Posts by Neverfox

I Am an Anarcha-Feminist

Take some time out from your TSA protest or your next debate over the Lockean proviso to check your privilege, dudes. I’ll begin.

I am privileged because of my sex. I could choose to be defensive or learn. I choose to learn. I sometimes think and act in a sexist way and this is not compatible with anarchism. I can do something about it. I can not derail others trying to do something about it. I will repeat these words:

I, for one, hate men. Not all of them, but lots of them. And I hate them precisely because they act like men are supposed to act. I.E. because they are controlling, exploitative, rude, callous, and/or violent, just like they were brought up to be. I hate men who act like that and I hate myself when I realize that I’ve acted that way. I don’t think it’s because I’m a neurotic bundle of self-loathing or because I’m aiming to become one; it’s because I think that all of us men have a long way to go to break ourselves out of habits and beliefs that keep us from acting like decent human beings as often as we should. We grow up thinking that we have the right to do a lot of fucked up stuff and then we usually go on to do it at some point or another. Often at many points throughout our lives.

There are many men that I love and mostly trust but I love them and mostly trust them for the demonstrable steps they’ve taken away from the way that men are normally expected to act. And I’m doing what I can to help the efforts to change those expectations and those actions—in myself, and in others when I can reach them—but I can’t say I blame a woman at all if she doesn’t like most men or doesn’t necessarily trust our motives straight off the bat.

- Charles “Rad Geek” Johnson

I am an anarchist.

I am a feminist.

I will not choose between them.

It is not possible to choose between them.

I am an anarcha-feminist.

Filed under: Anarchism, Feminism, Left-Libertarianism Tagged: Anastasia Williamson, Charles Johnson


I just read a great post by George Donnelly on reciprocity and mutualization. So I got to thinking. There should be a whole school of anarchism built around these ideas. It just needs a name, like all good schools of anarchism. Something cooperative sounding, you know? Mutualizationism? Mutualizationarianism?


Filed under: Markets, Mutualism Tagged: George Donnelly

Grammar as Virtue

Seen today on Facebook:

[My] #1 grammatical pet peeve: when people say “literally” and it’s not, such as: “walking into my room is like walking through a minefield, literally.”

Calling Hyacinth Bucket!

To quote Charles Johnson at length (from another Facebook conversation in which he took me to task for choosing “you and I both” over “you and me both”):

I don’t think you’re misapplying the rule; but I think the rule itself is counterfeit rather than genuine English grammar, and that the results in this case are bad English…

The rules of grammar survive in a knuckle-rapping educational culture, but good spontaneous English tends to systematically disregard or violate them, especially in cases where following them would require you to say something really obviously awkward. To the extent they’re not actually honored in people’s un-self-conscious thought and speech, I think that such rules are not linguistic rules at all, but rather are serving a different, much more sociological function. Anyway. There are cases in which applying the counterfeit rule may produce something which just sounds stilted (e.g. “Billy and I went to the store”), cases where applying the rule would produce something clearly wrong (I think answering “Who paid for the pizza?” with “We!” would be an error, just as saying “I’m being picky today, amn’t I?” would be an error, although superficially more consistent with English conjugations than the correct “… aren’t I?”). To be sure, so long as mutual comprehensibility is preserved, the line between “bad English” in the sense of mere ugliness and “bad English” in the sense of grammatical wrongness may not always be that sharp a line, so perhaps “It was we!” or “You and I both” could qualify as borderline cases. Incidentally, I don’t know whether I think there’s really a rule governing the correct usage here; the simple rule is wrong, and if there is a real rule expressible in general terms, it’s certainly a more complex rule than I could formulate. In any case I think that grammar is often governed by virtues rather than by rules. For what that’s worth.

The same, I venture, goes for “literally” vs. “figuratively.” I think the rule my Facebook friend is implying in her frustration is a counterfeit rule. It’s all nice, neat, logical, and oh-so-correct but it’s not good, spontaneous English.

Jesse Sheidlower tells it like it is:

In the case of literally, the “right” meaning is said to be “exactly as described; in a literal way,” because that’s what the base word literal is supposed to mean. In fact, the literal meaning of literal would be something like “according to the letter,” but it’s almost never used this way. “He copied the manuscript literally” would be one possible example. So when we use literally to refer to something other than individual letters—to whole words, or to thoughts in general—we are already walking down the figurative path, and if we end up with people eating curry so hot that their mouths are “literally on fire,” how surprised can we be?

The trouble with usage criticism of the sort leveled at literally is that it’s typically uneven: Parallel uses are frequent and usually pass unnoticed. For every peruse there’s a scan (see my essays on these terms here and here); for every hopefully there’s a clearly; and for every literally there’s a really: Or did you expect people to complain when really is used to emphasize things that are not “real”? When Meg, in Little Women, moaned that “It’s been such a dismal day I’m really dying for some amusement,” she wasn’t the one dying.

The one sensible criticism that can be made about the intensive use of literally is that it can often lead to confusing or silly-sounding results. In this case, the answer is simple: Don’t write silly-soundingly. Some usage books even bother to make this point about literally. Then again, most usage advice could be reduced to one simple instruction: “Be clear.” But that would be the end of a publishing category.

So unless you’re answering your pearl-white slim-line push-button telephone with automatic last-number redial for the English department, go with Orwell and “break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” I, for one, hope I never hear someone say, “Walking into my room is like walking through a minefield, figuratively.” Gag!

Filed under: Miscellany, Uncategorized Tagged: Charles Johnson, George Orwell, Jesse Sheidlower

Trial and Error

“If we freed markets, we’d have equality.”

No, not quite.

“If we freed markets, we’d have the best chance at equality.”

Perhaps, but not quite there.

“There is a unity of virtue in pursuing equality with freed markets.”

Yes. I like that much better.

Filed under: Anarchism, Left-Libertarianism, Markets
Categories: Anarchism


So this man took the initiative to “establish property rights to abandoned land through [his] own sweat equity,” offered a service to willing customers, got rid of an eyesore, and hurt no one? And the response of the state is to call him a “transient” and put him in jail? (CHT Brad Spangler)

Why shouldn’t I take the message to be “We will not tolerate it when ‘poor people do the things that poor people naturally do, and always have done, to scratch by.’“? It’s almost like they want poverty, isn’t it?

Oh, and if you’re already an anarchist and you don’t grok why what this man did was OK, you don’t grok anarchism. I’ll take my licks.

Filed under: Agorism, Anarchism, Left-Libertarianism, Mutualism Tagged: Brad Spangler, Charles Johnson

Paine Remains

He had lived long, did some good and much harm.

- New York Citizen, obituary of Thomas Paine

It is without a doubt that I can say that Thomas Paine (through The Age of Reason) was the first real literary and philosophical influence to put me on the path to where I find myself now — i.e. an anarchist, though Paine was not but, at best, an early fellow traveler. That said, I have no great nostalgia for the American revolutionary period and there is much in Paine’s works to question and reject. But credit where credit is due.

He died on this day, 1809, without fanfare.

Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.

- Robert G. Ingersoll, Thomas Paine, written 1870, published New Dresden Edition, XI, 321, 1892. Accessed online at, February 17, 2007.

No one even knows what became of his remains. He was the Rodney Dangerfield of revolutionary politics. Me? Filled with gratitude.

Filed under: History, In Memoriam Tagged: Thomas Paine

Nanny State

It can be a very effective technique in debate to take your opponent’s statement and reword it to make your own point. Steven Landsburg shares with us what he would have written if he had been the writer for a New York Times article on New York State’s proposed minimum wage law for nannies (emphasis added):

New York state may soon become the first state to restrict employment opportunities for nannies.

The state Senate passed a bill this week that would prohibit New York’s approximately 200,000 household workers from accepting any position that does not include paid holidays, overtime pay and sick days.

Opponents say the step will bring unnecessary hardship to thousands of women—and some men—who have found employment because of labor markets that operate freely, except for constraints imposed by the federal minimum wage.

Yes, if only they wouldn’t pass this minimum wage law, we could get back to the free market. As Kevin Carson might say, “Jesus, vulgar much?”:

Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”–implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of “free market principles.”


See, laborers just happen to be stuck with this crappy set of options–the employing classes have absolutely nothing to do with it. And the owning classes just happen to have all these means of production on their hands, and the laboring classes just happen to be propertyless proletarians who are forced to sell their labor on the owners’ terms. The possibility that the employing classes might be directly implicated in state policies that reduced the available options of laborers is too ludicrous even to consider.

In the world the rest of us non-vulgar libertoids inhabit, of course, things are a little less rosy…

…the general legal framework (as Benjamin Tucker described it) restricted labor’s access to its own capital through such forms of self-organization as mutual banks. As a result of this “money monopoly,” workers were forced to sell their labor in a buyer’s market on terms set by the owning classes, and thus pay tribute (in the form of a wage less than their labor-product) for access to the means of production.

Charles Johnson understands the effects the state has on the labor market:

government-imposed distortions of the markets in labor, capital, land, and ideas (inter alia) artificially constrain opportunities for people to make a living for themselves, distorting the labor market to keep disproportionate power in the hands of a small and privileged class of rentiers. Without those market distortions, a law against paying workers $4 an hour would matter about as much as a law against selling pork-chops in Mecca — objectionable on principle, but mainly negligible as a strategic matter, due to a dearth of identifiable victims.

But none of this is to imply that I disagree with Landsburg about the destructiveness of the minimum wage. I’m nuanced like that. Charles again:

But as long as those coercive distortions are substantially in place, we do have to keep in mind how bosses will predictably react to additional coercive counter-distortions that are piled on top to correct for the predictable effects of the first distortion, without actually changing anything about the root causes. And with the predictable patterns of reaction in mind, and their current position of power within the labor market, I don’t think we have to turn into a bunch of vulgar Friedmaniacs or Misoids to agree with them that the effects of keeping, or worse, raising legally-enforced price floors on labor are going to be generally quite destructive, and most destructive to those who need most badly to find a place to sell their labor…

…in spite of fact that the anti-minimum-wage argument has mainly been promulgated with a vulgar libertarian tone, the thing for left libertarians to do in response is not to kick it back down to the bottom of the priorities ladder, but rather to take it up themselves and re-conceptualize the debate — to treat minimum wage laws and the rest of coercively protective labor legislation as of a piece with government licensure cartels, zoning laws, the health and building codes favored by the Public Interest and Private Property Values racket, etc., as an integral part of the corporate liberal system of coercive power, which coercively ratchet up poor folks’ fixed costs of living while coercively ratcheting down their opportunities to scratch up a living.

So, yes, Steve, it ain’t a good thing. But can’t we say so without also saying completely ridiculous things like “except for constraints imposed by the federal minimum wage,” labor markets “operate freely”?

Filed under: Anti-Capitalism, Economics, Left-Libertarianism, Markets Tagged: Charles Johnson, Kevin Carson, Steven Landsburg

Counter Culture

Allison Kilkenny writes:

The free market can’t provide solutions to many social problems. As Oliver Willis (sarcastically) put it, “instead of boycotting [the] bus, rosa parks should have been an entrepreneur and started her own bus service. let the market decide.” Therein lies the problem with Libertarian [sic] philosophy. Social minorities aren’t in a position to start their own businesses, and they are frequently at the mercy of state and private business policies. We can’t all be the CEO of BP. Most people live on the other end of the social spectrum, like the poor fishermen, standing on the Louisiana coast, waiting for the oil to hit the shore.

First things first. Repeat after me: Rand Paul is not a libertarian (or a big-L Libertarian, for that matter).

Next, a history lesson. Rosa Parks was standing up to state laws, not the bus company per se. It was precisely the existence of the government’s laws that prevented the free market from having any chance of working in this case.

It is no coincidence that there were Jim Crow laws in the pre-civil-rights South. White racists were unwilling to rely on voluntary compliance alone to keep blacks “in their place,” and this reluctance on their part was a shrewd one. The famous segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, were segregated by law, not by choice of the bus company. In fact, the bus company had petitioned, unsuccessfully, to get the law repealed — not out of love (i.e., concern for the equal rights of blacks) but out of greed (i.e., the policy was costing it customers). So [libertarians] are quite right in thinking that racism can be undermined by a concern for the bottom line (though it would be naive to assume that it must always be so undermined; people do care about things other than money, and some of those things are pretty repugnant).

- Roderick T. Long, “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class”

Perhaps Kilkenny should quote someone else, with some other example, if she wishes to demonstrate how the “free market can’t provide solutions to many social problems.” Historical facts aside, I find it particularly interesting that Kilkenny thinks that boycotts aren’t themselves part of the free market. She seems determined to think of the free market as only the cash nexus. This leads her to imply that libertarian theory recommends, as the only solution, that Rosa Parks start her own bus company (or, if not Parks, someone or some group from the affected social minority).

Kilkeeny is right to mention that libertarian theory does indeed point to competition (but not only competition) as a potential force against discrimination. But she reminds us that, “Social minorities aren’t in a position to start their own businesses, and they are frequently at the mercy of state and private business policies.” I give her credit for being honest about the state’s involvement in creating poverty and putting up barriers against truly free competition, but I’m not sure how that helps strengthen her point, which ultimately seems to be that she’s in favor of state interference with free competition. But why must we assume that the competition has to come from the social minority in question? One thing a good boycott or protest against harmful cooperative ventures (such as racist businesses) can do is act as a signal to anyone and everyone who might be in a position to start their own business:

Such cooperative ventures are easier to undermine when there is free competition, because they create a large group of excluded people who have an interest in seeing that cooperation fail, and this group constitutes an attractive market for any entrepreneur interested in defying the cooperative venture.

To be sure, pressure within a selectively cooperative venture…may be strong enough to discourage defections. The racist, tempted by profit to hire the qualified black over the unqualified white, may think again when he realizes he will be subject to severe social sanctions from his fellow racists within the community. The pull of the bottom line can be quite limited in the face of social ostracism by one’s peers.

But that is precisely why I stress the importance of free competition. The beneficent power of greed in overcoming harmful cooperative ventures lies not so much in its ability to undermine the venture from within, as in its ability to attract cooperative ventures to outcompete the bad ones. The white racist who has lived all his life in Kluxville may prefer social conformity to profit, but if the resulting low wages for blacks in the Kluxville area serve as a cheap-labor magnet motivating Amalgamated Widgets to open a new plant in Kluxville, the folks who run Amalgamated Widgets may not care that much if the whites in Kluxville shun them; they already have their own peer group, after all.

- Roderick T. Long, “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class”

Finally, Kilkeeny sums up Paul’s position as, “Civil rights are a ‘red herring’ that should not be applied to private businesses.” This, however, is just another example of how easy it is to slide from the Civil Rights Act to civil rights full stop. Charles Johnson recently responded to a similar misattribution (“Rand Paul….won’t approve of lunch counters being desegregated.”). I’ll let him wrap up the post. Take it way, Charles:

Rand Paul is a liar and a politician. (But I repeat myself.) However, in the interest of fairness, I watched that interview, and he didn’t say that he was against “lunch counters being desegregated.” What he said is that he’s against the use of federal antidiscrimination laws to desegregate lunch counters.

The second position implies the first only if there’s no other way to desegregate lunch counters except for getting a federal law so you can go hire a lawyer and file a Title II lawsuit against the department store in federal court. But of course there are other ways besides that kind of bureaucratic bullshit. Nothing that Rand Paul said about Title II or Title VII would rule out the use of grassroots organization and nonviolent direct action, of exactly the sort that was already being used effectively to dismantle Jim Crow in towns throughout the South, when the a bunch of grandstanding white Democrats decided to rush in and take all the credit.

I think that what keeps people from needing to do sit-ins right now isn’t primarily government laws; it’s the radical shift in community norms since the Jim Crow era. (Also, the fact that business owners in the South are now much more likely to be black themselves than they were in the early 1960s.)

Enforcing a law like the Civil Rights Act isn’t free: it took a lot of hard-fought political effort to get it passed, and once it passed, it didn’t automagically erase all the segregation in the U.S.; rather, what happened is that some places immediately desegregated and others didn’t, and got sued. Eventually, enough businesses were sued that the rest decided it wasn’t worth the fight to try to keep their racist policies. But that happens with protests too: if direct action is successful in one campaign, it makes the next campaign easier, because fewer businesses are willing to fight it out with you, and eventually you start winning without even having to fight. (There are plenty of actual cases where this happened — for example, that’s how the NSM won the desegregation of all the downtown businesses in Nashville in summer 1960, even though they had only targeted a limited subset of those businesses for sit-ins.)

So, the question isn’t how you can get social change without a struggle (you can’t); rather, it’s what kind of struggle is the most effective and the most productive. But I think it’s obvious here that the most important thing that the struggle did was to change the culture in the South, so that Jim Crow was no longer socially sustainable; that is, black people became too pissed off to take it, and eventually not enough white people were willing to dish it out anymore. But what creates cultural change more effectively — fighting moral battles in the streets and neighborhoods? Or having to hire lawyers and dickering over a bunch of legalistic mumbo-jumbo in federal court? I think that the change of venue to court was at best useless from the standpoint of social change, and sometimes ended up stalling a social struggle by getting it caught up in expensive, slow, and complicated legal battles.

So, setting aside my Anarchist objections to any form of legislative authority for the moment (although I do also have those objections too, of course), I think that it’s just far more valuable to concentrate efforts on maintaining a strong social movement and a culture of solidarity, than it is to fritter away energy on political lobbying and trying to work through federal bureaucracies.

…the “mechanisms” that Anarchists have usually envisioned are free associations that work through social sanctions and direct action, not political courts or police forces. So if you want to make sure that businesses don’t discriminate (which I think is a perfectly reasonable thing to want), the kind of mechanisms you’d expect to see in an Anarchistic society to would be focused on holding the creep socially accountable, rather than trying to retaliate legally or coercively. That would be acted out through things like labor unions, community groups, grassroots campaigns of protest or direct action (like the sit-in movement itself), boycotts and strikes, social ostracism of the business owner, etc. Not statist mechanisms like threatening lawsuits or filing forms with some tax-funded bureaucracy.

Filed under: Anarchism, Culture, Law, Left-Libertarianism, Markets, News Tagged: Allison Kilkenny, Charles Johnson, Roderick T. Long

Mutualism in a Nutshell

Alex Strekal (Brainpolice) asks, “What is Mutualism?”

Charles T. Sprading’s 1930 Mutual Service and Cooperation provides what I think is a pretty useful answer (HT Shawn Wilbur). The following long quote is from the book’s forward:


Mutual service is action. It is an action that induces a reciprocal action in return. It is also doing something that needs to be done.

Mutual service is a reciprocal relation between two or more persons. It means mutual engagements or obligations. In philosophy it is the recognition of the interdependence of individuals.

Mutual service in a free association results in a harmonious relationship. This condition is brought about by identity of interests which produces a like-mindedness, or mutual understanding. Social order is obtained by agreement in fundamental social needs, just as discords are caused by disagreement in those matters.

In economics, mutual service means voluntary cooperation; a reciprocal interchange of goods; a unity of production; an equity in distribution; a production for use rather than for profit.

Mutual service is now practiced by voluntary associations of individuals, whose purpose is the establishment of equitable conditions through mutual interests and social rights.

The old legal codes provided for political justice, for civil justice, for social justice. But in addition to these, mutual service requires economic justice. Industrial justice is as essential to man’s happiness as are the other three. Intellectual, political, religious freedom is necessary to man’s happiness and advancement, but so is economic freedom, and its establishment will be accomplished through mutual service, or voluntary cooperation, which will be treated at length under its proper heading.

Mutual service in ethics might be described as an exchange of service between people with equal respect for each other. Real solidarity is established by a common nobility of sentiment.

The purpose of mutual ethics is collective human welfare. It is not self-sacrifice, but mutual service. It is a promise for a promise, a receiving and a giving; a mutual interchange of engagements or obligations; mutual assistance that is effective and preservative, wherein the servers are served.

The believers in mutual service might properly be called Mutualists, and that name will be used occasionally when necessary in speaking of those who act in unison for a common benefit.

…Any kind of a dictatorship would be in violation of the mutual service standard of voluntary cooperation. In a mutual service society, there would be no material or moral compulsion exercised by one set of men on another group of men through the power of one side, and the weakness of the other.

The believers in mutual service do not need to convert the whole world, nor even a majority, to their plan, to benefit by it. A small group can apply it to members. The larger, the better, but there is no need to wait for a majority, as political parties must, to enact their plan. Those who will can find other willing ones to put it into operation.

Mutual service means a working together for the benefit of all concerned. It means production for service, for consumption, and not for profits for one and loss for another. It pays to work for others if others will work for us in return. This is not sacrifice; it is mutual helpfulness and accomplishes much more for all than can be accomplished singly. It is social because it is harmonious. It means that we should be as loyal to our neighbors as we are to our family. The extended right hand of fellowship has often caused an opponent to drop a weapon and grasp that hand in comradeship.

Mutual service aids in re-establishing harmony between conflicting individual groups. It tends to the establishing of equity by abolishing disparities. Mutual service snatches the child from in front of the oncoming automobile. It impels the rescuers to enter the burning house, or launch the lifeboat from the safe shore. It stimulates beneficence; it mitigates disappointments, averts many misfortunes, softens the otherwise disastrous blows, and encourages the fallen to rise.

Filed under: Mutualism Tagged: Alex Strekal, Shawn Wilbur

The Disappearing Argument

In a new post, Gene Callahan expands upon his recent theme of “rejecting ideology,” particularly with respect to libertarianism. At one point in the comments, he made a statement that I found interesting:

Given the existence of people who disagree, the libertarian claim to be uniquely ‘non-aggressive’ is bogus — libertarians will not aggress against those who accept their political system, and will aggress against those who don’t — just like every other political doctrine.

Is he making a variation of the classic (and flawed) “argument from disagreement” for relativism? I wasn’t sure, but it seemed to me this might be the key to getting a grasp of his argument. I decided to ask for clarification:

So what? Are you implying that truth is relative? Is that what all of this talk about “rejecting ideology” means, i.e. that you’ve come to accept a sort of radical relativism about justice?

You’ll only see my questions here, however, since they were “disappeared.” There was a nice note left behind though:

Neverfox, you’re ability to follow a philosophical argument is obviously non-existent. Good-bye.

I suppose anti-ideology ideologues will keep the comments of those who don’t ask too many (or the wrong?) questions about their arguments, and will delete those who do.

Filed under: Anarchism, Miscellany, Philosophy Tagged: Gene Callahan
Categories: Anarchism