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Does a practical check against aggression exist?

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Goddard Elliott Lewko Posted: Mon, Oct 10 2011 11:29 AM

Aside from the question of how one introduces a voluntary social framework given the presence of incumbent state institutions, another question I've been feeling a need to find a satisfactory answer for is what methods there are to check against aggression that would not themselves be easily repurposed into iniating more aggression. That is to say, how one safeguards against the possibility that non-state actors will assume for themselves the powers and functions of a state. If I had to guess at it, I'd say that the notion of aggression is persistent in society as long as a person can come to the assumption that they're better off initiating force against another rather than cooperating with them in order to achieve their goals, but this doesn't necessarily mean that such elements need be influential enough on society as a whole to entrench themselves for the long term. However, I need input on the possibilities thereof before I can say that this is likely the case.

My first idea thereof involves the notion that it is disproportionately more cost-effective (if still a net loss) to aggress against others when one's standard of living is lower, as the scarcity of resources combined with having less at stake better enables thoughts to justify such acts against others in order to get by. In comparison there would be virtually no reason to think along these lines in a hypothetical post-scarcity society on the grounds that you can't derive any more physical wealth from another than you could have obtained yourself, while the consequences of making an enemy in such a scenario puts you in a rather tight spot should your reputation get out. This however I don't feel accounts for crimes of passion motivated by non-physical valuations, and it might be hard to demonstrate, if accurate, that increases in the standard of living in the real world have contributed to less aggression on the whole in the world, so I would have to wonder if this assertation is sufficient by itself.

A similar but not quite identical thought to the above is the idea that cooperation can be demonstrated to be more productive than competition and aggression, making the challenge primarily one of education rather than having to safeguard against individual tendencies. No one who consistently reasons that they can better achieve their goals by voluntary means is going to turn around and aggress against people to get what they want, since by their own reasoning such actions would only hamper the obtaining of their goals. The main challenge to this notion however, is whether it's possible to prove the superiority of cooperation over aggression, and if so whether there are any false positives, instances where it seems aggression paid off over an alternative course of action, that cannot be adequately explained within this framework.

Whether or not I'm in the right ballpark with my ideas there, as well as further input on the notion of safeguarding voluntary society, is much appreciated.

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I would add that it is much harder to use aggression against people who think they are being wronged than against people who think the act is legitimate.

I think the belief of most people in moral righteousness of their states is the main reason allowing the current states' aggression.

Kings used religion to claim their divine right to rule, modern rulers use more subtle means.

May I suggest Schelling's the Strategy of Conflict, which introduces the concept of focal points? Stateful world is the current focal point.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Oct 10 2011 2:50 PM

h/t to Nielsio...

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I would add that it is much harder to use aggression against people who think they are being wronged than against people who think the act is legitimate.

Actually, that does remind me of a tendency I've observed in casual debates over the past few days, especially in light of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. For the most part I find that people I've talked to are pretty good at identifying and decrying acts of aggression committed by non-state actors, since these are almost never assumed to be legitimate. That these same people do not readily identify similar or even otherwise identical aggressions by individuals within the state apparatus however, or to view them as somehow less wrong, is telling in the role that the assumption of legitimacy has in enabling the modern state to achieve the goals of its connected elite. That this assumption is challenged may prove key in assessing how individuals can organize through voluntary means instead.

Thank you for the reading suggestion, by the way. I'll be sure to give it an examination.

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Wheylous replied on Mon, Oct 10 2011 4:20 PM

To have a solid AnCap society you would need a public which believes in the NAP. Notice that the police in the present day is generally docile given the demands of the public/the other they swore. Hence, if you have a society which believes in the NAP, the society would naturally rise against anyone who tries to initiate aggression, galvanizing the police force to side on its side, and preventing the aggression.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Oct 10 2011 4:43 PM

To have a solid AnCap society you would need a public which believes in the NAP.

Actually, I don't think this is true. I think you only need society to not disbelieve NAP in the case of one special monopolist (the State). In other words, people could generally reject or disbelieve NAP so long as they didn't assign a particular power of aggression to a single agent and there could still be a society in which private law could flourish. The problem isn't that people generally accept aggression as legitimate (they don't), it's that they accept aggression in one particular case as legitimate. Making NAP-belief stronger won't help as long as that special exception clause is there and if the special exception clause were eliminated, it wouldn't matter even if large blocs of the public didn't personally hold to NAP.

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Wheylous replied on Mon, Oct 10 2011 5:08 PM

Then different parts of the public would believe in different legitimate aggressions. Wouldn't this lead to sectarian violence? Or do you think that the most free system would flourish most and naturally attract the other systems?

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Clayton replied on Mon, Oct 10 2011 5:23 PM

Then different parts of the public would believe in different legitimate aggressions. Wouldn't this lead to sectarian violence? Or do you think that the most free system would flourish most and naturally attract the other systems?

In the limit, everybody believes in legitimate aggression... consider yourself starving in the streets with no chance to earn an income through legal means; will you really starve to death rather than steal? While you might feel bad or believe (in some abstract sense) that "it is wrong", you'd still do it and if you lived as a result, you would feel that you had made the right choice on balance, however guilty or shameful the memory of the act itself may make you feel. 

Special-pleading is pervasive. People stand ever-ready to apply a different moral standard to themselves than they generally apply to others. The problem of the State arises from the alignment in many individuals of this special-pleading in the direction of a single, omnipotent agent. In other words, it is the State that requires a careful organization of the ideological content of people's minds, not the other way around. Statelessness can exist with any sort of values being held by the public-at-large, except for that one special situation where everybody agrees that the State has the legitimate power to aggress against anyone and everyone. As long as that ideology is not rooted in many people's minds, statelessness follows naturally.

As for how values improve over time, it's the same way that technologies or food recipes or business practices improve over time... through imitation of the successes of others. In fact, that is how the political means has become self-reinforcing in American culture. Everybody knows that if you want to really get ahead, you need to get in on some kind of special legal loophole or get some unspoken support from an angel in Congress (always in exchange for something or other, of course). So, the political machine becomes self-reinforcing and goes into positive feedback mode (like the squealing of a speaker when a microphone is held too close). This is how politics actually corrupts society.

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Malachi replied on Mon, Oct 10 2011 5:30 PM

Thank you for your insight, Clayton.

Keep the faith, Strannix. -Casey Ryback, Under Siege (Steven Seagal)
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