Monday, May 1, 2006

A Market Anarchist on: what is exploitation ? part 1

Any serious political position must have a position on the existence and perpetuation of exploitation - in short, a model of exploitation. In Marxism, this model is centered around the notion of classes and discrimination between classes. Exploitation, according to this model, exists because the "higher classes" use their economic power to "oppress" the "lower classes".

A model based on reality must reject such notions, because they are based on collectivism. We must start from the premise that only individuals and their interactions exist. And the natural moral extension of this is : the only thing that can be exploited is the individual's value expression. Even if we're talking about money or power, all that we're talking about here is forms of value expression.

To exploit someone, therefore, must have something to do with stopping them from being able to express their values, or affect their ability to do so in the future. But the notion of exploitation also includes an involuntary nature. A person who desires to be restricted - for whatever reason - is not being exploited.

If I am in excruciating pain and I ask you to help me commit suicide, I am not being exploited. But if I was put in this excruciating pain because I was beat up by a policeman for speaking against the state, I was exploited. And the government in general receives the benefit of the police oppressing me because it raises its legitimacy. So in this case any politician in the government can be said to exploit me, even if they do not commit the force themselves, because they ordered and benefit from the oppression.

So exploitation, as a specific definition, is the process of restricting people's value expression without their consent, of one's own power or through the use of the power of another.

In this market anarchist perspective, I distinguish between three categories of exploiters : first-hand parasites, second-hand parasites, and free riders. Let me go through them in turn.

1. First-hand parasites are the individuals who use force directly, those that have the guns, and the individuals who give orders to them.

So obviously here we're talking about policemen and soldiers - public criminals - and we're also talking about private criminals and mafia foot soldiers. By extension, we're also talking about the politicians and bureaucrats who benefit from the law and wars, and the gangs that benefit from gang wars. In a sense, it is appropriate to list them together, since the government and mafias are basically the same kind of organization.

In past times, and still in some countries, we would also be talking about agents of religion as first-hand parasites. However religion serves a much more important role as a catalyst for state oppression, which I will discuss later.

2. Second-hand parasites are the individuals who indirectly exploit people by benefitting from government power, and depend on government force for the maintenance of their status.

Here we would be talking about people who manipulate the trappings of democracy, such as activists, interest groups, political organizations and parties. Unions are another major example of this category, as their monopoly on the workforce depends on government regulation. Corporate trusts, corporations receiving subsidies, and corporations benefitting from protectionism are also part of this category. Mafias are also part of this category, because they depend on government laws to maintain their markets.

3. Free riders are people who would still have a job in a market anarchy, but who use government power to further their aims, while suffering the perverse effects of said power.

A great number of people are in this category. They are not parasitic in nature, unlike the people in 1 and 2, but they are part of the greater area of control of government. This includes CEOs of multinationals, politico-scientists and politico-artists, activists, churches, lawyers, doctors, insurers, public school teachers, amateur and professional athletes, and so on. So there is a whole set of people doing their job with twisted incentives.

Organized religion is an interesting case. It used to be an exploiter on par with government. Nowadays, religion is a free rider on government power, keeping its grip on the people through religion-friendly laws and support from the state. In exchange, religion perpetuates the myth and narratives of the state. Unlike most domains, people who occupy the religious domain seem to suffer few perverse effects from their free rider status. Government and religion have a symbiotic relationship, where government busies itself with controlling bodies, and religion busies itself with controlling minds. Together they form a perfect system of social control, and catalyze each other.

Another additional category that could be added is that of prudent predation. However I don't really want to get into this, as this is more of a moral issue and less of a political issue.

As exploiters, all are morally culpable to some degree. A soldier who kills people for a living is obviously more morally culpable than the owner of an insurance company that benefits from evil laws. However both reap the benefit of exploitation in one form or another.

I want to make clear here that I don't think most people on this list are universal exploiters. They exploit a specific set of people. Public school teachers exploit children and the necessity of their presence, while the administration of the school exploits their parents. Politico-scientists exploit the masses through the credibility of the media and their pre-existing status. Union thugs exploit the people who are forced to be part of their union. Government is the only institution which has the power to exploit the whole of society.

As society is a network of economic and social relations, and government affects the whole of society, it is impossible to disentangle ourselves from the effects of government. All we can do is minimize our moral responsibility in its perpetuation. We still have to pay taxes and play by the rules of the game. But we must recognize that it is a game, a game that is being played for the interests of a small minority of exploiters against the people composing the vast majority.

So this gets us to the issue of perpetuation. If the vast majority of people suffer from exploitation, why does the system persist ? I think part of that lies in the symbiosis of state and religion that I described. Both are authoritarian, collectivist belief systems, based on a morality of repression and sacrifice, which feed off each other.

But the most important part of the answer lies in the consequences of social control. As government takes control of vital areas such as education, the media and
it is able to control the thoughts of its citizens, able to dictate what can or cannot be made aware. It is obvious that monarchies did not have the means to garner support that democracies have today, partly because of democracy itself and how it confers legitimacy in the eyes of the masses.

This power of global thought control is why I think the Internet will eventually attract the ire of states to a much greater extent than it is today. Right now dictatorships know what's good for them and try to censor the Internet as much as possible. I think that the strategy in the Western world to grab your free speech by the balls by threatening your ISP will continue to work very effectively, but that governments will eventually arm themselves with other means to attack free speech on the Internet.

In part 2, I look at the more personal aspects of exploitation.

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