Of Labels and Living Free

Sunni's picture

A while back, I posted a semi-rant on folks in The Family who seem to have their lives on hold until after “the revolution”. Joey at The Freedom Symposium followed up with some observations of his own, and we started a conversation which was interrupted by his taking some time off. Now that he’s back, I’ll revisit the subject and perhaps even include what I’d thought was the main point of my first post, but which got left out entirely!

The first quote below is mine, the second his:

When we consciously choose our own course over the corporate-state one, we’re simultaneously helping ourselves and those with whom we voluntarily trade, while hurting the state—especially if those transactions deprive the state of its lifeblood.

Could you expand on this a little? This sort of sounds like the agorist approach, which I do sympathize with, but that's not what I mean. When I talk about the personal stuff, I mean libertarians should live their philosophy in their personal lives.

I would agree that my statement is a decent summation of an agorist approach, but I care not a whit about the label. That is a very hard thing for me to say, because being a stickler for words as I have since high school, I try to always choose my words to precisely communicate what I intend to communicate. However, that frequently isn’t as successful as I’d like, partly because individuals have their own meanings attached to words, and more importantly because words are living things, after a fashion. Meaning, pronunciation, and spelling can change over the years—words are, after all, simply symbols for concepts: things, ideas, relations, and states of being or doing. In that sense, it’s amazing any comm is as generally successful as it is, without those involved needing to unpack every concept to make the meaning clear. That tends to happen only when differences in meaning or context pop up, and boy, does that ever happen in freedomland. Rather than fight it, or rail against it (as has already been done multiple times in this space), I am much more interested in grokking the message than quibbling over symbols.

That didactic aside aside, I do not see how agorism fails to meet the “live their philosophy in their personal lives” criterion. My words may have suggested a somewhat narrow focus to some, but to my mind “market” is a very broad concept. What can be more personal and living one’s pro-freedom philosophy than eschewing the state’s permission slip for an intimate relationship (otherwise known as a marriage license)? How is choosing to keep as much as possible of one’s earnings rather than pay the state’s myriad extortion fees (otherwise known as taxes) not personal? All freedom is personal freedom; and each of us has our own unique constellation of issues, ideas, plans, and paths for pursuing our freedom.

The conversation also focused a bit on the issue of income tax resistance. Joey wrote:

A friend of mine who changed the way I think about the State [sic] and politics is a very staunch anti-tax kind of person. He has not payed [sic] taxes in several years. In fact, he spends most of his days arguing with IRS and CPA people on tax newsgroups. While I sympathize with his cause, I think it is a waste of time.

That isn’t a course I’d pursue either, as I see very limited utility in arguing—unless one has interested bystanders around who may pick up memes they might not otherwise come across. But again, this is only one way of pursuing tax resistance. Others simply drop out, refusing to file and pay and/or shifting their income and assets around so that they fall below the requirements to tattle on themselves. The IRS works hard at intimidating people—and they do succeed at that—but let’s work past the fear and think about what the IRS really is. It is a huge bureaucracy with inefficient computer systems, trying to follow a complex maze of arcane rules that are regularly tweaked by Congress. After considering that, does anyone really think they can find every person who’s underreporting, or shirking, or who has walked away entirely, or who has never entered the system?

Yes, tax resistance still entails some risk—but I submit that it is less risky than the IRS would have us believe. With that in mind, it benefits most of us more to keep quiet about our involvement in “shadow economies” and other forms of tax avoidance than to be a lightning rod for the movement.

Relatedly, from Joey:

I think there are better ways to spread freedom other than taking the risk of getting thrown into a gulag. The State will not come down any quicker whether you refuse to pay taxes or whether you drive on State funded roads or not.

Ah, but the state will come down quicker if more individuals refuse to cooperate with their extortion schemes. They cannot survive without money, and taxation is the primary means by which they get it. Thus, I submit that the more we engage in voluntary, nontaxed economic exchanges, the more we help bring down the state.

The laws and regulations are so byzantine in this country that one cannot help but break a few over the course of one’s normal daily routine. That condition may have happened mostly accidentally, but I think it has become a powerful tool for our would-be rulers: fear of being caught keeps many a person living like a mouse—creeping along in the shadows, scuttling away from any possible attention. But there’s no avoiding that risk in today’s USSA—if some gov agent wants a person taken down, a reason will be found—or manufactured—to take him down. They count on that fear to keep individuals cowering in the dark, trying to hide where no hiding is really possible. The solution? Move past that fear that keeps so many of us paralyzed. Discover that it isn’t the end of the world when one puts recyclables in the trash can; or when cash transactions go unreported to the IRS; or when one chooses to carry a firearm for self-protection in defiance of laws prohibiting it; or when a bathroom is added to one’s home absent the “required” permission slips and fees.

The curious thing about choosing such a course is that in doing so, one dilutes the risk for everyone participating. The state has finite resources, and cannot pursue every violation of every law, regulation, and code. One can stand tall in living free, without making oneself more of a target—simply do not crow about one’s actions, thereby bringing oneself to the state’s attention. The more one exercises one’s inherent liberty to act and transact as a free person in voluntary relationships with others, the more one wants to expand its sphere.

And finally, because I’m getting too long-winded already, Joey writes:

Now, it is not like you have to ditch people just because they love the State, [sic] but it is worth examining.

True enough; but how many individuals really “love the state”? Even a lot of its agents are willing to bend its rules to serve their own purposes, proving how highly hypocritical they can be. I think most people don’t even examine the justifications for the state; it is simply something that’s always been there in some form or fashion in their experience, and thus what’s to question? Aside from the ideologues and those few but truly evil individuals who know what harm they’re doing in trying to gain and exert power over others, nearly everyone else has some kind of mixed feelings about the state.

Primarily because they haven’t thought to question or challenge its existence, the baseline state is probably something akin to it being a necessity with good parts and bad parts. Increasingly, individuals have had, or know personally others who’ve suffered unjustly at the hands of the state. The list of possibilities is extensive, so I’ll name just a few: a kid tossed in jail for years over possession of a certain amount of a certain herb; the irrational family court system and “child protective services” that are highly destructive of parent-child relationships; police brutality, from traffic stops to no-knock raids conducted at wrong addresses; personal vendettas or favoritism wielded by those in power; the destruction of one’s life that comes with the mere accusation of child molestation (remember, some of these cases are consensual sex between 18- and 17-year-olds); the man who defends his family against a would-be robber, but who ends up on trial because he dared use a firearm in the process; and so on. It generally doesn’t take long in a conversation to discover which kind of person one is addressing; and if it’s a “mixed mind” sort, I have found that using their own negative experiences often serves as an effective springboard in getting them to re-examine their ideas and challenge the legitimacy of the state. Sometimes it can take a very long time; but it’s worth it.

My points distill to a couple of pretty simple things. The first is that one can choose an oppositional, confrontational stance with respect to the state—and while that can be very educational for others, and sometimes even effective in scaling back the state’s encroachments, it is not the only way. One can simply ignore the state as much as possible, not giving it any more of one’s life than is absolutely necessary, and working around it as much as possible. Second, the idea that a pro-freedom revolution will be some discrete, distinct event sometime in the future is a narrow and shortsighted perspective. Each and every act against the state, from small, mostly symbolic rebellions to large-scale, principled acts of civil disobedience, dropping out, and/or education comprise the revolution that has been and is swirling around us every day.

C’mon in, the freedom’s fine! :-D

May I Quote You?

Excellent piece, Sunni.

All freedom is personal freedom; and each of us has our own unique constellation of issues, ideas, plans, and paths for pursuing our freedom.

Mind if I add that to my quotes database, Sunni?


I’d be honored to be included among the fine individuals therein.

My reply

Thanks for the reply, here is my short response:


Looking forward to continuing this conversation.

More People Have Entered The Discussion

Just an update: Some other bloggers have entered the discussion on this freedom topic. Read more at http://thefreedomsymposium.blogspot.com/2008/06/anarchy-philosophy-agorism-where-to.html