With anarchism I find the main commonalities to be a focus on a few things: the voluntariness of the society, the cooperativeness of a given society and the lack of governmental forces in a society.

I think the voluntariness in anarchism’s definition means that society must mainly hinge on actions and relations that form, which take shape and exist because people will them to be so. Because external limits are not artificially imposed on the individual and instead they are free to do what they want so long as it does not harm others.

For cooperativeness I believe this implies things like mutual respect (for cooperative affairs mainly rely on respect) and a sense of egalitarianism (your mileage may vary in how far this is taken via your chosen school of thought). And also given that anarchy comes from the Greek anarkhos which meant “without chiefs” we can also (at least etymologically) see an opposition to hierarchy or at least the implications of such.

Finally, notice the phrase governmental forces. I’m not just saying the government here; I’m also suggesting any institution or group of people who act like the government. So for example anyone who acts like they can exert their authority over others and oppress them such as bosses and to one extent or another bigots.

Here is my own definition of anarchism for the purposes of this talk:

Anarchism: A political philosophy that demands the end of governmental forces in society and in its stead a society based on voluntary order and cooperative relations.

With this definition that includes both cooperative and voluntary I am trying to raise the possibilities of radical equality between individuals and in institutions and between those institutions that these individuals create as well.

Using the term order specifically, I am trying to demonstrate that structure is not necessarily being opposed. It just so happens that many of the structures of the day are things we oppose and want to abolish.

For anarchism I’m trying to rely on challenges, concerns and goals as opposed to concrete positions, distinct histories or certain individuals in the “anarchist canon”. I think this, like the McCloud and Eisner inspired definition of comics leaves us up to plenty of possibilities while still allowing for memorable and approachable identifications of the terms we want to use. This definition probably isn’t the best possible but I think it will suffice for our purposes and hopefully give any newcomers here the basic gist of what anarchism can be about, if nothing else.


Case Study: V

Alan Moore. The name alone should conjure something for you. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Killing Joke, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Swamp Thing and of course Watchmen.

Whatever you’re familiar with you’re probably also familiar with his graphic novel V for Vendetta. We’re going to put the movie adaptation to the side (I’m sure Moore would approve) and focus mainly on Moore’s original work.

So first let’s try to figure out exactly how anarchist V is as we piece together who V was conceptually and how he turned out.

For the first part we’re going to have to look at an article that first appeared in Warrior #17 (which was a British comic anthology) written by Alan Moore called Behind the Painted Smile in 1983.

Believe it or not, V for Vendetta started out as a sort of mystery strip, then into something more based on a thirties pulp strip and finally went back to an earlier idea that Alan Moore had had.

The character was originally named “The Doll” who was fighting against a totalitarian system and given Moore and David Lloyd’s shared political pessimism it worked as a base outline. Eventually Moore came up with the name “Vendetta”, shorthanded it to “V” and tried to find ways to get anything he could find associated with it. Finally, a man named Dez Skinn and his partner at Graham Studios had come up with the perfect name: V for Vendetta. From there the ideas started flooding through. Moore came up with V being a psychologically damaged escapee from a government concentration camp and Lloyd coming up with an idea for making him a resurrected Guy Fawkes (who will get to later) type character.

The rest, as they say, is propaganda, or history, whichever.

From early on both Moore and Lloyd had political pessimism on their mind and that’s very important to the story. It helps set the stage for the larger tale and its background: England has been taken over by a fascist party called Norsefire via a global nuclear war in the late 1980s. Norsefire have been doing some “population control” through exterminating “undesirables” like blacks, gays and so on.

I want to first underscore the importance of V for Vendetta. Because it’s not just some ravings of an anarchist or an anti-system so-called “loony”; it’s a serious critique not only of fascism but abuse of political power in general and an important cry for freedom. It not only speaks to our basic conceptions of what we regard as necessary parts of being free like having our privacy, not being subject to abuse, being able to speak our minds with reasonable certainty we wouldn’t be oppressed for doing so and so on. But none of these things exist in the world of V for Vendetta. Instead you have cameras everywhere, widespread police abuse, the media controlled by the government and freedoms infringed every day.

Now why does that sound familiar?

And that’s the other reason why this work is such a masterpiece. Like 1984 or other political dystopian works it has a sense of predictive power when it comes to telling us what has actually happened within society. A lot of our technology is not safe. We have phones by Google, computers that can be hacked, wires that can be tapped, conversations that can be listened on and we can be assassinated via the president…but only theoretically, of course. Plenty of the things that makes England an undesirable place to be, in V for Vendetta, are some of the same things that make today’s political order an undesirable place to be around. While I am in no way saying that it’s equivalent I am suggesting similarities and certain tones and actions that seem familiar. Especially when you think about the way modern society functions in many places (let’s just say the US and the UK for our present purposes) and the way the “future” is presented in V for Vendetta.

Past that, the writing is brilliant, the artwork holds up remarkably well considering it was started in 1982 and ended in ’89. Speaking of how old it is, if it wasn’t obvious I’ll be spoiling the plot here and there. Especially considering that it’s over twenty years old, you’ve most likely either read the book or seen the movie or you vaguely know the plot either way.

The gist of the story is that a “terrorist” named V has elected to take on Norsefire and convince the people of England via his violent struggle that they should rule themselves. Alan Moore being the anarchist he is doesn’t pull many punches when it comes to saying that V considers himself an anarchist and that his mission is an anarchist world free from the likes of Norsefire. So the question here isn’t whether V has anarchist intentions or considers himself one but whether he’s any good at said intentions through his means and his vision of what comes next.

V’s mission is for England to reach “The Land of Do-As-You-Please” which he believes is an anarchistic society, a society based on voluntary order (p. 195). Anarchism for V is a society in which people have become their own boss and taken control of their own lives (p. 114, p. 245). V also makes sure to keep it clear that there are distinctions between anarchism and chaos. That anarchy means no leaders and not a fundamental lack of rules. He also points out that the riots and chaos that happens towards the end of the book is not anarchism but chaos. But for V this is purposeful chaos. This chaos gives the people a voice and it is all the more powerful to him because of the silence that preceded it under the iron fist of Norsefire. He believes that the chaos will make Norsefire remember just how loud and powerful the voice of the people can really be. And from this chaos a much more organized and voluntary society will be formed. Anarchism will be a society that loves the sweet music of peace and cooperation and be able to do away with “our destroyers” and explosives that give rise to anarchy.

But how did we get to the chaos to begin with?

V’s story starts off saving a young woman named Evee from being raped by what are called “fingermen” and kills them. He then proceeds finish the work of Guy Fawkes and blows up the House of Parliament.

Guy Fawkes, for those who don’t know, was a member of the provincial English Catholics who planned and failed to blow up the house of parliament in 1605. He wasn’t doing this for some sort of anarchist reason, by the way. He was doing it to do a little thing called restoring the Catholic monarchy. To me, the glorification of Fawkes to me seems similar to the sort of praise John Wilkes Booth gets.

Even though V was successful because the explosion happened during the night, no one was killed.

From there, V takes Evee to his hideout and tells her a little about his place, and from there he proceeds to keep killing others in Norsefire. Like in 1984 we have things like “ministry of X” but instead of that exact title for the different divisions within Norsefire they are named after body parts. So one is called The Eye (for surveillance), another The Nose (for detectives) and the Ear (for auditory wiretapping) and so on. Of particular interest is David Finch who leads the nose. Right from the get-go the reader may notice something peculiar about Finch: that he doesn’t suck up to the leader of Norsefire, Adam Susan. Susan, on the other hand is in love with his computer, Fate…literally. And throughout the novel his mental state degrades further and further down while V’s path of destruction continues and only keeps getting bigger. Susan pulls out all of the stops of course, he tries to corner V through his fingermen, he tries to send Finch after him (which eventually backfires in some pretty interesting ways) and he tries to overpower V with a showing of brute force but none of this works. V outsmarts him, overpowers him or uses Evee in some way to get past Norsefire’s defenses.

Speaking of Evee, she’s a rather important and controversial figure within V for Vendetta not for necessarily anything that she does but what V does in relation to her. In one of the most famous and probably most discussed part of V for Vendetta (whether it’s the film or the graphic novel) is the torture scene with Evee. V tricks Evee into thinking that she’s been captured and manages to have all of her hair cut, waterboards her and make her survive on very little food. He does this until he builds up her resolve to the point that she refuses to give up what she knows about V and instead says she’ll elect to die. At this point she’s released from the “torture facility” and it’s all revealed to be a sham. V has been behind the torture the whole time.

One thing that wasn’t a sham however, was a note that Evee read by a woman named Valerie. In the note, Valerie tells of her life, how she got to the torture facility that she presumes Evee is now in and that she loves her. She says that she grew up in Nottingham and became attracted to girls early in her school years, her parents were aghast, particularly her mother.

Valerie grew up wanting to be an actress and eventually became one. Starting small and then getting into bigger roles as time went on. This is where she met Ruth and she lived with her for three years among many roses before the war began in 1988. But once the war began there were no more roses for anyone. Ruth was eventually taken away while looking out for food and was tortured into giving up Valerie’s name and saying that she had been seduced. She killed herself soon after. Valerie says Ruth killed herself because she gave up that “last inch” that keeps us still intact and gives us something to fight back against. Valerie concludes her letter saying that she doesn’t know who the person is who is reading her note but that she still wishes she could kiss them.

This is really one of the most powerful moments of V for Vedetta for me. It’s hard (at least for me) not to tear up at Valerie’s words and the images that go along with it. The indescribable feelings of loss and torment knowing that the person you love is gone and that you know that you’re next. The feelings of being absolutely alone and being powerless the knowledge that this is all in the past and that there’s nothing Evee can do for Valerie now. It’s then easy to see for me why V would use this to motivate Evee. So she won’t give up that last inch like Ruth did or lose it like Valerie did when she died. Instead she’ll keep fighting no matter what the conditions are and will continue to fight against the fascist system that V is also fighting against. V does this for sympathy, he does it for empathy and understanding, so Evee can understand what V himself probably went through to some extent or another. But more importantly to what Valerie went through so Evee can now not only fight for herself and for V but for people like Valerie as well. People who have already been lost to Norsefire, who have been kidnapped or killed or tortured or any number of things. For the people that have given up or let Norsefire take away that last inch of themselves. V wants Evee to do better than that.

There’s lots of ways you could take this method of getting Evee on V’s side but overall I don’t believe that it was moral, necessary or very anarchistic of V.

First off does V need to torture Evee to understand his point of view? Is it necessary? Was there no other way he could get her to understand? I could understand his point of view just from reading the letter. I personally didn’t need any torture to understand what V was saying. But then perhaps I’m a bit privileged in that I’m the reader and Evee is just a participant. Still, the torture scene is probably the biggest blight against V being an anarchist or at least a good one.

Granted, he doesn’t kill many innocent people. He kills mostly fingermen who are trying to either kill him or others who, while they aren’t actively trying to kill him are employed in the business rather explicitly (though I’ll be careful to note here that that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily okay to do much less advisable but it’s at least more arguable). When he blows up the various buildings in London there’s only one incident where anyone dies and it appears to be implied that the person who was in there wasn’t an intentional target of V. Though, on the other hand, this shows the perils of engaging in widespread violence against a system: innocents may get hurt.

And Evee is nothing but if not an innocent. Someone who didn’t deserve nor, I think, need the torture that V gave to her. Of course, V seems to think so, but why? V reasons afterwards that he did it because he loves Evee, he wants her to be set free, he was willing to do whatever it took to get her to understand his point of view, that being free and understanding freedom is much more important than being happy and so on.

But let’s backup and question an implicit assumption in all of this: is V really a good guy to begin with? After all, being the protagonist and being a good person aren’t synonymous.

The torture of Evee isn’t the only reason to question it. Alan Moore has made the point that he tried to make the novel morally ambiguous and not just black and white. He could have said here are the Nazi bad guys and here’s the anarchist good guy but it doesn’t look like he did that. Given that I’m not so sure V is really a good guy or meant to be even viewed as such to a certain extent.

He certainly has his charms, he has wit, he is skilled with various sorts of combat and stealth and he seems to care a great deal about the concept of freedom and for other people. But on the other hand he uses emotional blackmail and psychological torture to convince Evee to join him. He still kills plenty of people and via the chaos of the riots leads to at least the death of a little girl who tries to emulate the rebellion she sees going on her.

Does V take responsibility for this as well as the chaos? We never get an answer.

V also psychologically tortures Susan by taking control of Fate and emotionally manipulates Susan into madness. Now, I’m not shedding any tears for Susan here. I don’t think he’s a good guy, that’s for sure. But I do want to show that V is pretty much willing to do anything that it takes to get to where he wants to go. Does this make him good or bad based on that alone? It’s not easy to tell but given his actions throughout the book it’s certainly not an easily arguable case that V is just the good guy and that’s it.

There’s another thing worth considering that I don’t think I’ve ever really see anyone tackle: V has the ability to spy on the whole mass of England (p. 220). When he takes over Fate it’s worth noting that Fate has control over the surveillance in England and Evee exclaims that V can see all of England with his TVs. V responds that he can only get the “riot soap opera” and “bad disaster films” but on page 228 we can clearly see V watching (at least for a moment) while a few party members are in bed.

In the next panel he turns it off but both the possibility and the capabilities have been shown off and clearly V has used and is using them to spy on people. If it wasn’t okay for Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight to do this and be called a fascist for it then why can V get away with it?

Now, part of me can’t blame him because it’d probably be necessary on some level to know how to counteract Norsefire on some larger systematic scale. But another part of me still seems struck by how willing V is to go against his own principles just so he can make the world a better place, or at least the place he perceives as being better.

In terms of V’s means he considers “The Land of Take-As-You-Wilt” to be the intermediary of the society in which V for Vendetta starts until we’re eventually to “The Land of Do-As-You-Please”. But is this an anarchist point of view? As far as I know most of us wouldn’t be comfortable with causing a whole bunch of chaos tomorrow just for the vague possibility that somehow anarchism would come from it. Granted, it’s not like V doesn’t do some education via taking over the broadcasting of Norsefire. He does two speeches to the public to educate them a little bit about who he is and what he wants out of them. But he mostly speaks (as he typically does) in riddles and contrived language and I’m unsure how effective that really is for the general public. Past that it’s not like V really communicates to the people on the streets but then again it’d be impractical to try, most likely. And he’s not exactly a public figure except when he either makes a speech or blows stuff up. And I personally don’t find all of this a good enough basis for some sort of anarchist revolution.

But then his tactics alone don’t disqualify him from being an anarchist, perhaps.

Again, most of the things he blows up harm no one, almost all of the people he kills are either immediate threats to him or to others and even when they are not they’re surely systematic threats to people on a nearly constant basis. Now, again, that doesn’t mean it’s a good tactic or it’s morally legitimate, but it’s certainly a whole lot less problematic in moral terms than just killing random people or killing the postman because their tangentially related to the state.

In general though I don’t think V really understands anarchist tactics or how an anarchist would go about creating a better world. For someone who claims anarchism isn’t equivalent to chaos I think he does a pretty poor job proving that it’s not. And he only makes the “faces of anarchism” clear to Evee, explaining that they are both destroyer and creator. He rightly points out the creator is more important which he puts into terms of “sweet music” but still suggests we should celebrate the bombers, the bastards and the people who are “unlovely and unforgivable” (p. 222). V seems to relish in destruction and chaos at one point saying that “the chaos progresses splendidly” (p. 217) and seems to think it’s the best way to get to anarchism.

But perhaps it’s just hard to understand V’s point of view here because although we certainly do not live in good conditions under the present government they’re not exactly committing genocides, rounding up gays and blacks, etc. Perhaps V’s response is valuable in some way or another if the scenario that plays out in Moore’s novel actually happened (or something like it). But even in this case I’m still unsure.

More broadly speaking I think the topic of violence and so on is a thorny issue and of course just talking about it a risky thing. So this is a topic that should be handled with care but that doesn’t mean the discussion shouldn’t be had at all. The issue of violence and anarchism is a complex one and one that’s necessary to hash out and sometimes that means out in the open air. It should be done carefully mind you, so as not to give anyone in the ruling class any excuses, but I still think it should be done when and where people feel comfortable. But when it comes down to it I don’t think most of us here want a violent revolution. I know that I don’t at least. I’d prefer society to gradually change towards more and more freedom via radical measures including direct action, building alternative institutions and more.

But violence isn’t really in my repertoire in those radical means. It’s not something I’m very much interested in and despite the lovely visuals Lloyd and Moore have given us in V for Vendetta I’m still not really impressed or satisfied, much less convinced, that violence is the answer to the present social order. Now, granted, I don’t really know that either Moore or Lloyd are convinced of these things either. I remember reading in an interview that Moore isn’t fond of the killing that V has to do in order to achieve his goals (though strangely he thinks the torture is a more complex matter that he aligns more sympathy with) so clearly Moore himself isn’t that interested in violence to one extent or another. And while I can’t really speak for Lloyd I’d suspect a similar position from him.

Now, perhaps we could argue that violence in response to the ultra-violence prone fascist led society was V’s only reasonable choice. Is that possible? Perhaps. I’m not a pacifist and I think self-defense is a perfectly fine thing and I also think owning things for protection is perfectly fine too. But of course V wasn’t just getting himself involved in self-defense. Plenty of his actions were initiatory and aggressive towards known government agents. But even if V’s response was rational that doesn’t mean the way he went about it was possible. After all, the story is fictional…mostly. And being fictional and being the huge epic story it is, there’s bound to be plenty of holes in the plot (like how did V get such unrestricted access to the subway tunnels for so long?). And those plot holes and the fact that it’s fiction makes for a somewhat unrealistic expectation that we’re all just going to pull a V on the oppressors of society while waxing Shakespeare.

But even so I think, just like with our other case studies that V is good intentioned and can be a great source of empowerment and if nothing else wonderful discussions about anarchism, power and politics. I don’t really think V is a very good anarchist all things considered and honestly making him so associated with chaos, violence and destruction probably does more damage than good in my opinion. But V is still a fascinating and complex character that while perhaps some sort of anarchist (he seems to be pretty vague about his goals and what they may look like) is, as I said, still not a very good one. I say that because of his tactics, his association with chaos and violence and because of his general lack of understanding of anarchist praxis.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not worth reading about. Indeed, I think V for Vendetta is required for any comic book fan, let alone an anarchist comic book fan. Which means that my recommendation goes double for the anarchist comic book nerds in the room.



There was something interesting I noticed about all of the case studies I looked at and with V I think his wit and his manner of perceiving the world is one of the most interesting things. I think his amount of smarts and the way he deals with right and wrong are fascinating to take a look at.

I think V is, at best some sort of hypocritical anarchist who doesn’t really understand the means of anarchism even if he understands some of the goals of anarchism. I don’t think he has much of the spirit or passion either because most of that is tied up with revenge and not liberation. I’m not saying these two things are always mutually exclusive but V for Vendetta is named such because the main point of V’s mission isn’t just personal and collective liberation for all of England. It’s also a vendetta he has against the ruling class for personal wrongs they’ve committed against him in particular.

The ways he deals with Evey and trying to get more people involved in the movement, namely psychological, mental, emotional and even physical manipulation is to be looked down on as far as I am concerned. So are his ideas of the means. But the words V uses and the wit he uses to formulate his plans, to plan a few steps against Norsefire are important elements of being an anarchist (again, not really saying anything about his means here which I largely disagree with). Because if we’re going to liberate society and ourselves we’re going to need to have our heads in the game and we’re going to have to be able to plan and be a few steps ahead of the obstacles in our way.

More broadly speaking in terms of comics and anarchism we shouldn’t be afraid to look into other mediums for either creating or finding better ideas about how to configure a better society. And when it comes to television, movies and music, anarchists certainly have taken their fill of people, ideas and so on. But when it comes to comic books I say we have a lot more work to do. Not only is it discouraging to just even try to look up a basic Google search for the key terms comic books and anarchism but the fact that I think I could probably only write a handful of these essays, each featuring three case studies is the most discouraging of all.

Perhaps even more discouraging than that is the lack of work done on analyzing these comic books and the characters that inhabit them as well as placing them within anarchist lens and seeing what we can get from them. Maybe it’s not even something useful for you and perhaps everything I’ve said so far is garbage as far as you are concerned. And if so then that’s fine. But I’d rather have us find that out and try than just ignore things like comic books.

To anarchists credit we’re always still building and comic books is one of the major mainstream forms of entertainment that still feels underground in some ways. It’s like the progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria. They’re a massively successful band and have had even a few radio hits here and there but their following is still pretty cult like…in a good way. You could say the same thing about Rush. Sure, everyone knows Rush (well “everyone”) for Tom Sawyer but do people know any of their albums or their other songs (besides the radio hits)?

Comic books despite being mostly inhabited by nerdy white kids who start plugging their ears and stamping their feet at the word “sexism” are still a somewhat underground and cultish kind of activity. They’re very resistant to change and also very nostalgic (two things, in my opinion that is killing the comic book industry’s standard of what makes a good comic) and they can also be very conservative. Indeed, some of the landmark texts of the comic book industry Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns can be read (in some parts if not overall) as a fairly conservative piece or involving conservatism in some of its parts fairly obviously. Now given Watchmen is written by Moore, I’m not trying to accuse him of doing that for some personal ideological reason. But it’s still worth noting either way.

I think things like this only means anarchism has its work cut out for itself. And if we want to change industries, impact markets and get people to have their views challenged and eventually changed for the better then we’re going to need to get some starting material. We’re going to need a good foundation of where to come at them from. If they want to see anarchism in action where are they going to look? What should they read? What authors should they pay attention to? What if there isn’t any more anarchist materials at all in the next five years and what if comic books are barren and need some form of radicalism in one way another? What then?

Well then I say is the perfect time (as I think it is now) for us to take a much closer look at comics, recognize the art form behind it and try to change it for the better. If you’re not seeing the next great anarchist or anarchist themed comic then go make one.

In terms of what lies ahead for future installments I can think of some who I’d still like to analyze or analyze within an anarchist context.

For example I can think of Mr. Nobody from Doom Patrol, a situationist inspired villain turned sort of anti-hero from what I understand. I can also think of radical elements in comics like Animal Man, which I’ve been told at one point references ALF (the Animal Liberation Front) and promotes things like veganism and so on.

There’s also a character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman who disavows his position of authority and that could be interesting to analyze too. I think all of these things and more could be analyzed within anarchist contexts. And if you’ve read Anarchist Studies: October 1997, which you can find at the library here you’ll know that some of these already have been analyzed!

So I don’t think this’ll be the only presentation I’ll do about anarchism, anti-authoritarianism or radicalism more generally in comic books.

Hopefully this is just the start of something beautiful.

“Element of Crushing Mass”, Unknown (The Match, Issue 110)

by on November 18th, 2014

THE MATCH! Issue no. 103, 2005

Taken from The Backwoods Heretic

…Laboratories have discovered the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium, has one neuteron, 25 assistant neuterons, 88 deputy neuterons, and 198 assistant deputy neuterons, giving it an atomic weight of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of two to six years, but it does not decay. Instead it undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neuterons and deputy neuterons exchange places, some forming an isotope called Bureaucratium which accretes mass over time.

The total mass of Governmentium/bureacratium doubles in a 10-year period, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons.

This characteristic of morons promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is deferred to as critical morass…

–Source unknown. We found this story in THE MATCH!, issue no. 110. This magazine is available from: THE MATCH!, P.O. Box 3012, Tuscon, AZ 85702. It’s nice to send a donation.

In Defense of Libertarian Communism, by Kerry Thornley

by on October 2nd, 2014


(This essay was originally published in Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance #2, May Day 1982-3, with comments by Samuel Edward Konkin III at the end.)


Kerry Wendell Thornley


For many years I accepted without question the prevailing opinion on the libertarian right that communist anarchism is “anti-market,” that it was espoused principally by people who objected unconsciously to the idea of having to work and that it preached excessive violence. During the summer of 1975 I read Alexander Berkman’s What Is Communist Anarchism? and confirmed a suspicion I’d been nurturing since 1969 that the last two of these charges, at least, were wholly in error. Berkman, like his comrades Emma Goldman and Rudolph Rocker, held views similar to those developed by Peter Kropotkin – except that Berkman was exceptionally eloquent and quotable in his expressions of them, while at the same time confining himself in What Is Communist Anarchism? to simple, working-class language.

All during his brief, tragic life he worked incessantly and tirelessly in support of all revolutionaries – including, in the early stages, the Bolsheviks in Russia and, later, all the anarchist dissidents, including Stirnerites, in Lenin’s prisons, without ever claiming to share the predominant views of either. Needless to say, his support for fellow communist anarchists was unstinting.

As for the notion that revolutionary communist anarchists are bloodthirsty individuals, it is adequately refuted in the chapter in What Is Communist Anarchism? on violence. Berkman compares the social revolution to a fragile flower that must be cultivated gently. Believing that some violence is necessary, he argues that it is like rolling up one’s sleeves before beginning the actual work of revolution, asserting also that when great thinkers like Bakunin and Malatesta ranted about destruction they were referring to the destruction of institutions, not of human beings.

But the charges that libertarian communism ignores the laws of the free market do not simply result from ignorance of its doctrines, but comprise instad an intellectually formidable position. In the first place, Berkman failed miserably to comprehend the significance of monetary mutualist ideas about central banking – blaming the warlike nature of capitalism upon the overproduction of goods and the consequent necessity to find new markets, unaware that in a free society stored overproduced goods could become a basis for mediums of exchange. Moreover, he failed to see that the prospect of war is needed by multinational banking corporations and failed to realize that credit monopolies such as central banks virtually thrive upon the misery and destruction that create debt.

Beyond that mistake, however, his thesis does not express an ignorance of free market principles, but instead depends upon a view of human nature that differs from that of most Conservatives and laissez-faire capitalists. Conservatives accept Original Sin and libertarian rightists assume that the laws which result from present economic values will always prevail, although those values result in turn from centuries of authoritarian conditioning.

As Hagbard Celine points out in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, left anarchists disagree with right anarchists only in their predictions as to how people will behave in a free market – the leftists believing that cooperation will take the place of competition, the rightists assuming that people will remain as competitve as ever. In other words, while authoritarian economics are proscriptive, libertarian economics are predictive – a realization which facilitates left-right unity among anarchists and libertarians.

Libertarians tend to agree with Marxists that economics usually determine politics, that economic forces are more basic to the structure of society – but neither seem to take into consideration how much prevailing human values determine human choices. An ignorant society composed of ignorant people will make foolish purchases and thereby become a market for junk merchandise and/or enormously destructive weaponry designed to wipe out foreign civilian populations instead of its own domestic and multinational oppressors.

Unfortunately, ignorance tends to feed on itself. Spencer thought universal literacy would culminate in the solution of all of most of society’s problems, but as Aldous Huxley observed he did not anticipate that most people would opt to read trivia – escapist fiction, inaccurate propaganda, advertising, etc. – instead of consciousness-raising materials and scientific papers. When television was in its infancy all kinds of optimistic predictions were made that it would eliminate war by establishing global communication between people of all cultures!

Of course, the economic and political requirements of the status quo tend to reinforce precisely those values that will maintain the established order, so there is some validity in the Marxist view of economic necessity, but the Russian and Chinese experiments have shown that a political takeover of society aimed at changing economic conditions does not suceed in significantly altering the economic substructure or in transforming personal values – and all libertarians understand the reasons.

But if, by libertarian methods, authoritarian values and the ignorance that they require are at a future point in history eradicated, what then? Will communist anarchism remain an anti-market philosophy or will the so-called laws of the market, being nothing mroe than descriptions of observed human behavior, change in accord with a proliferation of economic choices that result from psychologically liberated and informed values?

Like most higher mammals, human beings are herd animals, or tribalists. But the theological conceit that they are not mammals at all, but creatures “a little lower than angels,”causes them to behave in a way that alienates them not only from their own bodies, but also from their own emotional and social needs.

Imagine, as one example, belonging to a voluntary extended family of twenty-five individuals, children included, that lived in the same village neighborhood, labored in the same workplace, and enjoyed the same recreations together. Assume that these individuals had located one another through a computer matching service and taht therefore their lifestyle values were very much alike. Such a group might be further bonded in multilateral marriages, or it might be monoagamous and bonded vicariously in collective autoerotic sharing, or it might be sexually monogamous but held together by strong religious convictions or nonmystical values. Would such a group necessarily function in a manner that was anti-market? Even if it was organized internally for the equal sharing of what it produced?

Contrary to popular belief, human beings like to work, as the biography of many a millionaire will attest. What makes labor alienating under present social conditions is that it is organized after the military model, wherein participants are told when to work and when not to work, how to dress and what relations to maintain on the job with their fellow workers. With such a distorted notion what is necessary to production it is no wonder that the average person suspects that if working conditions were controlled directly by the workers themselves everyone would sluff off! Or that a few would work and all the others would sit back.

A peculiarity of my own background is that I come from a Mormon family, and from ages twelve to sixteen I was intensely active in the church. Mormons are famous for contributing untold hours of free labor to their church, and it works that way because, for them, work is a social occasion. As Alan Watts would say, they have managed to break down the dichotomy in their church activities between work and play.

That communist anarchists are by and large ignorant of free market principles is simply not true. For while their choices of words are different from those of the libertarian right and they therefore seldom use the term “free market,”, it can be seen from a close reading of either Peter Kropotkin or Alexander Berkman that they recognize, as one example among many, that economic values are subjective, although they did not know this would become known among Austrian capitalists as the “law of marginal utility.” In keeping with their contrasting view of human nature, the anarchists use marginal utility concepts to justify equal rations, since subjective value also implies that it is impossible to ascribe an objective value to anyone’s labor.

Evidence that the communist libertarian view of human nature tend to be the more correct one is contained in A.S. Neill’s Summerhill, where it is observed that in an environment of complete freedom children tend to be self-regulating and to master their subjects in the absense of any immediate rewards for so doing. That the resentment generated by compulsory measures is also absent in such a milieu seems to go a long way to explain why bribery, or reward, also becomes unnecessary. Further evidence is to be found in abundance in the study of anthropology, the Hopi Indians being only one very conspicuous, very extreme example of how far cooperation can develop in the direction of eliminating competition without crippling productive activity.

A logical political compromise between communist anarchism and libertarian capitalism would seem to be individualist anarchism of the kind espoused by Josiah Warren and Benjamin Tucker – for it makes the least number of assumptions in either direction about human nature and developed from experience with both utopian communist communities and the laissez-faire capitalism of teh last century.

Instead of making metaphysical assumptions about the nature of human beings in a free society, it asks: With people as they are how can we arrange social institutions to allow for the optimum in both individual choice and useful cooperation?

Once we construct our alternative institutions with that question in mind, generations of human beings will begin to grow up in genuine freedom – and no past or present communist anarchist or laissez-faire capitalist can predict with certainty what will happen after that, but it seems to me they should be able to agree that this is where to begin.

For libertarian capitalists that means becoming aware of communist anarchist doctrines, and realizing that they are based not so much on ignorance of economics as on unlimited optimism for the potential rationality of genuinely free people. —KWT


[We await discussion in SNLA #3’s letter section. So that it will not be derailed from the central subject – relations between various Anarchists – let me quickly correct some minor points which are simply errors of presentation of the market-libertarian positions by Kerry.

First, his use of “libertarian right” should be taken as specialized for this article, since it is inconsistent with Libertarian Left and Libertarian Right used in other N-NLA publications.

Second, while the Libertarian Right (our sense) may assume “that the laws which result from present economic values will always prevail, although these values result in turn from centuries of authoritarian conditioning,” the Libertarian Left (agorists) believe the operation of true economic laws are distorted and repressed by centuries of statism and will be unleashed after the abolition of the State. The basic agorist position could be crudely put, to use Thornley’s terms, that many people will be freed to “become more competitive than ever.” That is, they will become entrepreneurial and less drudge-like. The speculative agorist view that this author holds (see brief discussion with Rothbard in SNLA #1 on the New Libertarian Manifesto) is that Labor will asymptotically be abolished, replaced by “smart” drudge devices, machines, production systems, and so on.

Nor is it just “popular belief” that is opposed to the one that “human beings like to work.” Ludwig Von Mises takes it as an axiom of praxeology – and I agree. Of course, what is “work” is open to debate; I consider creative and artistic endeavors to be forms of entrepreneurialism and think most agorists have similar views.
The Mormonoid method of mixing subjective-reward play with work is in no way inconsistent with agoric activity. The “Law” of Subjective Value of Mises is not the same as that of Marginal Utility; fortunately, Thornley’s arguments do not depend on that misidentification.

Finally, Thornley would be better off comparing, as I assume some are ready to write in challenges to this effect, “utopian communist communities” with “utopian” agorist communities (i.e., the Counter-Economy) rather than “laissez-faire capitalism of the last century” with which only the far right of Libertarianism can find any affinity with.

Let the letters come on, now! —SEK3

“Anarchist Individualism in the Social Revolution”, by Renzo Novatore

by on September 26th, 2014

(Nick’s Notes: This piece by Novatore isn’t online anywhere so I’ve done the honors)

Renzo Novatore


Il Libertario, volume VXII, #738, 739, November 6, 13 1919



Anarchist individualism as we understand it – and I say we because a substantial handful of friends think this like me – is hostile to every school and every party, every churchly and dogmatic moral, as well as every more or less academic imbecility. Every form of discipline, rule and pedantry is repulsvie to the sincere nobility of our vagabond and rebellious restlessness!

Individualism is, for us, creative force, immortal youth, exalting beauty, redemptive and fruitful war. It is the marvelous apotheosis of the flesh and the tragic epic of the spirit. Our logic is that of not having any. Our ideal is the categorical negation of all other ideals for the greatest and supreme triumph of the actual, real, instinctive, reckless and merry life! For us perfection is not a dream, an ideal, a riddle, a mystery, a sphinx, but a vigorous and powerful, luminous and throbbing reality. All human beings are perfect in themselves. All they lack is the heroic courage of their perfection. Since the time that human beings first believed that life was a duty, a calling, a mission, it has meant shame for their power of being, and in following phantoms, they have denied themselves and distanced themselves from the real. When Christ said to human beings: “be yourselves, perfection is in you!” he launched a superb phrase that is the supreme synthesis of life.

It is useless that the bigots, theologians and philosophers do their utmost with deceitful and dialectical sophisms to give a false interpretation to Christ’s words. But when Christ speaks this way to human beings, he disavows his entire calling to renunciation, to a mission and to faith, and all the rest of his doctrine collapses miserably in the mud, knocked down by he himself. And here, and here alone, is Christ’s great tragedy. Let human beings open their misty eyes in the blinding sun of this truth, and they will find themselves face to face with their true and laughing redemption.

This is the ethical part individualism, neither romantically mystical, nor idealistically monastic, neither moral, nor immoral, but amoral, wild, furious and warlike, that keeps its luminous roots voluptuously rooted in the phosphorescent perianth of pagan nature, and its verdant foliage resting on the purple mouth of virgin life.




To every form of human Society that would try to impose renunciations and artificial sorrow on our anarchic and rebellious I, thirsting for free and exulting expansion, we will respond with a roaring and sacrilegious howl of dynamite.

To all those demagogues of politics and of philosophy that carry in their pockets a beautiful system made by mortgaging a corner of the future, we respond with Bakunin: Oafs and weaklings! Every duty that they would like to impose on us we will furiously trample under our sacrilegious feet. Every shady phantom that they would place before our eyes, greedy for light, we will angrily rip up with our daringly profaning hands. Christ was ashamed of his own doctrine and he broke it first. Friedrich Nietzsche was afraid of his overhuman and made it die in the midst of his agonizing animals, asking pity of the higher man. But we are neither afraid nor ashamed of the liberated Human Being.

We exalt Prometheus, the sacrilegious thief who stole the eternal spark from Jove’s heaven to animate the man of clay, and we glorify Hercules, the powerful, liberating hero.




Pagan nature has placed a Prometheus in the mind of every mortal human being, and a Hercules in the brain of every thinker. But morality, that disgusting enchantress of philosophers, peoples and humanity, has glorified and sanctified the vulture exalting it as divine justice, and divine justice, which Comte humanized, has condemned the Hero.

The Human Being of furrow and the thinker have trembled before this baleful phantom and courage has remained defeated under the enormous weight of fear.

But anarchist individualism is a brilliant and fatal torch that casts light into the darkness into the realm of fear and puts to flight the phantoms of Divine justice that Comte humanized.

Individualism is the free and unconstrained song that reconnects the individual to the eternal and universal pan-dynamism, that is neither moral nor immoral, but that is everything. Nature; and Life! What is Life? Depths and peaks, instinct and reason, light and darkness, mud and beauty, joy and sorrow. Disavowal of the past, domination of the present, longing and yearning for the future.

Life is all this. And all this is also individualism. Who seeks to escape Life? Who dares to deny it?




The Social Revolution is the sudden awakening of Prometheus after a fall into a faint of sorrow caused by the foul vulture that rips his heart to shreds. It is an attempt at self-liberation. But the chains with which the sinister god Jove had him chained on the Caucasus by the repugnant servant Vulcan cannot be broken except by the Titanic rebel Hero, son of Jove himself.

We rebel children of this putrid humanity that has chained human beings in the dogmatic mud of social superstitions will never miss bringing our tremendous axe blow down on the rusty links of this hateful chain.

Yes, we anarchist individualists are for Social Revolution, but in our way, it’s understood!




The revolt of the individual against society is not given by that of the masses against governments. Even when the masses submit to governments, living in the sacred and shameful peace of their resignation, the anarchist individual lives against society because he is in a never-ending and irreconcilable war with it, but when, at a historical turning point, he comes together with the masses in revolt, he raises his black flag with them and throws his dynamite with them.

The anarchist individualist is in the Social Revolution, not as a demagogue, but as a inciting element, not as an apostle, but as a living, effective, destructive force…

All past revolutions were in the end, bourgeois and conservative. That which flashes on the red horizon of our magnificently tragic time will have for its aim the fierce socialist humanism. We, anarchist individualists, will enter into the revolution for an exclusive need of our own to set fire to and incite spirits. To make sure that, as Stirner says, it is not a new revolution that approaches, but rather an immense, proud, reckless, shameless, conscienceless crime that rumbles with the lightning on the horizon, and beneath which  the sky, swollen with foreboding, grows dark and silent. And Ibsen: “There’s only one revolution I recognize – that was truly, thoroughly radical – … I’m referring to the ancient Flood! That one alone was truly serious. But even then the devil lost his due: you know Noah took up the dictatorship.  Let’s make this revolution again, but more thoroughly. It requires real men as well as orators. So you bring on the roaring waters, I’ll supply the powder keg to blow up the ark.”

Now since dictatorship will be – alas! – inevitable in the somber global revolution that sends its bleak glow from the east over our black cowardice, the ultimate task of we anarchist individualists will be that of blowing up the final ark with bomb explosions and the final dictator with Browning shots. The new society established, we will return to its margins to live our lives dangerously as noble criminals and audacious sinners! Because the anarchist individualist still means eternal renewal, in the field of art, thought and action.

Anarchist individualism still means eternal revolt against eternal sorrow, the eternal search for new springs of life, joy and beauty. And we will still be such in Anarchy.

written under the name of Mario Ferrento

Anarchism in the Classroom!

by on September 11th, 2014

This is a loose transcript of a “talk” I gave for my partner’s mother at Worcester State University to her communications 101 class.

The Modern School in NYC (Circa 1911-1912)

Hi, my name is Nick Ford. I run a site called AbolishWork.com and work for an anarchist organization called C4SS or, the Center for a Stateless Society. We can be found at C4SS.org.

So Alta asked me to be here so I could jazz you guys up about the different economic systems and how they relate to Marxism and the internet. I’ll mostly tackle the different economic systems.

To start, Marxism is based on the ideology of the German thinker and philosopher Karl Marx. This doesn’t mean the ideology is limited to Marx .For example leaders of the USSR like Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and other added on to Marx’s theories and made them a bit different than they were before.  So Marxists don’t live and die by Marx, but of course many take great inspiration from his thought. And particularly from his large tomes called Das Kapital.

Marxism argues that capitalism is actually (or at least can be) a transitionary stage to freeing ourselves. To an anarchist this would be tantamount to saying that slavery is pretty cool for a while as long as it results in some sort of freedom for the slaves, eventually. But either way to many Marxists capitalism is a necessary part of development in the world to get to real democracy. Lenin even used state-capitalism as a way to supposedly get to the a classless and stateless society. Of course, if you know even basic history of Stalin then you know how well that went.

But what exactly is capitalism?

Some refer to capitalism as just an economic system wherein the means of production are privately owned. Or a system where property and exchange is freely done without regulations by the government.

I object to both definitions and refer to Kevin Carson, a contemporary anarchist thinker in his “Capitalism: A Good Word for a Bad Thing”,

…it is rather odd that “capitalism” was adopted  as the conventional term for a society based on private property and free exchange. There’s no obvious reason, in seeking a name for an economy in which all factors of production are ostensibly equal and enter into free contract as equals, that capital should be singled in particular out for special emphasis.  The choice of “capitalism” suggests some special ideological agenda, as if the system were run of, by and for capital as distinguished from other factors of production.

And that is exactly what capitalism is.

Capitalism, as it has historically existed is a system whereby the means of production (that is, the tools necessary to produce goods, e.g. factories, certain sorts of machinery, etc.) has been concentrated into a certain class’s hands as opposed to the lower class. So the private ownership of the means of production (or POOTMOP) is certainly relevant but I don’t know that it’s defining. In any case, this higher class tends to be the management or the elites who are able to make good with politicians due to their connections.

As Marx points out this condition was largely done by violence and one of the most major locations of this violence was England during the enclosure acts. Where, according to Kevin Carson, many peasants had small and fully functioning communes with healthy and stable economies that allowed work but also allowed leisure and good rewards. It wasn’t perfect by any means but it certainly would beat being forced into factories via state-capital collusion.

But if Marxism is aiming for real “democracy” then we must understand what that means as well.

To go at this from an etymological level the word literally means people-system as in, a system powered directly by the people involved. Sounds great but people can take “people” to mean anything. So in a “representative” democracy the people “directly” involved have a voice…it’s just not theirs. And in more “direct democracies” like Sweden for example the public may have a stronger vote on certain things directly but it still has to go through a larger parliamentary system.

So both of these sorts of democracies interpret the “people” to be the ruling class or the state.

The sort of democracy that Marx would particularly favor when all is said and done is a classless and stateless society.

That is to say a society where no particular group of people (e.g. politicians, capitalists, etc.) has a distinctly higher advantageous claim over another with the means of production or the ability to make decisions over ones own life.

And a society wherein things are stateless, which is to say no government or centralized authority on the role of violence in a given society. These things would be determined by localized councils that network and federate with other ones to discuss and decide important issues.

Anarchists that are more favorable to communism (which is another word for Marx’s desired end) may be okay with this end. But the means are questionable. Marx is well-known for his “dictatorship of the proletariat” which typically has anarchists at least skeptical. To be fair to Marx what he meant by a “dictatorship” was coming from a German language and a much different time. So by this he more or less meant the supremacy of one group over another and not necessarily a totalitarian state or something along those lines.

Nevertheless I believe the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, for example, predicted how this would turn out:

“They [the Marxists] maintain that only a dictatorship—their dictatorship, of course—can create the will of the people, while our answer [the anarchists] to this is:

No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it; freedom can be created only by freedom, that is, by a universal rebellion on the part of the people and free organization of the toiling masses from the bottom up.” (Statism and Anarchy)


We can see then that at least with fairly orthodox or classical Marxism the anarchist and Marxist they may agree on the opposition to capitalism and the approval of certain forms of democracy do not agree on how to get there or what it would look like, etc.


Where as the Marxist merely wants to change hands of who has supremacy the anarchists wants not supremacy at all.


The anarchist alternative to the dictatorship is the IWW tactic of building the new society within the shell of the old. Building alternative organizations based on mutuality, voluntary association, horizontal organizing and so on. This can include things like housing cooperatives, food collectives, forming powerful but autonomous unions that are not involved with the state and so on.

The idea is to build these organizations and network them so that you can eventually start building autonomous localities, neighborhoods and full blown autonomous towns if possible. All the while having means to defend yourself and handle inner-disputes in these communities through peer to peer arbitration or established community courts for more serious things.

Instead of perpetuating the models of capitalism and the state through a hierarchical placing of one class over the other (in this case the proletariat over the bourgeois) and risk perpetuating the bourgeois state we shall instead destroy it from within the society by creating a new one.

In other words the anarchist relies not on any panacea or use of an iron first via a proletarian state but rather an invisibile Molotov to quote the Director of C4SS, James Tuttle:

 The Invisible Molotov embraces emergent orders, not as the pious desire to embrace their deity, awed by its power or grace, but as the readied aikido master, observant of its flow and eddies, prepared to turn, adding its force to our own or using its inertia to deflect its fist into the ground.

As William Gillis explains,

“For those of us interested in resisting and undermining coercive power, the issue is less how a truly freed market might one day improve our lives, but rather how the faint sparks of freedom in the market today are already working against hierarchy, banditry and the concentration of power and how those sparks might be stoked. Therefore our interest is not the market’s invisible hand, per se, but the invisible molotov it carries.”

In conclusion Kevin Carson steels our resolve,

“Our goal is not to assume leadership of existing institutions, but rather to render them irrelevant. We don’t want to take over the state or change its policies. We want to render its laws unenforceable. We don’t want to take over corporations and make them more “socially responsible.” We want to build a counter-economy of open-source information, neighborhood garage manufacturing, Permaculture, encrypted currency and mutual banks, leaving the corporations to die on the vine along with the state.

We do not hope to reform the existing order. We intend to serve as its grave-diggers.”


Some Brief Thoughts on Tax Evasion and Corporations


Recently, the headquarters of Burger King decided to move to Canada and out of the US for tax reasons. Relatedly Amazon has gotten in trouble for tax evasion in the UK and tech giants Apple and Google have been accused of the same.

Should we take these occurrences as something positive? Something that shows that companies are taking their own business into their own hands and not letting governments or bad tax code get in the way?

Or should we see this as a negative? Perhaps this shows that corporations are far stronger than governments and that these sorts of actions means more regulations on corporations or stricter tax practices with big corporations.

It’s worth noting that corporations aren’t somehow the masters over the state. At least, not in any absolute sense. Like any other power struggle over a given society the top classes who are in line push and shove and fight each other sometimes. And sometimes one even dominates another for a period but fundamentally speaking the state and the corporations have many similar interests.

Roderick Long, a philosophy professor at Auburn University made a comparison to the Star Wars universe:

 The main plotline of the Star Wars prequel trilogy concerns an apparent conflict between the central government (the Senate) on the one hand and a coalition of mercantile interests (the Trade Federation, the Commerce Guild, etc.) on the other. As events unfold, however, it quickly becomes obvious to the audience (though much less quickly to the protagonists) that the conflict is largely a ruse, with the leadership of the two sides (Chancellor Palpatine and Count Dooku, respectively) secretly working hand in glove.

Which isn’t to say that all is rosy between them. Each wants to be the dominant partner; witness Dooku’s failed attempt to betray Palpatine in Episode II, and Palpatine’s successful backstabbing of Dooku and his corporate allies in Episode III. Still, the partnership is stable enough to succeed in manipulating the protagonists into unwittingly undermining the very liberty they have been seeking to protect. As the pseudo-conflict escalates, there are, in the words of Episode III’s opening crawl, “heroes on both sides” – but the good guys on the two sides have been duped into fighting one another, each side grasping the evil of the other side’s leadership but not yet that of its own.

We can see this fictional situation happening in reality in a lot of the work by New Leftists like Carl Oglesby and his talk of “corporate liberalism”. As well as New Left historians like William Appleman Willaims and Gabriel Kolko. Kolko is most known for his historical work on railroads and his book “The Triumph of Conservatism” which revealed the interlocking power dynamics of corporations and governments. Libertarians like Butler Shaffer also highlight this in his book “In Restraint of Trade” and argue that often the heaviest and most so-called “damaging” regulations were actually crafted in part by the top executives and CEOs because it minimized their competition.

The smaller businesses would pay the price of the regulations and the big businesses would just largely absorb the costs and externalize them through state-granted privileges or friends in political office and so on.

Given all of this what sense does it make to treat these tax avoidances as the coming of a one-sided relation? Or to see more regulations as the answer?

Now, multi-national corporations have plenty of power (economic, social, etc.) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come from somewhere. The charters of incorporation are fundamentally a state privilege and if you remove this privilege (more or less an insulation from price mechanisms and the flows of the market) then the corporations have much less of a leg to stand on.

On the other hand, I don’t think tax evasion from these corporations makes these corporations particularly heroic. As much as I believe that taxation is illegitimate and inefficient way of organizing society I wouldn’t just blindly call anyone who rebels against them my friend or say I supported them. And besides, for Burger King this is purely an economic move as far as I am aware. It’s not a political statement, or at least not intentionally.

But even if it was, I feel no obligation to celebrate when corporations are able to go through legal loop holes or invalidate the state’s laws in some important sense. While I don’t lament it in the same way some people would I also don’t think it’s inherently a good thing to stick it to the man when you are part of the “man” too.

Too quote professor Long once more,

We might compare the alliance between government and big business to the alliance between church and state in the Middle Ages. Of course it’s in the interest of both parties to maintain the alliance — but all the same, each side would like to be the dominant partner, so it’s no surprise that the history of such alliances will often look like a history of conflict and antipathy, as each side struggles to get the upper hand. But this struggle must be read against a common background framework of cooperation to maintain the system of control.


Do I think tax evasion is ordinarily a good thing?


Do I think Burger King doing it is in some non-nuanced way good?


The synthesis of these positions might look something like:

Down with corporations and the government and down with certain classes of people having the privilege to evade taxes while others do not.

In other words, let us all aim to be the next Burger King, just without the corporation part.


Piketty, Social Reform and the New Left

Finally, I just want to briefly comment on social reform and the idea of a New Left and suggest that the New Left already exists. A New Left that doesn’t task itself with pleading with Washington or regressing to corporatist apologetics. This New Left would take seriously the critiques of both state and capital and resolve that social reform can’t be anything less than revolutionary. This doesn’t mean it needs to be immediate or violent; a revolutionary movement can be one that builds as it destroys through beautiful creation of vibrant and meaningful alternatives for the larger society. We don’t need to appeal to politicians with our votes or favors but nor do we need to appeal to corporate giants with our money and our apologetics.

We can oppose both the state and big businessin meaningful and interesting ways by taking from radical libertarianism (e.g. I have in mind Murray Rothbard’s market anarchism of the 60s and 70s) with something like anti-authoritarian leftism (e.g. David Graeber, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, etc.).

What I’ve gathered from Piketty is that he thinks (for some reason or another) the gaps and inequality can be undone by not only appealing to state and capital but by concentrating these two very mutually cooperative (and antagonistic to be sure) parties in some sort of wordly fashion and imposing some sort of global tax on everyone.

I don’t have all of the specifics on this proposal but the logistics of this sound insane and way too farfetched for me to really take seriously. I’d sooner take Luxemburg seriously that, “The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim.” Then Piketty’s, “The counter-revolution is its means and the counter-revolution is its aim”. Because that’s all I’m really seeing here.

I certainly agree with Alta that we shouldn’t just disparage Piketty and we should take his claims of inequality seriousness or at least his concerns about this topic even if his statistics aren’t right (I’m not sure myself having not read it, but I’ve heard mixed things). Even so though that doesn’t make his solutions particularly attractive even if some of his underlying premises make total sense.

With that in mind, sure, let’s create a New Left but one that’s aiming for a revolutionary gradualism. Gradually building the new world within the shell of the old.

Or as Pierre Joseph Proudhon, one of the first people to call themselves an anarchist said:

“To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great