Will the Real FSP Please Stand Up?

February 10, 2010

So you have the Free State Project in New Hampshire. But is that really maximizing the chance for change towards a free society in our lifetime? I think that instead of running off to the wilderness, liberty lovers should go where they are most needed. Take California, for example. With each passing day, it edges closer to becoming a failed state on a massive, very public scale. Why not go where the void is forming so that “we” could try to…you know…fill it? What better place to talk about alternatives to the state than a place where everyone can look around and say, “Yeah, this shit doesn’t work at all, does it?” Why have trees and lakes when you can start with the capital of one of the largest economies in the world? Simples!

I call it the Failed State Project. No rights reserved. Attribution appreciated.

CA Government Burns Large Piles of Taxpayer Money; Resident Finally "Gets" What That Anarchist Dude Was Saying at the Coffee Shop Last Tuesday

12 Responses to “Will the Real FSP Please Stand Up?”

  1. Danny Says:

    That website is one of the best things you’ve ever done for me, Roman.

    One thing I’ve never understood is why anarchists often seem to look to the failure of the existing state and the implementation of anarchy as a desirable scenario. By almost any reasonable standard, it would be disastrous for the people affected by it, and for whose sake anarchism is presumably being advocated. I’m not saying you’re guilty of this here, but I could definitely see someone taking that sort of message from this post. Instead of a Failed State Project, why not a “Regulatory Scaling-Back, Public Program Shrinking and Decentralizing, Imminent State Failure-Mitigating Project”? Is the goal to live in an ideologically pure rubble, or to ensure that the residents of California get to live their lives with minimal social tumult?

  2. Neverfox Says:

    That website is one of the best things you’ve ever done for me, Roman.

    You’re welcome but….what do you mean? What website?

    One thing I’ve never understood is why anarchists often seem to look to the failure of the existing state and the implementation of anarchy as a desirable scenario.

    You’re wondering why anarchists would want no archy? If you mean instant failure of the state and the ensuing organizational chaos, that’s not anarchism anymore than the state is. Anarchism is a system of voluntary social organization and dispute resolution. I know few anarchists (though they certainly exist) who advocate simply “pushing a button” and calling it day. I’ll add though that I think more things that we realize might not be so obviously worse if we were simply to remove the state instantly. But in general, I’d like to see states wither away gradually, or as Tom Knapp put it, “cut taxes from the bottom up and welfare from the top down.” As Kevin Carson said, ideally revolution wouldn’t take place “until we have reached the point where peaceful construction of the new society has reached its limits within existing society.” It’s California that’s pushing the timetable, not anarchists. I’m just trying to encourage anarchists to consider the urgent need in CA for some “peaceful construction” ASAP.

    Darian Worden wrote about this recently here.

    By almost any reasonable standard, it would be disastrous for the people affected by it, and for whose sake anarchism is presumably being advocated.

    Of course a quick vacuum of organization would be disastrous. I absolutely oppose “pushing the button” that would result in instant elimination of the state like some sort of Christian rapture (though there are plenty of things I would like to see stop immediately and we’ll be more than better off). But neither do I support any move that results in a net increase of statism. I thought it fairly obvious that the situation in CA is a bad thing for people but anarchists didn’t create the void that is forming. And I was clear about filling the void not cultivating one.

    I’m not saying you’re guilty of this here, but I could definitely see someone taking that sort of message from this post. Instead of a Failed State Project, why not a “Regulatory Scaling-Back, Public Program Shrinking and Decentralizing, Imminent State Failure-Mitigating Project”?

    Nevertheless, I would definitely say there has been some sort of misunderstanding. My only message was that the discussion about anarchism seems better suited to the current situation in CA than to some idyllic escape in NH. People are actually talking about what a mess the state of CA is and so it seems like a good place to start building alternative institutions because people are starting to ask the right questions. In other words, why not go where people are in desperate need of alternatives?

    The name was not Failed State Project because I think anarchism is about causing instant state failure (at least not faster than would mitigate pain and suffering) but because I think anarchists are most needed where states are failing by virtue of bad statist policy and offering, teaching and helping people live alternatives as a way of mitigating pain and suffering.

    Is the goal to live in an ideologically pure rubble, or to ensure that the residents of California get to live their lives with minimal social tumult?

    I would never advocate suffering for the sake of furthering ideology. I’m not sure what about the post implied some sort of “make it burn faster” approach anymore than sending doctors to Haiti implies a desire for more earthquakes. I was suggesting that it might make some sort of sense, in the moment where someone is rebuilding from the damage, to offer something other than a return to the same thing that caused it in the first place.

    I hope that explanation helped. I was surprised that you had that reading of it but I glad you made me aware of the possibility.

  3. Jim Davidson Says:

    I agree with Voltaire, tend to your own garden. Wherever you are is a good place to be free.

    Though, admittedly, many people don’t like to be where they are. I gather about 42% of Britons would emigrate if they could.

    My own experiences in NH and with the FSP people have been uniformly poor. I don’t think people like Ian Freeman have any respect for the individual right to self-defence. Jason Sorens seems to be enthusiastic about big government defence contractor companies building factories to make more death in NH – he said a few years back that he was thrilled, absolutely by the news that some corrupt NH politicos had “brought” these “high tech jobs” to NH.

    Withdrawing consent from government just got a whole lot easier. According to Dennis Blair, the United States has abdicated government here, placing all Americans outside its protection, and making war on them. Blair told the House intelligence committee (something of an oxymoron, eh?) that the USA can execute any American without trial, without evidence, without any process at all (let alone due process) on the strength of anyone in government deciding that American should be executed.

    Be well, live free, take choices. I think your choice to live free in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia makes at least as much sense as other choices.


  4. My experience with Free State Project folks has been very positive. Sure, many of them are minarchists who don’t quite entirely get liberty – so what? Those folks still have a lot to offer and are prospects for radicalization.

    There are at least 800 early movers and nearly 10,000 folks committed to moving, so taking issue with a couple participants is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are tons of highly principled, great folks in New Hampshire, and more moving all the time.

    From a point of view purely of personal preservation, I don’t think you want to be in a place like California where the local gangs are so hungry they’ll eat you for breakfast.

    In New Hampshire, the gangs have been on a limited diet for a long time, so liberty-loving folks have more room to spread their wings and less aggression to worry about as we build the new society in the shell of the old.

    Come up to the Liberty Forum in March and find out just how great things are going!

    http://www.freestateproject.org/libertyforum

  5. Michael Wiebe Says:

    “In other words, why not go where people are in desperate need of alternatives?”

    Pete Leeson makes a similar point here in the context of Third World development. He argues that most of the world’s countries can be indisputably improved by dissolving their governments.
    :)

  6. Danny Says:

    By “that website” I mean the incomparable http://www.comparethemeerkat.com, of course!

    I guess my concern was that even if anarchism makes sense on an abstract level (as you’re probably aware, I don’t think it even has that going for it), it nevertheless seems like it wouldn’t make sense for the current residents of a place like California. People who have grown up their entire lives under a welfare state are simply not going to be particularly happy in the absence of something very much like a state. If anarchists are interested in helping the people of California, it seems like perhaps they’d be trying to advocate for certain movements towards their own views — like decentralization of policy-making authority, reduction of the scope of certain public programs, etc. — but I’m hard-pressed to think that advocating a transition to anarchism itself would be constructive. Learning to live under a radically different political system is extremely costly, and even if the new system would have certain merits absent under the old system, those costs alone should seemingly militate against trying to make a shift like that on a scale as massive as California. No?


  7. Danny I only speak for myself, but anarchists I find aren’t out to rework other people’s lives. They’re out to rework their own and be free of other people’s burdens.

    Anarchism would not be radically different IMHO.

  8. Neverfox Says:

    By “that website” I mean the incomparable http://www.comparethemeerkat.com, of course!

    You owe me big time.

    If anarchists are interested in helping the people of California, it seems like perhaps they’d be trying to advocate for certain movements towards their own views — like decentralization of policy-making authority, reduction of the scope of certain public programs, etc. — but I’m hard-pressed to think that advocating a transition to anarchism itself would be constructive.

    Why assume this isn’t what I’m saying? I am, after all, one the record as a gradualist, the mantra being “net decreases in statism.” If we look at the FSP in NH, this is precisely what it is doing. In making a comparison, it carries with it an implicit assumption that it would be somewhat similar in approach. But I’m not sure why such a plan would have baked into it a predetermined stopping point somewhere short of anarchism. After all, if you were actually successful in chipping away over time, why would you suspect that the same residents who were initially “not going to be particularly happy in the absence of something very much like a state” would feel the same way after months, years, decades of gradual progress towards statelessness?

    The point I was trying to make is that if people are going to be searching for alternatives, then establish a voice and start offering up those alternatives, even if in a small area. Otherwise, all those alternatives will be statist ones and no change, gradual or otherwise, will be likely. “Trying to advocate” requires (or at least is aided by) being part of the community rather than being a far distant advocate. The only reason I thought that NH was somewhat less appealing for active liberty movements is that if it’s already so free (which is the argument some seem to be giving), who’s mind is going to be changed? If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around….

    Speaking of small areas and your comment about California being “massive”, I think that misses a large part of the point in another way. For anarchists, “California” as a geographic region has no privileged status as a whole. It’s also not at all assured that in the wake of a government collapse that there wouldn’t be some sort of fragmentation geographically (history supports that kind of thing). I personally imagined a FSP-like movement being concentrated in a small area, in the same way that the real FSP is mainly in Keene, NH. Start small and set an example.

    I think you got the idea that I’m trying to advocate for the instant and complete imposition (as if) of anarchism on the poor unprepared souls of California. If that’s the way my post comes across, I’ve failed at what was really nothing more than an attempt to compare two choices of location for people who have already decided to form a liberty-minded sub-community. It’s not clear to me that your concerns are a reason to avoid CA, which is really what needs to be shown here given what’s on the table. Unless I’m still misunderstanding you, it sounds as if doing FSP-like activities would somehow harm CA residents but I’m sure I see how. If you’re trying to say that anarchists in CA in the wake of a state collapse would be like annoying, unhelpful gnats not willing to be constructive or helpful and instead just engaging in unneeded civil disobedience stunts while people starve, or that they just want to loot from the misery of others, I think that’s unfair and mischaracterizes what anarchism is about.

    Finally, I never meant this as a way to claim my own interest in an FSP movement in CA in the same sense as the one in NH. The particular approach doesn’t really float my boat. But it does for many people.

  9. Michael Wiebe Says:

    I think you got the idea that I’m trying to advocate for the instant and complete imposition (as if) of anarchism on the poor unprepared souls of California.

    The way I see it, anarchy wouldn’t be sustainable if most people actively opposed it (as per Boétie’s Law). Creating an anarchist society just means convincing people to treat others in a certain way. As Gustav Landauer put it:

    “The state is a relationship between human beings, a way by which people relate to one another; and one destroys it by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another.”

    So because “imposing anarchy” isn’t a viable strategy, it isn’t a serious problem either.

  10. Neverfox Says:

    Well put, Michael. Anarchism is primarily and perhaps ultimately a normative position that needs no practical success to be valid. A call to anarchy is nothing more than a call to stop treating other people as your property; it’s an attempt to tip the scales in terms of the number of people in a community who value that principle, through persuasion and example. The rest, as they say, is just details.

  11. Danny Says:

    Roman, I don’t think I was accusing you of anything or criticizing your idea so much as just asking for clarification.

    The reason I assumed that you had something a bit different in mind from the FSP specifically is just that the FSP is (at least officially) oriented around securing a sort of sovereignty for the New Hampshire state government along with a reduction of its scope, whereas your proposal was built explicitly on an anarchistic goal. The FSP isn’t (at least clearly) based on the idea of “filling a void” or replacing the existing political structure with something else — it’s based on the idea of transitioning the existing political structure into a new form. Those at least seem like relevant (but perhaps superficial?) differences, though I definitely can see why you might resist the implication that your aims would need not be any more radical than theirs.

    My remaining concern is mainly that by identifying one’s project as “anarchistic” in motivation, people are probably going to expect certain kinds of things from it (i.e., advocating the implementation of anarchy) whether or not those expectations are justified or not. It just sort of comes with the territory, doesn’t it? Do you disagree?

  12. Neverfox Says:

    No worries. I only hope my responses don’t seem like they aren’t attempts to clarify. I simply might be failing to get the thrust of what’s unclear.

    First, let me say that I never intended this post to imply that there should be an actual organization called the “Failed State Project” with websites and an “anarchistic” identity. It was really much more tongue-in-cheek than that, though not entirely so. I just wanted people to consider the possibility that anarchists, to the degree that they have thought more deeply about how to solve problems in stateless ways, would be, to a place like CA in the aftermath of a state fiscal collapse, like disaster relief workers would be to place like Haiti. Sure, people are used to state-run hospitals, but you still send in the Doctors Without Borders. Taking that perspective obviously requires a view of anarchism as a positive force and I understand that one has to deal with negative connotations. But in the end, I would claim that the costs of change that you spoke of would have mainly been imposed on them by the state in the first place and that would be part of the message. If it’s not successful, I don’t see it seriously impeding or slowing a return to the state. What I wanted anarchists reading this to get was that if we accept that people have a natural tendency to rebuild the state in the wake of collapse (because it’s what they are used to) and, as anarchists, you believe there is an honestly better solution in statelessness, then perhaps there is more merit in attempting to alter or break the cycle (even a little bit) then just saying, “Those damn socialist hippies are hopeless; They deserve the government they get.”

    My remaining concern is mainly that by identifying one’s project as “anarchistic” in motivation, people are probably going to expect certain kinds of things from it (i.e., advocating the implementation of anarchy) whether or not those expectations are justified or not. It just sort of comes with the territory, doesn’t it? Do you disagree?

    I don’t think I do in so far as I understand. But I’m not sure why this is a concern. Are you afraid that when people see anarchists putting themselves out as anarchists that this will cause harm or make them feel threatened? Or is that that you think it would be ineffective in that people would be looking for help that they could take seriously given their proclivities for state solutions?


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