Author: Johnny Tisdale

Technological Progress, Self-Reliance, and Cyberdelics

It’s pretty crazy how much knowledge modern humans have acquired, right? We have long surpassed the final moment at which the sum of our knowledge was manageable enough to be grasped by a single individual. Henri Poincaré was called The Last Universalist because he was the last mathematician to specialize in all branches of mathematics. He died in 1912; the field hasn’t gotten any more manageable since.

This situation is solidified not only by the sheer quantity of information we’ve acquired, but also by the ever increasing specialization of labor. Even if it were possible for one psychologist to be a generalist and master the entire field of psychology, market forces push human behavior in the other direction. If you want a job, you better specialize. There is hardly enough time to stay abreast of the developments in your own narrow area of specialization, much less the developments in your entire field, and certainly not the developments in science and technology as a whole.

The overwhelming volume of the information we’ve acquired is but another symptom of the transformation of society from a mere collection of human organisms into a superorganism, a beast with a life of its own. In the former situation, society was essentially a tool that existed for human convenience. In the latter, the individual is a gear in a machine, dehumanized, molded to fit pre-established specifications.

It may seem that as science and technology progress, so too does individualism. This is not necessarily the case, though. We must avoid the temptation to assign values to technology. Technology is neither good nor bad; it is a tool that can be used for good or bad, depending on the human beings developing and using it. By the same token, technology is inherently neither individualistic nor collectivistic. In the hands of the Borg, technology can be used to create an all-assimilating hive mind, or in the hands of the Klingons, it can be used to advance an individualistic culture of honor.

Modern society does afford the individual many physical comforts, but at what cost? Is the individual truly freer than before? The primary aspect of individual freedom missing from our lives is self-reliance. We have become dependent on technologies that we do not understand. In the old days, if a tool broke, you might simply make another one. But if you woke up tomorrow to find that the power was out, and the electrical engineers had all mysteriously vanished, how would you go about restoring it? Similarly, could you build yourself a new phone, computer, refrigerator, or car?

Again, we must avoid the temptation to demonize technology. I’m not promoting a return to a primitive way of life. I’m simply pointing out that as technology advances, human culture must keep pace. It is possible for humans to become more self-reliant, despite the dependence we’ve developed on technology. For that to happen, though, certain aspects of our culture must change.

In particular, it is capitalism that must die. Capitalism masquerades as economic individualism, but it is a kind of cutthroat, competitive individualism that permits one individual to improve his condition by exploiting countless other individuals. We need a more democratic, utilitarian individualism, where each individual may do whatever the fuck he wants, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else or prevent them from doing whatever the fuck they want.

It is time to move beyond the scarcity-based economics of capitalism and communism. When there is no money, there is no profit motive. No tech company, therefore, has any motivation to keep “trade secrets.” Imagine how bizarre an alien observer would find Homo sapiens. One of us makes a discovery or an invention with the potential to improve the condition of our entire species, but we guard it secretly, more concerned with how we can profit than how others can benefit.

I can already hear the capitalist counterargument: “You might be right that without the profit motive, no tech company would have the motivation to maintain exclusive ownership of intellectual property, but what you fail to consider is that without the profit motive, no tech company would have the motivation to produce the intellectual property in the first place.” This is true concerning presently existing tech companies, but presently existing tech companies are products of a capitalistic environment. They are corporations existing solely for profit. When capitalism dies, the corporation and even the “company” will die with it. Companies are an invention of the colonial era and continue to carry colonial baggage. We need a new model for organizing economic activity.

In the absence of intellectual property protections and the profit motive in general, how would new technologies get invented? The answer might shock you. Believe it or not, even within the prison of capitalistic society, there are some people who hear a higher calling than, “Profit!” Some people are internally motivated. They enjoy setting goals and achieving them. They enjoy actualizing their potential. Others are motivated by the desire to improve the lives of their peers. Others will do whatever it takes to secure their spot among the annals of history. Nikola Tesla did not die a rich man, to put it mildly.

tesla

Just Tesla, being a baller.

Right now it is probably impossible to be a generalist as comprehensively as in the past, but for every problem created by technology, there is a technological solution. In the foreseeable future, humans will be able to absorb information at miraculous speeds, not by reading, but by uploading the information to a neural implant. Unless I’m mistaken, even at present there is no known upper limit on the amount of information that can be “stored” by a human brain. So it might already be possible to upload the sum total of human scientific knowledge to your neural implant and assimilate it all. Or maybe we’ll quickly find the upper limit once we start uploading. But then we can use technology to expand the information storage capacity of our brains. Perhaps the neural implant will function as a kind of external hard drive. At any rate, it is conceivable that soon it will be possible not only for me to be a generalist, but more: to be a specialist in every specialization.

If you’re excited by the idea of your brain having its very own external hard drive, then let me leave you with one final thought. Imagine your brain being connected to the Internet. This would be a vastly different experience from sitting in front of a computer, using a web browser to view one page at a time. I’m talking about the Internet becoming a fully integrated extension of your brain. In my mind this is where technopaganism or technospirituality truly begins. In spiritual traditions there is the familiar notion of the individual transcending egoic consciousness and connecting with something “more,” some “higher power,” the collective unconscious, the Overmind, and so on. Many of us have had at least a fleeting experience of this kind of thing. In the Sixties, psychedelics were the “technology,” the psychological microscope that gave people undeniable, unforgettable, in-your-face experiences of the internal states they’d heard about from the newly popularized Eastern religions. I imagine the cyberdelic technology that allows you to connect your brain to the Internet will be mind-blowing and reality-shattering to an even greater extent. The opportunity to explain away your transpersonal experience as a “mere” hallucination will be unavailable. This time it’s good ol’, rock hard, objective science and technology that are pulling back the curtain.

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The 10 Most Eccentric Philosophers

Let’s talk about some of the weirdest dudes in the history of philosophy.

Are philosophers inherently, or at least predominantly, eccentric? It’s debatable. Someone on Yahoo! Answers asked why philosophers are so weird, and a few people responded that the question was flawed because it incorrectly assumed that philosophers are any weirder than the members of any other profession. At least, they said, there is no evidence that philosophers are any weirder.

But many of us are familiar with the archetype of the eccentric philosophy professor, haphazardly attired, unkempt, and idiosyncratic. And it would make sense that philosophers are “weird,” because in a broad sense their job consists of stepping back from the polis and subjecting our values, norms, and conventions to a more critical analysis. It shouldn’t surprise us if many of them choose to deviate from accepted social norms where they find them unnecessary, counterproductive, or otherwise undesirable. And they’re likely to be resolute in their deviance given their ability to provide the philosophical justification for it.

One possible explanation is not that philosophers as a whole are weirder, but that philosophy is a profession where being weird is more likely to get you noticed. To not be weird in philosophy is to examine the norms of human society and conclude, “Yep, we’ve got it figured out.” It’s difficult to make a splash if your only contribution is an affirmation of the establishment. If I ask you to bring to mind a philosopher, the person you think of is likely someone who challenged accepted ways of thinking — a weirdo.

Compiling a list of eccentric philosophers takes little effort. A more difficult task would be answering the question: “Who are some normal, boring philosophers?” (The notable exception is Kant, but he was normal and boring to such an extreme that he circled back into weirdness.) There are so many eccentric philosophers to choose from, in fact, that I had to limit myself to historical philosophers of the Western tradition.

Without further ado, let’s check out those weirdos.

10. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

  • He was a child prodigy. As a toddler he was found reading a multi-volume history of England. He began studying Latin at age three.
  • He was ahead of his time in many respects. He was an atheist, an animal rights advocate, and a critic of physical punishment, even for children.
  • He made arrangements to have his body preserved after his death. Called the auto-icon (“self-image”), it remains on display at University College London.
  • A contemporary psychobiographical study claims that he had Asperger’s syndrome.

 

9. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

  • You know you’re eccentric when your very lifestyle draws the criticism of other philosophers. Bertrand Russell criticized Schopenhauer as an insincere person because his comfortable lifestyle was at odds with his ascetic philosophy.
  • His mom was a successful author. When she informed him that his book was inaccessible and probably wouldn’t sell well, he threw a fit and exclaimed that his works would be read long after the rubbish she was writing.
  • Upon becoming a lecturer at the University of Berlin, he scheduled his lectures at the same time as those of Hegel, who he described as a “clumsy charlatan.” However, only five people showed up to his lectures, and he dropped out of academia.
  • As one Redditor put it, he basically had a reverse mohawk. (See the picture above.)
  • He was a lifelong bachelor who kept a series of poodles, all named Atman (Sanskrit for “soul”) or Butz (German for “apple core”).
  • He pushed an old woman down some steps and had to pay her restitution for 20 years. When she died, he wrote in Latin on a copy of her death certificate: “The old woman dies — The burden is lifted!”

 

8. Crates of Thebes (365-285 BC)

  • A pupil of Diogenes, he was nicknamed the Door-Opener because he entered houses uninvited to counsel people.

 

7. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

  • Odd habits aside, he is a controversial figure due to the provocative nature of his philosophy and polemical writing style. His work tends to produce passionate reactions in people.
  • At the age of 24, he was the youngest person to hold the chair of philology at the University of Basel, despite having neither a doctorate nor a teaching certificate.
  • He renounced his Prussian citizenship as a young man and remained officially stateless for the rest of his life.
  • He had many influential and successful friends early in his career, such as Richard Wagner. But he burned bridges due to differences in opinion. In addition, his writing style became increasingly alienating, furthering his social isolation. After living as an independent writer for a decade, he tried to become a professor again, but his anti-Christian views made him unemployable by any German university.
  • He was plagued by episodes of illness all his life. The episodes eventually became so frequent that he couldn’t work for prolonged periods. He took opium and wrote his own prescriptions for chloral hydrate, signing them “Dr. Nietzsche.”
  • Toward the end of his life, he descended into madness. This period seems to begin with an unverified tale in which he caused a public disturbance by defending a horse that was being beaten. In the following days he wrote short letters to friends, now known as the Madness Letters. In one he said, “I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished.” He also “commanded the German emperor to go to Rome to be shot and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany, [and declared] that the pope should be put in jail and that he, Nietzsche, created the world and was in progress of having all anti-Semites shot dead.”

 

6. Kurt Gödel (1906-1978)

  • He developed paranoid symptoms after Moritz Schlick, who had aroused his interest in logic, was murdered by a former student. He developed a fear of being poisoned and spent several months in a sanitarium for nervous diseases.
  • He was good pals with Albert Einstein. They took long walks together. What they talked about was a mystery to their colleagues.
  • Einstein went with him to his citizenship exam. Einstein was worried that Gödel’s unpredictable behavior would cost him his citizenship, but fortunately, Einstein knew the judge.
  • Due to his fear of being poisoned, he only ate meals prepared by his wife. When she was hospitalized for six months and couldn’t make his food, he starved to death.

 

5. Cratylus (mid-late 5th century BC)

  • He was a disciple of Heraclitus, who said that one cannot step in the same stream twice. Cratylus went a step further and said that it cannot be done even once.
  • He stopped speaking because the meaning of words is constantly in flux.
  • His theories as they appear in Plato’s eponymous dialogue have been reconstructed into the contemporary philosophy Cratylism, which has been influential to Eastern thinkers, including Buddhist semioticians.

 

4. Pythagoras (570-495 BC)

  • He believed in the transmigration of the soul and stopped a dog from being beaten because he thought he recognized the voice of a friend in its cries.
  • He was said to practice divination and prophecy.
  • He was followed by a vegan cult. (The vegan part is a matter of debate. Some say it was a vegetarian cult.)
  • He claimed to remember a few previous lives. In one, he was a beautiful courtesan.
  • He claimed that he could write on the moon.
  • He practiced Mesmerism, allegedly taming bears and eagles by touch.

 

3. Diogenes of Sinope (412-323 BC)

Diogenes Sitting in his Tub by Jean-Léon Gérôme

  • As a youth he asked the Delphic Oracle for advice and was told to “deface the currency.” He took the advice literally and was exiled for debasement of currency.
  • He then decided the oracle had meant political currency, so he moved to Athens, where he defaced social conventions. He taught by example, living a simple life, eating and sleeping wherever he chose, urinating on those who insulted him, and defecating and masturbating in public.
  • He had an affinity for dogs. He followed Antisthenes around like a dog and once pissed on some banquet attendees.
  • He walked around in broad daylight carrying a lamp. When questioned, he said that he was looking for an honest man.
  • He destroyed his only wooden bowl after seeing a boy drink from his cupped hands. “Fool that I am, to have been carrying superfluous baggage all this time!”
  • Against custom, he ate in the marketplace. When confronted, he said, “But it is when I’m in the marketplace that I’m hungry.”
  • He trolled Plato’s lectures. When Plato defined man as a featherless biped, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it to the Academy. “Behold, I’ve brought you a man!”
  • He publicly mocked Alexander the Great (and insulted his father) and lived to tell the tale.
  • He was captured by pirates, to be sold into slavery. When asked his trade, he replied that he only knew how to govern men. Xeniades liked his attitude and bought him to tutor his sons in Corinth. There he passed his philosophy on to Crates, who passed it onto Zeno of Citium, who developed it into the philosophical school of Stoicism.

 

2. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

  • His family was one of the wealthiest in Austria-Hungary, second only to the Rothschilds of conspiracy theory fame. His father didn’t want his children to learn bad habits in school, so he was educated at home. After two of his brothers committed suicide, his father relented and allowed Ludwig to attend school. (His other brother eventually committed suicide as well, and he contemplated it often.) He attended the same school as Adolf Hitler. He didn’t fit in because he dressed elegantly and spoke an unusually pure form of High German — with a stutter.
  • He inherited a fortune from his father. He gave some to artists/writers (including Rainer Maria Rilke), then gave the rest to his siblings.
  • He showed up at Cambridge unannounced to study the philosophy of logic and mathematics under Bertrand Russell. He began following Russell back to his room after each lecture to continue discussing philosophy, to Russell’s great annoyance. But Russell soon regarded Wittgenstein as a genius.
  • He refused to believe Russell’s assertion that “There is no hippopotamus in this room at present” because all existential propositions are meaningless.
  • He joined the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club, a discussion group for philosophy students. Other members complained that he dominated the discussions, not allowing anyone else to speak. It was at a meeting of this club that he threatened Karl Popper with a fire poker.
  • He was decorated for courage on the front lines of WWI. After the defeat of the Austrian army, he spent nine months as prisoner of war in Italy.
  • He worked as a teacher in an Austrian village. He resigned due to a controversy that arose when he boxed the children’s ears if they made mistakes in math.
  • He refused financial help from his family, not because they weren’t on good terms but because, as a matter of principle, he wouldn’t accept money he didn’t earn. He lived in a “tiny whitewashed room that only had space for a bed, washstand, a small table, and one small hard chair.”
  • His Tractatus inspired the creation of the Vienna Circle, a discussion group consisting of several influential scientists and philosophers. When he spoke at one of their meetings, he turned his back on them and read poetry aloud to express his dissatisfaction.
  • He had a religious approach to life but disliked organized religion because he could not bring himself to “bend the knee.” Rudolf Carnap said that while most in the Vienna Circle approached philosophical problems with a scientific attitude, Wittgenstein’s approach was more akin to that of an artist, or even a prophet.
  • Pursuing his PhD from Cambridge, he offered the Tractatus as his thesis. It was examined by Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. At the end of the defense, Wittgenstein clapped each man on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. I know you’ll never understand it.”
  • He became the philosophy chair at Cambridge. One student described the lectures as more akin to séances than lectures.
  • He worked at a hospital in London during WW2, where he told patients not to take the drugs they were prescribed and kept his identity as a famous philosopher secret.
  • When a doctor told him he might only live a few days longer, his reply was, “Good!”

 

1. Empedocles (490-430 BC)

  • He died by throwing himself into a volcano to prove to his disciples that he was immortal. Not much is known about him other than that. I give him the #1 spot because he was willing to die for his eccentricity.

The Decline of Neil de Grasse Tyson

Neil de Grasse Tyson has arguably overtaken Bill Nye as the popular face of science.

Photo of Neil de Grasse Tyson from bgr.com.

As one Redditor explained quite eloquently, Bill Nye is losing some longtime fans.

I’ve been a huge fan of Bill Nye since I was ten. Bill Nye the Science Guy was entertaining and educational. Bill Nye Saves the World is neither. In this show he simply brings up an issue, tells you which side you should be on, and then makes fun of people on the other side. To make things worse he does this in the most boring way possible… He doesn’t properly explain anything, and he misrepresents every opposing view.

Another Redditor said:

I was hoping for a science show meant for adults – the audience they had constantly laughing and making sounds looked like adults… but the content of the show was something you’d expect from a grade 6 science class.The show just felt all over the place, using stupid skits, forced audience reactions, and the most basic science concepts.

At first, Neil de Grasse Tyson (NdGT) seemed to avoid this pitfall by being “that chill science guy.” Now some fans are wondering whether he’s any less pedantic than Bill Nye. They complain that he got people excited about science, only to say, “Being excited by science is MY thing! Let me shut you down real quick plebs!”

For example, during the recent eclipse, he told people to stop being excited — because, statistically speaking, eclipses are not rare.

Tyson became the posterboy of /r/iamverysmart, a subreddit dedicated to “people trying too hard to look smart.” It got so bad that moderators were forced to ban any mention of NdGT because such posts are “low hanging fruit.”


If his own fans dislike NdGT’s newfound pedantry, you can only imagine how conservatives feel. (Bill Maher jokingly introduced him to a conservative guest as someone he should be worried about — because he’s “black and a scientist.”) Breitbart called NdGT “an attention-seeking media troll who courts adoration from bloggers, students, and hipsters while picking off low-hanging fruit and mocking people he doesn’t like.”

Not everyone can be a Carl Sagan, the kind of science popularizer who shares his zeal without alienating, politicizing, or self-serving.

When I listened to Carl Sagan speak, I felt like I was listening to a man who had a genuine love for and interest in the material he was sharing. I feel the same when watching David Attenborough, Brian Cox, or even Michael from VSauce. I used to feel that way about Bill Nye. Today’s Bill Nye seems so arrogant and caught up in his own celebrity. He and Neil de Grasse Tyson strike me as two people whose main objective is to feel smarter than everyone they talk to. If that’s how they want to carry themselves, fine, but when it comes to something like climate change, when we need to convince certain people that it’s the real deal, Bill’s demeanour hurts more than it helps.

Brian Cox is an English physicist often described as the British NdGT. Cox, who once “rebutted” Neil de Grasse Tyson’s suggestion that lightsabers wouldn’t work, is frequently suggested as an alternative for the popular face of science.

Science needs popularizers who can share the wonders of science in a way that’s not about proving their intellectual superiority.

Bitcoin and the Decentralization of Society

In response to Jamie Dimon’s criticism of bitcoin, John McAffee spoke of cryptocurrencies as emblematic of a paradigm shift: “The blockchain is, even now, ushering in a new economic and social paradigm that will rival, if not exceed, the impact that agriculture had in human society.”

People have been talking about the potential of decentralization to revolutionize economics for a long time, but no one knew how to “solve the problem of distribution required to power these decentralized systems” — that is, until the advent of the blockchain, which is “capable of melding ‘decentralized’ and ‘distributed’ into a single unit,” rendering centralized authority unnecessary.

Bitcoin represents decentralization in the realm of economics. How will decentralization work in the realm of politics, or the structure of society itself? The question of decentralization in politics is not necessarily separate from the question of decentralization in economics. In Marxist and critical theory, the economic structure of a society is the base upon which the “superstructure” of culture is built. As the economic base becomes more decentralized via the increasing prevalence of cryptocurrencies, the superstructure — the institutions and culture of society — will become more decentralized as well.

Money is power. If money is regulated by a central bank, then power will be concentrated in the hands of those who control the banks. If the big banks are cut out of the equation by bitcoin, then they will no longer control the circulation of money, and hence they will lose power. In this sense, the decentralization of money and the decentralization of power are the same thing.

Decentralization and democracy go hand in hand. Power was once concentrated in the hands of an absolute monarch. Then monarchs were forced to share their power with nobles, who were in turn forced to share their power with democratically elected officials. In the federal system, power is not centralized in a single national government, or in state governments. The federal government and the various state governments share power with each other. Even within the national government, power is split among three separate branches.

This history, which those who favor democracy call progress, is the history of ever increasing decentralization. However, many people think this trend has reached maturity with representative democracy, and any further advance would be undesirable. After all, the obvious next step is direct democracy, characterized by its critics as mob rule. As the saying goes, “Direct democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.”

Our representatives must forgive us if we do not share their concern. Such fears accompany every step in the evolution of society. Monarchs probably warned that everything would fall apart without a powerful ruler. Nobles probably warned that everything would fall apart if commoners were given a seat at the table. In each case it is obvious that the scaremongers’ real concern is the preservation of their own power. We might say that representative democracy is one wolf and two sheep, and the wolf gets to decide what’s for dinner.

The buck does not stop with representative democracy. The forward march of decentralization must continue. As Max Stirner wrote in The Ego And Its Own, the French Revolution saw power wrested from the hands of the individual monarch and placed in an impersonal State. This was a necessary progression, but it was only an intermediary step. We simply traded one master for another — and, in Stirner’s eyes, the new master was not necessarily better than the old:

The monarch in the person of the “royal master” had been a paltry monarch compared with this new monarch, the “sovereign nation.” This monarchy was a thousand times severer, stricter, and more consistent. Against the new monarch there was no longer any right, any privilege at all; how limited the “absolute king” of the ancien régime looks in comparison!

We must come full circle back to the individual — or rather, to individuals. Power must rest in the hands not of a single individual, but of each and every individual. That is the endpoint of decentralization (unless we want to give power to the cells that make up our bodies). Only then will people be free.

Decentralization is at the heart of several influential political movements. The headless suit in the logo of the hacktivist collective Anonymous symbolizes the group’s decentralized nature, as there is no central nervous system calling the shots.


Similarly, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and antifa have no centralized leadership. Yet they seem to leave much to be desired. Decentralization leaves these movements vulnerable to infiltration and sabotage. The distribution problem had to be solved for decentralization to work in economics. There are still problems to be solved to allow decentralization to work in politics.

Just as blockchain technology is used for monetary transactions, it could be used for voting and other forms of decision making. It could enable direct democracy. Rather than voting for senators and congresspersons to “represent” (make decisions for) us, we could use our smartphones to vote directly on the decisions. Just as the blockchain prevents fraud in monetary transactions, it could prevent election fraud. And just as the blockchain keeps transactions anonymous, it could keep votes anonymous.

At this point, it seems that it is not a question of if technology will further decentralize power in our society. It is only a question of how and when.

Escape the Goolag

I used to love Google. Their motto was “Don’t be evil,” which allowed me to believe they were different from most corporations. Although some friends tried to tell me that Google is just another corporation, I didn’t want to believe it. I have recently seen the light.

It all started when I read “Google Is Not What It Seems,” an excerpt from Julian Assange’s book When Google Met Wikileaks.

Google is “different”. Google is “visionary”. Google is “the future”. Google is “more than just a company”. Google “gives back to the community”. Google is “a force for good”… Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of US power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation.

The deeper I dug, the more I realized that if Google was ever the non-evil corporation they claimed to be, that time is long gone. “Don’t be evil” is no longer their motto. It now appears to be, “Define evil…”

My problems with Google fall into five main categories:

  • Relationship with government
  • Monopolization
  • Unethical business practices
  • Censorship
  • Privacy

Relationship with government

Google’s close relationship with the intelligence community and State Department is detailed in Assange’s article.

The meeting of When Google Met Wikileaks fame was initiated by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who allegedly wanted to interview Assange for a book he was writing. But at the meeting, Schmidt was accompanied by Lisa Shields, Jared Cohen, and Scott Malcolmson. “At this point, the delegation was one part Google, three parts US foreign-policy establishment” but Assange didn’t know that. He was aware that Shields was the vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “a US foreign-policy think tank with close ties to the State Department,” but because she was introduced as Schmidt’s significant other, he thought nothing of it.

Assange later learned that Cohen and Malcolmson had deep ties with the State Department.

Cohen worked at the State Department before becoming the director of Google Ideas. He and Schmidt “co-wrote a policy piece for the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, praising the reformative potential of Silicon Valley technologies as an instrument of US foreign policy.” Apparently their pitch was successful: It seems that Cohen now does for Google what he once did for State. Assange jokes that he could be called Google’s “director of regime change,” as his “directorate appear[s] to cross over from public relations and ‘corporate responsibility’ work into active corporate intervention in foreign affairs at a level that is normally reserved for states.”

Scott Malcolmson was ostensibly present at the meeting because he was the book’s editor. But three months later he entered the State Department as speechwriter and advisor to Susan Rice. He’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

When Assange realized that the meeting had been more with the State Department than with Google, his initial reaction was “to think of Schmidt as a brilliant but politically hapless Californian tech billionaire who had been exploited by the very US foreign-policy types he had collected to act as translators between himself and official Washington.” He would learn that Schmidt is perhaps more politician than techie.

There was nothing politically hapless about Eric Schmidt. I had been too eager to see a politically unambitious Silicon Valley engineer, a relic of the good old days of computer science graduate culture on the West Coast. But that is not the sort of person who attends the Bilderberg conference four years running, who pays regular visits to the White House, or who delivers “fireside chats” at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Schmidt’s emergence as Google’s “foreign minister”—making pomp and ceremony state visits across geopolitical fault lines—had not come out of nowhere; it had been presaged by years of assimilation within US establishment networks of reputation and influence.

Assange summarizes Google’s problematic relationship with the government as follows:

By all appearances, Google’s bosses genuinely believe in the civilizing power of enlightened multinational corporations, and they see this mission as continuous with the shaping of the world according to the better judgment of the “benevolent superpower.” They will tell you that open-mindedness is a virtue, but all perspectives that challenge the exceptionalist drive at the heart of American foreign policy will remain invisible to them. This is the impenetrable banality of “don’t be evil.” They believe that they are doing good. And that is a problem.

Monopolization

Is Google a monopoly? Tech billionaire Peter Thiel certainly thinks so. He writes that Google’s market share of search is 67%. Since his book was published, that figure has increased to 81%.

Strangely, though, Thiel characterizes that as a good thing. He says that Google’s status as a monopoly means that it isn’t “so focused on today’s margins that it can’t possibly plan for a long-term future.” This freedom from “the daily brute struggle for survival” allows Google to offer its employees “utopian” benefits.

Ok, that’s great for Google employees, but what about the rest of us? Thiel argues that monopolies are good for society because they “drive progress.” That’s ludicrous. In the capitalist worldview, it’s competition that drives progress, and monopolization is the antithesis of competition.

Unethical business practices

Google’s monopolization of search gives it the power to bend other companies to its will. For example, they threatened Forbes with lower search rankings if the latter refused to implement the +1 button on their articles. And Google has for years been under investigation by the European Commission for abusing its power to give some of its own services (e.g. shopping, maps, and flight information) an unfair advantage. The commission recently fined Google a record $2.7 billion.

Censorship

Google can also use its power to “quash ideas it doesn’t like,” as Forbes journalist Kashmir Hill put it. When she published an article exposing Google’s practice of threatening companies that refused to implement the +1 button, she was forced to remove the piece. She later found that it had been removed from the cache.

Perhaps the most infamous victim of Google “censorship” is James Damore, the software engineer who was fired for penning a memo in which he criticized the company for perpetuating an “ideological echo chamber.”

Google owns YouTube, and the company has recently come under fire for teaming up with the Anti-Defamation League to censor content it deems offensive.

Privacy

Assange writes that Google’s “penchant for luring people into its services trap with gigabytes of ‘free storage’ produces the perception that Google is giving it away for free, acting directly contrary to the corporate profit motive. Google is perceived as an essentially philanthropic enterprise—a magical engine presided over by otherworldly visionaries—for creating a utopian future.” But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Google is a corporation. It’s not providing you with gigabytes of free storage out of benevolence. When you use these services, you are the product. Google collects data on you and sells it to advertisers.

When it comes to privacy, Google is hypocritical. It seems to have little concern for individual citizens who want their information removed from search results. Schmidt said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” And yet, Schmidt is extremely careful to hide the details of his own private life.

Apple created a stir when they announced that the latest version of their browser, Safari, would automatically block the tracking technique used to track users’ activity across websites. The advertising industry pitched a fit. They wrote an open letter to Apple, begging them not to do it. They said it would undermine “the business model of the Internet.” This is an odd thing to say because the Internet isn’t a company and doesn’t have a business model. The only business model Apple is hurting is that of companies like Google, who make money by infringing upon the privacy of individuals. Excuse me if I don’t feel sorry for them.

Escape the Goolag

What can we, as individuals, do to challenge a leviathan like Google? We can wean ourselves from Google’s teats, which are more numerous than the utters of a mutant cow. Listing them all is beyond the scope of this article, but following are the three Google services most likely to be part of your daily life:

  • Google search
  • Google Chrome
  • Gmail

Instead of Google search, use DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t profit from your searches or collect data about you. Instead of Chrome, use an open-source alternative such as Firefox, which can be augmented with plugins to protect your privacy. (Or, if you’re really serious about privacy, use Tor.) Instead of Gmail, use a privacy oriented service like Proton Mail, which automatically encrypts all of your messages.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s Criticism of Bitcoin Sparks Internet Firestorm

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon disparaged the cryptocurrency bitcoin on Sep. 12, calling it a “fraud,” comparing it to the tulip mania of the 17th century, and predicting that it will “blow up.”

Speaking at the Barclays Global Financial Services Conference, Dimon remarked:

When the DOJ calls someone up and says, “That’s an illegal currency and it’s against the laws of the United States… if you do it again, we’ll put you in jail,” it’s over.

Dimon added that an employee who traded bitcoin would be fired “in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous.”

It is unclear whether Dimon considers his daughter “stupid,” as he later joked that she “bought some bitcoin, and it went up, and she thinks she’s a genius now.”

Asked to explain his comments at the Delivering Alpha conference, Dimon warned that while governments presently view bitcoin “as a novelty,” they will “close it down” when it gets too large.

Dimon clarified that his criticism is aimed not at blockchain technology but at virtual currencies that circumvent government control. JP Morgan itself is working on a blockchain, “Quorum,” which is bitcoin’s main competitor.

Dimon’s comments ignited a backlash from bitcoin supporters.

ShapeShift CEO Erik Vorhees tweeted, “My memory is failing, was it Bitcoin or was it JP Morgan that was bailed out by the government?”

Forbes senior editor Laura Shin said the idea that bitcoin could be “closed” is “ridiculous – hilarious, even” because its decentralized nature makes that nearly impossible.

In an open letter to Dimon, Shin suggested that his uneasiness regarding bitcoin stems from its potential to disrupt financial services:

I would be surprised if cryptocurrencies, with their many advantages, don’t prevail over the long-term – especially at a time when everyday people are still angry about paying for the economic crisis caused by financial institutions while bankers made off with bonuses. Since the triumph of cryptocurrencies is the fact that they cut out the middle man… I could understand if you wanted Bitcoin shut down or hoped it was a fraud. I mean, if I were you and if I really understood the disruption crypto assets could bring to financial services, I’d be very scared… It just remains to be seen how much longer people who want to buy crypto assets – or engage in any financial transaction, for that matter – will do so through a middleman like JP Morgan Chase.

Others speculated that Dimon was engaging in market manipulation — causing bitcoin’s value to decrease so that he could “buy low.” The value of bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) did drop following Dimon’s comments, although a causal link has not been established. Many interpreted a widely circulated screenshot as proof that JPMorgan had purchased bitcoin.

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One Redditor even called for a class action lawsuit against Dimon, alleging:

  1. He badmouthed bitcoin.
  2. The day after, prices fell.
  3. His company bought the dip.
  4. Altcoins lost value along with bitcoin.

But a JPMorgan spokesperson told Business Insider that the orders shown in the screenshot “are not JPMorgan orders. These are clients purchasing third party products directly.”

That explanation did not pacify Dimon’s critics.

If the CEO of the financial firm that handles my investments firmly states that a particular investment is a fraud and likens it to the tulip bulb bubble and I felt strongly enough that he was wrong and I was willing to put my own money behind it, I would seriously need to question who is handling my investments moving forward.

While most of those responding to Dimon’s comments were critical, some in the industry defended him. Ron Insana, senior analyst at CNBC, agreed with Dimon’s point that “bitcoin is in a bubble,” while acknowledging that “as in the case of many prior breakthrough technologies, the transformation will indeed be disruptive and extremely important.”

Meanwhile, MGT CEO John McAfee denied that bitcoin is in a bubble. He characterized the blockchain as “ushering in a new economic and social paradigm” that will render centralized control of currency obsolete.

What people see as a bitcoin “bubble,” from the perspective of the new paradigm, is merely the predictable and systematic devaluation of fiat currencies that will continue, with obvious ups and downs, until all fiat currencies reach the zero point.

As the relative value of bitcoin temporarily drops, they will point to this as proof of their understanding. It won’t matter. The reality of this new world is what it is. Those who understand will be the leaders of this new world.

Whatever Dimon’s intentions, his comments clearly had the effect of generating publicity for bitcoin.

Individualist Anarchism: My Personal Revolution

In a recent post, I mentioned that I would begin studying individualist anarchism to determine whether I would be comfortable in applying the label “individualist anarchist” to myself. I have made good on that promise, and based on what I’ve read so far, I can say that I am comfortable with that label, with a few caveats:

  1. I still think that labeling one’s self is problematic because it leads others to make assumptions about you. Labeling others, of course, is equally problematic. It ignores the uniqueness of the individual.
  2. When I say that I’m comfortable with the label “individualist anarchist,” that doesn’t mean that this is set in stone. Learning is a lifelong process. As I continue to learn and grow, my political philosophy is subject to change.
  3. A more accurate or specific label for myself would be individualist veganarchist. (Veganarchism is a portmanteau of veganism and anarchism.) However, I haven’t quite worked out to what extent individualist anarchism and veganarchism are compatible. For example, how can we reconcile the sovereignty of the individual with the idea that individuals should not exploit nonhuman animals? I’m sure this can be worked out, in the same way that individuals should not exploit other human individuals. The key is moving beyond speciesism, and viewing animals as individuals deserving the same sovereignty as us.
  4. All these labels/ideologies are problematic in another way: they are “fixed ideas” or “spooks in the mind,” to borrow from Max Stirner.

I am currently reading Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own. So far, I am in love with this book. Many passages send shivers down my spine, while, admittedly, other parts seem long-winded, clumsily worded, pedantic, and/or obscure. But I suppose they seem that way to me mostly because I am far removed from the historical context in which Stirner was writing.

I’ll try to summarize what I’ve read of the book so far, giving myself the liberty to word it in a way that makes it more relevant to my historical context:

I am told that I must concern myself with many things other than myself. If I concern myself with only myself, then I am selfish, and that is bad. Religious people tell me that I should concern myself with God. Nonreligious moralists, who are really no different from religious people in my eyes, tell me that I should concern myself with the “good” — which, you will notice, is only one letter removed from “god.” There are many fixed ideas, all external to myself, to choose from. I can devote my life to my nation, to the revolution, to capitalism, to communism, to anti-fascism, to social justice, and so on.

But to what external cause or idea does God devote Himself? None. God is concerned only with Himself. So God is an egoist. “The nation” is an egoist, for it does not care if I die fighting for it. To sacrifice my own self-concern is to be subservient to someone or something else which, hypocritically enough, is only concerned with himself or itself. I reject this subservience. Rather than serve an egoist, I will be an egoist myself.

My only concern is myself. I am unique. I am not “human,” I am not “man,” I am not “straight, able, white man.” Those are generalities, and they ignore the reality of my uniqueness as an individual.

I am not the categories into which I have been lumped. I am Johnny Fucking Tisdale. Hear me roar!

My own experience confirms that many “nonreligious” people have not truly freed their minds of religious baggage. They still think in terms of good and evil. They instinctively utter the names of deities in times of great pleasure or distress. They say “God bless you” when I sneeze. But most importantly, they moralize things that shouldn’t be moralized. (What really should be moralized?) They moralize politics, and this has disastrous consequences. Religious zealotry is replaced by ideological fervor.

This moralization of politics is the focus of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist. In his cross-cultural research he has found what he calls “the five foundations of morality.”

  1. Harm/care
  2. Fairness/reciprocity
  3. Ingroup/loyalty
  4. Authority/respect
  5. Purity/sanctity

Haidt has determined that political divisiveness results primarily from the fact that liberals focus on the first two while conservatives focus on the latter three.

To moralize something is essentially to make it “sacred.” And when we view something as sacred, Haidt says, we are prevented from thinking objectively about it. In Stirner’s words, “Before the sacred, people lose all sense of power and all confidence; they occupy a powerless and humble attitude toward it.” Whatever is sacred cannot be questioned. And this is why, in my opinion, nothing should be sacred, especially in the realm of politics, where it is of utmost importance for us to question everything, to use science to determine the best methods for arranging society in such a way to maximize sovereignty for the greatest number of individuals.

Haidt says that in leftist thought there are seven “sacred” groups:

  1. African Americans
  2. Women
  3. LGBT
  4. Latinos
  5. Native Americans
  6. Disabled
  7. Muslims

The more your group has been victimized historically, the more weight your opinion should be given. In social justice circles, if a white man and a black woman disagree, the disagreement is not solved on the basis of the merit of the individuals’ ideas. The white man will be silenced. After all, if he has his own opinion and tries to express it, he is just “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining.”

Obviously, the individualist anarchist will not blindly go along with this, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the goal of anarchism is a world without hierarchies. It doesn’t matter if you invert the prevailing hierarchy to create a new one in a misguided attempt to serve justice. An inverted hierarchy is still a hierarchy. Secondly, individualist anarchism is all about the sovereignty and uniqueness of the individual. In this respect, hierarchical thinking and identity politics are an affront to all, whether you’re at the top or the bottom of the hierarchy, because they ignore your individuality and reduce you to being nothing more than a member of your group.

Post-left anarchism (also influenced heavily by Max Stirner) presents a cogent critique of identity politics:

Post-left anarchy tends to criticize what it sees as the partial victimizing views of identity politics… Accepting the social role of victim — in whatever one of its many forms — is choosing to not even create one’s life for oneself or to explore one’s real relationships to the social structures. All of the partial liberation movements — feminism, gay liberation, racial liberation, workers’ movements and so on — define individuals in terms of their social roles. Because of this, these movements not only do not include a reversal of perspectives which breaks down social roles and allows individuals to create a praxis built on their own passions and desires; they actually work against such a reversal of perspective.

Of course, the right moralizes other things, like sexuality, tradition, and authority. Those political moralizations are to be rejected as well, as will be discussed briefly below. But I focus my criticism on the left, because the left is the tribe to which I have so long been a member, so it is leftist groupthink from which I must liberate myself. Besides, it is obvious enough that tradition and authority must be rejected to maximize individual sovereignty, so there is no need for me to discuss that at length.

I have been dealing with a lot of leftist ideological fervor lately, because I have been openly criticizing certain tactics and ideas trending in the antifa movement. In particular, I criticize unprovoked attacks on people we disagree with (Nazi punching) and any limits on free speech. One friend suggested that I am trying to portray antifa as “evil” (there goes that religious baggage again). Another said that I am not an anarchist but a liberal, and that the “hundreds” of anarchists he knows would laugh me out of the room for the liberal nonsense I’ve been peddling. I sent him a message, saying that I value his input and would love to discuss ideas and tactics with him. But I suggested that his criticism should be a little more constructive if we were to have a productive and meaningful conversation. He obviously wasn’t interested, because he blocked me without bothering to respond.

Given the prevailing political polarization, many are unable to see that I am not engaged in a project of wholesale demonization of antifa, but rather a careful strategic analysis of certain tactics and ideas. Every group, every movement, must be open to criticism, especially from within, lest its members succumb to groupthink. But many antifascists seem to think that if you criticize any aspect of antifa whatsoever, then you must be (*gasp*) one of them — a Nazi sympathizer at best, an actual Nazi at worst.

Stirner says:

What now follows from this for the judgment of the moral man? This: that he throws the egoist into the only class of men that he knows besides moral men, into that of the — immoral. He cannot do otherwise; he must find the egoist immoral in everything in which the egoist disregards morality. If he did not find him so, then he would already have become an apostate from morality without confessing it to himself, he would already no longer be a truly moral man.

In other words, the moral man’s mind is so enslaved to the dichotomy between morality and immorality that he cannot comprehend the transcendence of this polarization — the amoral. Similarly, leftists are so accustomed to assailing the right, and defending themselves from attacks thereby, that they view any divergence from leftist groupthink as centrist or rightist.

At this point, while we’re on the subject of the left-right spectrum, I believe a brief digression is in order. Where in the left-right spectrum does anarchism fit? An answer to this question on the Anarchy101 forum is worth sharing (edited slightly):

Historically, anarchism arose out of left-wing movements; that ground has been covered in other answers so I’ll leave that at that. However, if you’re intent on forcing all political ideologies and philosophies into this narrow framework of understanding, and somehow want to find some utility in it, I think it’s also worth examining and understanding the history of this framework.

The idea of there being a spectrum from left wing to right wing originates from the French Revolution, where those who supported the establishment sat on the right, and those who sought to overturn it sat on the left of the assembly room. Throughout history, movements, ideologies, and philosophies have been categorized as left or right according to a large array of criteria. The definitions from Wikipedia are a pretty good summation of this array. Now if we look closely at that array of criteria for assigning the labels “left” and “right,” the common threads that appear are that leftists tend to be opposed to the establishment, concerned with change and “progress,” whereas the right wing tends to support the establishment and is concerned with opposing change and maintaining existing (or reverting to historical) arrangements of social relationships. Even fascism (which is another ideology which defies the right-left dichotomy) can be placed on this one-dimensional axis using these boiled down criteria.

According to this analysis anarchism is broadly speaking a left-wing grouping of philosophies, as opposition to hierarchical authority (which is the common thread uniting all anarchists) can’t be reconciled with supporting the establishment or conserving existing social arrangements. Anarchism is inherently opposed to the reality we live in.

The question is why would you want to use a reductive framework to try to all-encompassingly organize the history and current reality of political thought when to do so you have to reduce the framework even further? The only use I can see is if you’re trying to make sense of politics objectively, assigning essential meanings to the names of ideologies like “anarchism” and “communism” which are supposed to mean the same thing to everyone. The problem is that politics is subjective and can’t be made sense of objectively. Trying to do so is a particularly bad habit of Westerners, and more specifically Anglophones. Maybe it’s because we’re raised in liberal democracies, and the political language of liberal democracy — the words, phrases, and concepts that liberal democracy uses to define itself, and as it happens our native political language — doesn’t allow for subjectivity. Liberalism after all is a child of The Enlightenment, a period of time when we became obsessed with science, assigning essential meanings to things, and naming them to add to our ever expanding lexicon of nouns; and so it makes sense that the political language (and intellectual technology) that our upbringing equips us with is unable to deal with the fact that ideas and their names mean different things to different people at different times, and so words and concepts like “anarchism,” which are highly disputed and whose locus of ideas (the desire to not be ruled) doesn’t have anything to do with the loci of the objective right-left axis (progress/change vs conservation/stasis), are something that we have trouble assigning essential meanings to.

My solution has been to shed the political language that liberal democracy uses to define itself, to stop using it to try to understand ideas that are opposed to it, to stop trying to assign essential meanings to things and instead look at what things mean to me, what they mean to other people, and acknowledging any differences between the two, instead of trying assert an objective judgement of them. Of course I’ll still assert subjective opinions, like “anarcho-capitalism isn’t consistent with anarchism,” but that doesn’t mean I have to assert an objective judgement — I can say “anarchism means X to me, to me that is what anarchism is, even though you disagree” without asserting that someone else’s anarchism is objectively wrong. Instead of trying to understand an ideology or philosophy from an external locus, I try to understand them by seeking out their own locus. I don’t try to understand anarcho-capitalism by looking at it with anarchist concepts and frameworks in mind; I go to its origin and focal point: classical liberalism. It’s also why I use the term “anarcho-capitalist” instead of some derogatory term, because it’s the label anarcho-capitalists use to describe themselves. Anarchists have over hundreds of years developed their own frameworks of concepts and language to describe and discuss anarchism; they are the most relevant and useful frameworks to anarchism because they originated within it.

I think this entire answer is beautfully written, but a couple of points resonate with me in particular (and evoke some thoughts not necessarily endorsed by that writer):

  1. “Leftists” need to stop using “liberal” or “centrist” as insults for people they disagree with if those people do not consider themselves liberal or centrist. Marxists, in particular, seem especially guilty of this, and it is highly counterproductive to meaningful discussion. Try to understand the person from their point of view rather than forcing their view into a reductive framework.
  2. Attempting to understand people from their point of view is necessary because politics, at least as it stands now, is so subjective. People do not approach politics scientifically. Rather, they approach it ideologically. An ideology is little more than a religion, a dogma. It is a set of “fixed ideas” which one holds to be sacred. Social psychologists have found political attitudes, like religious beliefs, to have an affective (emotional) basis rather than a cognitive basis, which is why it is virtually impossible to change anyone’s mind on any political issue. You cannot reason someone out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.
  3. Perhaps it’s my Anglophone upbringing, but I do believe that this subjective approach to politics can and should be overcome. I believe, like Jacque Fresco, that, “If science has a lot to do with what works, then clearly there’s much about today’s social and economic setup that isn’t scientific, because things aren’t working very well for a majority of the world’s population or the environment. If they were, war, poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, etc., would not be so prevalent today. Unfortunately, our social structures evolved with no overall global planning.”

As anarchism doesn’t fit neatly into the left-right spectrum, it’s no wonder that a “post-leftist” strain has emerged in anarchist thought.

Some post-leftists seek to escape the confines of ideology in general while also presenting a critique of organizations and morality. Influenced by the work of Max Stirner, post-leftists argue that the left, even the revolutionary left, is anachronistic and incapable of creating change. Post-left anarchy offers critiques of radical strategies and tactics which it considers antiquated: the demonstration, class-oriented struggle, focus on tradition, and the inability to escape the confines of history.

Now, to return to my critique of antifa. Despite the accusations of tribalistic leftists who have difficulty thinking outside of the left-right dichotomy, I do not criticize antifa because I disagree with the end goal of opposing fascism. My concern is that the decentralization of the antifa movement makes it all too easy for the agents of the capitalist class to infiltrate it and sow the seeds of its destruction from within. We saw this with Occupy Wall Street. Undercover cops infiltrated and performed false flag operations, destroying private property to discredit the movement. It is entirely possible that the capitalist class are doing this with antifa, doing their best to portray the movement as sinister and violent so that it will be discredited. It is also possible that they are using neo-Nazis and the KKK as pawns to steer public opinion in the direction of accepting limits on free speech. I am extremely disappointed in the shortsightedness of many leftists, who seem to think that the limits on free speech would stop with Nazis. The neo-fascist administration would obviously use the limits on expressions of Nazism as a precedent to stamp out other forms of political dissent. Antifa would be next on the chopping block.

Historically, one alternative to decentralization is a vanguard party — a small group of professional revolutionaries who control the movement. As an individualist anarchist, though, I obviously have reservations about such an idea. I don’t want to be ruled by a vanguard party any more than I want to be ruled by the capitalist class. Lenin himself (who popularized vanguardism) was likened to Robespierre by Trotsky because he was unable to accept any criticism, even from his most dedicated followers. And if tomorrow’s revolution is controlled by a vanguard party, then I fear said party would be led by ideological zealots like the ones who have been attacking me for daring to think for myself. I would likely be sent to the gulag, if not outright killed, for my refusal to bend the knee.

Perhaps a vanguard party is a necessary evil. Then again, perhaps not. I think decentralization can work. But for it to work, and indeed for any kind of anarchist society to work, individuals must be just that — individuals. We must remain hypervigilant. We must be willing to call out bad ideas when we see them, because it’s possible that these bad ideas were sown by capitalist infiltrators. But it’s difficult to call out bad ideas when disagreeing ever so slightly with the party line gets you labeled a Nazi sympathizer.

One common thread among individualist anarchists is:

The rejection of, or reservations about, the idea of revolution, seeing it as a time of mass uprising which could bring about new hierarchies. Instead they favor more evolutionary methods of bringing about anarchy through alternative experiences and experiments and education which could be brought about today. This is also because it is not seen as desirable for individuals to wait for revolution to start experiencing alternative experiences outside what is offered in the current social system.¹

That’s the fun thing about individualist anarchism. You don’t have to wait for your fellow wage slaves to achieve class consciousness. Your personal revolution (your evolution?) can begin now. There are many ways in which the exertion of your will can result in a significant change in your experience. To use a very overused phrase, you can be the change you want to see in the world. And doing this is much preferable to sitting around waiting for some promised revolution. Of course, you can also change your lifestyle and work toward the revolution simultaneously, if you so desire.

One major difference between the left and the right seems to be their views on personal (i.e., individual) accountability. The left focuses on social and environmental factors, while the right focuses on personal choice. For example, suppose someone is addicted to nicotine. A leftist will likely focus on the fact that Big Tobacco targets low-income communities. In other words, the leftist will avoid blaming the victim. The right-winger, on the other hand, will likely focus on the individual’s choice to begin smoking cigarettes. While it may be true that the individual was bombarded with tobacco advertisements from a young age, no one put a gun to the individual’s head and forced them to smoke that first cigarette.

The idea that we should focus on either social/environmental influences or personal choice is yet another symptom of this polarized, tribalistic age. In truth, no model of human behavior is complete if it does not take both into consideration. Environmental forces definitely play a role in shaping human behavior, but humans are also capable of reflexivity, defined as “the capacity of an agent to recognize forces of socialization and alter their place in the social structure.”

A low level of reflexivity would result in an individual shaped largely by their environment (or “society”). A high level of social reflexivity would be defined by an individual shaping their own norms, tastes, politics, desires, and so on. This is similar to the notion of autonomy.

I can become aware of the environmental factors that are determining my behavior. Indeed, this ability is central to the definition of intelligence proposed by Robert Sternberg in his groundbreaking triarchic theory of intelligence. According to this theory, intelligence is the ability to:

  1. adapt to one’s environment,
  2. select one’s environment, and
  3. shape one’s environment.

So, while it is important to take note of social and environmental influences, it is also true that focusing exclusively on these influences treats the individual like the hapless victim of external forces. Anarchist education would, ideally, empower the individual by imparting a high degree of reflexivity.

Almost everyone on Earth seems to be addicted to something. Even Zen monks regularly drink green tea, which contains caffeine. More common, at least among Americans, is the daily consumption of coffee, which is not only much more addictive than tea, but also contributes to the exploitation of coffee farmers in the developing world. So by drinking coffee, not only do I sacrifice my own sovereignty by becoming dependent on an exogenous substance, but I am also complicit in the violation of the sovereignty of other individuals. And this should concern me, if not because of morality (which after all is just a spook in the mind), then because a system in which any individual’s sovereignty is threatened is a system in which my own sovereignty might be threatened.

Many anti-capitalists say, “There is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism.” And to a degree that is true, but it can also be a cop-out to avoid personal responsibility and to continue making extremely unethical consumer choices when there are less unethical choices available. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. While it might be impossible to spend money in this economy without someone in the chain being exploited, you can still choose to spend your money in ways that minimize your contributions to exploitation.

So, what are some specific ways in which I can exert my willpower to cast off the chains of society and increase not only my own sovereignty but also that of other individuals, both human and nonhuman?

  • Abstain from using all addictive substances — caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, etc.
  • Abstain from using animal products — meat, fish, eggs, dairy, etc.
  • Know where your food and other goods are coming from, and make your consumer choices as “ethical” as possible. Grow as much of your own food as possible.
  • Live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. A state of vibrant health expands your possibilities and frees you from dependence on profiteering medical professionals and pharmaceutical corporations.
  • Escape from mental prisons such as organized religion — particularly the theistic ones, which condition you to submit to “higher powers.”
  • Reject unnecessary traditions such as marriage, monogamy, and heteronormativity. Do not allow your sexual expression to be limited by social acceptability. Just make sure your sexual expression doesn’t violate the sovereignty of other individuals. Consenting human adults only!
  • Limit your exposure to mainstream media, which is a tool used by the capitalist class for mass conditioning and manipulating public opinion.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook, as its engineers design it to get you to spend as much time on the platform as possible, even against your will and to your detriment. The red notification symbol activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, thus allowing them to use techniques of operant conditioning on you. If you do use Facebook, and social media in general, avoid creating an ideological echo chamber, as this subjects you to groupthink. Instead of Google, use DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t create a filter bubble and doesn’t profit from your searches.
  • Experiment with technologies of self-liberation, such as meditation. The responsible use of psychedelics is an extremely powerful way of dissolving the rigid mental boundaries created by social conditioning. While LSD is preposterously classified as a Schedule 1 substance, it has no addictive potential whatsoever, as its mechanism of action does not involve the dopamine reward system.

These are just some suggestions to help you get started. The key is to practice reflexivity. Notice when you are being influenced by external forces. If these forces are influencing you in ways that are not in your best interest, then reject them. Don’t be afraid to be selfish. Be your authentic self — unapologetically and wholeheartedly.