Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Life Without Government: It’s Not As Distant As You Think

I am always astounded when someone rejects even the possibility of a stateless society by demanding that I supply proof such a society has ever existed, or could ever work.

“But I can give you an example of a perfectly functioning non-violent society right this minute!” I reply.

“Oh yeah?” my interrogator will demand skeptically. “Where?”
“Well, it’s… you!”

A great flurry of confusion always follows this very simple statement. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, are you married?” I say.

“Yes, but…”

“Did you force your spouse to marry you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“When you proposed, did you hold a gun to her temple and threaten to pull the trigger if she didn’t marry you?”

“No, but…”

“Do you have a job?”


“And when you went to that job interview, did you hold a knife to your interviewer’s throat until you got the job?”


“Did you go to school?”

“Of course! But what…”

“And if you wanted an ‘A’, did you work hard, or did you kidnap your teacher’s daughter and hold her hostage until you got the grade you wanted?”

“No, but…”

“Do you shoplift when you go to stores? Do you leave restaurants without paying the bill? Do you ‘pump and run’ at gas stations? If you want to have a party, do you herd your guests up at gunpoint?”
The answer is always the same. Of course not! Over the past twenty years, over thousands of conversations, I have never once met anyone who regularly used violence. I’ve met a few people who’d been in bar fights, heard tales of a few bad marriages and seen some fairly nasty parents, but I have never once met a single person who regularly and systematically used violence to force obedience out of others.

So naturally, I am quite confused when people demand that I produce historical proof of functioning non-violent societies. It’s like a panting man asking me to produce proof of the existence of air.

You do not use violence in your life. You do not force people to do your bidding. You do not shoot or stab or poison people who disagree with you.

And I would guess that you don’t know anyone else who does.

Just think about that for a moment. Think of your close and extended family, everyone at work, all your managers, employees and customers. Think of the man who flies your plane, the woman who fixes your car, the teenager who delivers your newspaper. Think of the thousands and thousands of people you have met during the course of your life. How many of the people you have met as an adult have ever used violence against you?

I bet none.

Now that’s quite remarkable when you think about it. Just looking at your own life, you can see a community of hundreds or thousands of people composed entirely of pacifists. A community composed of people who resolve all their disputes without pulling out knives or guns.

People generally respond to this, of course, by arguing that people don’t use force because the State has courts and the police and so on, and without State protection we’d be in that mythical state of nature, stealing and killing each other at will.

That’s an interesting objection, but I have a hard time taking it very seriously, because all I have to ask in return is this:

“Have you ever actually tried to use the State justice system?”

Of course not. If they had, they wouldn’t speak so blithely about how the ‘thin blue line’ is all that separates us from cannibalism. And it’s not fear of the police that keeps you from dumping your garbage on the lawn next door, but rather a natural desire to live in peace with those around you.

And sure, there are people who use violence to get their way – but you can protect yourself against criminals. You can’t protect yourself against the State.

Does this approach prove that a stateless society will work flawlessly? Of course not. However, I hope it helps you see that in your life, a stateless, pacifistic society works beautifully! I don’t expect that this approach will convince you of the practicality of a stateless society as a whole, but in the society that you live in – surely the most important to you – it does highlight the simple fact that non-violence is the norm, and that voluntary cooperation is in fact how most people actually live.

In other words, if we actually look at our own lives, and set aside propaganda and fear, it becomes clear that stateless societies are not only possible in the future, but alive and well in the here and now. To see the future of freedom, we need only look in the mirror today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Space Aliens from Luxemburg: A Horror Story

Let us imagine that tomorrow morning, when you flip on CNN, you see Wolf Blitzer being jostled by surging crowds. Everyone is running, staring at the sky in fear. “Space aliens have landed in Luxemburg!” cries Wolf, wide-eyed and almost hysterical, “and they have a message for all mankind!”

There is a burst of static, and then you see a drooling, bulging-eyed monstrosity gripping prepared notes in its slimy sea-green tentacles.

“Citizens of Earth!” it gurgles, “we bring good news! We see that, all over the world, citizens live under the slavery of what you call ‘governments.’ Millions of you are unjustly imprisoned, billions are stolen from you through taxation, and government-owned WMDs threaten the very survival of the planet! This is a moral abomination, and we have come to put a stop to it!”

Well! you think, munching your toast, this might bring my property taxes down a bit!

The alien continues: “We are fully dedicated to freeing you from the monstrous moral evil of these governments, and we have decided to start with the United States of America!”

Although you are not a great fan of the US government, a strange sense of foreboding rises in your stomach. Sure enough, the slavering alien continues:

“Freedom does not come cheap, of course; sacrifices must be made. As we dislodge your existing government, there will be suffering – but no matter! Freedom is worth every tear, every sacrifice!”

Well that’s interesting, you think, stirring your cereal slowly. I don’t see how they’re going to be sacrificing anything, but let’s see what they mean…

“We will use a two-phased approach to set you free,” gurgles the alien, squinting into the camera with at least a dozen eyes. “First, we will impose economic sanctions, designed to force your leaders to relinquish their ill-gotten power. As part of this process, we will use ray shields to block international trade, ground your airplanes, and irradiate your food and medicine.” Two of the alien’s eyes dart down to check some figures. “Based on prior experience, we calculate that this phase will cause the deaths of no more than 5-6 million of your children. Also, about 13% of your newborns will die before reaching the age of 5. But we are willing to make that sacrifice, because we believe it’s worth it. For freedom!”

The space alien frowns and flips some pages. Your mouth hangs open.

“We shall keep these sanctions in place for thirteen or so years. If, after that time, your leaders have not given up their power, we will move on to stage 2. In stage 2, we will directly invade your country, in order to overthrow your existing government and replace it with a better government. This will also entail some suffering. We imagine that approximately 20-30 of your cities will be destroyed, just over a million of you will be killed, about 8 million will be wounded, and tens of millions of you will be rendered homeless. About 50% of you will lose your jobs. Most of your roads, bridges, electrical and water systems will be obliterated. Your food supply will be largely destroyed. But don’t worry – our goal it to replace your existing leaders with new leaders, and we believe that is worth all the blood, sweat, tears and deaths you will experience!”

With a clatter, your cereal bowl falls to the floor, spraying milk all over your legs. Your pregnant wife wanders into the room and asks what on earth is going on.

“Wake the kids!” you whisper hoarsely. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

But the space aliens from Luxemburg are as good as their word. There is no escape. Shimmering purple ray shields spring up around the borders, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the country. The aliens set up ‘no fly zones’ which is pretty much the entire US airspace. Several times a day, heat-rays slice down from buzzing spaceships, burning alive hundreds of citizens as they huddle in their homes screaming with terror.

Every now and then, the space aliens drop leaflets explaining their actions.

“Citizens of America,” they read, “we are not angry with you! We are only angry with your political leaders that subjugate you! Be patient as we work to remove your leaders! We cannot allow them to continue to wield their WMDs – we shall save you from their evil!”

However, you notice, the leaders don’t seem to be harmed at all by the alien sanctions. In fact, their wealth and power seem to grow. As the economy dies, however, your life – and the life of your neighbours – becomes an unrecognizable medieval hell. There is almost no medicine, clean running water, or electricity. Children and the old die like flies, and are buried in empty stadiums. Dysentery and cholera run rampant. People flee the cities to live in tent communities. After your wife gives birth, your baby dies within a few weeks.

As the sanctions wear on, frightening rumours begin to circulate – rumours so horrifying that they can scarcely be believed. One rumour says that the very political leaders that the space aliens claim to hate were in fact funded, sponsored and installed by the space aliens to begin with! Another says that the very same WMDs that the aliens claim to be horrified by were given to your leaders by the space aliens in the first place!

Finally, after thirteen long years – after millions of children have died and an entire generation has grown up knowing only despair, poverty, death, disease and hopelessness – the day finally arrives.


Endless fleets of spaceships flash across the skies over America, turning cities into flames. They claim to be aiming for the leaders, but instead over a million men, women and children get burned up in their own homes, screaming and burrowing for shelter.

The war is relatively short, since electromagnetic rays disable almost all the US defense systems. The space aliens take over the burning wreckage of Washington, and immediately impose rigid curfews. Because some Americans – perhaps those whose children or wives were murdered by the sanctions or the fleets of spaceships – have formed an underground rebellion against the occupation, alien troops start invading homes and dragging men and women into concentration camps without trial.

One night, your door is kicked in and your eldest son is dragged away. His screams are muffled by the black bag over his head, and you stand there helpless, sick with fear. The next morning, you drift around your tent city, asking questions. Most people turn away, terrified that you are an informer for the aliens. But a few tell you terrible stories about the concentration camps. Hushed voices tell tales of torture. And rape. And murder. And you slowly find out that more than a quarter of a million Americans have been dragged into these gulags without trial or access to lawyers. No one knows what becomes of them.

Every day, your wife lines up in front of one of these sprawling camps, hoping for a chance to find out about your son. She is told nothing. He could be alive or dead – there is no way to tell. You are desperate to find him, but are terrified that if your wife keeps asking, she will disappear too.

Then, one sweltering summer day, New York is encircled by spaceships. From blaring loudspeakers, all the women and children are told to flee the city. Any men who try to escape are beaten and turned back. The aliens turn off New York’s water and electricity. After about 2 million people flee New York, the space aliens burn it to the ground with their heat rays. Hospitals are targeted. The screams of the dying can be heard from across the river.

As the occupation grinds on, there seems to be no end in sight. The aliens, who said that their mission was to free Americans, are now building permanent military bases and have installed a puppet government that they control.

One evening, as you sit with the remnants of your family in front of your ragged tent, starving and terrified, you hear a tinny voice coming from a neighbour’s radio. One of the alien leaders is complaining that Americans seem “ungrateful” for their liberation. “I guess there are just some bad apples,” he sighs, “who hate us for our innate goodness.”

And as you close your eyes and try to sleep, you think of your son, missing for years, picturing him bruised and broken in some airless cell, and wonder if he is better off alive or dead.