Saturday, August 13, 2011

Juan Cole's war on anarchism

As a liberal supporter of invading Iraq who apparently believed the Bush administration's rhetoric about freedom and democracy, and felt that bombs and military occupations would be the best means of promoting it, Juan Cole sure has a lot of nerve attacking anarchism as philosophy that depends "on a naive reading of social interest." And while I have my own criticisms of right-wing libertarianism, I can't help but note the incongruity of attacking folks like Ron Paul on the basis that their beliefs will lead to privatized, corporate warfare when the wars Cole has supported and continues to support depend on legions of private guns-for-hire and defense contractors like Halliburton and KBR.

Nominally about the recent GOP presidential debate, Cole's attack on anarchy -- from "anarcho-syndicalists like [Noam] Chomsky" to the aforementioned Paul -- is perhaps a sign that liberals like him are fearful the anti-state position is gaining traction, especially given the conspicuous lack of change since liberal savior Barack Obama moved to the White House. Indeed, that would explain why, instead of addressing the world we live in now, where a Nobel laureate is waging war in at least half a dozen countries with the help of an army of private war-profiteering corporations and their mercenaries, Cole focuses our attention on a scary future where, without the state, "warmongering corporations [could] pursue war all on their own."

"The East India Companies of Britain and the Netherlands behaved that way," Cole writes. "[And] India was not conquered by the British government, but by the East India Company. Likewise what is now Indonesia was a project of the Dutch East India Company."

However, while intended as a critique of anarchism, Cole's examples only bolster the critique of the state. The East India Companies, after all, were chartered by the British government, granted trade monopolies by the British government, and had their claim to properties, most of which were looted from poor foreigners, protected by the British government. And while I won't claim to speak for Ron Paul, most anarchists -- and it shows Cole's muddled thinking that he lumps "limited government" advocates like Paul in with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon & Co. -- don't just oppose "the state," they oppose the use of violence and coercion. It just so happens that states with their claims to a "legitimate monopoly on the use of violence" tend to be the greatest purveyors of it.

If in some future anarchotopia a private corporation -- let's not get into the fact that corporations are created by the state -- should wage war, then they would be acting like states and would be opposed just as vigorously. Indeed, to an anarchist the distinction between corporation and state is the same as a Christian's distinction between God and Jesus: though taking different forms, they're one and the same, the difference academic.

While Cole's fixated on a future of corporate war, he seems unaware that a world of Big Bad Corporations waging war on the world exists right now and that, rather than checking this aggression, the state is aiding and abetting it. Liberals can rail against Blackwater/Xe all they want, but in the end its Hillary Clinton's State Department that's giving them millions in tax dollars.

Speaking of oblivious, Cole writes:
Right anarchists seem not to be able to perceive that without government, corporations would reduce us all to living in company towns on bad wages and would constantly be purveying to us bad banking, tainted food, dangerous drugs, etc.
It's almost as if he's unaware we already live in a world where Goldman Sachs exists and where wages have been more or less stagnant since the 1970s. Instead of scaring his readers away from an anarchist world, he likely just left them wondering what the difference would be.

(My Saturday afternoon ruined via BDR)

33 comments:

  1. I think you're a little hard on Cole. Anarchists ARE naive, that's part of their charm. Cole is not saying he loves warmongering, he says that that is what governments do and that it would happen in a different form even if you somehow magically deleted government from the earth.

    Aside from giving Democrats a pass, what's wrong with this? (his concluding pgraph):

    Unfortunately, the Republican Party’s various constituents add up to a party of Islamophobia and warmongering (munitions corporations, Big Oil and Gas, right wing Evangelicals, Right wing Zionists, white nationalists). The anarcho-syndicalist theory that capitalism naturally produces wars and imperialism is too broad, but certainly some groups within capitalist society will plump for those opportunities. Paul is likely right about the sixth war looming.

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  2. There's nothing naive about fighting for a world free of violence and arbitrary authority. It would be naive to think the path toward that world will be easy -- almost naive as thinking powerful centralized states are the last thing standing between us and a world run by warmongering corporations.

    As for Cole's last paragraph, his description of the Republican Party is accurate, but ultimately of little value given that it's an implicit argument for the Democratic wing of the Islamophobic and warmongering establishment.

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  3. Juan Cole's naivete reached new heights with his support of the illegal, and foolish, US/NATO bombing of Libya. He naively thinks it is a humanitarian effort. This bombing, oddly, noting Cole's recent polemic contra anarchism, has sowed destruction, death, and division in Libya. US/NATO is supporting anti-state rebels in a Civil War. Juan Cole is with them!

    Amazing how his budding love for aggressive war fades in time. He loved the Iraq War until it became displeasing. Shock and Awe was a beauty to behold. But then the mass murder, torture, and corruption(sigh). Alas, Mr. Cole is an Imperial Aesthete. He wants his wars to be pleasing. As a refined ideologue, Cole supports state wars for corporate advantage, but does not wish to place the cart before the horse(That'd be ANARCHISM!). Corporations prefer the all profit no expense model of present wars. How this escapes Mr. Cole's analysis mystifies even the naive. Hasn't Mr. Cole heard the adage "Warfare is corporate welfare"? Know General Smedley Butler? Dare he even allude to naivete with his public record? (can't do accent aigus, me pardonne)

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  4. There's nothing naive about fighting for a world free of violence and arbitrary authority...

    Well...there kind of is. Violence is a human universal. States happen to be the predominant form that such violence takes in today's world, but it is the height of naivety to suppose that that means that eliminating the states (were that possible) would eliminate the violence. It would come back in new forms, which was part of Cole's point.

    You can check my blog for more musings an anarchism from a sympathetic but alas-it-cant-work perspective (there's also an approving cite of your posting on Ron Paul, FWIW).

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  5. Violence is a human universal.

    There's no disputing this. What distinguishes anarchism from other philosophies, however, is not a belief that violence can necessarily be eliminated, but that it must be challenged in all instances -- even when that violence is perpetrated by states under the guise of the law.

    In short: Anarchism, at least the way I see it, is an ethos, not a utopia.

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  6. Anarchists ARE naive...
    Jesus, all f-ing politics are naive. Especially democracy.

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  7. There's no disputing this.

    What?! Maybe you can take a minute to peer through your window. I myself don't see people attacking and killing each other 24/7.

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  8. "However, while intended as a critique of anarchism, Cole's examples only bolster the critique of the state."

    As does every other example statists use when trying to explain why society "needs" a group of people with the authority to commit crimes. Whether it's Standard Oil, the United Fruit Company, National City Corp., Brown Bros. or any of the others that have used government to do things they could not have done otherwise, there is a certain irony in someone using an example of the state being used to subsidize and legitimize crimes as the backbone of their argument that we "need" the state.

    "If in some future anarchotopia a private corporation -- let's not get into the fact that corporations are created by the state -- should wage war, then they would be acting like states and would be opposed just as vigorously."

    Not only would they be opposed just as vigorously but they would have no mechanism to make a profit. Waging war is a wealth-consuming activity. Without the state to coercively extract wealth from the masses to purchase bombs, tanks, guns, soldiers, etc., who would foot the bill? War becomes profitable to a few because the state socializes the cost of war. Look at what the invasion of Iraq has cost US taxpayers so far. From 2003 through 2006, the low number -- because it excludes all sorts of war-related expenses -- is $317 billion. For those same years, the company that got the biggest chunk of that money is Halliburton's own, KBR Inc., whose share was $17 billion. Would KBR start a war so they can hire themselves? Based on Cole's example, he's either intellectually dishonest or he's not much of a thinker.

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  9. "Violence is a human universal."

    Agreed.

    "States happen to be the predominant form that such violence takes in today's world, but it is the height of naivety to suppose that that means that eliminating the states (were that possible) would eliminate the violence."

    Strawman. In all my years, I have never heard an anarchist claim eliminating states would eliminate violence. In fact, the argument is usually the opposite. It's the statists -- those that think we "need" rulers -- that claim that because violence can't be eliminated, we need an institution that is authorized to use violence in order to protect us from violence. How is that for naivety?

    "What distinguishes anarchism from other philosophies, however, is not a belief that violence can necessarily be eliminated, but that it must be challenged in all instances -- even when that violence is perpetrated by states under the guise of the law."

    In other words, anarchists are people who understand that no one is authorized to commit crimes. Most anarchists know the state is unnecessary. All anarchists know the state is illegitimate.

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  10. Don't forget Cole's support of bombing Libya. The guy has a romantic view of military intervention, as you noted with his support of Iraq. Anarchists are no more naive than abolitionists were in their time, or usurpers in the time of feudalism and absolute monarchy.

    I am amused at the commenter who says he has explained why anarchists are naive, and then put forth several pieces of straw as a conversation starter. I'll offer up this 101 as a counterpoint.

    As for Cole, I would say he mostly is unaware. Priveledge does a funny thing, even when aware of crimes going on all around you, if you are unaffected, then they remain in the abstract and you can acknowledge them in one breath and then completely over look them in the next. I had a friend claim that our police are not nearly as bad as Brittains with their treatment of the underclass. He said this in spite of the fact that I know he knows a lot about the war on drugs and incidents like Oscar Grant's murder. Its all still abstract to him, so when it came time to explain why it (riots and uprising) can't happen here, that abstract information was easily put out of mind.

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  11. Anonymous12:25 AM

    From Cole's piece...

    "As Right anarchists, they want the least government possible, and see government as a distraction for businesses, who succumb to the temptation to use the government to distort the eufunctional free market. In essence, government is a scam whereby some companies are seduced by the possibility of manacling the invisible hand that ought to be magically rewarding enterprise and innovation."

    Does Cole think Ron Paul is an anarchist? You'd think that Ron Paul calling for open borders would have received some coverage on the internet. Second, WTF is a "Right anarchist" (and why is "right" capitalized)? Anarchism is as far left as you can go on the historical left-right spectrum. Then again, I guess if you consider Woodrow Wilson and FDR as "on the left" -- as Cole most likely does -- then "Right anarchist" doesn't seem as absurd.

    Cole should start with Carson's The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand but I doubt he really cares. If he did, he wouldn't have made such weak arguments in the first place.

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  12. There is a point where what looked like naivete begins to look like cynicism. Cole has long passed that point.

    He speaks fondly of interventions in the Balkans, he is one of the most belligerent advocates of bombing of Libya, he always argued against an immediate withdrawal from Iraq (even as he critiqued the conduct of the war), now I learn that he also supported the invasion of that country. He takes time off from arguing to have the US military kill people to try to dismiss Paul and Chomsky — far better men than himself — as unrealistic and not worth listening to.

    Yepp, I think I will posit that Juan Cole is not so much naive as he is cynical and evil, albeit in love with himself and convinced of the goodness of his heart. I think the above remark by Anatole as him being someone interested in 'Imperial aesthetics' is spot on.

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  13. Great post, great thread. Cole is an embarrassment, and I hope he embarrasses himself further by responding.

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  14. Anarchism as an ethos or ideal is something I have no problem with. But it gets tiresome to be nothing but oppositional, or to live only for a very distant ideal. At some point, you have to have some ideas about how to manage real-world conflict, from the kind of petty issues that go to small claims court to armed violence. Unless anarchism has answers for that, people will stick to the devils they know.

    And yes, it is states that commit almost all of the massive armed violence. So what? Oppose them in your heart as much as you like, or with civil disobedience, or with angry blog posts. Sometimes that works! But the state remains, and ultimately if it isn't strong it just gets replaced by a different state or set of states, or the kind of violent anarchy that serves nobody.

    Sorry, don't mean to be a downer. I share the anarchist impulse, but can't really share the vision any more.

    Actually the real thing that bothers me is how the anti-government rhetoric of the left from the sixties (that I grew up on) has been co-opted by the right and helps to legitimize it. Do you want to be on the same side as Grover Norquist, who wants to "drown government in a bathtub"? Probably not. But you are in effect helping him, and the result is a diminishment of the decent functions of government while the evil ones remain firmly in place.

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  15. Juan Cole's a pompous, statist, GooGoo cruise missile liberal whom "progressives" mistake for being wise, balanced and compassionate.

    Charles, you nailed it with this observation:

    Cole's attack on anarchy -- from "anarcho-syndicalists like [Noam] Chomsky" to the aforementioned Paul -- is perhaps a sign that liberals like him are fearful the anti-state position is gaining traction

    Chomsky's not an anarchist. He's a zionist statist gatekeeper. Ron and Rand Paul aren't anarchists. They're minarchists.

    Juan Cole was only correct when he was angry at Bush-Cheney. Hell, who wasn't correct on that point?

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  16. mtraven,

    you're pretty courageous and fierce when you stare down those scarecrows you've built.

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  17. mtraven:

    At some point, you have to have some ideas about how to manage real-world conflict, from the kind of petty issues that go to small claims court to armed violence.

    What are examples where use of coercive force "manages real-world conflict"?

    But the state remains, and ultimately if it isn't strong it just gets replaced by a different state or set of states, or the kind of violent anarchy that serves nobody.

    Which "violent anarchy" has existed that does not involve some form of organization which uses coercive force, aka NOT anarchy?

    I'm more bothered by the use of pro-government rhetoric being co-opted by all wings of the establishment in order to legitimize its evils, which vastly outweigh the "decent functions of government".

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  18. Ochstradt: I have no idea what you mean, nothing I've said here could possible be construed as "fierce".

    ergo asks: What are examples where use of coercive force "manages real-world conflict"?

    Pretty much everything.

    If two people have a dispute about a piece of property, it will ultimately get settled by coercive force, either between the parties or by taking the matter to court and letting the coercive power of government make and enforce the decision.

    This is not to say that sometimes compromises can be reached without resorting to force. But it is the implicit threat of force that underlies all property claims, without which a modern society can't really function.

    I say this as someone who in my younger days dreamed of a kind of anarcho-socialist utopia. But then I figured out that until you can breed the assholery out of the human species, such schemes aren't really workable.

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  19. mtraven,

    the key to my observation about you is the scarecrows you built.

    The "fierce" characterization is hyperbole, satire, sarcasm. You're about as fierce as a puddle of goo.

    But you sure impress yourself as bravely assessing a straw-man version of pseudo-anarchism, which you suggest is the same as anarchism. You sound a lot like Chris Hedges, who recoils at that thought of anarchism like a cartoon housewife shouting "EEK!" and jumping onto a chair when she sees a little mouse.

    Okay, you're afraid of anarchism and you hide behind a gross general statement that it's "unrealistic." Instead of fleshing out this "unreal" quality, you simply dance around like Ben Vereen wearing tap shoes.

    I suppose we're supposed to be either impressed with your refusal to be pinned down, or amused by the irony of your pretending to be a critic, yet not criticising what you pretend to examine.

    I just find it pathetic, but really, pathetic is standard fare in e-discussions, where posing and preening makes up 95% of people's posted words.

    Or, in your case, 100%.

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  20. in my younger days dreamed of a kind of anarcho-socialist utopia. But then I figured out that until you can breed the assholery out of the human species, such schemes aren't really workable

    straw man built, straw man destroyed.

    bravo, fierce warrior! attack those windmills, don Quixote!

    clearly, the solution to Person A disagreeing with Person B is an elaborate State with punitive bureaucracies. I mean, that's the ONLY solution ANYONE can see!

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  21. Since there are not very many real anarchist societies to draw evidence from, anything said about them is so much straw. If some dude with a blog has invented a system that purports to allow people to get along without a government while maintaining the necessities of a 21st century civilization, that's really nice, but until it's been put into practice, it doesn't prove much of anything.

    As I said on my blog recently, I suspect that anarchism functions much like religion for some people, which helps explain why they get so pissy if their fundamental belief system is challenged. Arguments about religion are pointless, so please continue to worship at the church of your choice.

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  22. If two people have a dispute about a piece of property, it will ultimately get settled by coercive force, either between the parties or by taking the matter to court and letting the coercive power of government make and enforce the decision.

    So your solution for a property dispute is an independent third-party empowered to make an impartial judgment. Not likely to get that from the modern state! Just look at the foreclosure situation here today. Here is a mass problem of property disputes and what is clear is that the Law is used as a tool by immense financial interests against the powerless.

    Look, I can't stop two people from killing each other over a piece of land. But what you are positing as a solution to this is a huge concentration of power with not only the ability to deal with such petty disagreements but also with the ability to go to war, a massive and far more destructive exercise in adjudicating property claims.

    maintaining the necessities of a 21st century civilization

    This needs elaboration and then justification as to how the state is the vehicle to maintain these necessities.

    Also it's not like power and authority have never been devolved in history. Please offer an example where the devolution of power was a mistake in your view, and we can evaluate it.

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  23. ergo, I don't think I ever said that the state was "impartial". The law has pretensions to impartiality, occasionally achieves it, and more often is on the side with the most resources. I tend to think that despite its flaws, that is better than utter lawlessness, where the winner is *always* the side with more resources (and yes, there may be other alternatives, but I haven't found them very convincing).

    You'll have to start off with examples of devolution. The only ones that come to mind are breakups of empires due to war or internal collapse. Such breakups are never pretty, and its unclear if they are improvements or not (the Roman empire was brutal, but was the disarray of warring tribes and kingdoms it left behind any better?) I don't think it is meaningful to label such things "mistakes", as if somebody just made a wrong choice somewhere. It's part of the dynamics of history.

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  24. I tend to think that despite its flaws, that is better than utter lawlessness, where the winner is *always* the side with more resources

    How is that not what we have now? When is this not the case? When some poor guy on Judge Judy wins a $200 claim against his landlord? When some rich dude spends $100,000 on attorneys in a vain attempt to beat a murder rap? The state is really the best mechanism you can think of to deal with these issues?

    Empires are the perfect argument for anarchism, and for devolving power sooner rather than later. (Full Disclosure: I came to anarchism from anti-imperialism.) Because empires are concentrations of power that unsustainably amass more power to themselves until they collapse, usually violently, and with long-term negative consequences. A state, once empowered, will seek greater power. The larger ones tend to be the most violent. How do you limit this unjust use of violent power? Via the state? Or do you just say, oh well, it would be worse without it. Meanwhile how many millions of people are we killing and incarcerating?

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  25. The breakups of empire are remembered as especially tragic and ugly by the people who stood to lose the most from their break up. I expect that if Donald Trump's reality show got cancelled, his autobiography would record that cancellation as a tragic event in a chapter, at least, possibly a whole section. Maybe a volume if he had a pliant enough editor.

    I imagine for the subjects, slaves and oppressed and other payers of empires wages, the story would be told quite differently.

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  26. How is that not what we have now? When is this not the case?

    Oh, it happens.

    I just watched the HBO documentary Hot Coffee, which is about the eating away of the right of individuals to bring torts against corporations. So the present trend is just as you say, in favor of the powerful, but on the other hand, at least there is a tort system that has worked in the past and still works on occasion to allow the weak to obtain redress from the strong. Without the state, or something like it, there wouldn't even be that.

    I didn't say the state is the best mechanism I can think of, but it is the mechanism we have. It seems like it is the responsibility of anarchists or anyone else who wants to change the system to demonstrate that their alternative is at least plausible and is better than the existing system. Reciting the flaws of the current system is not enough.

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  27. but on the other hand, at least there is a tort system that has worked in the past and still works on occasion to allow the weak to obtain redress from the strong. Without the state, or something like it, there wouldn't even be that.

    So if a repressive system contains within itself an avenue for pitifully minimal compensation for malfeasance--basically enough to keep a mob with pitchforks from burning McDonald's or whoever to the ground--then the forms of tyranny and power concentration inherent in that system are justified? Who grants corporations their charters. And backs them up with force of law?

    It seems like it is the responsibility of anarchists or anyone else who wants to change the system to demonstrate that their alternative is at least plausible and is better than the existing system. Reciting the flaws of the current system is not enough.

    I don't think the planet should be under the thumb of a hegemonic American imperial system. Now how am I supposed to demonstrate that the alternative would be superior? There is no Bizarro Earth to offer to people as a point of comparison. Is this a justification for the global garrison?

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  28. mtraven's just another pseudo-intellectual who likes to dance around ideas, instead of committing himself to something and following through with advocacy of that something, supported by reasoning and logic.

    I'm glad you found Charlie Davis's blog a great way to waste your time tap-dancing around, Ben Vereen EmmTraven. It sure is enjoyable for you to evade committing yourself to an idea, isn't it?

    I'd invite people to go read mtraven's blog and laugh at the name of the thing -- talk about self-impressed and pompous!

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  29. Everything I've written here has been perfectly straightforward. I think what you call "dancing around ideas" is what most people refer to as "thinking", but if you prefer to avoid it, it's no skin off my nose.

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  30. ...since liberal savior Barack Obama moved to the White House.

    Funny, I don't remember voting for a liberal savior. In fact during the primary, I distinctly recall thinking "which of these two corporatist dirtbags am I going to vote for?"

    So now I know!
    ~

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  31. mtraven,

    There's nothing "distant" or "ideal" about living as an anarchist, right now. Just because we don't have the means to abolish every state on the planet doesn't mean we are obligated to be non-anarchists. We also don't have the capacity to prevent every rape. That doesn't mean it's naive to live as a man who never rapes.

    What's truly idealist, and which also simultaneously pushes the resolution of human made problems out beyond the ass end of infinity, is the belief that people will behave nicely once they aggregate land, weapons, armed staffers, sanctity, wealth and moral sanction to behave for the good of others.

    What's truly naive - and I mean, stupidly, insanely, assclownishly naive - is believing that you can live another person's life if you aren't willing to also die his or her death.

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  32. "Right anarchists?" Y'mean, this doorknob Cole thinks there are anarchists on the right? Believe you me, gang, Ron Paul and the Paultards may be a lot of things, but anarchists they're not.

    Dude's fucked up. Sounds like he's developed his idea of what anarchism is from media images of Seattle and old Sex Pistols records.

    "What an ultramaroon! What an imbessle! What an ignoranamus! What a ta-ra-ra-goon-de-yay!"
    --bugs bunny.

    But, aaa-aaaanyway... anarchists, naive? Bite your tongue. Some of the most clear-thinking, realistic people I know are anarchists. Now, your libertarians, on the other hand, seem to be thinking about as realistically as Little Orphan Annie.

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  33. "Violence is a human universal."

    Getting in very late on this thread, so not expecting anyone to see this, but I had to say that the above is utter nonsense.

    As comments above have observed, take a look out your window and observe that not everybody is out there stabbing and killing each other.

    And beyond that, take a look around the world today and in the past and witness the near-infinite variability of human cultures. Some of which are characterized extremely low (to the point of nil in some cases) levels of violence and some of which are characterized extremely high levels of violence.

    Assuming you live in the US, as do I, I would advise that you not mistake the culture of violence that surrounds us with "a human universal."

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