Saturday, 14 May 2011

Apprehending The Thief

So last night I was sitting at the bar with my gin & tonics, my camera and a copy of "Civil Disobedience" chatting away with a couple of locals, when this dreadlocked guy walks up to the bar, sits down perpendicular to me, sees the book and strikes up a conversation. At first he comes across all smiling saluts as we move from Thoreau to the prose of eighteenth century writers, to Hitchens, to the size of U.S. government spending and debt. At some point I drew the "taxation is theft" equation to which he responds with..
"No! Property is theft!"
Proudhon's classic stolen concept. He even had the cheek, right after decrying the Lockean derivation of property rights as "arrogant", to offer me a reading list - I was urbane enough to let that pass. Anyway, by the time I challenged him to cite a single instance of either corporate or colonial exploitation which was not backed in some way by the State, he was cooked; he downed his Boddingtons, tried to evade the question, and then made his excuses to head off for the next bar.

I get this sort of encounter once every few months: it usually ends like that - the thief gets to leave empty handed, (and perhaps also empty headed and out of pocket) and I get to finish my gin and tonic.

Error correction: Proudhon, not Proust.


  1. I have this encounter with classmates occasionally. Usually the same ones. In the end, at least they respond, "Well, then, both are to blame!"

    So then it becomes eliminate the state, eliminate the market, or eliminate people. People--just too cruel! they reply. (I wouldn't think this only cruel but, rather, impossible.) Eliminate the market! they reply. Ah, but the Soviets tried (and failed mightily). But it comes to the state--Eliminate the state?--who would keep tabs on those evil corporations? . . .

    And the circle of stupidity continues indefinitely. . . .

  2. "But it comes to the state--Eliminate the state?--who would keep tabs on those evil corporations? . . ."

    Adam Smith of course - tell your classmates they deserve a slap from the invisible hand.

  3. The argument is always, "What's to keep corporations from simply becoming the state--i.e., from becoming coercive entities?" I answer, "Free competition." They counter, "Free competition has never existed." I respond, "Exactly." Thus we reach what appears a stalemate, but what is actually a victory for free marketers, since only the free market can offer something other than coercion. Ah, if only they could see what we see, Mike, the world would be a better place. But I think they choose not to see it. I can do nothing if that's the reality.

  4. "They counter, "Free competition has never existed."

    Then they clearly don't know how to conduct themselves in proper argument (or are simply dishonest), and yet they are somwhow enrolled in a Masters program at a "prestigious" University. I don't know... buy them some crayons or something.

    The source of the problem is the corruption of individualist ethics with collectivist ethics and the corruption of language and traditions of reason that was necessary to that. The next thing they'll do is throw Somalia at you - because they are not interested in thinking about their assumptions as to the necessity of the State. People like that are usually beyond persuasion, but others listening in might well go away and think about it or read something.

  5. What's to stop the free competition from becoming violent competition a la gang warfare?

    But anyway, why would they oppose eliminating the state? "Property is theft, anarchy is order."

  6. "What's to stop the free competition from becoming violent competition a la gang warfare?"

    A culture of reason and of course, the enormous financial and political costs - like Sollozzo says in the Godfather: "blood is expensive". It'd be far cheaper for all parties over the long run to seek to minimize the use of violence.

    "Property is theft..."

    Oh come on man, don't give me that. Look - what does the concept of "theft" actually refer to, if not to an act of making off with somebody else's stuff: somebody else's... property. That's why Proust's equation is fallacious - it's meaning depends on the very concept it seeks to renounce.

    "...anarchy is order."

    Only to the extent that it is an emergent order of market exchange based on property rights, together with all the requisite cultural ancilliaries.

    Besides which, property is not wrong in a sense broader than that fallacious "theft". It is the vital means by which social disputes among individuals can be resolved. Example: how can you resolve "externality" issues without first knowing who is responsible for the externalities (i.e. from whose property the sulphuric fumes are coming)?

    The left-wing "anarchists" love to talk like they're the real anarchists - and they generally get away with this "street cred" only because of the popularity of Marxism in the Universities, and the sub-Marxist attitudes prevalent among many in the "artistic community". Yet when faced with refutations of their Marxism, they draw a blank.

  7. I'm not supporting the statement, I'm just wondering why people quoting an anarchist motto would oppose eliminating the state.

    > like Sollozzo says in the Godfather: "blood is expensive".

    Yeah that's what they say but then think about what actually happens.

  8. "I'm just wondering why people quoting an anarchist motto would oppose eliminating the state."

    Laziness and/or dishonesty on one the hand coupled to the need for the State to abolish private property on the other hand.


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