Sunday, May 28, 2006

The State, Capitalism and Freedom

Author's Note: Drizzten, the owner of the "Libertarian Anarchist" Blog Magnifisyncopathological and I have been debating the nature of freedom, anarchism and the best path for society through our blogs. This is my latest response. PS: Is this size font and format a bit easier read? -J

I have spent several days thinking about your response to my earlier posting, chewing it over at work while I made powdered mashed potatoes and in the car as I listened to Bruce Springsteen. After all of the thinking is done I feel that I may have come to the heart of our disagreement and it lies in our interpretation of oppression, power and the State. Many questions were raised in your discussion and I have decided that instead of responding, point by point, to each of your statements, I will instead focus what I think is the bigger theoretical difference. However, if you want me to focus more specifically on a point, you have but to ask. I have decided to divide my comments into two sections, the first is my disagreement with your interpretation of the State and the second is your grouping of freedom with capitalism.
The State
For good reason you decry the awesome power that is concentrated within the State, but to see it’s monopoly over force and its laws as the source of oppression is to have a shallow understanding of the nature of oppression. Let me give an example. Currently, many gay men and women are struggling for the ability to be married; in this struggle they are supported by many Libertarians, Liberals and their ilk. At the same time, many social Conservatives are working to create laws to prevent their marriage. If the sole source of oppression came from the laws of the State, there would be no violation of human rights until a law was passed. However, we know that in the West there has been a de facto (as opposed to de jure) of same sex relationships for centuries and that, despite the lack of laws preventing it, same sex marriage was completely prohibited. In fact, the law (and thus the power of the State) was only necessary when there was debate and the formerly unspoken rule was challenged.

What I hope this example explains is that oppression and the violation of personal freedom do not emanate from the State, but that instead the State is a manifestation of a wider culture of oppression. The State and its monopoly on force only become necessary at that juncture where the oppression is challenged.

When we understand that it is a worldview that we oppose, not an institution, we can begin to see that this culture of oppression has many manifestations, of which the State is the most obvious. However, it is present in all of our societies relationships and institutions whose purpose is to gather wealth (and thus power) into the hands of an individual or select group of individuals. It is the culture of hierarchy and elitism that gives rise to the great organized crime syndicates of our era: the governments and corporations. You are simply fooling yourself to believe that a corporation is based upon or even works to aid economic freedom or human rights. The corporation serves a single master: profit. Since wealth stands for power, corporate profits of dollars translates into the concentration of influence and the ability to compel. Because profit is god, the Capitalists support those who allow them to seek it, whether they be American Capitalists, Chinese Communists or German Fascists. Business elites or governmental elites are still elites and it is the existence of their privileged class that is the problem, not the flavor that they come in locally.

Drizzten, your focus upon the State and its laws distorts the nature of oppression. Even if there were privately funded schools, no laws on motorcycle helmets and tattoo artists and even if there were no health codes, oppression would continue because the removal of offensive laws ignores the heart of the problem and distorts the problem so that we are blind to its other expressions. Furthermore, to say that the best way to move to a free system is to dismantle these parts of the government through action within the government (the repealing of laws, etc) is to in fact reinforce the power of the government.

You ask me, Drizzten, how I can balance the needs of individual freedom with collective equality. I do not believe that perfect equality or freedom will ever been seen in my lifetime. However, I believe that as we free our minds from the culture of oppression and help others, who are willing, to do the same, what will emerge is a society that is simultaneously freer and more equal. Because the culture of oppression is fundamentally intertwined with the concentration of power, to attack one is to undermine the other. I do not seek to force equality upon the world, that is the path of fools, but instead to cut down the weed that starves it of life.
Capitalism and Freedom
You speak of freedom, but the only example that you have are the Western countries and Japan as being the “most free.” By this, I suppose you mean that they are the most Capitalist. You point to these developed states and hold their position up on a pedestal; while they are not perfect, living in one is certainly better than living in Cuba or China.

Part of my disagreement with you is in the way that you atomize each state. Each state, in your interpretation, is separate, unique, independent. The borders between them are important and delineate real things. Once again, this type of thinking only works to reinforce the importance of the state in our minds, to make it seem inevitable and “real.”

On the ground, however, while nationality is important, our world becomes ever more interlocked every day. When I lived amongst Mayan peasants in the Yucatan jungle (which was the furthest from the power of the state that I had ever been… much more so that in “freer” Upstate New York), the cost of their food and necessities was constantly rising and they were helpless to understand why, much less do anything to change it. The reasons, when one left the jungle village, were global in nature, related to giant agri-business corporations and international trade agreements.

What I am trying to say is that one cannot atomize the world into States, to look at the beautiful lives in one without looking at the others. Today, the West is fat because the Third World is emaciated. It is because of the Third World poverty and oppression that we have cheap clothes, cheap food, cheap oil; we are part of a global system. We are able to have beautiful forest preserves because clear cutting has been exported; we are able to put heavy metals in our computers because our computer waste is exported.

Putting up our model as the proper one also ignores the broader human experience. I said above that the place where I saw the liberty and equality best expressed was a Mayan peasant village. I suggest that anyone who wants to understand freedom must be wiling to look at examples from out of our own society and our own time. The pre-colonization Nuer of what is today Sudan, the Zapatistas of modern Chiapas (Mexico), the Basques during the Middle Ages and the Highlanders of New Guinea are all good places to begin an exploration of how people can organize themselves in a society without the need for a state. In all of these examples, we find a correlation between social equality (freedom) and economic equality (a “classless society”). And yes, they do “let individuals create and trade in markets,” if by markets you mean with each other as they see fit (even moreso than in America), but that is only one small part of the freedom that these people enjoy. When you equate Capitalism in America (or other similar states) with freedom, you do a disservice to freedom and ignore the broader nature of the world.
I look forward to the comments not only of Drizzten, but to all of our readers: the Anarchists, Libertarians, Capitalists, Socialists and others. What is your opinion of the State? What is the root of oppression? How do we oppose it?

-By Jesse