Evicting the Statist Within Us

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Himalayan blackberries, Rubus armeniacus, were introduced into America in 1885 as a berry crop, but escaped cultivation and have become a pest plant in the Pacific Northwest particularly. One day I was visiting my parents when I found Dad out doing one of the usual tasks around here, beating back the blackberries. He was calmly, quietly snipping 4-inch pieces off the canes with a hand pruner, leaving them on the ground where they fell. I looked at him in amazement and said, “Dad, what the heck are you doing?!”

Up until that point, my method had been to use some long-handled device to cut the spiky canes at ground level, then use heavy gauntlets or a large pliers to laboriously pull the canes out of the tangle, stacking them on the ground in a bundle, then putting the bundle in a recycling bin or a burn barrel--all very labor-intensive and sure to generate festering blisters where the thorns got me.

To my amazed question he quietly responded, “That’s the way I’ve always done it,” and continued snipping.

I’ve often thought of that exchange, now that he is gone. Funny how such a small thing can teach lessons. I was ready to debate with him the obvious superiority of my way of cutting blackberries, all charged up for a debate. He did not respond in kind. He made no value judgments at all, in fact, not saying “I tried many ways and this seems the best,” or even “I prefer doing it this way.” No, just “That’s the way I’ve always done it.”

Well, how can a person debate with that? Of course, one can’t. When he said that, it simply set me back, forced me to shut up for once, and see what was happening. Cutting them leaves small pieces that simply rot over the wet Northwest winters and turn into mulch. No need to fight the plant or get battle scars from it; not even gloves are required. I’ve never cut canes my old way since.

We all swim in a sea of statism. Most of us have spent 12 years in the government indoctrination centers during our impressionable years, and the media and much of society reinforces that message throughout our lives.

Newly-minted anarchists like to imagine that finally they see the truth, and they are now free of that indoctrination. But . . . old habits die hard. We still do many of the same sorts of things that support the state, at the very same time we rail against it! We don’t even realize we are doing it. It’s not a simple matter to shuck the statist habits planted deep within us, not by a long shot.

To give some examples, there is nothing more statist than minding someone else’s business, or having distress over the fact he looks at the world differently than we do, or has ideas we don’t share, or promoting “universal” solutions (the dream of all power centralizers).

Even persuasion is suspect, and all too easily slides into statism. It, after all, starts with the proposition that (1) “I’m right”, (2) “You’re wrong”, and (3) “I’m going to fix your opinion.” Maybe asking honest questions rather than “persuading” would be a better idea; we might then even learn something from the experience. Of course, this whole article is a form of persuasion! Old habits die hard . . . .

Commonplace among anarchists is antagonism to faith. If they bother to rationalize this antagonism at all, there is a lot of arm-waving that tries to connect religious authority with state authority. Strange though, that the most faithful people of all often tend to be those least impressed with authority of any sort, religious or otherwise (that is, they tend not to be impressed with organized religions or with governments). The other problem with this antagonism is that the other shoe is never dropped--it’s never explained what is going to happen if people don’t give up their “irrational” beliefs after all the so-called persuasion has been tried. Keep in mind what happened after the Temperance movement fell short: Alcohol Prohibition, an absolute efflorescence of the state. If people have convinced themselves they are right, and others do not respond properly, the next thing on the agenda is usually force.

I keep getting back to the question, why should another person’s beliefs be my business at all? Aren’t these anarchists’ thought processes essentially the same as those used by imperialists: “We fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here”? In other words, the only rationalization for attacking faith seems to be a preemptive one--as in, “We must fight religious belief before it turns into support for government coercion.” Yet, what about religious people who don’t support government coercion? Preemption is a fundamentally statist habit of mind.

Maybe reality is not so simple as “religion is bad" after all. Here is an enlightening talk on the connection between religion and violence (skip the first 7 minutes unless you like introductions).

Another habit common among anarchists is antagonism to parenting or parental authority; some have claimed that family life actually enables the state. Back when I was wasting my time on Facebook, there would regularly be posts by them berating and belittling people who spank children. Who knows what good these posts were supposed to accomplish . . . . It got so bad that I once made a post there proposing that we actually discuss the concept of parental authority. I said, let us act as if children actually mattered. Interestingly, no one (except one woman who was on the “spanking” side of the question) was interested in getting to the bottom of things after all. I had naively thought that parental authority needed to be parsed and discussed to see what effect it would have on discipline, but it turned out virtually no one cared about that. All that most of these anarchists were interested in was wailing on others. How statist can you get?

Very often, this particular antagonism is presented passionately. I guess passion trumps inquiry and reason.

Again, the other shoe was never dropped. Ostracism of spanking parents is sometimes mentioned, but it seems pretty sure that coercion of some sort cannot be far behind . . . . it’s “for the children,” after all.

Sometimes I wonder if the rulers tolerate anarchists on the Internet, among other reasons, because these anarchists spend so much time spewing hatred and creating rationalizations for control of others. From the ruler’s point of view, what’s not to like?

Well, what’s the true non-statist alternative? How about minding one’s own business, and looking to one’s own parenting skills? How about recognizing that general parenting practices are in fact improving, historically, and not unnecessarily working ourselves into a frenzy over them? How about recognizing that parents and children are individuals, and that what works for some may not for others?

The last example is the “smash the state” crowd--even if some other people may still want a state for themselves. Well, they can’t be allowed to have it, that’s all. The 1% (anarchists) are perfectly capable of dominating the 99%. No wonder the 99% don’t have far to look, to justify their own dominating impulses--even anarchists are supplying them examples.

Personally, I do think the day will come when those who want to be free will be free; but it won’t happen until we evict the statist impulses within us. It will come about when people start acting a bit more like my Dad, and stop mindlessly responding like Pavlov’s dogs to statist cues.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Alex R. Knight III's picture

True enough:  Anarchists, like all other humans, are susceptible to the "emotions first, logic later" order of doing things cerebrally.  The best anyone can do is to be guarded against and try resisting this impulse.  Anarchists especially.

Glock27's picture

Greetings Alex,

Glad you said that. My cognitive skills in this arena are probably on the bottom rung. The best I can say is that I don't like government in any way, shape or form. I am a whiskey drinking, gun toting, bible thumpin red-neck that wants to go when I want, do what I want and have what I want when I want it with the exclusion of theving it from someone or beating someone unless I am attacked. Very few people read anything I write because of being one of the unwashed masses who's ideas and observations just don't fit into the mold that has been formed here.
I have always believed the human being to be one whom operates off of emotions first and that logical rationalization rarely ever comes into play. I think we imagine what's best for us because we can see it down the road as happening; like you with your writing. You probably already know what's going to happen in the end because you have imagined it to be so, and so it goes with the rest of the human race. If we can be guided with an image of whats to be we are more suceptable to accepting the image; like Obamacare--some have imagined it to be a good thing, others of us recognize it as a terriable document that includes genocide in it.

Jim Davies's picture

You're right, Paul, persuasion presumes I'm right and you're wrong. All of it - as you say, even your article here.

But "I'm right" can come either from nowhere (it's the way I feel, or the way I like to cut brambles) or from a solid premise, an axiom. I drew such a contrast in Opinion and Reason recently. If properly grounded (eg anarchism, on the self-ownership axiom) then wouldn't you agree that persuasion is a perfectly valid action to attempt? Indeed to FAIL to persuade someone then might be to do him a dis-service? No, there's no obligation except to oneself (self defense) but there's nothing shady about enlightening someone in the dark.

Your Dad might have given you a much better answer: I cut them this way because I observe that given time the trimmed brambles turn to mulch, so I get a good result with less work. By speaking as he did, he undercut your trust in reason, and implied that his way was the best way whether or not it was well founded. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, but he fed you a fish that day instead of teaching you how to catch as many as you wanted.

You ask what remedy fits the person who declines to accept one's well reasoned persuasion. Is it to use force, to put a bullet in his head? - not from where I sit, unless of course he threatens violence and self-defense is needed. The possibility that some small minority in the coming free society will aggress in some other way is perfectly well foreseen, and that is why it will have a functioning justice system, such as that one I outlined four years ago.

Paul's picture

Jim, it's a shame I didn't have you for a Dad, rather than that second-rate one I was stuck with. Sheesh.

Perhaps you missed noticing that I started dealing with blackberries the same way Dad did, without him doing any persuading at all? That I persuaded myself? That was kinda the point of the article...

Persuasion is a word that is broad in meaning, running the gamut from open-minded inquiry to rubber-hose work. So, it is an almost useless word, because different people mean different things when they talk about it.

But here's how it works with me (and I imagine, with many people): If someone comes to persuade me of something, certain he is right and not willing to deviate from his own views, I will naturally resist him - even if he is right! I will work extra hard to find something wrong with what he is saying, assuming I take the time to understand his opinions properly at all. On the other hand, if someone comes with an open mind and engages me in conversation, willing to learn as well as teach, I will naturally entertain his opinions - even if he starts with some that are wrong.

Now you may say that I ought to start out more dispassionately and not be distracted by a poor or discourteous manner of presenting opinions; and to be sure, I do try to do that. But it's kind of a losing battle. People with right on their side are really better off if they remain openminded and not quite sure of themselves - if only to more successfully get their point across. And it can't be faked, either.

Suverans2's picture

Well said, Paul, even if you don't believe that I have the "right" to say so. lol

Jim Davies's picture

Thanks Paul for the suggestion that I adopt you, but I'll pass. There can be irrational children, as well as irrational parents.
Not that I'm saying your father always neglected to raise you to reason things out instead of just taking his word for them; I've no knowledge of that. Merely that he unfortunately did so on the day you describe.
You say you "started dealing with blackberries the same way Dad did" but after a couple of re-reads of your first few paragraphs, I'm still missing it. If that was truly "kinda the main point of your article," the omission would seem, alas, to leave your article kinda pointless.

Suverans2's picture

(used to express exasperation).

Example sentence
Sheesh, your ignorance is only matched by your arrogance.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012.

Paul's picture

"I’ve never cut canes my old way since." Maybe I should have put it in all caps.

Jim Davies's picture

No, that phrase was perfectly visible as it was, no need for caps. The phrase you blamed me for "missing" was "I started dealing with blackberries the same way Dad did." So when did you "start"; was that the day you trimmed your first bramble ever, or the day after your father responded to your impertinent question with what appeared to be a dumb answer? I did not find that phrase, and still haven't. Since you say it was "kinda the main point of your article," your failure to make it unambiguous it was rather key.
But no matter. I'm sure you knew what you meant, when you wrote it. We writers do sometimes make mistakes and there are surely more vital matters on which we can disagree. 

Glock27's picture

Greetings Paul,

I read your article and I think I understood it. What bothers me is that there are some here whom tend to reference their own work rather than to substantiate their claim with the work of others, and I don't mean quoting wikipedia either. There are many stories like yours. People do things a given way because that the way it has always been done. Grandmother always cut her ham in half before baking it, mom did to, then sister till one day one daughter questioned it and got the reply, well that's how my mother did it. The daughter asks the grandmother why she cut the ham in to. Her respons was "It's the only way I could get it to fit my pan.
Some people read the surface and miss what's riding between the lines.


Jim Davies's picture

Glock, you raise an interesting point by "there are some here whom tend to reference their own work rather than to substantiate their claim with the work of others." I write a fair bit, and the outbound links I give refer to both kinds - but rather more often to my own work than others'. Perhaps I'm one of those who "bother" you, and if so I'm sorry you're bothered.
Perhaps it would mollify the botherment if I explained that such links (in my view at least) are useful in two ways: (1) to show that someone else agrees with a point being developed, or has more to say about it, and (2) to show that I as author have said more about it elsewhere, and if the reader wants to explore the point more fully, here's one place he can go. Obviously, the second purpose doesn't add verification or support, but is just to amplify the matter.
More interesting to me is the habit of referencing other writers' works at all. I wasn't educated in this country, but notice that American scholars are more strongly prone to do this than some others. It's almost as if they're saying "I dare not present my own unsupported view here, but look, Jones has said nearly the same thing!" The logical extension of this is that no new finding or argument can ever be presented - or not by anyone who doesn't already enjoy an unchallenged reputation as master of his subject. That looks to me like a form of "whatever is, is right" and a way of terminating progress.
Wouldn't you agree that that outcome would be truly dreadful,  for very often it's the intelligent newcomer who punctures the pomposity of the establishment and discovers something radically new?

mhstahl's picture

Ah! Something we can agree on, Jim!

"More interesting to me is the habit of referencing other writers' works at all. I wasn't educated in this country, but notice that American scholars are more strongly prone to do this than some others. It's almost as if they're saying "I dare not present my own unsupported view here, but look, Jones has said nearly the same thing!"

I can recall being taught exactly that back when I was an undergrad in Political Science(which is not a science, and is barely political.) I think that the goal was supposed to be building research skills-the result-in my opinion-is the limitation of thought to 'accepted' ideas that had been through the peer-review process in a field dominated by several species of communists, and the occasional fascist masquerading as a "conservative."

I suspect that this is a part of the drive to convert humanities into "sciences."

I can say that this bizarre attitude continues on into graduate studies-you are really only supposed to think at the Ph.D. level.

I noticed when I was studying Anglo-Saxon that the education system in Great Britain must be much more vigorous-I saw published academics with only B.A.'s from as recently as the 50's and there were many more un-credentialled scholars. In any event the quality was generally far superior.



Jim Davies's picture

Mike, I'm sure there's a whole lot more than that, on which we agree.
So the US system of "education" hinders independent thought until one becomes a PhD, then expects PhDs to flower with gardens full of independent thoughts? Hmmm.
I think you're right about the UK one, though am not at all sure why. It's just as infested with government control as the system here. Perhaps it's just that government schools there began in 1870, forty years later than in Massachussetts; maybe they're sill playing catch-up. Or is it catch-down.

Suverans2's picture
Paul's picture

I refer to my own work too, but usually I do it to expand on a point (if a reader is interested in having a point expanded), not to "prove" the point. Otherwise my articles would balloon out to 3 times as long as they already are, if I had to expand the point entirely within the article. I think long articles tend not to be read...

mhstahl's picture

Excellent, Paul!

I am always amazed by the rules those who claim to love freedom wish to impose on...me.

I would only quibble on one point: I don't think persuasion requires that one think "I'm right" and everyone else is "wrong." That's proselytizing, and I agree that quickly slides into coercion, if it does not start there. I don't think that most of its practitioners realize what they are doing.

When I think of persuasion, I think instead of presenting a point of view in the most compelling way I can. The purpose is to invite the very questions you are talking about, to provoke thought, and to foster conversation. In other words, the utter and total opposite of proselytizing.

Sometimes, the most compelling argument is to simply carry on-like your dad did.

It is easy to tell the difference-challenge the assertion. The proselytizer can offer little other than a re-iteration of "I'm right" because I said so, often packaged with a greasy side order of mis-characterization and ad hominem that has been too long under the heat lamp.

Persuasion, instead, leads to honest conversation that often benefits both sides-even if the debate is heated. Facts are facts, and opinion is opinion. There can be no debate over the existence of blackberries-or even where they came from-or at least if there is, it can be settled by objective evidence. How to trim them, however, has, can have, no one "best" way, it is a matter of opinion.

Case in point, my soon to be mother-in -law loves yard work in the spring and fall so much that she has developed the most inefficient "right" way to gather leaves and kindling imaginable. Is she wrong to cut breakable twigs with an electric chainsaw? It certainly is not how I'd do it, but that's really not the point is it?

At any rate, in either case when the conversation is public it allows many others to benefit by "listening in."

I don't think the issue is limited to libertarians in any way, and I would submit that the thought template in which secular proselytizing is rooted is an outgrowth of the treatment of social and philosophic matters as sciences, which, as such, has positive answers and are therefore undebatable. I don't know if that was a conscious goal of Marx when he birthed that notion, or whether he was sincerely trying to better analyze the human condition. I know the result, however.

Oddly, in my experience, it is the far left that is less likely to preach these days. I know several true-blue Marxist-communists, and while I disagree with them profoundly I have always had productive conversations with them and often learned from the exchange as one should when encountering a different perspective. Hell, I dated an avowed commie for several years...we got along wonderfully.


Jim Davies's picture

Mike, I'm puzzled by your 'I don't think persuasion requires that one think "I'm right" and everyone else is "wrong."'
Discussion is one thing; we may exchange views and work towards a most-probable answer to some question - to which there may be several possible answers. That's all a matter of opinion.
But if someone tries to persuade another of his view, surely he must begin by believing he is right? - if he didn't so believe, would he not be a hypocrite, such as a lawyer or politician?
He may or may not actually and objectively be right, but if he doesn't think he is, why would he persuade?

Mark Davis's picture

lol.  I agree Jim.  My wife told me the other day during a disagreement, "You always think you're right!" which threw me back a bit.  It has never occurred to me to argue what I thought was wrong.  And I have changed my mind many times, like on spanking children.  I believe it comes down to whether a person seeks the truth during discussion or if they seek to "win" the argument and see it as some sort of contest.  I like to think that I'm a truth seeker.

mhstahl's picture


Perhaps I should have wrote that persuasion does not require belief that the other person is "wrong."

Though honestly, I don't think that way. I really don't believe that there is an objective "right" or "wrong" on these sort of topics, there are only different perspectives and different opinions. I constantly challenge my own viewpoints and look for logical inconsistencies or faults in the premises. When I don't find any, even when I don't particularly like the conclusion, I feel comfortable presenting the notion to others.

Why? I enjoy it, for one thing. More importantly, I am only capable of finding logical faults from my own perspective, the only way that I will ever get a different perspective specific to my view to contemplate is to present an argument for my point of view. If I thought mine was the only valid point of view, or that it was totally right, there would be no reason to pursuade-why bother?

What's the end point? Probably oblivion. It is the journey that is worthwhile to me. As a practical matter, I think that it is important to discuss the mechanics of the state, as well as the prospect for the absence of government. I don't think either one are going anywhere anytime soon honestly, as much as I'd like otherwise, but talking about it can't hurt.

I'm not certain how lawyers and politicians are hypocrites? Lawyers are licensed to manipulate the law by virtually any means, and politicians make law, and as such are oppressors. I don't see the hypocrisy.

Jim Davies's picture

Okay Mike, we agree: there is a vast range of matters open to different perceptions, subjective ideas. There are surely also some, though, which are not. A is A, as Ayn Rand remarked. We cannot hold two contradictory ideas both to be true at the same time.  Either you have a fundamental right to own and operate your own life, or you don't.
On the hypocrisy of lawyers and pols, I was thinking that they pretend to believe and advocate whatever they think will be best accepted by the hearers (voters, juries.) The former passionately pleads his client's innocence, while firmly believing him guilty. The latter solemnly swears "watch my lips, no new taxes" but has no intention of so restricting himself. They don't speak from genuine, inward conviction but from a desire to say what is to their passing advantage. Looks to me like hypocrisy.

Suverans2's picture

"In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant." ~ Attributed to Charles de Gaulle

pose - to pretend to be someone else in order to deceive others ~ Cambridge Dictionary of American English

Pretty much what a hypocrite is, I'd venture to say. "One who feigns to be what he is not."

tzo's picture

Sorry, I skimmed, posted, then read, then deleted. My bad.