Thursday, October 20, 2011
Occupy The Shire
Though I had been traveling back to New Hampshire from Baltimore by bus on the big day of action and was unable to attend any of the demonstrations, I spent Sunday in Manchester with the city's mini-demonstration in solidarity. I brought a sign reading: "CAPITALISM = VIOLENT MONOPOLY = STATISM".
My friend Matt directed me to the pre-General Assembly going on, where a handful of people discussed the issues they wanted to raise and the direction they wanted the rally to go in. One of the people speaking, a large young man dressed like a biker, was a libertarian, quite possibly a free stater. He insisted that the entire rally should serve as an anti-war demonstration since that's the one thing everyone in attendance could agree on. The person taking notes seemed a little reluctant but jotted it down anyway. I butted in, saying that if we're going to turn this into an anti-war rally we can't overlook the profit aspect of war and how wars are waged to control resources and people for profit. The libertarian was pretty irked. He accused me of sectarianism and said words like mine would only divide the people there. "To me, profit is not a bad thing," rushed out of his mouth. He went on about how corporations are a "legal fiction" created by the state, as if every single business would behave like angels if only the state wasn't there to protect or subsidize them.
Matt and I spent our time hanging out, discussing the action from the past few days. We knew most of the people here were either free staters or people with right-libertarian tendencies. Others were mostly working people or students whose views were much more in-line with ours.
Something Matt and I both noticed was a flag propped up in the middle of the park. It was styled identical to the traditional anarchist red-and-black triangle flag, only instead of red it was blue-green with an elaborate pattern designed within the color. We went up to it to see what it was exactly. The possessor of the flag approached us. He said the flag was blue-green to express individualism; for him, red is the color of collectivism and blue-green is supposed to be the opposite of that. I found that a bit strange: if your entire goal is to achieve freedom, how can you be truly free if everyone around you is still in chains? Isn't every kind of social organization "collectivist" in its own way? I didn't question him though. He was a really nice guy.
I saw him again a little while later as Matt and I were standing on the sidewalk with other activists. He told us he didn't think his explanation of his views was concise enough. He said he's part of a movement that combines ecology and permaculture with revolutionary market anarchism (agorism). I asked him about agorism and how efficient he thinks it would be in attacking the state. He said it all comes down to how many people chose to join in and participate. When people chose to participate in the "white market" they are funding statism. He used the exact words "building a new society within the shell of the old" (which originates from the IWW constitution, actually) and I agreed with him, though I said I'm not sure that the solution has to be completely market-based. I told him that I say "freed markets" because I sometimes doubt whether or not there can ever be a truly free market system. After all, I said, market economies were first established through force by kings (states) as a way to keep people in submission. He said, quite boldly, that he believes any "voluntary" human actions are part of the market. I thought that was absurd. I asked him where he got this idea from, and he said from austrian economics which, according to him, explicitly states that all voluntary actions are market actions while all involuntary actions are statist ones. I still didn't get it. I asked him, "So, me giving my friend a back rub out of affection is viewed the same way as consumerism?", and he said yes. In a sense, it's like talking with religious nuts, like the nutty Christians from my high school, nutty Jews from CSUN, or nutty Muslims from the anti-war/pro-Palestinian groups I used to work with; they will tell you that the shape of your hand is "proof" that their version of "God" exists. I don't understand...
But we agreed that leaving everything up to "the market" is not enough. I told him that I believe a lot of what our new society will come down to is the values we chose to hold and base our new institutions off of. That includes doing away with the fascination of property and profit. The way I see it is, if we still hold true the idea that "more stuff" equates to "more freedom" and define how "free" we are based on what we own (as opposed to who we are and what we do as people) then there will always be an incentive to create monopolies and have a state to enable their creation. My friend Ross wrote that faith in the market is not enough, that we need to expand our moral awareness if we want to have a free society because we will be no freer if we don't. You could make the argument that a freed market would be like karma; if we support firms that do wrong, it will come back to bite us. As Ross said, so much of what the market supplies is what we demand. The whole idea that all businesses would have to put people before profits if the state didn't exist to protect them only works if the people are responsible enough to go after those businesses that do wrong. It's not enough to simply attack the state, build new institutions, or create a completely free market. We have to show people that basing a society on mutuality rather than selfish desire for stuff is not only much better for each other but also much freer; create conditions where the love of profit is outweighed by the love of freedom and love of each other. Let's put it this way: if I can make more profit for myself with a patent monopoly, then why would I want the state to blip out of existence if it meant more competition and less profits for me? If I love owning more property than I use, why would I want a stateless society where "property rights" outside of active personal use would no longer exist? What if I'm a capitalist boss whose income comes from the exploitation of others - why would I want the state to disappear, or why would I join in with the anti-statists in abolishing it? The idea that the state will go away once everyone "stops believing in it" is naive and oversimplified. He was uneasy about my conclusions though. I get the feeling that he, too, holds a love of property. There always seems to be this overriding consensus that 51% of the people around are trying to steal everything they own - it's completely bogus even today. If I knew my community was always going to be there for me, and loved me, why should I care about how much many material objects I own? (Read some anthropology books if you want some evidence for this.)
It was only later during the demonstration that I realized this young man was a friend of one of my other friends. I went up to him as he was setting up his sleepover tent and asked him if he was who I thought he was. Turns out I was right. He told me he was originally from Texas and moved up to Grafton back when the village was an agorist haven. Now most of the original agorists have left and the scene there has mostly died out. Most of the "activism" there now, according to him, revolves around top-down political campaigns. Both of us agreed that it's totally useless: even if Ron Paul was elected president he wouldn't be able to do anything, and even if he did strip the government down to its "constitutional minimum" the institutions and conditions would still be in place to start the cycle of "big government" all over again. It turns out he was a very nice guy who shares a lot in common with myself. I told him that people we both know are planning on creating some kind of (mutualist) cooperative community in the Merrimack Valley. He was interested.
I hung out with Matt and a few others at the end of the day. We sang along with the man who brought his guitar and talked with a few women who were Manchester locals.
"Your sign is backwards," I heard someone nearby say sharply.
"No, I think it's being held the right way," I replied, trying to sound naive.
"It wasn't capitalism that created statism. It was statism that created capitalism. The economic system would never have happened if it hadn't been for the state."
Well, if you read Dr. Graeber's book you'd understand why markets in general would have never existed if it hadn't been for the state!
"Yeah," I said, "and that's why these corporate bosses are going to be the first people to resist statelessness."
This guy went on about all of his agorist activism (though unlike my earlier conversation buddy he was pretty blunt about everything) and insisted that it's going to be what drains the rich and the state. He even went so far as to say that sites like Craigslist and eBay will create a stateless society, since there's no taxation involved. I told him I was very skeptical of his expectations that black and "gray" market activism would be enough in themselves. He kept insisting that black and gray markets have become "huge" in NH since the Free State Project began, even after I told him I had no idea they were even present in the area to begin with. The two of us went back and forth about why we feel the other is full of shit in many areas. He asked me what I thought the solution is and what I was doing to solve the problem. I told him the first thing we need to do is organize, just like we were doing right there and then in the park. Bring people together and build solidarity networks. Then we need to start taking over unused properties and workplaces. He insisted that organizing expropriations would take too long (despite the fact that people did it in the past in a quick amount of time) and a much better idea would be to get as many people as possible to more to this magical agorá so that the state and capitalists start to drain. I asked him how long that would take, or how realistic it would be since most people in NH have no clue that this (metaphorical) agorá exists in the first place. He also told me that he's living in a squatted home owned by Deutsche Bank and did so as a way of fucking with the police. In his lexicon, "squatting" is called "homesteading", much more akin to neo-lockean principles than classical anarchist ones. I kept telling him of my initial skepticisms. I have no idea how NH is more free now that the state government is dominated by self-proclaimed anti-statists. He told me I'd see it sooner than later.
**** Update: arrests have been made in Manchester.
My friend Matt, who was arrested, said the arrests were due to "criminal trespassing". More proof that the police primarily exist to protect property.