Archive for the ‘Self-ownership’ Category

I feel bad. I feel like a sucker. Like one by one I fell for every lie. I talk about “don’t do this”, “don’t do that”, and yet I fell for all of them. I’ve been in everything from a cult to the cult of homeownership, the cult of college, the cult of sex, the cult of drugs, every cult imaginable, the cult of corporate safety, the cult of money. Why couldn’t I just be smart from the beginning? Why does it take stupidity to become smart? Or maybe I’m still stupid. Who knows?

Let’s do one of those psychology tests where I ask you something and you say the first word that comes to mind. Here’s the usual responses I get after years of doing this:

  • Me: Home ownership.  Other: “Roots”
  • Me: College:  Other: “Good job”
  • Me: Good war. Other: “World War II”
  • Me: Success. Other: “Fame and money”
  • Me: Iran. Other: “They want to kill all the jews”. 
  • Me: Voting. Other: “Doing something for your country”. 

Home ownership – think about why you want to own a home. Just really take a step back and forget about all your biases. You think “renting is flushing money down the toilet”. You might think “home ownership is ‘roots’ for your family”. Why do you think these things? Isn’t it suspicious to you that everyone else says the same slogans? That I just wrote down the exact things that are you in your head when you try to justify buying a home?

Does it make sense at all that there is a trillion dollar industry (over 20 trillion to be exact when you add in mortgages plus the part of the economy that is dependent on home building) that wants you to own a home? Banks, the government, home builders, furniture makers, real estate agents, etc are all the priests and ministers of that religion. Don’t you think a small part of that 20 trillion goes into hammering again and again the marketing message that you need to own a home?

Just do the basic math on home ownership. It does not work. It will NEVER work. Maybe if home prices go down another 80% but that’s it.

But this isn’t about home ownership. I’ve bought and sold two homes. And I lost money on both. So maybe I’m just bitter. Who knows.

This is about hypnosis. Why we believe, at the bottom of our hearts, the things that are told to us that have such obvious trillion dollar agendas.

Like college. Here is what everyone says: “You won’t get a good job if you don’t go to college”. I’ve proved countless times how this is a lie. Yes, you won’t get a 90 hour a week job at Goldman Sachs if you don’t go to college. And yes, there is no chance in hell you can be a proctologist (although I have known people to start a private practice in this without any degree at all) if you don’t have a medical degree. Ok, you win. On those jobs.

But don’t you think this trillion dollar industry (where costs have gone up ten times faster than inflation, three times faster than the scam healthcare industry) might have an agenda when they put out these “statistical” studies.

What else happens in college? Well, one in four women are raped in college. But because college campuses are one of the few places in the country (Indian reservations maybe being the only other) that provide their own security, you never hear about this. Campus security is not there to protect you. It’s there to hide things from you.

So you can get a job at Goldman Sachs, but you’re more likely to be raped. Or, I guess, be the raper. You choose.

But “don’t you learn how to think” in college? I don’t know, do you? Did you really learn how to think there? Does it really cost $200,000 to think? And what is so great about thinking. Since 1950, when college started becoming almost a pre-requirement for success, incidence of depression has gone up 50 times. How come colleges don’t report on this statistic?

Again, ask yourself where you got these slogans. Even my ten year old repeats the slogans. They are marketing slogans created by, again, a trillion dollar industry.

Insurance. “Everyone must be insured”. “Insurance companies can’t deny you because of pre-existing conditions.” Everyone says this. Again, why does everyone say the exact same thing. Again, this is a trillion dollar industry. They are telling you what to think.

Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s say you have a pre-existing condition. Do you really think they are going to charge you the same amount that someone without a pre-existing condition is charged? Of course not. Your prices are going to go up. A lot! And everyone’s prices are going to go up. Do you think the insurance companies are going to lose money? Of course not. And if you don’t sign up, you have to now pay a fine (a “tax”) to the government. So who wins in this? Do you win? And then the other side tries to go to the other extreme. “Death panels”. Oh my god! Someone’s going to decide who lives or dies?

Of course not. The other side of a lie is not the truth. It”s just another lie.

“The War against Terrorism”. Terrorism is horrible. I lived five blocks from ground zero and watched the first plane go into the towers. Then watched the bodies jump off the top of the building. Now, 11 years later, we’re still at war in two countries. Someone the other day was upset at me and said, “we pulled out of Iraq.” Why did he say that? Because the government told him. We have more soldiers in Iraq now than when the statue of Hussein was toppled. And we are still at war in Afganistan. And everywhere we go we kill civilians and babies. Millions of them. Not to mention our own 18 year olds. And everyone gets upset. “We have to protect our way of life”. “The muslims are going to kill us”. Really? Well, then go fight them. Whenever I say that, everyone shuts up. We don’t need 18 year olds to fight people. 50 year olds can do it. Everyone gets quiet.

I was for the war in Iraq. I listened to Colin Powell in the UN. He said they had nukes or weapons of mass destruction aimed right at Israel. Oh no! I thought. We have to get them. And I believed him. And now millions are dead. And what was the result? The only country that kept Iran in check was Iraq. And now Iraq is pretty much a colony of Iran. We not only killed millions of people, we destroyed the balance of power in the entire region. Now the only way to restore balance, and its our own fault, is to become friends with Iran.

“We need to invade Iran before they invade Israel!” This was said to me the other day. By a guy who quoted statistic after statistic. But who couldn’t explain to me how it will happen. There’s 70 million people in Iran and Iran is completely surrounded by mountains. How are you going to get in there other than nuking tens of millions of civilians. You can’t get in there by ground or boat. Or even aircraft. You have to nuke. And, by the way, most of Iran hates their leadership – as demonstrated by the protests after the last election. Most of the people in Iran are people just like you and me, terrified of being invaded by the US. And Israel has nuclear weapons. Is any country going to really risk Israel, a country that has won every war it’s been in, nuking them?

(everybody eager for war should take a geography class first)

“I won’t be happy unless I’m successful or famous”. Look up Ozymandias for the veracity of this one. And yet, it’s the American dream. So it must be true. Right?

I get many emails: “I need to find my passion.” My question is: why? Passion is like a bridge between your current unhappiness and some mysterious future happiness. Guess what – you might be dead then. Passion is also a trillion dollar myth. First, check to see if your breathing. Are you? That’s pretty good. You’re ahead of most of the other people who have ever lived on this planet.

And finally, we can throw in the massive food industry. Bigger, better, more filling, more nutritious. I have yet to see a food product that doesn’t have a lie on its packaging. Look around your supermarket. 80% of a grocery store is filled with processed sugars that are proven again and again to be bad for you but the lobbyists in charge of the food pyramid (the “FDA recommended daily value” on every box) want you to BELIEVE the religion they propose.

Marketing is not just about clothes or facial products or vacuum cleaners. It’s about the very ideas that you dress up in to lead your daily existence. It’s the lies that trillions of dollars are spent fabricating that are repeated to you over and over again like mantras until they appear to be baked into your soul. Every lie is one step further from you being calm and happy.

You wake up every morning with a clean slate. But within seconds your mind dresses you up in all the lies for the day. Must aim for promotion at the job, must kiss ass to customers, must send my kids to school, must stay with my wife forever, must write a blog post, must go to war to defend American values, must vote, must eat organic (the irony being that if everyone ate organic the world would starve), must must must MUST.

The real you is always there. Before the thoughts enter it. Before the lies obscure it. Before you are convinced you are either one of “us” or one of “them”.

The real you is neither. Test every thought you have. Your thoughts are not you. They are your children. But we forget that children often need to be disciplined. Else they will test your boundaries and slowly take over the sense of what the “real you” is. You will forget the real Self that has always been there. Don’t let that happen.

Most people live in the dark. Do you think the sun ever sees the dark? The sun is outside. But the dark is by itself, with the shades closed, the door locked, afraid to take a peek, afraid to look into an infinite sky.

Here are three quotes from John Holt. We need more John Holt types in what we call ‘education’ today.

“Education… now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of
all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the
modern slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but
producers, consumers, spectators, and ‘fans,’ driven more and more, in all
parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve
‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of
people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”
— John Holt
(1923-1985) American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling, and pioneer in youth rights theory
Source: Holt, J. (1967). How Children Learn. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation

“I believe that we learn best when we, not others are deciding what we are
going to learn, and when we are choosing the people, materials, and experiences
from which we will be learning.”
— John Holt
(1923-1985) American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling, and pioneer in youth rights theory
Source: Holt, J. (1967). How Children Learn. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any
school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning
is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of
— John Holt
(1923-1985) American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling, and pioneer in youth rights theory
Source: Holt, J. (1967). How Children Learn. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation


Has anarchy existed before?
by Menso
I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives.

Should you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched, required to show a passport or driver’s license, fined, jailed, threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful, voluntary, and devoid of coercion. – Butler Shaffer

Anarchists endlessly get asked if anarchy has ever existed. It could be argued that anarchy is wherever people do things without being forced to. I believe this answer is why we should believe anarchy could work: it works every day as we interact with the people around us. But it does not get to the heart of the question: can a society exist without a state?

If you are looking for an example of a modern nation state that has gone anarchist, you will not find one. The very idea that a nation state could somehow eliminate its government and retain its territorial integrity is silly. It would almost inevitably become a number of self-governing communities. A large country can only be held together by force. As I write elsewhere, Somalia is not particularly anarchic; however, to the extent that it is, it is doing pretty well. Other societies throughout history, however, have done far better.

Anthropologist David Graeber says anarchy has existed in thousands of places before. Anarchy means no initiation of force; or at least, no rulers with the ability to initiate force over an entire populaton. Anarchy is an ideal condition of humanity. It is not something that will be accomplished in six months of reading books. But in one way or another, at different times, there are opportunities to throw off the state and work and cooperate freely. As such, there have been a number of relatively or completely anarchic societies throughout history. They may have been small communities defending themselves from encroaching empires, confederations with basic local governments, or other voluntary, self-governing collectives. Anarchy has existed. It is simply democracy without the state.

It was the norm for a long time. Yale professor James C. Scott explains. “Until shortly before the common era, the very last 1 percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary self-governing kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading, and peacemaking. It did not contain anything one could call a state. In other words, living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition.” The era of statelessness was the longest era of human governance, and the first states that arose were trivial compared to those of today. “To an eye not yet hypnotized by archaeological remains and state-centric histories, the landscape would have seemed virtually all periphery and no centers. Nearly all the population and territory were outside their ambit.” Living outside the state was a realistic option until only a few hundred years ago.

Scott’s book is called the Art of Not Being Governed. In it, he explains the history of the ethnic groups in the highlands of Southeast Asia, who descended from groups that left the lowland state. It is not certain whether they fled purely in order to avoid state aggression, but they did spend close to a thousand years outside it. (See here.) The people of the whole region reorganised their lives and social structures to be inaccessible to the state. The social structure presented no hierarchy that encroaching states could have used as agents of control. Until the recent rapid increase in the power of the state, they lived in an autonomous association of free people.

Ireland was effectively anarchic until conquered by England. It functioned as a number of confederations (called tuatha) composed of independent political units that came together annually to vote on common policies. People were free to, and did, secede from their confederation and join another. Association was voluntary.

Laws were not changed at the whim of rulers, because Ireland was not ruled, but when people voted in an assembly to change them. Laws were not created by a clique, as in our time; nor was justice dispensed not from a single, monopoly provider. Parties to disputes selected from a number of professional jurists chosen for their wisdom, integrity and knowledge of customary law. Several schools of jurisprudence existed and competed for the business of dispensing justice. Other people, in effect insurance companies, were independent from the jurists and joined with the party that won the case to exact punishment on the loser. If the loser did not pay, the entire community considered him an outlaw and would no longer engage in contracts with him.

Ireland suffered small-scale conflicts, but without a central state that taxes and conscripts, these were negligible compared to the bloodbaths of the rest of Europe. Ireland may not have been the ideal anarchy, but in the absence of Enlightenment ideas of freedom, justice and equality, it did pretty well.

Opportunities to escape the state arise during revolutions and wars. During Egypt’s recent revolutionary uprising, nearly every neighbourhood in Cairo formed—within 48 hours—lagaan shaabiyya, or popular committees. When the police suddenly left the streets, the government opened up the jails, letting out thugs it used to terrorise the people into begging the police to come back. Instead, despite thousands of years of dictatorship, the people organised and substituted for the police, protecting the people in their communities and even cleaning the streets. They made decisions as communities and demonstrated amply that they could replace the state if necessary.

During the Spanish Civil War, the state was in crisis and lost its ability to govern large parts of the country. Workers controlled factories, peasants collectivised farms, people used barter instead of money, started libraries, schools and cultural centres, and even organised militias to fight in the civil war. Spain’s brief experiment with anarchy was by no means utopian, as war imposes a variety of constraints on people. But it could be replicated and improved on.

In Ukraine in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917, a free state emerged comprising millions of people. Throughout the Russian Empire, as imperial authority collapsed, workers, soldiers and peasants began to reject any outside authority and establish self-governing cooperatives. They began by arresting state officials, occupying government buildings and disarming police. They were eventually ruthlessly crushed by the central government, much as the communities in Spain were. But they demonstrated, as the did the Southeast Asians, the Irish, the Spanish, the Egyptians and, as we shall see next, the French, that anarchy is desirable and practical—if it can be maintained in the face of state aggression.

In the wake of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the Paris Commune was established. The Commune was independent of the French state and self-regulating. The armed workers defended Paris against German soldiers and for some time French government aggression, but were eventually overwhelmed and murdered in droves. Like some of the other examples, the Commune was not the ideal picture of anarchy, and was perhaps more along the communist ideal, but it nonetheless comprised free people in community warding off oppression. They did well in the time they had. As Mikhail Bakunin said at the time,

Contrary to the belief of authoritarian communists – which I deem completely wrong – that a social revolution must be decreed and organized either by a dictatorship or by a constituent assembly emerging from a political revolution, our friends, the Paris socialists, believed that revolution could neither be made nor brought to its full development except by the spontaneous and continued action of the masses, the groups and the associations of the people. Our Paris friends were right a thousand times over.

Future posts will give a variety of other examples, including the modern free communities of Yubia, Keene, Grafton and Concord, and how they can be emulated. For now, rest assured that the answer is yes, anarchy has been tried and has worked in many places at many times.

But it does not really matter if it has been done before. New ideas work if they make sense and enough people agree to put them into practice. When John F. Kennedy said the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, nobody asked if it had been done before. When slavery was abolished, it was not important to ask if there had been historical precedents. The abolition of slavery was an idea whose time had come. But a lot of people thought that it was impossible to get rid of slavery—after all, that would be extremism—and that slaves were better off in captivity than free. Turns out, they were wrong. Anti-abolitionists used to ask “but how will the cotton get picked?” But if the cause is moral, it does not matter how the cotton will get picked or the roads will get built. People who need a historical precedent for anything before they consider it have not attempted to use their imaginations. Whether it has existed or not is irrelevant when considering if it could work in the future.

Menso | June 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm