Why I am an anarcho-socialist.

I have noticed that people throw around the words “capitalism,” “socialism,” “state,” “government,” and “anarchism” without knowing what they are talking about, or using these words in some idiosyncratic way.

So, let me explain to you how I understand these words.

“Capitalism” — as I keep repeating — is a political stance which bars people from free access to subsistence land. It is a system which creates a class of proletarians. These are people who have to work for wages or become homeless.

“Socialism” is a political stance antithetical to capitalism; thus, it allows free access to subsistence land. [Granting everyone a basic income or, as Bertrand Russell called it, a “vagabond’s wage,” would compensate for not allowing free access to subsistence land.]

“State” and “government” are not synonymous. A government is a set of rules regulation social life — however formulated: either by informal agreement, direct or indirect democracy.

A “State” is a centralized government ruling over hundreds, thousands, or millions of people over some territory.

“Anarchism” is a government ruling over a small community of about 150 families through direct democracy or through a council (the Russian word for a council is “soviet.”

By combining the idea of a small community ruling itself with the idea of granting everyone in the community free access to subsistence land, we get the hyphenated idea of “anarcho-socialism.” It can also be called “libertarian socialism” since by “liberty” is meant the self-rule of a small community.

The idea of “anarcho-capitalism” is a contradiction caused by not knowing how to define capitalism. The usual idea given is that capitalism involves free-trade. But free-trade, although a necessary condition for capitalism, is not a sufficient condition — simply because free-trade has existed under slavery and feudalism. The other necessary condition is the barring of people from a free access to subsistence land. Yet, those who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” also want to grant everyone a homestead. But granting a homestead is equivalent to granting free access to subsistence land. Hence, a puzzling situation for the anarcho-capitalists. Does “ideal” capitalism really allow free access to subsistence land?

Below is the flag for anarcho-socialism. A red flag represents socialism. A black flag represents anarchism.

Land and Survival

My wife, Kathy, and I are addicted to the series “Naked and Afraid,” in which a man and a woman are paired, transported to various “raw” environments, stripped of all clothing, and given each a tool of their own choosing. Usually the choices are rational: a machete or a large knife and a flint firestarter. Sometimes, however, some odd choices have been made. Once a woman chose a magnifying glass, another woman chose a cooking pot, and still another chose a tarp.

Given that the couple is naked, a major concern is temperature — especially at night. And with the additional possibility of rain, hypothermia is a danger. So, a shelter and fire are very important. A machete will help in the construction of a shelter as well as for other uses, like making a spear, as well as preparing food. And a fire is needed for warmth, boiling water, and cooking. Let me point out that without a fire starter, people had to twirl sticks to create an amber — and sometimes this proved to be impossible.

It is said that without water a person can survive for a week, and with water but no food, for a month. Perhaps for this reason the producers of the show made the duration of coping with nature 21 days.

So, in the order of priorities: shelter, fire, water, food.

So, why is this show so fascinating? Because this show makes explicit the human needs for survival. And survival is the bare bones of human life. Everything else is luxuries and psychological quirks.

Other than making such mistakes as drinking unboiled water and eating the wrong food (e.g. green figs), or not knowing how to hunt and fish, the main obstacle for successful cooperation is an individual’s character traits. Some individuals cannot endure the physical discomforts or psychological distress; others cannot cooperate because of laziness or ignorance, or because of being too bossy or too needy — and some are downright mean.

What this show teaches is that humans can survive even in the harshest environments as long as they have access to these environments. However, modern States which favor capitalism, forbid such a free access to subsistence land.

Below is an example of the show:

Reflections on Carl Sagan’s “baloney detection kit”

I am reading Carl Sagan’s collection of essays, titled “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” (1995). I agree with everything in the book, except for two caveats.

The first is that although Sagan juxtaposes the findings of science against superstition and pseudo-science, his real intent is to recommend critical thinking. This becomes evident from two considerations.

The first. He tells us that while teaching at Cornell, the chairman of the astronomy department, Yervant Terzian, allowed him to teach critical thinking in a course titled “Astronomy 490.” (p. 435)

The other matter is that this critical thinking course was composed of what he described as “baloney detection kit,” described in detail in the essay “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” My point is that science and the methods of science are a subset of critical thinking, and this is admitted by Sagan himself in footnote to the essay “Science and Witchcraft”: “I do not wish to suggest that advocacy of science and skepticism necessarily lead to all the political or social conclusions. Although skeptical thinking is invaluable to politics, politics is not a science.” (p. 401) Exactly!

My second caveat is that Sagan’s skepticism and criticism is too narrow in this book. It should have included a wider political criticism as part of “baloney detection.” But, to be fair, he does express some political criticisms. One example is given in his “baloney detection kit” under the entry:

“weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”).” (p. 216)

Sagan also expresses moral disapproval of President Truman’s dropping of atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And he also criticizes the Alien and Sedition Acts.

But Sagan’s skepticism and criticisms are too narrow. He could have criticized the office of the U.S. President, as such. He could also have criticized the U.S. Constitution (as, for example, as inferior to that of Switzerland). And he could also have criticized the institution of capitalism. But he does none of this.

Why are people unenlightened?

To be unenlightened is to believe in superstitions [it is not the same as ignorance or stupidity]. And a superstition is a belief which cannot survive a critical investigation. World religions fall into the category of superstitions. So why do they survive?

There are several reasons.

But before I get to these reasons, a distinction has to be made between at least three categories of religious people. The first category I will call the “nominal religious.” This is the vast majority of people who pay “lip service” to the religion. They are simply members of a club. The second group are the “religious practitioners.” They are the priests, rabbis, gurus, monks, etc. The third group are the theologians. This last group are the philosophers of the religion. They know the dogmas and they formulate arguments for their defense.

My concern will be only with those who are “nominally religious” — those whose knowledge of the religion is superficial.

For example, as a nominal Christian I may only know that I am to say that I believe in God. But if I am asked about the nature of God, I may be stymied, and I may even not know that as a Christian I am supposed to say that I believe in the Trinity. [Since belief cannot be a matter of choice, the better formulation is that as a Christian I am obligated to profess, to announce … And profession or announcing of a belief is not the same as actually having a belief.]

Another example. As a nominal Muslim, I may learn to say [i.e., to profess or announce] that there is but one God, Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet. If probed, I may be stymied.

So, the question is why do nominally religious people remain members of a religion?

The first is that people treat religions as sacred cows. Cows (in India) must be allowed to roam as they see fit.

The second is that people do not see religions as a set of beliefs — but as social institutions which bring people together — just as if they were celebratory parties.

The third reason is that people crave communities. That is why people form gangs, join clubs and associations, participate in parades and large gatherings such as sports events and music concerts, and identify with their races and ethnic groups.

The fourth reason is that they rationalize religions as modes of satisfying their emotional needs and hopes.

The fifth reason is that people — as social beings — are reluctant to criticize. They are especially not interested in criticizing a religion. Criticism would alienate them from their religious community. They would be ostracised — or, as with the Amish, they would be shunned.

The sixth reason is that — even if they had the desire to criticize — they do not know how to criticize.

So, in a nut-shell, people do not want to criticize (they have no interest in criticism), and they don’t know how to criticize.

And similar things could be said about membership or identification with political parties and other associations.

The Unenlightened

I will start with the Wikipedia description of the “Age of Enlightenment” or, as it also may be called, “Age of Reason.” Post-modernists refer to this and other cultural phenomena as “Modernity.”

Put as simply as I can, prior to the 17th century, there was no scientific knowledge to speak of. [I mean that prior to the 17th century books like the following could not be written:

John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, 1875.

Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, 1897.]

There was, of course mathematical and some astronomical science, some technical knowledge, common sense, the principle of contradiction, and lots of religion and superstition. With the scientific discoveries, there occured a challenge to religion and superstitions. Those who embraced logic and science became “enlightened.” Those who resisted logic and science remained “unenlightened.” Enlightenment — as I see it — implies secularism (irreligion or non-religion). [There is an organization called “Brights.” It could just as well also be called “Enlightened.”]

So, who are the unenlightened? For starters, all those who embrace a religion. So, using the results of the 2015 PEW poll, 84% of the world is probably unenlightened, and there probably are some in the remaining 16% who are unaffiliated with any religion, who are also unenlightened for embracing some other form of superstition.

The difference between Richard Wolff and me

Richard Wolff condemns the capitalist system, and so do I. But whereas he finds fault with the employer-employee relationship, in that the employer “exploits” the workers, and he recommends that all businesses be worker-owned and operated; I, on the other hand, do not find fault with this. It is a normal human desire to seek profits, or a better deal whenever possible. So, an entrepreneur takes advantage of the situation as best he can. And if he does not, his competitors will.

The root evil of capitalism — which is really a political system — is that politically it bars people from using land for free for subsistence. Not having such free access to subsistence land, drives people to becoming either employers or employees, depending on their capabilities and good fortune.

I am surprised that Wolff, who claims to be a Marxist economist, does not find this truth in the writings of Marx. It is there in Chapter 26: “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation” of Capital.

Why I am a political pessimist

The primary reason that I am a pessimist is that from a Martian point of view the trajectory of human history is towards an ecological self-destruction, and there is no remedy in sight.

There are proposed remedies, but the politicians — if they know them, either can’t or don’t want to implement them. As to the masses of people, they are — what can I say? — ignorant and uninterested.

Let me unpack what I just said. The world over — except for Switzerland — executive power is in the hands of single individuals. These individuals are either dictators (or monarchs), or presidents, or prime ministers. In the case of macro liberal democracies — in which thousands or millions vote — both the president and the parliaments are in the hands of the rich. Why? Because it takes advertisement to win elections where thousands and millions are voting. And advertisement takes money which is contributed mostly by the rich. And the rich will support only a candidate that will be beneficial to them. And, as in the United States, we can see that all the Presidents have served the rich. And the trajectory for the future is more of the same: Biden or Trump. Go ahead pick the lesser of your two evils!

With Prime Ministers, the situation is equally dismal. Remember that parliamentarians too have to be elected by thousands or millions of voters; so, they too will predominantly represent the interests of the rich. And the Party with the most members will pick the Prime Minister — obviously he or she will serve the interests of the rich. Take note of Great Britain: Thatcher, Blair, May, Johnson.

What could change these political trajectories? A change, for example, towards Swiss style democracy. But is it in the offing? I am afraid not.

I come now to the masses — the voters. The masses are pessimistic as to any influence they may have on politics; so, many don’t bother voting. Of those who vote, I think that they too are disillusioned, but feel that they must choose the lesser of the evils.

As to my proposal about Switzerland, how many voters even know that there is such a country? And even if they have heard of it, can they locate it on a map? As to knowing what kind of government Switzerland has . . . Ask first if they know what a government is!

What is needed is a change in the system of governments. But such changes in the system of governments occur only rarely, and under starvation or chaotic situations. The so-called recent “revolutions” have not been more than changes in leaderships. And, as far as ordinary people are concerned, changing leaders is a revolution. Consequently, even if conditions become dire, people will clamor for a leader savior. And that is why I am a political pessimist.

Reflection on recent demonstrations

I am neither a sociologist nor a historian, but when I reflect on the various types of demonstrations and rebellions in history they seem to have a limited range of causes.

As I watched on the Internet the various demonstrations in the United States — on the face of it — as protests against police brutality — specifically, in the killing of George Floyd — a few things came to mind.

The first is why did people go out to demonstrate? And the answer cannot be simple. It is a mixed bag. On the one side, the killing of George Floyd was a spark or catalyst that ignited the the frustration of people not only with police brutality, but also with the government, and the whole politico-economic system.

There are a host of very poor young people who took to demonstrations in righteous indignation, but also for the excitement, for the violence, and for the looting. The fact that these demonstrations were widespread in the United States, and in some places even in the world, is a symptom of economically and politically repressed populations.

This Covid-19 pandemic has created an unemployment situation equal to the Great Depression of 1929. In addition, the attempt to control the pandemic with a lockdown has frustrated people’s social feelings — that is why coming out and risking infection seemed to many a secondary concern.

And what is the response of the government?

In some better form of government, the response should be to alleviate the causes, but in the present form of government the response is to the symptoms: to quell the demonstrations.

And the response, as it is, is inconsistent because, to begin with, there are mayors, governors, and the president. And it is obvious that President Trump has a dictatorial streak when he warned the mayors and governors that if they don’t restore order, he will send in federal troops.

However, there is a wider underlying tension within the government. On the one hand, which was evident in Obama’s presidency, in having the greatest number of arrests of whistleblowers; this is the effort to safeguard a knowledge of government activity from the public, which, as such, is an expression of a resentment of democracy. This same mentality wants to suppress as much as possible demonstrations and popular unrest.

So there is a tendency to militarize the police with better protection and better weapons. But, on the other hand, there is the propaganda rhetoric of the United States as the land of freedom: the right of assembly and expression of grievances. The result is an ambiguous stance towards protests and demonstrations.

Now, historically protests and riots have had little impact on the major policies of the United States government: as with the Covid-19 disease, they have resulted in mostly emergency anodynes for the symptoms.

Thousands around the world protest George Floyd’s death in global display of solidarity, June 1, 2020.

The difference between Yuval Harari and me

Harari pays lip service to ecological collapse. His vision of the future is an optimistic one of capitalistic progress, of some kind of global federalism or empire, and of technological progress — especially towards a cybernetic dream. And when he talks about education — he anticipates a computerized world with an uncertain job market — but a world where there are jobs.

I, on the other hand, am more pessimistic. I see a world which is overpopulated and with fragile city structures, totally dependent on technologically operated capitalist governments and markets. And I anticipate that these systems will collapse. The education that is needed — when collapse occurs — is a sort of back to nature training — covered by such books as: