Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Response to Activist Teacher

On Oct. 7, 2015 Denis Rancourt, PhD offered an analysis andcommentary on my blog post, ’10 Lessons I Learned Running for Parliament.’ I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rancourt in Kingston several days earlier at a Libertarian Party event and found him to be simultaneously provocative and intensely curious and was delighted that he found time to critique some of my writing. It is important to me that my beliefs are congruent with reality and so I value being challenged, especially by someone who I believe is well intentioned and equally open to revising their beliefs if presented with appropriate reason and evidence.

Response to Criticisms

The first criticism Rancourt has is, “Moen avoids the fact that the fears themselves are manipulated and manufactured by governments, and by corporate entities that also fund political parties.

I also avoided the fact that gravity exists and keeps voters firmly planted on terra firma. It’s not so much that I avoided this fact as I assumed my audience knows this.

OK but another dominant strategy is to offer fixing or cleaning-up the system that is newly discovered to now be hopelessly broken or corrupt. This is most effective because ordinary citizens know that the system does not work for them.”

This is true and it was perhaps an oversight that I didn’t mention this, although I do mention later in the article that I believe voter apathy is largely a result of citizens knowing that the system doesn’t work for them so I’m certainly not ignorant to that fact. I also think that offering to fix or clean-up the system is exactly the thing I talk about in lesson 2 of my article which Rancourt straw-mans a bit in his summary by suggesting my point is a political paradigm of fear and comforting. A more accurate representation of my point would be that politicians present themselves as solutions to a problem and that they foment fear to drive people towards them as a solution. So if the problem is a hopelessly broken and corrupt system it is in my best interest as a politician to foment fear and offer myself as a solution to their fears.

but Moen leaves out that meaningless platitudes also serve to (1) reassure party funders that their man will not go off track, and (2) avoid the risk of awakening voter expectations for real action.”

Agreed. Again I left out a lot of articles of reality for the sake of space. I would suggest that avoiding awakening voter expectations for real action is probably less accurate than saying politicians are afraid of saying anything that would make them unpopular. I certainly didn’t find myself worried about voter expectations for real action so much as I found myself worried that people would throw proverbial tomatoes at me, but admittedly my motivations and world view may be appreciably different than a more calculating politician.

Moen refuses to acknowledge that the big-party politicians work for the man, virtually without deviation, whether they are conscious of it or simply allowing themselves to be manipulated and hijacked by the process.”

Here Rancourt points out the obvious fact that the lip service politicians pay to voters is not often congruent with actual policy decisions and that these policy decisions are largely influenced by corporate interests. I have no dispute with this although I do think it is interesting that he uses the term ‘the man’ to refer to something other than government. He doesn’t define ‘the man’ but based on the whole of his rhetoric I would assume it to mean corporate interests.  I’ll address this fallacy (assuming I’m not straw-manning his position) later on.

Moen's analysis is confined to the tunnel vision…any honest politician must confront the sham that is the Canadian Parliament, and only politicians who do can be considered honest, unless they are so naive that they should be avoided on that basis alone, in my humble opinion.”

There is a difference between tunnel vision and relevance realization. It goes without saying that Canadian Parliament and democracy in general is broken and the public discourse narrowly constrained. Again the fact that I don’t list all the articles of reality is not evidence that I am blind to them. I think Rancourt also presents a straw man that I see a binary choice "to vote or not vote" as the only way to create systemic change. This is not my position at all. I would posit that the dysfunctional government we have is reinforced by people constantly appealing to it to solve their every problem and maximize their individual benefits, including people who own corporations, and this isn't done merely, or even substantively, through voting.

“..the whole idea of mainstream political involvement is to prevent the dominant system from being too insane, and ideally to reform it towards freedom and actual democracy. In my book (literally), the whole idea is to push back against increasing totalitarianism -- what many and myself have called corporate fascism.
The idea that modern internet technology or independent food and energy production can offer absolute protection to creative alternists is a total fantasy.”

I’ll discuss the first point here at the end of the article because I think it worth having a lengthy discussion about the idea that corporations are the root cause of societal grief. The second point he makes is a straw man. I in no way suggest that independent food and energy production offer absolute protection. Utopianism is a disease of central planners not liberty activists.

Government is the embodiment of undemocratic concentrated power. Nothing could be clearer. One proof, if proof were needed, is the tremendous amount of resources and efforts that go into convincing the public of the legitimacy of the political system and its supporting institutions.

I predict that if Moen continues down that fanciful fairy tale, then he will lose many libertarian supporters and many realistic potential voters. It is a road that leads straight into conformism with the status quo

I’m not sure where Rancourt gets the idea that I don’t view government as the embodiment of undemocratic concentrated power. I’m suggesting that they have this undemocratic power because people have a pseudo-religious belief I’ll refer to as statism. It is ultimately the belief that a select group of specific individuals who win popularity contests have special human rights that nobody else has to use initiatory force within a specific geographical region. This belief system is reinforced by manufactured consent, mainstream media, public schools, recitations of pledges of allegiance, hymns to the state, mass tribalism events (ie Super Bowl, Olympics), bits of colored cloth that are revered as sacred, scribbles on old parchment that are considered sacred etc.

It is my suggestion that the goal of any serious liberty activist ought to be to help people disabuse themselves of this most dangerous magical thinking. That in the process of disabusing themselves of this magical thinking and dismissing its ethical propositions as woo of the highest order then a new order will start to emerge where people aren’t organized around a violent institution.

We will know that Moen has been effective and has touched a nerve when the entire establishment visciously attacks him, or at least is unhinged by him, or at least significant adjusts its discourse to make him irrelevant... Any such sign will be a gauge that freedom is making headway.

Yikes! I hope nobody nails me to a cross. I hope my wife doesn’t read this or she may make me quit.

General Discussion

The ideas (as I understand them) that Rancourt propagate are not unfamiliar to me. They are in the same vein as Noam Chomsky who writes brilliant analysis about foreign policy and the idea of manufacturing consent. I have a lot of respect for these gentlemen and their work and I have a difficult time understanding parts of their analysis and some of their language. There appears to me to be an inflammation of abstractions (abstractitis) prevalent here that prevents clear thinking. Confucius made the point that the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names and so I’ll attempt to untangle some of the language present in Rancourts rhetoric and see if we can arrive at more tangible descriptions of reality, as a physicist I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

Terms like government, democracy, and corporations can mean vastly different things to different people and so I’m going to flesh out the sense in which I am talking about them and the sense in which I perceive Rancourt is talking about them.

The terms ‘government’ and ‘corporation’ are often used in language as if they are material entities acting in material reality. Exxon spilled oil, the government outlawed marijuana. There is a tendency to deify these entities as if they actually exist and aren’t simply a collection of specific individuals acting in the world based on their mental models. Now I am open to hearing evidence that corporations and governments are somehow more than just a collection of individuals in the same way that a human being is more than just a collection of cells and that maybe governments and corporations are actual people as well, but I believe the burden of proof would be on the person positing that it is permissible to initiate force against flesh and blood humans for the sake of these hypothetical people called society, government or corporations. Priestly classes of public intellectuals tell us what governments, societies and corporations think and do all the time and they often remind me of televangelists who tell us exactly what God is thinking and doing.

Government is a group of individuals who operate under the mental model that they have the legitimate right to initiate force. They have this mental model and they behave this way for reasons I addressed earlier. There is no denying that it is highly profitable to have people subscribe to irrational beliefs and so people in a position to profit from irrational beliefs (ie politicians, corporate owners, tenured professors) tend to become self-interested apologists for these beliefs. But it is short-sighted to suggest that the root cause of the problem is that people who profit from irrational beliefs reinforce them, and I don’t think it gets us anywhere.

Rancourt would likely posit that there exists power structures that inform behaviour and control people. He would probably suggest that wealth distribution and corporate power are the root cause of our ills. I think this misses the biggest part of the problem. Let me explain.

Would Rancourt kill another human being if another person or corporation paid him an exorbitant amount to do it? I would suggest that he would NOT kill another human being because he doesn’t strike me as a sociopath without regard for human life. Well what power does this corporation or elite person then have over him by virtue of having more wealth? I would argue NONE. It would be a different story if they were able to level a gun at him and coerce or threaten him into acting. So if it were true that individuals who own or manage corporations have power to compel people by virtue of having money then it would also be true that Rancourt would be powerless in the face of financial incentives and would be forced to kill another person if presented with enough money.

What would cause Rancourt to kill another person if asked? I would posit it is a belief system that legitimized the killing, that informed him that it is in fact the highest moral good to kill another person. As physicist Stephen Weinberger put it, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Not all religions are created equal and some promote more violence than other and I would argue that the most dangerous religion is statism.

I’m not sure if Rancourt falls into the self-detonating proposition of appealing to the state to regulate corporations. The state is a corporation from whence all other corporations are birthed. It is the pen-ultimate umbrella corporation and its only product is initiatory force. Appealing to the umbrella corporation and giving it more legitimate power by spreading the meme that we need the state to save us is reinforcing the very problem these guys seek to solve.

The minute you have any group organize around the use of initiatory force you immediately set up the conditions and the incentives for everybody to struggle for control of that force. The wealthy stand a much better chance of buying this power, that is true, but I think it is a mistake to say that this makes them inherently more culpable than anyone else. They are only able to buy that power because we want a corporation that monopolizes violence called the state. There seems to be an argument propagated that people are helpless and devoid of agency in the face of manufactured consent and I think this isn't helpful and in a lot of ways its insulting because it imagines that poor and middle-class people are less capable of revising their own beliefs than those considered to be the elite. Imagining that politicians or CEO's are someone outside the paradigm and recognize it and manipulate it while others are helplessly immersed and blind to it seems unlikely. I think its more likely that the individuals that comprise the so-called ruling class are as immersed in the system of delusion as everyone else and unconsciously appeal to authority to maximize their own benefit just like everyone else.

What do neo-cons and climate activists have in common? They all have the belief that there is a deficiency of violence being used against individuals that they have strong opinions about, and that if the right amount of violence was used against the right people we would have peace and flourishing. I am not sure if Professor Rancourt subscribes to this theory of peace and flourishing but I am skeptical of it. I would posit that people producing value for each other is the best chance we have at peace and flourishing and the main thing standing in the way of this happening isn’t a deficiency of violence but rather a deficiency of reality congruence. I would further posit that violence contributes to dogmatism and irrational belief and so you create more of that which you fear the most when you employ violence as your means.

It has been my experience as a father and a student of life is that the best way to prevent and change unwanted behaviour, whether it is from an authoritarian or a child, is to not try and fight with the person (except in the moment if immediate protection is needed) but rather to try and see life through their eyes, seek to understand the contributing factors to their behaviour, consider the idea that I may be wrong and try to offer them something of value. It is to engage in conflict with courage but not to smash them as a person. I've come to understand that even politicians are people and I'll bet you would find that even corporate CEO's are flesh and blood humans as well.

I look forward to a continued dialogue with Professor Rancourt in a respectful dialogue that is concerned more with arriving at truth than about propagating a particular world view or conclusion.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it best:

“We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with THE LIE. Between them exists the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence has nothing with which to cover itself except the lie, and the lie has nothing to stand on other than violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose the lie as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only participation in the lie. 

And the simple step of an ordinary courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support THE LIE!”