This presentation was given at the Agora Unconference, on March 27, 2011
Stefan Molyneux, a well-known anarchist, gave a great talk last year where he pointed out that, "The enforcement of the state does not come from the state. It comes horizontally, from the mass of the people who have been cultured to believe the storyline of vertical state control." He calls this "the genius of the state." He calls these enforcers slaves, enforcing their own slavery.
The genius of the state is that it gets us to voluntarily, without pay, to stand up for it, and to deter, damn, and defriend not just the people who challenge its presumed authority, but to heartily reject both ideas and factual information that challenge the state's faÃ§ade of moral certitude, and its the mask of justness.
Etienne de la Boetie (namesake for our conference this weekend) observed the same thing in the 1500s, and he wrote about it in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. He points out that the governing system rests and rises only on the consent of otherwise free people. The slave-citizens voluntarily serve the state, and willingly consent to the order, and the orders of, the state. Of course, part of the reason we give our consent is that we fear being jailed, hung, shot, beheaded, losing our property, our families, or our physical freedom at the hand of an angry or disappointed state. In some ways, this fear of rejection and isolation, is logical. We consciously or subconsciously decide to trade our consent for continued life as we know it.
It has pretty much always been this way. In fact, in ancient and not so ancient eras and civilizations, the structure and implementation of slavery has relied on cultural acceptance for its longevity. When, and only when, slavery became distasteful, culturally unpopular and economically expensive, the states altered their laws, following the evolving values of the people. The evolution and de-evolution of many social norms and values seems to follow the same path. Homeopathy was rejected by many in the late 1800s not only because of trends in medicine, but by an increasingly prosperous society who bought into the idea that health you purchase medically is automatically better than health as a result of personal action and natural remedies.
The state was a tool of the AMA and medical schools, and the consumption demands of the striving classes were also well suited to state tax-harvesting. That the state and pharmaceutical industry today cling tightly and fearfully to their state-based advantages in the face of increasing consumer dissatisfaction with their non-holistic health care is to be expected. Their fear is a sign that as it should be, the billions of health decisions made by millions of individual people will eventually lead the way. It brings to mind the adage of the statesman or politician who says "I must hurry, for there go my people and I am their leader!" Indeed, following, not leading, is how every vertical institution of power must operate.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the state of liberty in the early 21st century. In a global sense, information freedom and technology have unleashed new paradigms. The paradigms are very different for states than for individuals. States everywhere actively seek to control, to surveil and monitor, to manage their populations and the property and movement of people. On the other hand, individuals and their extended networks are strengthened, educated, motivated, and excited by the possibility of liberty. They are empowered as individuals in realizing liberty in their life and their work. And curiously, while states are expensive to maintain, fiat money is continually inflated, and food and fuel prices have risen, the technologies of communication for the mass of the people are affordable. Liberty is within reach for most people in the world today. This is what we are seeing in North Africa and the Middle East today, and within all of the statist regimes of China and India. Only in North Korea, where food and maintenance of the state are so dear, and communication technology so inaccessible, do we have perhaps a sense of near term hopelessness. But even in North Korea, we don't know for sure what sparks of liberty lay dormant or smoldering, and these sparks are hard to extinguish in real life. They are part of being human.
Americans tend to assume the United States is on top of the freedom pigpile. It sounds like a good place to be, but the facts are very different. The Heritage Foundation currently ranks the US as having the ninth freest economy, but it shares its 77% rating with Bahrain and Chile, so being 9th may not be all it's cracked up to be. Just this week, a Cato economist interviewed economist and author Dambisa Moyo, regarding her new book How the West Was Lost. They spent a lot of time discussing how the 35% corporate tax rate in the US is ten percentage points higher than socialistic Denmark (which, by the way, was determined to be more economically free than the US).
The US has the highest incarceration rate on the planet. Even if you are not a prisoner, it is difficult these days to travel within the United States, at least by air. To leave and return to the country requires a great deal of paperwork, planning, and wasted time all in the name of state security.
There is an old piece of paper (sometimes known as the law of the land, or the Constitution) that explicitly says the government will not constrain or limit our ability to assemble, to speak, to write, to publish, to own and bear arms, to receive fair trials, to not be tortured or to be insecure in our persons and property or papers. Yet, we live in a country with free speech zones, permits to march or demonstrate, state documentation and approval to own and bear arms, etcetera, etcetera.
90-95% of people charged with a crime never see the inside of a courtroom, much less a jury of their peers, as charges multiply based on tens of thousands of pages of laws to be broken, juries and judges lean predictably on the side of the state, not truth, and plea bargains become the popular solution, if unjust, expensive and immoral solution.
The more the state proclaims American freedom, the more it lies, or at least ignores the facts on the ground. Linguistics is key, perhaps. Noam Chomsky's background prepared him for understanding this misuse of language, just as Eric Blair's experience as a British apparatchik in Burma and elsewhere prepared him for creating and explaining Newspeak, as George Orwell the dystopian novelist. You and I are also here because what the state says doesn't match reality.
Google labs has a analytical app for published books, called the ngram viewer. You can use it to check a phrase or word for frequency of usage in published books all the way back to the early 1800s. The word "liberty" has drastically and steadily fallen out of favor, after a high point in 1800, while the word "freedom" has seen its popularity spike in the war years of 1940s and 1960s. Is there a difference between liberty and freedom? There might be. Liberty seems to stand on its own, a condition of being free to choose, to act, to move and to think. Freedom is also a condition, but it is more associated with what might be allowed or granted. One of the definitions of freedom is "a country's right to self rule" whereas liberty is more closely associated with the individual's right to choice and action. As the 20th century has been the century of nationalism, of the rise of the state, and not unrelated, record-setting democide, the murder of human beings by the state, it is logical that we would talk about freedom, but give short shrift to fundamental liberty.
So what we have today, in the US and around the world is technology and information availability that feeds and informs the ideas of liberty and human freedom, coexistent with a massive national and global state apparatus that uses the same technology to indoctrinate and to encourage large groups of people to consent and conform to that state. Love of liberty and trust in decentralization, in peace, in our fellow man is spreading, even as the state uses the same technological world to centralize operations, consolidate control, spread fear, promote statism and facilitate social atomization, such that community and family ties are weakened and less influential.
There is a contrarian view of the whole phenomenon of Wikileaks that speaks to this dual edged technology. Wikileaks' actions, using technology to make government more transparent has actually given the state strengthened enthusiasm for restricting information sharing between agencies of government, between countries, and between people.
All of this points circumstantially to the war waged by the state, day in and day out, on human liberty. It is a war that is waged politically, technologically, economically, and even linguistically.