Thursday, October 29, 2009

Evil People and Hatred

Recently Larken and I watched the movie "The Green Mile" for the first time in many years. Having just written my last post about how people always think they're doing the right thing, it was challenging to be reminded just how unspeakably, deliberately evil some people are. Of course the movie is entirely fictional, based on a Stephen King story about characters living or working on a Death Row in a 1930s prison. But there really are people like the villains in that film: people who simply enjoy making other people suffer--which, it seems to me, is pretty much the essence of evil.

Does my premise break down when we look at the worst people on earth? How could mass murderers and child rapists possibly think they're doing the right thing? Well, I do believe that on a conscious level they usually know that what they're doing is wrong and evil, but on some deeper level, below their own awareness perhaps, they've decided that being "evil" is the right choice for them. For some reason they've decided that being "good" just doesn't work for them. It's hard--maybe impossible--for normal people to understand why someone would feel this way, but criminal psychologists keep trying to figure it out.

And why, you might think, should we even try to understand -- let alone forgive -- these horrible people? Especially those who are completely unrepentant, and will keep on doing heinous things until someone stops them with a bullet? How could such a person deserve understanding and forgiveness?

I don't think they do deserve it, and I don't think that's the point. The understanding and forgiveness is for us: because it's not good for us to be filled with hatred and anger. And it's for practice: because if we can understand and forgive the most dangerous and twisted people among us, surely we can also think kindly of good-hearted people with different points of view. It's to diffuse the power of hatred, one person at a time. It's to see everyone as a human being, even when our minds are screaming, "monster!"

One of the Death Row guards in The Green Mile is a sadistic creep who is obviously there to witness and cause suffering. Sadistic people will always be drawn toward those who are seen as less than human, where society gives tacit permission or even encouragement to sadistic abuse. Criminals are a very convenient group for this. Although it's gone out of fashion to abuse groups of people based on unchosen things like skin color or sex, we can still get lots of tacit approval for being cruel to people who have ostensibly chosen to be something that we hate: criminals, drug users, welfare recipients, rapacious capitalists, gun-toting government thugs, or whoever we personally love to hate the most. Righteousness allows us to hate people while maintaining our self-respect, because those people deserve to be hated for what they have chosen to be.

Hundreds of movies (including The Green Mile) cater to an appetite for righteous retribution - the worse the villain is, the better people can feel about enjoying his cruel end, especially with the knowledge that it's not really happening. And very rarely does a hero kill a villain in cold blood, because that would make us all uncomfortable -- the villain almost always makes himself an immediate threat just before his horrific demise.

Why do we enjoy these movies so much? If we simply enjoyed violence and mayhem for its own sake, the writers would not be so careful to make the bad guys deserve what they get. I think that in a society where few of us will ever experience real violence, we feel a need to vicariously conquer evil and danger.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Nor would I ever suggest that understanding and forgiveness be allowed to get in the way of protecting ourselves and others from aggressors. Whether the aggressors are deranged serial killers, burglars, tax collectors, or prosecutors - we must find ways to render harmful people harmless. But it should be done as humanely as possible, without malice, anger, or hatred; not just for the sake of those aggressors, but for the sake of ourselves and the world.

I remember trying to think of prison guards as if they were rhinos or hippos - large, dangerous, stupid animals. You don't have to hate a dangerous animal; you just have to proceed with caution when you're in its territory. Some criminals are more like rabid dogs, where there's nothing to do but shoot them. But again, we don't hate rabid dogs; we feel sad that they're both incurable and dangerous. Imagining people to be animals is dehumanizing, you might say! Yes it is. But because the violence of animals is both impersonal and morally neutral, in some cases this fantasy can diffuse our righteous anger.

Normally, people dehumanize others in order to hate them more conveniently. Group identity helps us dehumanize those outside of the group. Righteousness helps us feel good about hating. And politics allows us to murder, rob, torture, and imprison those we hate indirectly, keeping the blood off our own hands.

I am proceeding here on the premise that hatred is an enemy of mankind, and that we should do whatever we can to discourage this feeling in ourselves, and to avoid that which inflames it. The idea that people are always doing what they believe is right may be hard for us to believe in some cases, but I think that if we were omniscient, we would be able to see how it's true. And the effort to see how it's true puts us in touch with the humanity of those we could otherwise easily hate.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Everyone is Doing What he Believes is Right

I propose that everyone does what he thinks is right, all the time. Even when people do something that they think is theoretically wrong, there is some reason for it that makes it right for them at that moment.

For instance: "I know it's wrong to steal, but my kids are hungry, and I just can't bring myself to beg." For this person, stealing feels wrong, yet it also feels like the best option for him at that time. Or: "I know it's wrong to cheat on my wife, but I may never feel this way again." Or, "I know it's wrong to lie in court, but these evil tax protestors could destroy our civilization."

Temptation, we could say, is a struggle between the rightness and wrongness of an action in our minds. Frequently it's a struggle between what feels right for ourselves, right now, and what feels right for others and the future.

I see this as the interminable conflict of morality - the needs of the self and the present as opposed to the needs of others and the future. It is not a conflict between good and evil, but a matter of getting the balance right. Happiness is a state of the self in the present moment, and happiness is the best thing in life. But regard for others and the future can be essential to keeping those happy moments flowing as the "now" progresses through time.

Society consists of the complex interplay of many actors trying to achieve the proper balance between self and others, and between now and the future. And morality is the attempt to codify behavior in a set of rules that achieves the best balance for everyone.

We can purge ourselves of anger and hatred toward those who hurt us if we can really see that everyone does what he believes is right all the time. Everyone, deep down, thinks that his own morality is best, and should be imposed on everyone else. Before you say, Oh no, not me! consider this: I believe that the best way to achieve happiness for all is to leave people in freedom as much as possible. I believe that one person's freedom should be restricted only by the equal freedom of others. I would impose this morality on everyone else by using deadly force if necessary to defend myself and others from aggression. That which we would impose on others by deadly force is the essential core of our morality. Above that core, we have varying degrees of tolerance, indifference, and approval. But the behavior that we would enforce or prevent by means of deadly force is the behavior that matters the most to us. And of course we are equally responsible whether we wield the gun ourselves or get "law enforcers" to do it for us.

I believe, simply, that society works best when violence is not used at all; therefore my morality approves of violence only when it's used defensively. I believe that defensive violence is good to the degree that it's necessary to counter aggressive violence.

But that's just my morality. And probably yours, too, if you're reading this. My morality flows from the value I place on the happiness of every human being, and is informed by all the knowledge I have at my disposal, whether from books, personal experience, or whatever. What is good? and how is good best achieved? The answers to these questions give shape to our personal moral codes.

If we want to understand others, it's important to realize that others have different answers to these questions, based on their own ideas about human beings and the world. And if we wish to change their ideas or present them with new ideas, we should do this with as much charity and goodwill as we can muster. We must try to get into their minds, behind their eyes, and into their shoes as much as possible, in order to understand their idea of what's good, what's bad, and when it's appropriate to pick up a gun.

Of course, we really can't see the world completely from someone else's point of view. The best we can do is to imagine. This is one of the reasons I'm an anarchist. If I cannot walk a mile in someone's shoes, I will not presume to run his life.

But many others, I well know, see things very differently. Other people whole-heartedly believe that people's lives should be run by others. They believe that the main virtue for most of humanity is obedience to authority, and that the use of deadly force by that authority to enforce their obedience is virtuous and necessary.

Perhaps your mind rebels at this. No, no! you say, No one can really, truly believe that! These people are just rationalizing their evil desire to dominate others! I think that those of us who love freedom instinctively feel this way because it's almost impossible for us to imagine not knowing what we know, and not understanding what we understand. It seems impossible that these people really, really, deep down inside, don't know any better.

It's hard to imagine the world view of people far back in history because we are aware of what has happened since their time, and they were not. We cannot expunge that awareness from our minds any more than they could magically see things the way we do. People like to feel morally superior to people who lived in the past. And perhaps we are morally superior, because morality has evolved since their time, but this is not to our credit. People do their best within the confines of their own time period, their own intelligence, their own culture, and their own knowledge.

I think that anarchistic morality, with its emphasis on maximum freedom and minimum violence, is the best morality there is. Because, duh -- of course I'm going to embrace what seems right to me. To live by what seemed wrong to me would be just insane. And because I think my moral code is best, it logically follows that I think the world would be better if everyone embraced it.

We cannot get through to people by clubbing them over the head with how bad and wrong they are. The reason is that they don't think they're bad and wrong any more than we think we are. I've been persecuted, prosecuted, imprisoned, robbed, viciously slandered and derided, all in an effort to show me how bad and wrong I was. None of it has ever had the slightest bit of success.

I guess I can see that I'm obviously very bad and wrong from their point of view. But their bludgeoning has done nothing to convince me that their belief system and moral code is superior to the one that I hold. In fact, the bludgeoning only demonstrates that their morality hurts people, and their morality readily justifies throwing aside numerous other moral tenets in order to hurt people. That, I think, is one mark of a bad moral code.

I do not think that bludgeoning, either physical or verbal, leads people to a higher truth. I think that bludgeoning generally makes people hold defensively onto whatever they already think. I know we're all really tired of trying to be nice to people who advocate that we be shot for our beliefs, and dull-wittedly blame it on us. Their beliefs are a threat to us, and we have every right to defend ourselves from them. But understanding these people better can only help us defend ourselves. And forgiving those who persecute us can bring us more peace of mind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Without taxes, how would we get the poor to subsidize the rich?

I frequently come up against the accusation that, because I don't approve of taxation, I don't care about the poor. In many minds, paying taxes to a ruling elite equates with helping the less fortunate and supporting society. But take a look at the U.S. Debt Clock. So far this year, this country's ruling elite has spent $500 billion on war, $300 billion on interest to the Federal Reserve; $50 billion on subsidies; and $1100 billion on big-business bailouts. Is it just me, or does this look rather like slaughtering the poor and enriching the very rich?

Let's look at a smaller example that's closer to home. A few years ago, the government stole a lot of our money and imprisoned my husband for a year because we'd had the audacity to spend our money according to our personal values (like helping the poor and creating jobs) instead of contributing it to bloody mayhem and enrichment of the already rich. Since then we've been living on very little, due to a combination of the government's past persecution and our own personal choices. While Larken devotes himself to fighting tyranny full time, I devote myself to homeschooling my daughter. Neither of these endeavors is very lucrative.

In short, we have a pitiful income. Recently, the amazingly generous people on Larken's email list sent me lots of money as an anniversary gift. I was thrilled to have money to spend on homeschooling, and I spent a sizeable chunk of this windfall on things for my daughter's education.

It occurred to me, as I was carefully spending this money, that we had recently paid our township about $2500 in school taxes for the public schools that we've never used. Now, isn't the theory behind public schools that they're supposed to guarantee that all kids - both rich and poor - have access to education? And aren't taxes supposed to kind of even things up by making the rich subsidize the poor? Since we're obviously getting nothing personally for our $2500, I became curious about the income levels of the families we were subsidizing.

I could not find any information on our specific township. And I could not find any figures that I could absolutely trust; the best information I could find was on Wikipedia. But with that caveat, what I learned was that our county ranks 67th on a list of the richest counties in America, with a per capita income of about $31,000, and a median income of about $61,000. So the average family of three in this county has an income of $93,000 a year. I also discovered that the cost of living in Pennsylvania is almost dead average, and that the poverty line of $18,000 for a family of three is the same for all 50 states, despite the fact that the cost of living can vary tremendously from state to state.

I don't know exactly what our yearly income is, because it fluctuates a lot, and I don't manage our finances. But I know it's a heck of a lot closer to $18,000 a year than it is to $93,000! In short, we (the poor) are paying $2500 a year to pay for the education of relatively rich people's children. And if we refused to pay this tax, the sheriff or somebody would take our house away from us. If we said, "Hey, we're educating our own child, so we're just going use this money to buy educational stuff for her," people with guns would show up and make us homeless. Ah, the benevolence of government!

"Now, tut, tut!" I can hear the socialists saying, "It's your choice not to use the public schools. You're paying taxes so that those schools are available to everyone, including you. If you can't afford to educate your child yourself, just send her to the school your taxes have paid for!"

Well, isn't that a little weird? There's a hair salon just down the street. What if they decide they're going to force everyone in the neighborhood to pay them a yearly "tax" -- enough to pay for hair cuts for everyone all year, and then everyone will be entitled to haircuts free of charge? After all, our whole society benefits from people having decent-looking hair! If you want to go somewhere else, you're free to go somewhere else and pay for a hair cut. If you want to cut your own hair yourself, you can do that, too. But you have to pay the tax anyway, because the tax ensures that everyone in the neighborhood has access to haircuts. And if you don't pay the tax, the hair salon people will come with guns and take your car.

If you don't like that plan, I guess you just don't care about the poor!

Why I'm an Anarchist:

I'm an anarchist because I believe that every human being has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I'm an anarchist because I believe that every human being belongs to himself, and belongs to others only by choice. I'm an anarchist because I believe that violence is allowable only in defense of life, liberty, or property. I'm an anarchist because I believe that the only legitimate government is by the consent of the governed. My political philosophy is probably stated best by this section of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

But you might wonder why, being an anarchist, I would use the words "legitimate government" and refer to a piece of the Declaration that mentions "government." Isn't anarchism the opposite, or the absence of government?

Well, yes and no. Anarchism is the absence of government as we know it, or government by a ruling class that claims the exclusive right to use aggressive force to achieve its ends, and claims the right to control everything and everybody within its "jurisdiction."

But the term "government" can also be used to describe a set of rules and methods of enforcement that regulate some types of social relationships and are agreed upon by everyone to whom they apply. A government instituted by mutual consent to protect everyone's rights is not a government-as-we-know-it; it is, in fact, well organized anarchy.

If your first thought is: "but the whole purpose of government and law is to force people to do things they don't want to do and not do things they want to do," then you have hit the nail right on the head. That is exactly the purpose of government-as-we-know-it, and it is by its very nature nonconsensual.

I reject the common belief that social order, peace, cooperation, organization, and beneficial collective actions are impossible without a ruling class specially endowed with the right to use aggressive violence. In fact, I believe that all these good things are much easier to achieve when aggressive violence is consistently shunned by everyone as a matter of principle.

I am not a starry-eyed utopian, either. I am an anarchist because I see both strength and weakness in human beings. Our strength is our intelligence, ingenuity, compassion, and ability to work together to achieve common goals. Our weakness is our desire to dominate others and promote ourselves at their expense. Given our nature, I believe it's very dangerous to give one group of humans permission to use aggressive force to control another group of humans: This permission is like the Ring of Power in Lord of the Rings, of which Gandalf says:

I would take this ring with the intention of doing good, but through me it would wield a power too terrible to imagine.

Thousands of years of human history is testament to the truth of this, and we have but recently left the bloodiest century in the long, bloody, cruel history of mankind. Despite this, I dare to believe that humans, at heart, are becoming more humane. The horrors of the 20th century were not due to the degeneration of human nature, but to the addition of advanced technologies to the ancient arts of slaughter and domination.

I am an anarchist because I love my fellow man. And how does one express love toward six billion human beings? I cannot hug them all. I cannot feed them all. I can affect only a small fraction of humanity in a positive way. But for everyone else on the planet, the best thing I can do is to respect them and leave them in peace. I can simply refrain from demanding and advocating the enslavement, imprisonment, or death of others for my benefit. I can personally grant everyone their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without any interference from me.

That's why I'm an anarchist.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Fourth of July and the Worship of Violence

Why -- when people almost universally say that they think aggressive violence is wrong -- and people almost universally say that they believe it's better to believe truth rather than falsity -- why, when you suggest that human beings could have a society that is not based on violence (via "government" coercion), why do the ones who like you run away with their ears covered, and the ones who don't like you revile you and call you a terrorist?

This year, contrary to my usual habit, I actually went to my hometown flagpole ceremony on the 4th of July. Some local person always gives a little speech, and I really haven't wanted to go since the year the speaker implied that people who disagree with the government about taxes are probably going to hell. As expected, I found the whole aura of the celebration revolting and disturbing. Revolting because all those people were openly worshiping violence -- and disturbing because many of these people I grew up with and loved, and still love.

People reserve their highest praise for trained killers who obey the orders of politicians. All euphemisms and rhetoric aside, that is what soldiers are. There are other ways to "serve one's country," of course, but the very best, and bravest, and most honorable way is to kill people that politicians order you to kill. These people are "fighting for our freedom" as they empower the greedy, bloodthirsty gang that enslaves us all.

If you dare to suggest that our freedom would be better served by getting rid of the greedy, bloodthirsty gang that sends our brave young sons to their deaths to increase its own power and wealth, they look at you as though you just shot Jesus in the head. Which I guess, in a way, you did.

The people of my hometown generally claim to be Christian; but I believe that the true religion of most of them is state-worship with some Christian decoration on top. I believe their Christian god is subservient to their government god. Let's assume for just a moment that religion really is about love, compassion, and people living together in peace and harmony. Why then -- when you suggest that consistent condemnation of physical aggression would serve those ends better than glorification of it -- why are people so determined to avoid hearing you?

People seem absolutely desperate to identify themselves with what they perceive to be the greatest power. For those who believe in him, God is the greatest power in the universe. But the government is the greatest power here on earth. People don't want to admit that they're siding with the strongest gang because it's a lot safer to be part of it than to pit yourself against it. I suppose it's hard to admire and respect yourself if you see it that way. But if you can convince yourself that the gang is good and that you really believe in what it's doing, then your loyalty to it is righteous and honorable, rather than cowardly and self-serving.

Larken and I have received a lot of disapproval for taking a stand against a very powerful gang called the U.S. government. In this disapproval, there is a strong current of "you got hurt, therefore you were wrong." It would seem that in this moral system, financial self-interest and personal comfort are the ideals to strive for, and any goals that threaten these ideals are bad and wrong. Never mind that two million people are in prison while we picnic happily with our families and friends in our beautiful little community. Never mind that people are suffering and dying and living in desperate poverty all over the world due to war and other coercive government "solutions."

People live their lives as if "might makes right." But don't they really know, deep down, that truth is independent of power, and that aggression is evil? Why do they refuse to give up this addiction to power?

Perhaps the answer is in our biology. We all come into the world tiny and helpless. The first being to impinge on our emerging consciousness is a seemingly omnipotent, omnibenevolent mother. Perhaps it is imprinted on us so early in our lives that power and goodness are one, that most of us will never be able to reason our way out of this emotional box. Perhaps it was imprinted in our genes before we were even born, and it's part of our animal nature to bond with the strongest leader we can find.

But it's clear that some part of the human psyche is not satisfied with this. For hundreds of years, people have schizophrenically wrung their hands over the atrocities of war while glorifying the governments that make them happen. Maybe a better kind of society is struggling to come into being.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Calling People Nazis

What does a person really mean when they call you a "Nazi"?

A socialist friend of mine recently attempted to insult me by calling me a "Nazi" -- despite the fact that she fits into National Socialist shoes much more comfortably than I ever have. To really be effective, an insult should have at least a molecule of truth in it. This got me thinking about why people use this insult even when it's completely inappropriate.

In the dictionaries, the first definition of a Nazi is always an actual member of the National Socialist German Worker's party of Germany, which came to power in Germany in 1933, under Adolf Hitler. These bona fide Nazis are obviously a dying breed, and I am obviously not one of them.

The second definition is a person who holds views similar to those of the historical Nazi party. Assuming that people have given up on Hitler and the establishment of Germany as a world power, the "similar beliefs" that people might still hold are anti-Semitism and the natural supremacy of Germans, Aryans, or white people. Um, no. That's not me either.

Because of the way in which Hitler seized and maintained control of his country, suppressed his opposition, and sought to strictly dictate every aspect of people's lives, the word Nazi is also associated with dictatorial control or fascism. It's sometimes used in a generic way to describe anyone who is fanatical about controlling people in some way. For instance, the smoking nazis, the local building nazis, the music nazis, the clothing nazis. Well, I'm pretty fanatical about not controlling people. Although, if you asked my family, they might say I was a spelling nazi or a nutrition nazi.

This is just a fun fact: in the south of Germany, the nickname "Nazi" was used to mean a clumsy, foolish person. Opponents of National Socialism thought this coincidence was quite apt.

In the Soviet Union, the terms "Nazi" and "National Socialist" were forbidden after 1932, probably because they wanted the word "socialist" for themselves, and didn't want it tainted. Soviet literature always refers to the Nazis as "fascists."

So let's look at "fascism" for a moment: This concept came into being with the anti-communist political movement of Benito Mussolini, formed in 1919. At, "fascist" is defined as "dictatorial or extreme right-wing views," and "reactionary or dictatorial views." A longer definition describes fascism as "A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [Robert O. Paxton, "The Anatomy of Fascism," 2004]

"Socialism" is generally considered progressive, leftist, and the last stage before communism. Hitler's achievement was to weld socialism and fascism together, creating a completely authoritarian state, where no area of life was left uncontrolled.

One of the strange fictions of the 20th century is the attempt to place fascism and socialism/communism at opposite ends of a left-to-right political spectrum, when they are merely different aspects of authoritarian control. They belong together and complete each other, since a dictator can't completely control and mobilize his people unless he controls their economic lives.

The left-to-right political spectrum has changed so much over the centuries that it really should be scrapped altogether. The best reason for scrapping it, perhaps, is that it has no place for people who advocate and defend freedom. When this country was founded, economic freedom was considered "leftist." Anarchism has almost always been considered "leftist." But now the ideas of our founders are "reactionary," and there is no place for them in the managed economies of modern leftism. And here I have my friend trying to place me over on the "right" with the Nazis, when I believe in maximum freedom and no government at all. So what, exactly, do I have in common with those guys aside from the fact that some ignoramus thinks we all belong on the "far right" side of some nonsensical spectrum? In fact, if you look up "The Rise of Hitler - the 25 points of Hitler's Nazi Party" you'll find quite a few points that the average American voter (not to mention my supposedly "leftist" friend) would cheer for if they were cloaked in contemporary political language (with the United States and Americans substituted for Germany and Germans).

But I really don't think my friend was trying to insult me by implying that I was a socialist, or a nationalist, or even a fascist. I think she was trying to call me a racist, because I didn't vote for Obama. Silly as it may seem, she seems fairly convinced that all opposition to Obama is based on the president's partially African heritage. Never mind that I would pick Walter Williams for president over Hillary Clinton any day. Some people just can't seem to comprehend principled opposition to their new hero.

I sometimes call people Nazis myself, but I generally reserve this epithet for members of our own national socialist, empire-building, freedom-crushing government when I have the misfortune to come into contact with them. People who knowingly bring grievous harm to others by "just following orders" remind me very much of the Nazis at Nuremberg.