1997-05-18 - Anarchy, society, government

Header Data

From: Kent Crispin <kent@songbird.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: b699b959dadfc0803d9d698538e1c088f18fa1c8c3bec9494d40b5ff88eee57c
Message ID: <19970518073639.23281@bywater.songbird.com>
Reply To: <19970514112959.12839@bywater.songbird.com>
UTC Datetime: 1997-05-18 15:00:21 UTC
Raw Date: Sun, 18 May 1997 23:00:21 +0800

Raw message

From: Kent Crispin <kent@songbird.com>
Date: Sun, 18 May 1997 23:00:21 +0800
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Anarchy, society, government
In-Reply-To: <19970514112959.12839@bywater.songbird.com>
Message-ID: <19970518073639.23281@bywater.songbird.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

On Thu, May 15, 1997 at 09:10:39PM -0700, Bill Stewart wrote:
> >> > That's not *my* definition, it's *the* definition, as described in a
> >> > standard, reputable dictionary.  I realize that you have your own 
> >> > private definition of the term, that you share with your friends and 
> >> > an esoteric community.  
> Sigh.  Calling something "*the* definition" of anarchy, when it's not
> the definition anarchists use, doesn't cut it.  I realize that 
> statists have convinced lots of people that "anarchy" means
> "a bunch of bomb-throwing terrorists are going to run down the street
> and kill your mama", but that's because they want to be in charge -
> or at least have SOMEBODY be in charge, since they don't trust people
> to act civilized without rulers who'll kill them if they don't behave. 
> Whether you think anarchism *will* lead to bomb-throwing terrorists,
> or in general whether it's a good or bad idea, is a separate argument.
> But anarchists _ought_ to own the definition.

I don't think so.  The fact is, of course, there are many definitions
for the word.  The definition I used might be called the "literary"
meaning, like the "anarchist" in the Conrad novel that always carries
a bomb.  It is a perfectly legitimate meaning, more common than the
specialist meanings.  But, having apparently stired up a hornets nest 
with a gentle tweak, I'll say no more about it, and be more careful 
around the hornets.

> One of your more interesting comments was on whether you can separate
> the concepts of society and government - a fairly common view of 
> government is that it needs to have a monopoly on the use of force to
> preserve order, and therefore needs to have tax funding to exist,
> and since you've got it around anyway you might as well use it for
> things that are easiest to do in a centralized manner, and to do
> things that require either social cooperation or lots of money;
> a society like that will find government intertwined in its civil affairs,
> and people will get out of the habit of organizing their own actions
> without using government as a focus.  Other societies have used 
> religious organizations to perform many of the same social functions -
> if everybody's getting together weekly anyway, might as well talk about
> the problems that have been going on, and raise the money needed to
> feed the poor and patch the meetinghouse roof.  And other societies
> have just done these things on a more individual basis, especially
> in sparsely populated areas where there aren't outside invaders.
> Of course, now that governments have taken over most of the world,
> it's hard to find a place without outside invaders...
> But people are still going to teach their kids what they need,
> and people are still going to keep most of their agreements with
> their neighbors, and they're still going to help each other resolve
> arguments about the agreements that weren't kept, whether that
> resolution is done by an armed posse, or by the offender's family
> paying off the obligation in cattle, or by shunning people until they
> do the right thing, or refusing to give credit to known deadbeats,
> or whatever.  Government's only one choice.

It seems to me that government is the only choice when the population
gets "large" -- that is, when an individual deals with substantial
numbers of strangers.  You don't just deal with neighbors and people
you know; you have to know some rules, and you have to be fairly
confident that strangers will follow them as well.  In particular, 
you need to be confident that strangers won't be violent.

Some years ago a woman criminal law judge from the Soviet Union wrote
an interesting book about the Soviet criminal justice system.  Your
first thought might be to just laugh at the thought, but Soviet Russia
had murderers, rapists, thieves, con men -- in short, criminals -- and
they had to be dealt with.  Many of the issues are the same wherever
you are -- what was the crime? What is the evidence? Who is telling
the truth? What are the laws and precedents that apply?  What is the 
appropriate punishment?

Criminal acts are a fact of life in every society.  In a stable,
relatively homogeneous society, I believe, a reasonable justice system
would always evolve, and that system would have a monopoly on
violence.  The population as a whole has a shared idea of what is just
and what is not, and the justice system actually provides it.  This
is, I believe, essentially independent of the political system. 

But back to "government" and "society" -- it's not that I think the
concepts aren't distinct -- like "anarchy", they are just words, you
make or use definitions.  What I was getting at was the reality of
things -- there isn't any clear dividing line where "society" leaves
off and "government" begins.  Leaves are a distinguishable part of a
tree; different kinds of trees have different kinds of leaves; but all
trees have leaves of some form or another, and if you remove the
leaves the tree will die.  And there is no point at which you say the 
tree ends where the leaf begins.

A cop has the authority to use force, but that cop drinks the same
beer we do, watches TV, reads the newspaper, etc; and his behavior,
including his use of force, is conditioned by all that social
experience.  At higher levels of government -- rich people hobnob with
congresspeople, presidents, and supreme court justices.  Businesses
have contracts to supply the US military.  Universities have contracts
to run government labs.  There are elections, initiatives, open
committee meetings.  All people who are elected or work for the 
government consume groceries and toilet paper.

Kent Crispin				"No reason to get excited",
kent@songbird.com			the thief he kindly spoke...
PGP fingerprint:   B1 8B 72 ED 55 21 5E 44  61 F4 58 0F 72 10 65 55