Why Ideological Systems Fail

In my last post I explained that the source of an ideological system’s failure is never individuals acting in their self-interest. However, I did note that a source of failure can be individuals whose causes of unease aren’t proper for the system.

Consider the Soviet Union. Many self-proclaimed communists point to Stalin’s rise to power as the point where the country transitioned from a communist system to a corruption of communism. When Stalin came to power he eliminated anybody he perceived to be a challenge to his power. One of his sources of unease was obviously the thought of losing power. A communist system cannot succeed if the individuals in power are made uneasy by losing power because the goal of communism according to Marx is the transition to a stateless society.

Consider the United States of America. Many self-proclaimed capitalists point to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency as the point where the country transitioned from a capitalist system to a corruption of capitalism. Roosevelt came into power during the Great Depression and implemented a number of socialist programs in an apparent attempt to right the economy. A source of his unease was the continuation of the economic conditions of the Great Depression, which he felt could be corrected by a move away from capitalism. A capitalist system cannot succeed if the individuals in power are made uneasy by economic downturns because those downturns are a necessary response to resources being misallocated.

As I noted in my previous post sources of unease are unique to each individual. This brings us to a major reason why ideological systems fail. No single ideological system can remove or alleviate the uneases of every individual. Communism cannot remove the unease felt by a capitalist when his business is taken and given to his employees. Capitalism cannot remove the unease felt by employees who are not being paid the full value of their labor by a employer. Most proponents of an ideological system recognize this, but fail to grasp the ramifications.

When an attempt to implement an ideological system on a massive scale is made, individuals who are somehow made uneasy by that system (at least in its pure ideological form) will strive to undermine it. Attempts to counteract those individuals will make other individuals uneasy. For example, trying to purge anti-communists after a communist revolution will likely make many of the friends and family members of those anti-communists uneasy. They may attempt to alleviate their unease by undermining the communist system. Attempts at repressing them will just continue the cycle. Eventually so many people are attempting to alleviate their uneasy by undermining the system that its failure can no longer be denied.

All Action is Self-Interested Action

Most self-proclaimed communists refer to the economic system of the United States as capitalism. Most self-proclaimed capitalists point out that the economic system of the United States is actually cronyism. Meanwhile, most self-proclaimed capitalists refer to the economic system of China as communist and most self-proclaimed communists claim that what is implemented in China isn’t real communism.

This is how most arguments about ideological systems go. The critic points to a supposed implementation as proof that the system is trash and the advocate rebuts by claiming that the supposed implementation is a corrupted form of the system, not an actual implementation. If you then prod the advocate about the source of the corruption, they will almost always claim that the source is greedy individuals acting in their self-interest rather than the interests of all.

Is that true? Is the flaw in every ideological system individuals acting in their self-interest instead of the interests of all? Could humanity enjoy a utopian existence under communism if individuals would stop being greedy? Would capitalism not transition into cronyism if individuals worried about what is best for others instead of what is best for themselves? No. It’s not true because all individuals act in their self-interest. It is impossible to do otherwise.

My argument is seldom put forth because many, if not most, people make the mistake of believing self-interest is synonymous with acquisition of power and/or material wealth. But that’s a gross misunderstanding of self-interest. As Ludwig von Mises points out:

Acting man is eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory. His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness1. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly [p. 14] happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.

But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition no action is feasible. Man must yield to the inevitable. He must submit to destiny.

When an individual acts, they seek to remove or alleviate a felt uneasiness. Unease is unique to the individual. What makes one individual uneasy may make another content. Consider a hypothetical love triangle where one individual, who I will call Julius, desires the murder of another, who I will call Gnaeus, because he won the affection of a mutual love interest, who I will call Scribonia. Gnaeus would be made content by the murder of Julius, but Scribonia would be made uneasy by the murder (Julius would probably be uneasy between the time the act or murder began and his death).

People often assume an act isn’t self-interested when they don’t know the source of unease that preceded the action. For example, one might mistake the act of an fire fighter running into a burning building to rescue somebody as an act against the fire fighter’s self-interest because it a cursory examination makes it seem that the fire fighter is causing themselves unease for the sake of another. But the sight or thought of another person suffering can (and probably for most people does) cause unease. The fire fighter may have gone into the burning building because they sought to remove or alleviate their unease of the thought of another individual burning to death. Or they may have instead gone into the burning building because they knew failing to do so would result in their termination from the job and the thought of losing their job caused them unease. Either way the act was in the fire fighter’s self-interest.

I’m sure one clever reader is saying to themselves, “Chris, you said acting against my self-interest is impossible, but I’m going to prove you wrong by stabbing myself in the gut!” Following through with the action would not prove me wrong because the action would be taken to remove or alleviate the unease caused by the thought of me being correct.

Thus the flaw in an ideological system cannot be a failure of individuals to act against their own self-interest. An argument could certainly be made that the primary flaw in an ideological system is individuals whose causes of unease aren’t proper for the system. That, however, is a different argument entirely.

The Exodus

When COVID-19 started making headlines, I didn’t think much of it. A new virus makes the headlines every few years. But when governments started using COVID-19 as a justification to implement severe restrictions, I started to wonder if we were on the cusp of a major shift in the status quo. Now that we’re several months into the restrictions put into place to “flatten the curve,” I’m all but certain that we’re in the midst of major changes.

One major shift that has come of government COVID-19 policies is the worker migration from offices to home. Before the lock downs were implemented a lot of companies were still skeptical of the work from home model. At the beginning of the lock downs those companies were forced to either shutdown or transition to a work from home model. Now that those businesses have been operating on a work from home model for several months many of them are starting to question the old model. Consider the cost of maintaining a large office in a central hub for your employees. There’s the cost of the building itself. It’s either owned; in which case the costs of the building, upkeep, and property taxes are incurred; or it’s rented; in which case the monthly rent is incurred. Then you have the cost of municipal services such as electrical power, water, and sewer. Most offices offer employees some amenities such as coffee, snacks, etc. Often forgotten are the costs of added risks such as employees being injured or killed during their commute, employees coming in late or being unable to come in at all due to weather, and business being disrupted by power outages, civil unrest, etc. And then there are future costs to consider such as likely tax hikes as various levels of government scramble to make up for lost revenue.

It should come as no surprise that businesses are looking at the current landscape and questioning whether they should flee their expensive central hubs now that many of their employees are working from home:

A new survey by the Downtown Council shows 45 business owners say they are considering leaving downtown – citing the lack of people working or socializing downtown – and the idea that the police department could be dismantled.

[…]

“We are seeing business owners wanting to eliminate the overhead, especially in a world where it looks like there’s going to be a more hybrid approach happening – and people are going to be working from home – business owners and companies are looking to downsize,” he said.

Keep in mind that these are 45 business owners that bothered to participate in a survey. The overall number is almost certainly higher.

This exodus would cause a domino effect. If major companies begin to flee a city, supporting companies usually follow. What’s the point of operating a restaurant or a bar in a city if nobody is eating or drinking there? Likewise, employees that moved to the city because they wanted a short commute may begin looking for a place that’s cheaper and/or nicer. Minnesota is already seeing this as people working from home ask themselves why they shouldn’t work from lakefront property (or in my case, why not work from the woods).

Besides work the other major attraction of large cities has traditionally been big events. Concerts, sports, festivals, etc. usually happen in large cities. But those also vanished when the lock downs were implemented. Downtown Minneapolis is currently a ghost town compared to a few months ago and the same is probably true of other major cities.

We may be witnesses the beginning of the end of a system that really took off with the Industrial Revolution: population centralization. The Industrial Revolution brought factories and factories needed a lot of manpower so they tended to be built in existing population centers. Those factory jobs tended to pay better than farm work so laborers started to migrate from rural areas to those population centers. There was a cycle where factories went to where laborers could be found en masse and laborers started migrating to where factories could be found en masse.

A lot of labor is no longer physical and the Internet provides a mechanism for nonphysical labor to be done remotely. Thus the groundwork exists for the Industrial Revolution cycle to be broken. Employees can live in the boonies and work for a company whose nearest office is several hundred miles away or even across the globe. Many other city attractions also disappeared or went remote.

I think we may be at the beginning of an exodus away from cities. If it occurs, this could end up being another epoch like the Industrial Revolution.

Anti-Society

I’ve recently started reading the works of Renzo Novatore, and Italian individualist anarchist. His writings on anarchism can almost be seen as a sequel to the writings of Max Stirner. One of his more famous quotes struck a chord with me.

Anarchy is not a social form, but a method of individualization. No society will concede to me more than a limited freedom and a well-being that it grants to each of its members. But I am not content with this and want more. I want all that I have the power to conquer. Every society seeks to confine me to the august limits of the permitted and the prohibited. But I do not acknowledge these limits, for nothing is forbidden and all is permitted to those who have the force and the valor. Consequently, anarchy, which is the natural liberty of the individual freed from the odious yoke of spiritual and material rulers, is not the construction of a new and suffocating society. It is a decisive fight against all societies-christian, democratic, socialist, communist, etc, etc. Anarchism is the eternal struggle of a small minority of aristocratic outsiders against all societies which follow one another on the stage of history.

When I started entertaining the idea of a stateless society, I spent a lot of time imagining what such a society would look like. I did this in part because I wanted to understand if anarchism could work and in part because the first question a statist asks an anarchist is how could [insert any state provided good or service] exist without government? The statist usually pats themselves on the back because they think that their question is both creative and unanswerable, but in reality the question merely demonstrates their lack of creativity.

However, as I traveled the path of individual anarchism I encountered increasingly radical authors. Friedrich Nietzsche introduced me to the concept of master and slave morality and the idea that those who follow a slave morality aren’t interested in making slaves into masters, but in making masters into slaves. I began to notice this phenomenon everywhere, especially amongst those who say that they want absolute equality for all. The equality they strive for isn’t one where all individuals hold absolute power, but one where all individuals are subjected to the whims of others.

After Nietzsche I came across Max Stirner. Stirner introduced me to the concept of spooks: imaginaries mistakenly treated as real. These imaginaries are most commonly used to restrain the individual. Whenever somebody claims that we live in a society or refers to a social contract, they’re arguing that the existence of the society and its accompanying contract are greater than any individual and thus every individual must subject themselves to them. But the concepts of society and social contracts are make-believe. They cannot think, reason, or act. As Ludwig von Mises said, “All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.”

If society is a spook, then imaging an anarchist society is an exercise in creating fiction. If the goal of anarchism isn’t the creation of a society, then what is it? Now I want to return to Novatore, because his quote about anarchism explains what I’ve had a difficult time explaining. Anarchism by his definition can almost be thought of as anti-society. Whereas the concept of society attempts to restrain the individual, anarchism attempts to empower the individual.

As Novatore notes, the concept of society always offers a limited freedom. Whenever one imagines a society, they imagine prohibitions. The monarchist imagines a benevolent and just ruler establishing sensible restrictions that benefit all. The constitutionalist imagines a document written by wise men explaining methods for justly creating new restrictions. The communist imagines worker collectives deciding new restrictions by majority votes.

Anarchism viewed as anti-society can be thought of as a refutation of restrictions placed upon the individual by coming to the realization that society doesn’t exist. Just as society is an imaginary, so are its laws. George W. Bush was accused of referring to the Constitution of the United States as just a “goddamn piece of paper.” This accusation lead to a great deal of outrage, but the statement he was accused of uttering is correct. The Constitution is just a piece of paper. It has no power to think, reason, or act and it cannot restrain an individual from thinking, reasoning, or acting. This is true of all laws. Laws cannot stop an individual from murdering, raping, or stealing anymore than the boogeyman.

The pursuit of anti-society is the pursuit of exorcising spooks from your mind. It is the pursuit of breaking the chains which you’ve placed upon yourself by allowing yourself to believe that imaginary concepts can control your actions. It is the pursuits of the realization that those imaginary concepts aren’t real and therefore have no power over you.

Based on what I’ve written so far you probably assume that anti-society is a synonym for social Darwinism, a world where the strong prey upon the weak. It’s a fair assumption for one who has spent their entire life being taught and subsequently believes that societal restrictions prevent the strong from preying on the weak. In practice the opposite is true. Societal restrictions are established by the strong. Those who are called kings, representatives, and the majority are the conquerors. Those who are called subjects, citizens, and the minority are the conquered. The idea of society is the idea of the strong establishing restrictions for the weak to follow.

Anti-society has only been pursued by a minority of individuals. If pursued on a massive scale, anti-society might do a better job of preventing murder, rape, theft, and other activities you likely associate with unlimited individual freedom. A world where everybody has a nuclear weapon might be less predatory than a world where only a handful of individuals do. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction did dissuade the United States and the Soviet Union from entering a direct war with one another. Or it might not. It’s impossible to know and, if I’m being honest, I don’t care.

What I know for certain is that I’m no longer interested in a limited freedom. I want to break the chains I’ve placed upon myself. I want unlimited freedom. Perhaps you do too. If so, I welcome you to join me on my journey towards anti-society. If not, I respect your choice and will not insist that you follow me. But I’m going and nothing you say or do will stop me.

Error Indicators of Limited Value

When I moved into this house, I decided to use UniFi gear for my entire network because I wanted to centrally manage it (I, like most people who work in the technology field, am lazy by nature). This house doesn’t have Ethernet running through the walls so I (again, being lazy) opted to rely on a mesh network for most of my networking needs. My mesh network consists of three UAP-AC-M access points.

Like most other people working in the technology field, I’ve been working from home since COVID-19 started making headlines. This means my in-person meetings have mostly been done via remote video conferences. My setup ran smoothly until a few weeks ago when I started experiencing a strange issue where I’d periodically lose my video conference feeds for 10 to 30 seconds. Since I first setup my mesh network my UniFi Controller has reported a large number (as in several hundred per 24-hour period) of DHCP Timeout errors along with a handful of WPA Authentication Timeout errors. It also reported long access point association times for my two mesh nodes (the other node is wired to my switch). Searching Ubiquiti’s online support forum returned a lot of results for individuals experiencing these errors without any resolution. In fact several comments made by Ubiquiti employees stated that the DHCP Timeout errors can be ignored so long as the network is performing well. I ended up ignoring the errors because at the time my network was performing well and nobody seemed to have a resolution to the errors.

I began looking into the problem again when the video conferencing problems I mentioned started to manifest. To make a long story short, I finally figured out my problem. UAP-AC-M access points use the 5Ghz spectrum for mesh communications so they all operate on the same 5Ghz channel, but it’s expected that they utilize different 2.4Ghz channels. My mesh nodes were setup to automatically select their 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz channels during boot up. I assumed this was safe because I boot them up in stages one after the other. That should have caused them to see each other when they booted up and select a different 2.4Ghz channel. According to my UniFi controller, all three 2.4Ghz channels (one, six, and 11 are the only channels that don’t overlap with other channels) were being utilized so I assumed the access points were operating as I expected. After trying to few different settings I decided to manually select the 2.4Ghz channels for my access points. I put one access point on channel one, one on channel six, and one on channel 11.

Since doing that I haven’t experienced any video conferencing problems. Moreover, my DHCP Timeout errors have dropped to almost nothing (I now experience between two and four per 24-hour period), the WPA Authentication Timeout errors have remained at one or two per 24-hour period, and I no longer see any errors about access points taking longer than expected to associate.

If you’re one of the many people experiencing a massive number of DHCP Timeout errors with UniFi access points and you haven’t already manually selected non-overlapping 2.4Ghz channels for your access points, give it a try. I will note that since I live in the country and there are no other visible Wi-Fi networks anywhere on my property, your experience may differ if you’re in an environment with a lot of competing Wi-Fi networks.

Ghost Stories

This evening I logged onto Facebook and saw a bunch of my friends were commenting on the following infographic:

It was produced by the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and has caused quite the stir (which is to say it has served its likely intended purpose). Some of my friends expressed agreement with it and some of my friends expressed disagreement with it. Not surprisingly there was a significant correlation (as in 100 percent) between a friend’s opinion and their expressed philosophical ideology.

However, even those who disagreed with it failed to address the primary problem with this infographic. The ultimate failure of this infographic isn’t that it claims that characteristics like rugged individualism, nuclear families, and Christianity are white or that it implies that those characteristics are undesirable. The ultimate failure of this infographic is the same failure of all commentary on “cultures,” “societies,” and “classes.” It’s listing “facts” about make believe.

Cultures, societies, classes and other attempts to treat unique individual as anything but don’t actually exist. They’re made up, as George Calin once said about rights, like the boogeyman. Listing facts about a culture, society, or class is no different than listing facts about elves. Doing so is often a fun exercise, but elves aren’t real (outside of Iceland, of course) so any “facts” you list about them are entirely made up.

With that said, I didn’t write this post to ruin your fun. Don’t let it stop you from arguing about this infographic. People argue passionately about make believe all the time. But do know that I’m laughing at you, not with you, because, as Max Stirner would say, you have a head full of ghosts and are badly in need of an exorcism.

Avoiding Censorship Online

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and most other mainstream social media platforms have pledged to increase the speech they censor. This has lead many people, especially those most likely to be censored, to seek greener pastures. They usually tell anybody who will listen to flock to alternate social media platforms such as MeWe, Minds, and Parler. Of course this is an exercise in trading one centrally controlled platform for another. This means users are still at the mercy of the individuals who control the services. Parler has already walked back its commitment to absolute free speech and other alternate platforms will likely do the same.

So is the concept of free speech online hopeless? Not at all. However, you have to take a page from radicals throughout history. If you look at a lot of radicals, they generally owned and operated their own newspapers, magazines, journals, and periodicals. Benjamin Franklin bought a newspaper, Benjamin Tucker printed his own periodical, egoists printed their own journal, and Peter Kropotkin published his own journal. By owning and operating their own print media they were able to say whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

Today’s Internet has become centralized, corporatized, and sanitized, but that wasn’t always the case. It also doesn’t have to be the case. Anybody can run a server. This blog is hosted on a server sitting in my basement. In fact I self-host most of my online services. This gives me absolute control over my platforms. I can say whatever I want whenever I want.

If you want to express yourself freely, you need to take a page from radicals of yesteryear and own and operate your own platform. Fortunately, it’s easier today than ever before. There are a lot of self-hosted platforms available. For example, if you want something akin to Twitter, there’s Mastodon. If you want something akin to Facebook, there’s Freindica and diaspora*. If you want chatroom functionality, there’s Matrix (which also supports end-to-end encryption so you can speak freely on other people’s servers). In fact there are a ton of self-hosted platforms that cover almost anything you could need. What’s even better is that many of the self-hosted social media platforms can be federated, which means every person in a group could run their own instance and interconnect them.

To quote Max Stirner, “Whoever will be free must make himself free. Freedom is no fairy gift to fall into a man’s lap. What is freedom? To have the will to be responsible for one’s self.”

The Way It Should Always Have Been

I received my PinePhone last week. The model I ordered was the UBPorts Community Edition. My initial thoughts on the phone are that the build quality is actually very solid, but otherwise it behaves like a $150 phone. The performance isn’t great, but acceptable; the battery life, which is a known issue, is pretty terrible; and the software is in a pretty rough state (easily beta quality, maybe even late alpha quality). All of these were what was promised and what I expected so none of this should be considered criticism. I’m actually impressed by what the manufacturers and software creators managed to pull off so far.

However, after playing with UBPorts I wanted to try some other operating systems. This is where the PinePhone shines since it doesn’t lock you into any specific operating system. The next released of the Community Edition of the PinePhone will come with postmarketOS so I loaded postmarketOS onto an MicroSD card (you can also flash it to the internal eMMC chip) and booted it on the phone. postmarketOS has a utility that builds an image for you. That utility also allow you to customize a number of things including using full-disk encryption (which I haven’t played with yet since it’s experimental) and choosing your user interface. I chose Phosh for the user interface because I wanted to see what the Librem team has been working on. My experience with postmarketOS was similar to UBPorts. Performance was sluggish, but acceptable and the software is still in a rough state. However, postmarketOS makes it easy to install regular Linux desktop and command line applications so I installed and tried a few applications that I use regularly on the desktop. Unfortunately, most of the available graphical software doesn’t yet support screen scaling so applications are too big for the PinePhone’s screen. With that said, progress is being made in that direction and once more applications support screen scaling there should be a decent number of apps available.

Being able to boot up a different operating system on my phone is the way it should always have been. On my desktop and laptops computers I have always been able to choose what operating system to run, but my mobile devices have always been locked down. Some Android devices do allow you to unlock the boot loader and install a different Android image, but often doing so it’s officially supported by the manufacturer (so it’s often a pain in the ass). It’s nice to finally see a mobile phone that is designed for tinkerers and people who want to actually own their hardware.

Altering the Deal Again

Most people don’t realize the power that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) wields. The agency can make an arbitrary decision and it effectively becomes law. What makes this matter worse is that the agency isn’t bound by previous decisions. It can (and frequently had) change its mind whenever it wants.

Case in point, the ATF previously decided that using an arm brace to shoulder a pistol was a felony. It later changed its mind. Now…

It sounds like the ATF is secretly (another problem with its ability to arbitrarily change its mind is that the process can happen behind closed doors) changing its mind about arm braces again:

Congressman Matt Gaetz announced today on his podcast the ATF is crafting secret rules restricting the possession of certain pistol braces by American citizens, and that he has sent them a letter demanding they stop.

“We understand that ATF is currently considering restricting one arm brace model owned by over 700,000 Americans,” Congressman Gaetz writes along with six other members of Congress. “We strongly urge ATF to cease taking any actions and reconsider or rescind any secret determinations which call into question the legality of firearms owned by millions of law-abiding Americans.”

If the ATF decides that possessing some or all arm braces is a felony, then possessing them becomes a felony. No bills have to be written, no laws have to be passed or signed. One day you own a perfectly legal firearm and the next you’re a felon because you possess of a short barreled rifle. The only difference between the day that you became a felon and the day prior is that somebody in a government agency changed their mind.

The Police Aren’t Coming

A law enforcer killed a black man in Atlanta and is being charged. This has ruffled the feathers of many other law enforcers in the city and now they’re coming down with the blue flu:

Hours after the Fulton County district attorney announced felony murder and other charges against the former Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, in the back, a number of Atlanta police officers called in sick just before a shift change Wednesday evening.

A lot of people argue that nobody needs tools to protect themselves because if they’re in danger, they can call the police. I along with many (probably most) other advocates for gun ownership have argued that you can’t rely on other people to protect you. This argument often falls on deaf eras. Even when you point out that law enforcers have no duty to protect you, gun control advocates will argue that a cop isn’t going to just stand by and let something bad happen to an innocent person.

The recent civil unrest that started in Minneapolis has done a wonderful job of illustrating that law enforcement departments can easily become overwhelmed and when they’re overwhelmed they don’t send resources to protect you or your business. Atlanta is now illustrating the fact that there are circumstances where law enforcers will refuse to show up for work. As with Minneapolis just a short while ago, it appears that the people of Atlanta are on their own.

This is why defense in depth is such an important concept. You want redundant self-defense plans in case any single plan fails. This is especially true if any of your plans rely on anybody but yourself to execute (the only person you can 100 percent rely on is yourself because that’s the only person whose actions you can control).