State Formation in the Interest of Present Value

Regardless of the exact mechanism of modern state formation, be it differing modes of production (Hechter and Brustein, Regional Modes of Production and Patterns of State Formation, 1980), racketeering and war-making (Tilly, War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, 1985), or dynastic lordship (Sharma, Kinship, Property, and Authority, 2015), the impetus for ceding power to a trusted third party is always to serve as a hedge in the face of evolving power dynamics among competing elements of the bourgeoisie. In other words, when Marx said “the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (The Communist Manifesto), the claim wasn’t reductionist, as Mann alludes (Mann, The autonomous power of the state, 1984). It was simply correct.

To begin, no one would willingly cede authority nor sovereignty over themselves to another party. This is only ever done for fear of violence, whether that be an act of aggression or societal reprisal. Such cession occurs solely when one perceives the present value of avoiding violence is greater than the opportunity cost of ceding sovereignty. Thus arises the theory of alliances of protection, which is the crux of most arguments regarding state formation.

But the protection of what? The answer is the means of production.

It must be understood that, initially, everyone owned some means of production. This is not to say that they owned merely their own labor, as most do today. It is to say that they owned some means of production over and above their labor. They owned the arable land or the hunting grounds. They owned their labor, as all do, but in addition, they enjoyed access to the material that production requires, and they owed no tribute for it.

Moving through the stages of enclosure and capital accumulation and the alliances of protection and tribute schemes that stemmed from them, we arrive, ultimately, at a point where all the means of production, every acre of land, is in the possession of someone. Another uneasy alliance arises, between those that own the means and those that know how to merchandise and finance. Neither wants to cede power to the other, but the present value of preserving the relationship is greater than the opportunity cost of destroying it. A tenuous peace, secured in law and maintained by a bureaucratic State, is thereby created.

That this might happen necessarily, as many might claim, is not empirically evidenced. The existence of functional societies in which no State arose, in which the cession of sovereignty was minimal, wherein all participants enjoyed relatively equal standing and there was little systemic incentive toward social mobility, such as those described by Hechter and Brustein, reminds us of this fact. State formation, then, is the direct result of capital accumulation and the willingness to leverage that capital against those with less toward the acquisition of more, to the exclusion of others.    

Nowhere does there exist today a State in which every member possesses the means of production. This, by definition, makes the State an instrument of the bourgeoisie, as it is the laws and bureaucracy of the State that enforce the property rights of those who own the means of production. For should some plucky proletariat attempt to avail themselves of those means, say by killing one of the king’s deer, they would suffer the wrath, not of society at large, but of the bourgeoisie at the hands of the State.

Peace As State Power

The making of war is integral to the formation of the nation state. However, upon closer inspection, it is found that peace-making is what truly gives rise to State power.

In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker touts greatly what he considers to be the substantive decline in violence over the course of human history. Of particular importance as it relates to the formation of the State is that Pinker attributes this decline in no small part to the State’s ability to obtain a monopoly on violence, which, given the context, Pinker sees as a positive. However, it should be understood that the peace achieved through the State’s monopoly on violence is a function of the State’s ability to suppress all competition and the pervasive peace that Pinker so fervently extols is in reality the manifestation of a total dominion.

The dialectic between war and peace lies at the heart of the State. As Frederic Lane put it, “governments are in the business of selling protection … whether people want it or not.” (Tilly, War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, p. 175). Even prior to the State, those strongest in the tribe provided protection to the weakest, typically in exchange for greater freedom in the selection of mates or a larger share of rations. At the dawn of modern State formation, “a local lord extended … the perimeter within which he monopolized the means of violence, and thereby increased his return from tribute” (Tilly, p. 185). Greater and greater land bases meant more capital accumulation, which in turn meant greater and greater capacity for war-making to further extend the territory of State control. This cycle of extension and accumulation continued, annexing weaker neighbors until the emerging nation-state encountered another State of similar aspiration with an equal or greater capacity for making war.

As integral as war-making is to the formation of a State, it is not nearly as important as the ability to create peace. The demonstrated ability to put down violence is paramount to the securance of State power, as it is precisely this ability that defines said power in the first place. Having a monopoly on violence requires that no other parties in the State’s territorial sphere of influence can engage in it. The increasing peace to which Pinker refers is a necessary by-product of that monopolization.

Here it is useful to extend the premise of “power as the capability for exercising control” (Soifer, State Infrastructural Power, p. 236) in saying that State power is contingent on the purveyance of peace. This is evident in the understanding that were the State found to be incapable of ensuring peace, it would not be accepted by its constituents as legitimate, for “if the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be. When and why do men obey?” (Weber, Politics as a Vocation) They obey only when they are provided protection against perceived enemies, both foreign and domestic.

While peace is clearly a desired outcome, peace as an extension of State power is hardly deserving of the term. Peace as an adjunct of the State’s monopoly on violence is not the same as peace as deliberate intent. However, it has been demonstrated that peace-making is as integral to State formation as its capacity for war, which leaves the door open to the possibility that humanity may someday succeed in advancing a state based on the one thing it really does have a monopoly over, that being self-restraint.

The Anarchist Charter

The fact is we must accept our anarchist state. There can, and should, be associations, individuals banded together in common cause, but anarchy is the default, so this is where we must begin. Not “you are a citizen of this country or that” or “you belong to this political system or that”, no. Our starting point is, you are a human being, and you are accountable to yourself.

Certainly, there is the family into which you are born, your tribe, your community. These hold and shape you until you achieve your majority. But they should not make any claim to your sovereignty. “Pledge allegiance to the flag.” Such demands are atrocities.

No individual or association can make a sovereign claim to the Earth or portion thereof. Any such claim is unsubstantiated, bordering on, not other nations, but the ridiculous. The oceans of air and water that encircle the globe affirm this truth. The inhalation of Asia is taken in conjunction with the exhalation of America. We are all inhabitants of the same world. The full extent of the Earth is held in common trust, for the good of all.

All nations, then, from this point forward, are rendered null and void. They remain, as voluntary associations, for as long as their constituents deem appropriate, but they hold no sway over the  emigration and immigration of peoples. Any person or group of persons retains the right to reside wherever they may desire, so long as there exists in that place the means to do so.

Abolished and rescinded is the privilege of any individual or association, national or corporate, to the private ownership and control of the natural resources of the Earth. Those who make use of these Commons must recompense their fellows for any said use. This holds as much for their instauration as their extraction. Payment for such use of the Commons will be entered into a global trust, and a share of these proceeds paid to every member of society on a regular basis.

All land will be relegated to its highest and best use, as indicated by the best available science. Soil, its conservation and regeneration, and the agricultural use thereof, will be the primary determinant in further land use decisions. Organic production, carbon sequestration, and the quality of air and water claim paramountcy, with all other concerns subservient to these considerations.

Of our current associations – social, politic, and economic – their sights must be set on realizing this state, and their agenda likewise. They shall not, for now, be disbanded, for over time self-determination will properly establish their reconstitution. They are, in fact, necessary to our cause, else they would not exist, a prerequisite of continued evolution. However, to them applies the above directive, and nothing less will be accepted.

The lives of the people are theirs, and their right to live freely shall not be impeded, in so far as the exercise of that right does not impinge upon the rights of others to do the same.

Let us set forth, clearly, the basic principles that guide us. That all are created equal, with equal right to assume responsibility for their own lives, to exercise that right to achieve their highest possibility, and, in doing so, contribute to the greater social welfare. That all have equal stake in the use of the Commons, which is the whole of the Earth, for their provision and subsistence. That our use of the Earth and the natural resources that comprise it be guided by their own organic articulation, which may be understood through observation, measurement, and deliberate reflection. That we minimize entropy while promoting diversity and regeneration in all our ways and practices. That we find joy and meaning while realizing our purpose as the stewards of life on Earth.

Let no individual or institution come between us and this intention.

Power Is the Problem, Not Privacy

Originally, this piece began as a response to Tobias Stone’s article Your Privacy is Over, but apparently, in addition to dark places to hide, Mr. Stone also enjoys exercising the power to squash dissenting opinions. And since responding to articles on Medium is really just a vain attempt to get noticed anyway, it’s probably best that I simply post it here.

If you haven’t read Stone’s article, please, give it a read (and some claps, if you’re into that shit). It’s super paranoid, defeatist, and great. For some context, I’ll summarize.

Soon quantum computers will be able to access and analyze everything about you, whether you posted it voluntarily or it was scraped from the giant Data Warehouse of Pervasive Surveillance in the sky. To quote,

“Not only will you have no privacy in the future — any privacy you thought you had in the past will vanish as well.”

While I agree that our current society is unfamiliar with such a paradigm, I struggle with the idea now circulating that privacy is the default, that we are somehow losing something that was previously inherent to the human condition.

In actuality, the reverse is true. Early societies lived almost wholly without privacy. And they were better off for it. In terms of a well functioning society, utter transparency is preferable to total privacy.

Now I grant that the situation to which the esteemed Mr. Stone alludes is a somewhat different dynamic than that of a small tribe of nomads. Still it seems that what he is really saying is that a tiny cohort of elite will be able to know everything about all of us, and that they will use that knowledge to their advantage. Which is an entirely different issue than whether or not complete transparency is a good thing.

The question then, in my mind, is not how we might conceal our imprudence, but who are these individuals and entities we’ve enabled to weaponize our own actions against us? And why are we allowing them this power?

Again, to quote Stone,

“Ultimately, everything will be tracked by the state, connected by ever more sophisticated algorithms, run on ever more powerful computers, until dissent becomes impossible and there is no escape. How do you oppose a system like that?”

By refusing to accept its legitimacy, for starters.

As Mr. Stone points out, this is the new reality, and it’s not going away. But it should be noted that these are our actions we’re talking about, and we should be accountable for them. In this sense, pure transparency is a benefit to society. The literal eye of God, motivating us to be the person we know we should be. It’s a mental construct humans have utilized for millennia, only made material. I’m not convinced I need to be afraid of it. And I certainly don’t believe that the solution lies in creating ways for people to avoid it.

In a Motherboard piece, Jason Koebler makes the case that we should, if not actively safeguard it, at least not naively cede our genetic code to large, centralized data stores. While this is generally wise advice, what it does more than anything is illustrate the real cause for concern. From a biological standpoint, our DNA is an immutable fact. It cannot be meditatively altered or changed, post conception, even if I wanted to. It is who I am. So why should I fear its being common knowledge?

Because someone might use it against me.

This is the issue we ought be focused on, not privacy. Why do we condone, if not actively substantiate, a society where such behavior is tolerated? A society in which these types of activities are not only allowed, but requisite and rewarded?

This is what concerns me, not the likely disturbing abstract of my personality that could be created from my Google search history. Surely any true friends of mine will grant me that minor indiscretion, and, in fact, already do.

This Election is Proof We No Longer Need a President

I have to admit, in the days following the election of Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States, I was depressed. Not that I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton, far from it — I waffled between casting my vote for Gary Johnson or Zoltan Istvan — but because I had always maintained great reverence for the position. See, I grew up in a time when being president meant something. The cast of my politics was forged upon the momentous statesmanship of Ronald Reagan, and my formative years were spent with the disgrace Richard Nixon brought upon the presidency still fresh in everyone’s memory. To this day, I have a 1968 vintage Presidents of the United States book set from American Heritage on my shelf.

No, what troubled me most about the fact that the electorate would even consider someone like Donald Trump, a mere personality, worthy of the greatest office on earth, let alone allow them to hold it, was the insult. The sanctity of the presidency was abolished with Trump’s election. His entry into the White House can only mean that we either subscribe to his primitive ideology, collectively, or we’re living in an idiocracy.

So considering neither of these to be acceptable, I was understandably shaken. Until I realized a third option. That the United States no longer has need for a president.

Now this is not to say that we don’t need a head of state, someone to serve as our chief public representative to the United Nations and other sovereign states. We do — though in that context Donald Trump is even less fit for the job. What it means, rather, is that we have finally realized our true capacity for self-governance. We no longer have need for a central authority.

To be sure, even the staunchest supporter of Donald Trump wouldn’t dream of ceding him power over their personal finances, let alone give him control over their lives. Their message wasn’t that they confer upon him any real confidence or defer to his judgement in any way. That wasn’t what they were trying to say in voting for him. No, the message America sent on Election Day 2016 was that they have no need for Washington D.C. whatsoever.

Personally, I am heartened by this realization, because, while being far from a globalist, I do see the world as a global community. Watching a clip on YouTube about the manned mission to Mars with my two young boys, I was emboldened by the knowledge that over a dozen countries are involved with the operation and maintenance of the International Space Station. With that level of cooperation in space, the likelihood of a terrestrial global military conflagration shrinks to near impossibility.

Indeed, it is only fitting that it was Hillary Clinton who placed the final nail in the presidential coffin, as it was her husband who cemented for Millennials an undermined confidence in the presidency in the first place. Nearly since birth, they have heard it disgraced, discredited, denounced, decried. The only holder of the office for whom they maintain any respect, Barack Obama, is more of a bro than an authority figure. He shares his playlists with them, Tweets, does interviews with Marc Maron and Vice. At least he can relate.

See the thing is, the generations of today don’t need a father figure telling them who they can date, or what they can spend their money on, or that they need to go to war anymore. Each generation since the Baby Boom has become more autonomous, more independent, more confident in their own capacity for self-determination. We don’t need a bunch of old white men, condescending coastal elites, or moneyed power brokers determining the future for us. We didn’t need Donald Trump, and we sure as hell don’t need Joe Biden.

In fact, we don’t need to be governed at all.

Don’t fret friends. We got this.

Gitmo

Some time ago, I was contacted by Montana Senator Steve Daines with an email entitled “Keep Guantanamo Open”. I was so appalled by the worldview presented in this letter that I felt compelled to share some thoughts and clearly communicate my position on the matter of Guantanamo Bay in particular and national security in general.

Ethics, honor, and human decency demand that we close this facility immediately and return those detained therein to their respective nations, for trial there, if their countries deem it appropriate, or for extradition to the United States if they face criminal charges in this country, as provided by international law.

Furthermore, while I have your ear, please allow me the opportunity to clear up a misunderstanding in regards to some “values” Senator Daines and others have ascribed to me and purportedly uphold.

I, for one, do not spend my life in fear of any nation or ideology on earth, and therefore do not need to be made secure from them. To echo Eisenhower, the advent of the nuclear option ensures there can never again be a conflict of any scale on this planet, and these wasted efforts on the part of Senator Daines and others in the maintenance of a military state are rooted in a worldview that has long since passed being relevant.

To illustrate my point, let us consider for a moment the world that such people imagine and contrast it with reality. Where again do they find this overt military threat? It simply does not exist. At best there is a cultural threat, a poli-economic threat, but there is no military threat, and, I would argue, no real threat at all. No power in the world today is going to march against another, intent on commandeering the rest by force. Such talk is preposterous.

Let us take our thought experiment even further. What if the United States was to abandon its military position completely? What is the worst that would happen? Every country on earth aspires to emulate our success. Are they going to attack us? Enslave us? We buy their goods, we innovate advances that improve their lives, we are a model of freedom for the world. What nation is going to march against and supplant us?

Who could? So what if they did? Is there something so different about Chinese or Russian life that would fundamentally change how we live? Are there people in the developed world who actually believe there are sovereign nations bent on foreign conquest? To even ask the question is to appear ridiculous.

Imagine now the alternative. What if we were to eliminate all borders and allow people to freely move about the earth? What if we were to train every single person in their own defense and limit the use of military force to the protection of human and legal rights? What if we were to work in concert rather than discord? How would such a world differ from that of today?

To move forward, we must accept that, ultimately, the peoples of the earth will live in peaceful coexistence. This is an absolute inevitability. The sooner we can align ourselves with this reality, the better off we all shall be. 

In doing so, we must become open and accepting of other modes of living and realize that violence alone is our enemy. We can no more expect the other peoples of the world to bend to our will than we should bend to theirs. Surely there may be conflict and resolution as competing forms of poli-social-economic systems vie for primacy, but there need not be violence. Violence assumes resistance, and nature does not allow resistance to prevail. It is, in fact, futile. It will be overcome.

Recently I posed this question to a dear friend: “How do we move from where we are today to Star Trek?” I was disappointed by his response.

“How do we get there? Through competition. Nations competing against each other to be the first to gain advantage.”

That doesn’t sound like something Captain Kirk or Picard would say. It sounds more like the type of rhetoric I would expect to hear from Hitler, or perhaps Steve Daines.

Addendum:

The United States has occupied Guantanamo Bay Naval Base continuously since 1898. If that doesn’t put the artifice of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis into perspective, I don’t know what will.

A reasonable argument for competition from Robin Hanson – Long Views Are Competitive. However, I still believe what makes humans unique is inscribed in our ability to act contrary to our interests, and our further evolution contingent upon transcending this apparent need for competition.