“Revolution” Versus Revolution

At times when I have little else to do I enjoy skimming some of the seedier subreddits. One of my favorite subreddits is the home of some of the whackiest socialist in the world, /r/socialism. There you will find the dregs of collectivism, “revolutionary” socialists, discussing such important topics as why it was totally justified to murder the sons of Nicholas II even though he had abdicated power to his brother, and not any of his children.

You probably noticed I used quotes around revolutionary. This is because there isn’t anything revolutionary about “revolutionary” socialists. All they want to do is get rid of the current bourgeois so they themselves can become the bourgeois. From a statist perspective this would qualify as a revolution because the idea of real radical change is entirely foreign to them. The only options they see is their state or another state. But to radicals there is nothing revolutionary about toppling one set of masters only to replace them with another set.

Radicals, being anti-political in nature, tend to find the definition of revolution used by sociologists, “A radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence,” most apt. A true revolution is one where the very shape of society changes.

Let’s consider the socialist revolution in Russia. At the time imperial power in Russia was waning. When a power vacuum opened up the bolsheviks were the only group that was poised to fill it. Under the auspices of brining revolutionary change to Russia, where the workers would enjoy power instead of the imperialists and capitalists, the bolsheviks used a union with other socialist groups, including anarchists, to solidify their power base. Once the bolsheviks eliminated every person they could credibly label a counter revolutionary threat they turned on their fellow socialist allies (after all, what is a revolution without a good purge). In the end the bolsheviks were the last group standing and Russia returned to what it had been previously: a nation of serfs brutally ruled by a handful of masters. All the tropes once assigned to the bourgeois; gulags, secret police, wealth being held by the State instead of the people, etc.; were present. The only “revolution” was in the efficiency of the brutality. And history has shown Russia’s case to be the norm, not the exception. When “revolutionary” socialists throw off the yoke of the bourgeois they merely become bourgeois themselves.

What would a real revolution look like? Since hierarchy and coercion are the norm today a revolution would be the opposite: a non-hierarchical and voluntary society. The challenge in creating revolution is that it requires revolutionary tactics. Relying on the statist tactic of war will only server to perpetuate statism, as “revolutionary” socialists have demonstrated time and again. A non-hierarchical, voluntary society can only be achieve through non-hierarchical, voluntary means. Agorism, for example (it is not the only example, merely the example I am most familiar with and believe will be most likely to succeed), is a truly revolutionary strategy to bring about a truly revolutionary world.

Agorim is itself anti-statist. In fact the entire idea is to separate one’s self from the State as much as possible. That means avoiding taxes by participating in underground commerce, preferring market currencies over government currencies, creating alternative methods for educating children, forming mutual aid organizations, and utilizing secure means of communications to thwart government surveillance.

A major emphasis of agorism is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is an attempt to empower the individual and in so doing eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, hierarchies. One area where I believe the labor movement has failed is in its focus on empowering collectives instead of individuals. When a collective has power the individual is at its mercy. Whether we call the collective a government or council is irrelevant. Whether the collective arrives at its decisions dictatorially or democratically is also irrelevant. So long as the collective is in a position to dictate the lives of individuals a hierarchy exists. Entrepreneurs, being in control of their means of attaining the necessities of life, are far less beholden to others then employees.

Agorims also strongly emphasizes voluntary interaction. When the coercive guns of the State are replaced with voluntary market action the ability for any individual or group of individuals to establish a hierarchy is diminished. Coercive powers such as taxation and arbitrary issuance of laws allow the State to get away with any number of horrible actions. But when people are truly free to interact with you or not it becomes in your best interest to be polite and honorable. If the State murders somebody everybody in society is required to continue paying taxes but in a free society nobody is required to continue interacting with a murdered (in fact many prohibitions against self-defense that are created by the State wouldn’t be in the picture so the chances of being a successful murderer would likely diminish as well).

That is a true revolution where the State is replaced entirely by a society that represents everything statism isn’t.

Micro Hosting

I’ve been talking about the need to decentralize the Internet. Unfortunately handing so much power to a handful of domestic companies has proven to be a boon for the surveillance state. This is one of the reasons why I self-host most of my online services. I don’t like the current centralized environment and am therefore trying to walk the walk in decoupling myself from large service providers. Admittedly the current environment makes things like self-hosted e-mail questionably useful in most cases, mostly because almost everybody uses Gmail and therefore most email ends up on Google’s servers anyways, it does demonstrates the feasibility of a strategy (and as I wrote elsewhere every revolution has a humble beginning).

For the purposes of this post I’m going to create a phrase that’s probably already being used unknown to me: micro hosting. Micro hosting is an idea that came to me at AgoraFest after hearing a speaker urging agorists to develop a million one dollar ideas instead of one million dollar idea. A micro host is some schmuck like me with a server, a business Internet connection, and knowledge in system administration providing services to a handful of people. The key to this model is that you have a million small hosts providing services instead of one large host. Decentralization not only makes it more difficult for the State’s surveillance apparatus but also makes it difficult for the state to enforce it’s massive number of regulations.

Another advantage to this model is that it could finally weaken the grip advertising has on Internet services. Each host is obviously free to develop whatever business model they choose. For people like me that business model would involve getting paid by users instead of advertisers. Under such a business model privacy becomes a feature instead of a liability since convincing customers to pay for your service over, say, Google’s would likely require assurances that you’re not snooping through their communications for advertising purposes.

Recently I’ve put out feelers to people I know who are concerned about privacy to see if there’s an interest amongst them to have me host their e-mail for a small charge. Surprisingly there has been quite a bit of interest in not just e-mail but other services as well. Since I’m already running the services the overhead of hosting more people is pretty minimal. In other words this makes for a great agorist business idea since the risks are fairly minor and the prospect of turning a profit exists.

As I move forward with this this plan I’ll post updates. My reason for this is to inspire other agorists, specifically to start a small business such as a micro host. An additional reason, of course, is to inspire other people who may not be agorists to start a micro host to help decentralize the Internet.

Embrace The Mesh

Mesh networks are wonderful for many reasons. My primary interest in them is their ability to decentralize Internet connectivity but they also offer a major advantage for those living in areas not currently services by high-speed Internet providers: a more cost effective means of obtaining Internet connectivity.

A lot of people complain that the Internet service providers (ISP) in their area don’t offer high-speed connectivity to their home but offer it to homes only a block or two away. In almost all cases ISPs will connect your home up but they’ll put the cost of expanding their infrastructure on you:

When Cole Marshall decided to buy an empty lot and build a house, one of his top priorities was getting fast and reliable Internet service.

Marshall says he received assurances from Charter, the local cable company, that he could get Internet access to his home in Wisconsin. There was also a promise of relatively fast DSL, with telco Frontier Communications telling him it could provide 24Mbps download speeds, he told Ars.

As it turned out, neither company could deliver. Once the house was built, Charter would only offer service if he paid $117,000 to cover the cost of extending its network to his new home. Frontier does provide DSL Internet, but only at slower speeds of up to 3Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream.

Marshall, who works at home as a Web developer, subscribed to Frontier and struggles with his Internet connection daily.

“Cable was always available everywhere I lived, and I never thought moving just a little bit out of the city would mean I’d get hardly anything,” Marshall said.

Whether Charter and Frontier provided those assurances is a case of he said, she said. But the core problem, Marshall wanting access to faster Internet connectivity, exists regardless. In this case Charter isn’t unwilling to provide him cable Internet but it does expect him to pay for expanding its infrastructure to him. The price isn’t surprising since acquiring permits, digging up ground, burying fiber, and covering it back up isn’t cheap. But Marshall also isn’t without choices.

Wireless Internet connectivity is nice because it doesn’t require building a lot of physical infrastructure. You only need two radios to span a gap. And based on the story Marshall isn’t that far from Charter customers with cable Internet service:

Marshall has been told that his home was about 3,200 feet from Charter’s network, or about 6/10 of a mile. But a Charter spokesperson told Ars that an inspection determined it could not build to Marshall’s home from the nearest facilities.

Spanning approximately one kilometer is easily doable with affordable radios. The directional NanoStations we used at AgoraFest can span five times that distance and cost about $40 to $50 per radio. Here is where Marshall could make use of a mesh network.

Were he to offer to pay one of Charter’s customers it’s likely they would have no issue providing him Internet access via wireless radio. After all, most people buy more bandwidth than they need and are happy to receive a little undeclared income. If other people in his housing development made similar deals it would be trivial for his neighborhood to have access to fast Internet connectivity for a very modest price. And because of how mesh networks operate the Internet connectivity could be maintained even if one of the Charter customers canceled a deal.

Markets Cannot be Suppressed

No matter how tyrannical the state gets, no matter what controls they put into place, they cannot suppress the market. What if you want to order something anonymously? In this day and age that can be very difficult because ordering items online generally requires a credit card that is tied to an account with your name attached to it. To get around this the denizens of the Internet decided to combine Tor and Bitcoin to create The Silk Road.

For those who haven’t heard of The Silk Road it’s a Tor hidden service where people can buy and sell anything (except weapons, they allow the sale of drugs but for some reason draw the line at weapons). Being a Tor hidden service it can only be accessed through the Tor network. If you download the Tor browser bundle you will be able to gain access to The Silk Road by going to http://silkroadvb5piz3r.onion/ (if you don’t have Tor running that address will lead you nowhere). Once you’re there you can buy anything from homemade cookies to drugs, so long as you have the Bitcoins.

Needless to say unhindered trade is big business. The Silk Road netted an estimated $22 million in annual sales:

In the year since Senator Joe Manchin called for the “audacious” drug-selling website Silk Road to be “shut down immediately,” the world’s most high-profile underground pharmacy hasn’t just survived. With $22 million in annual sales and around double the commission for the site’s owners compared with just six months ago, its black market business is booming.

In a research paper (PDF here) released earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon computer security professor Nicolas Christin has taken a crack at measuring the sales activity on Silk Road’s underground online marketplace, which runs as a “hidden service” on the Tor network and uses tough-to-trace digital Bitcoins as currency, two measures that have helped to obscure its sellers, buyers and operators from law enforcement.

When the state attempts to make the trade of a good or service illegal they don’t make it go away, they just make it go underground. Prohibitions are pointless, an exercise in futility.

Why You Should Quit Politics

Longtime readers of my blog know that I slowly became more and more disenfranchised with politics. At one point I believed, naively, that the political system could be reformed and that liberty could be reclaimed if we could just get the right people into office. I’m over that now, I realized the achieving liberty by begging our oppressors won’t gain us liberty. This is why I’ve ducked out of politics and am focusing on economic solutions and I’m not the only one:

The whole prospect compelled me to re-examine the efficacy of the political process as a means to liberty, and I’m beginning to think that this state sanctioned mechanism for change may not actually be the most appropriate means for our desired end. Perhaps it’s time to rethink all this- to demote on our priority list the stopgap measures of the political process and to begin fervently pouring our talents, energies and monies into a ‘targeted capitalism’, if you will. Liberty lovers everywhere intentionally targeting state-monopolized resources and disintegrating those monopolies through the capitalist process. These means are by nature decentralizing and can be pursued while completely disregarding the will of power. Enough of this pleading with our oppressors not to oppress us so much! Let’s stop being depressed victims of the state and instead start imagining all the endless opportunities its incompetencies create! In the process, we can be around people we like, create wealth by offering real value for the masses, live adventurously, with a clean conscience, and most importantly, live free.

In order to remove the state’s interference from our lives we must make the state irrelevant. So long as they maintain monopolies on needed resources people will continue to falsely believe that those resources wouldn’t be available without the state. How many times have you heard the argument that the state is necessary to build and maintain roads, provide welfare to the poor, and ensure we have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink? Those of us that argue markets can provide all of those things are often doubted. Market skeptics don’t consider the fact that the state prevents such goods from being provided on a free market, they just know that those goods aren’t currently being provided by a free market.

If we want liberty we must step up to the plate and begin challenging the state’s monopolies. We must demonstrate that the state isn’t required to provide goods and services. Once the state has proven to be irrelevant individuals may finally start questioning why they’re paying great deals of wealth to it.

The history of the United States has demonstrated one thing: the political process isn’t an effective means of achieving liberty. In the 236 years this country has been in existence we’ve seen the state grab more and more power. The Articles of Confederation were quickly replaced by the Constitution, which granted the federal government the power to tax. When states tried to leave the United States they were forced back into the Union by a Civil War. In the name of fighting communism more and more spying powers were granted to the federal government. Now we face an almost all-powerful state that claims control over all social and economic issues. It cements its power by preventing others from providing wanted services or helping one another. The state claims it’s necessary to help the poor, sick, and hungry and then prevents others from helping the poor, sick, and hungry. It validates itself by preventing others from doing what it does. Time has come to say “Enough is enough!” We need to start challenging the state’s monopolies, we need to demonstrate that individuals are capable of helping one another. Honestly, we all need to start businesses (not state sanctioned businesses, just businesses).

When Currencies Collapse

The problem with fiat currency is the fact it doesn’t have any intrinsic value. Worth of fiat currencies, like the United States dollar, is judged entirely on the decree of the issuer. For example the $5 bill is worth $5 only because the state, which issues the currency, says it’s worth $5. On the other hand commodity based currencies hold intrinsic value, they have actual worth through their utility. If a culture decides to base its currency on wheat, probably not the best commodity to use as it spoils but that’s beside the point, each currency unit would be a fixed amount of wheat. Let’s call this hypothetical currency the Whollar (wheat dollar because I’m super creative), and each Whollar is fixed at 1 pound of wheat. If you take your Whollars to a bank you can exchange them for their value of wheat, so taking 100 Whollars to the bank would result in you walking away with 100 pounds of wheat. Since wheat is a staple foodstuff it has actual value in its utility.

Fiat currencies are easily manipulated but fail to hold value once trust in the currency is lost. While the state may say the $5 bill is worth $5 sellers in the market place may assign it a value of zero. Once faith in a fiat currency is lost it no longer because usable for the exchange of goods and at that point real trade resumes. The faith most people hold in Greek money has vanish and in its place comes the return of barter:

In recent weeks, Theodoros Mavridis has bought fresh eggs, tsipourou (the local brandy: beware), fruit, olives, olive oil, jam, and soap. He has also had some legal advice, and enjoyed the services of an accountant to help fill in his tax return.

None of it has cost him a euro, because he had previously done a spot of electrical work – repairing a TV, sorting out a dodgy light – for some of the 800-odd members of a fast-growing exchange network in the port town of Volos, midway between Athens and Thessaloniki.

In return for his expert labour, Mavridis received a number of Local Alternative Units (known as tems in Greek) in his online network account. In return for the eggs, olive oil, tax advice and the rest, he transferred tems into other people’s accounts.

The only common item everybody has to make exchanges is their labor and the reason people make exchanges is to fulfill wants. Why would I work for two hours programming a computer in exchange for something that won’t allow me to fulfill my wants? If United States dollars or euros won’t buy me food, shelter, and clothing then they are of no use to me. On the other hand I can directly exchange my labor for those wants.

Bater isn’t ideal as it can be complicated but it’s far better than exchanging your goods and services for worthless paper that won’t buy you similar goods and services due to inflation and lack of faith in the currency.

As fiat currencies continue to collapse we’re going to see more people resorting to barter.