"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
The Home Team
Column by Mark Davis.
Exclusive to STR
Sports provide many benefits to society, not least of which are the many rich metaphors for life. The understanding of social organization, establishment of rules, the dynamics of competition, individuals sacrificing for the team, learning accountability, commitment to a purpose and developing a work ethic in sports offers a range of wonderful sayings, lessons and stories. My hope is that this rhetorical tool may shed some light on a common retort to self-government that pro-statists use: Anarchists believe there should be no rules for behavior and this leads to chaos and the breakup of society. I hope to show that this is not true and, further, that the opposite is actually true. The incompatibility between a society organized via voluntary cooperation and one that is organized via institutional coercion has been hidden in plain sight. Perhaps the American love for sports can spark a few revelations on liberty. Here’s what I mean.
Just about everybody has a family, group of friends and/or a team to identify with. If for no other reason, there are many cultural advantages to root, root, root for the home team to bond with family and friends. I think it goes much deeper, in our DNA, in our roots, if not our souls. The family we are each born into, the home we are cared for in, the neighborhood we explore when reaching an early age of self-awareness and finally seeking out others in surrounding neighborhoods are part of growing up. Association is not something humans choose to do; we are born to do it. Anarchy does not reject human nature, it embraces it.
The condition of helpless little humans when birthed requires us to develop complex social organizations compared to other packs of animals, schools of fish or flocks of birds. Most animals are up walking, getting a drink of water, eating regular food, growing teeth, reaching maturity and getting along without parents in this world within a week to a couple of months. Humans, however, require an extended adjustment period from the safety of a mother’s warm liquid sanctuary to the perils of interacting in the world of cold air. Like, decades. Teamwork is in our life’s blood.
Beyond our human nature, there are strong nurturing systems created by human ingenuity to provide constant reinforcement for our instincts. The family is the prominent model for learning about social organization from “growing up wild on the streets” to strict obedience to the most controlling authoritarian parents, and everything in between. We all have traits that reveal a sincere emotional attachment to the core beliefs we adopted as children, some good, some not so good. These learned traits can be very difficult to overcome, so it is important that these lessons feature compassion and understanding.
How we meet and greet people and other learned “manners” vary from family to family. How we manage interaction with people from other families, other neighborhoods, other towns becomes tradition even as populations constantly change. Developing traditions within families, clans, tribes, neighborhoods, towns and villages has happened throughout the world since men have lived on this earth as sure as fish swim in schools throughout the oceans. This process is both natural and evolving because most men are somewhat more intelligent than, say, fish.
A maturing sense of scale, grasping the value of personal responsibility, and recognizing the existence of unknown alternatives are a few of the human social skills that we develop in our early years, or not. As long as we retain the childish view of the world where we are the center of the universe, where we expect others to care for us, feed us and even cherish us, then we will not adapt to the challenges of adult life very well. Adult life is defined by self-sustainability just as children are defined by their dependency on adults. Traditions in societies that prosper will most often foster the development of positive personal traits among its members. Members of strong societies are consciously developing a set of virtues to be heralded far and wide. Coming of age rituals were once common that recognized when children were ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood by demonstrating the skills needed for self-reliance. So far, so good; note that these social norms capture the essence of anarchy (no rulers).
The next step in the cycle of social development is where the problems usually begin as concerning respect for liberty. When a man comes down from the mountain as the great prophet bringing tablets of stone carved by God with rules to obey, the focus of social education for the young changes from learning how to accept responsibility for one’s choices and achieve individual self-reliance to uncontrollable divine intervention and dependence on the collective. When the man carrying the stone tablets and/or his supporters claims the power to use violence to enforce God’s rules, things take a sharp turn for the worse. This is where the line is crossed, even when considering simply the family unit where obedience to our parents for the common good is second nature; voluntary conflict resolution now transitions from individual matters being settled at the point of contention into generalized categories of rules enforced by third parties from afar. Thus the family in which a child has no choice in joining now becomes indoctrinated to obey transcendent rules adopted by the father along with extended family members and neighbors. The rules are now “written in stone” and obedience to them the highest virtue, not self-reliance and self-responsibility.
The argument for writing down rules always starts well, because there are a few universal principles that most people will agree on. Thou shall not kill, steal, covet thy neighbor’s wife or basically hurt others are all good. Most everybody will agree with these and accept them as personal guidelines. The Non-Aggression Principle covers all of these and is a good principle to live by. But men agreeing to not do harm to each other does not require a ruler or central authority. And once that authority is set in motion, the men who write those rules will forever be adding more rules to the list. It happens every time.
A transcendent authority can positively influence families that have not fully developed rules of behavior acceptable to other families to “get in line”; but those that have developed credible rules of behavior will find this additional layer of rules to be redundant and completely unnecessary, at best. Either way, these one-size-fits-all rules imposed from above become increasingly counterproductive and eventually, inevitably, tyrannical. The order imposed by monopoly violence can be used to expand society, which soon becomes seen as a good in and of itself. Growth in the number of people who obey the same authority develops into an official virtue, as does the zeal for obedience to those who wear the veil of authority. Proselytizing authoritarian cults can thus overwhelm established norms for voluntary behavior in even the most peaceful collectives. As a modern day example, look at how the “success” of Obamacare is being measured: by how many people have signed up; not whether it has been effective, efficient or even delivered as promised.
You see, having a set of universal rules requires someone to write them down, so the first thing that must be decided is who gets that power? Are there to be rules about how to make the rules? Who gets to decide what the rules will be? Are the rules to be used as guidelines for settling disputes that come before a panel of peers that know both parties? Or are these rules to be enforced by a monopoly on the use of force requiring strict adherence and adjudication by strangers to the situation? Does society organize around a central authority by creating a formal institution that determines, writes down and enforces “official” rules? Finally, the most important question of all: Is it a voluntary agreement among equals (can I opt out) or am I forced to comply with all edicts of the lawmakers no matter how absurd? If I can’t peacefully opt out, then there is no check on the expansion of the power of those who impose the rules. Whether God or democracy is used by men to justify their authority, it is always the men who do the rulemaking. Anarchy is simply the ability to peacefully opt out of collectivist schemes that we do not agree with.
Anybody who has ever played a “pick-up game” can understand how people act in a free society. As a kid, I could go out to the local baseball diamond, football field or basketball court and find large enough groups of kids to organize and play a game with rules that we all agreed to. We would discuss the basic rules as well as any previous rules we had worked out due to the nuances of the field/court we were on. Then we could get on with the game. Even when joining organized leagues with rule books, it was on a voluntary basis and I always had the options of not joining and resigning.
There were typically traditions and agreements for dispute resolution at the event when a group discussion couldn’t come to a general agreement in these pick-up games. For instance, in basketball, one of the primary players in a dispute would shoot the ball from the top of the key; if he made it then he got the ball or if he missed it, then the other team got the ball and play was resumed. This is how we can learn to avoid using violence when resolving emotional disputes, which is basically learning to control our anger. This can be intellectually simple, but emotionally difficult.
The anger management process involves learning acceptance, forgiveness and love. Acceptance that there will inevitably be disputes between people and for the good of the game, the good of the team, the good of each player, it is best to work out these disputes peacefully, without fighting. Forgiveness of those who break agreed-upon rules of behavior for the contest after a resolution is reached. Love of purpose, the team, the game, the challenge and the contest itself is what motivates people to get along. Playing sports can develop these virtues, their understanding and their application to common goals.
Of course, playing sports can also bring out the worst in deviant psychopaths abusing those who adhere to agreements. This is why love is so important to the process, and it is love that psychopaths lack. Still, the bold, deviant minority must be dealt with in life, and games can offer powerful lessons for kids on how to do this effectively and efficiently. Individuals in spontaneous groups can stand up to bullies much better than authoritarian rules can.
The family, friends, neighbors, playmates, school mates and workmates that one has invested so much time and shared so much experience with is what forms a social bond that just can’t be recreated or transferred somewhere else. It certainly can’t be commanded into existence from afar. Each local group of people must form their own customs, traditions and rules voluntarily for them to be sustainable without violence. The home team is a rallying point for spreading goodwill and fostering fellowship. Unfortunately, again, we must learn to deal with the deviant psychopaths who take advantage of those who trust them. If one of these trolls upset a friendly game of baseball, then we can all go home and when everybody comes back the next day, the troll is not allowed to join the group. The psychopaths are shunned and banished.
If the trolls seek to bully their way back into the group, then violence can be used for defensive purposes. This is the only legitimate use of violence: defense against violence. So, not only must the individual retain the agreed-upon right to secede from the group, but the group must also retain the agreed-upon right to reject potential members or expel untrustworthy members. In the all-inclusive state, psychopaths can learn how to win popularity contests, weasel their way into positions of authority and wield power over others that must obey them or be punished. Psychopaths love having authority and meting out punishment.
Freedom of association and personal integrity are integral ideals in organizing society. Voluntary society is able to nurture these ideals while force and threats of violence destroy these ideals and undermine virtuous behavior, customs and traditions. So, just because anarchists reject the status quo system used to organize society around the principle of universal obedience to a central authority (the state), it does not mean that anarchists reject all systems of social organization, much less agreed-upon rules of behavior. What anarchists reject is the use of violence to compel obedience to authority. Anarchists do not reject society; we embrace it and want to free it from the state.
Statists will say that the existence of psychopaths who have no empathy for others, no love in their hearts, justify the imposition of authority over all using institutionalized violence as the only means of protecting the society and its individual members. This is obviously untrue, as one needs to but look about at all of the voluntary institutions in society that have survived the grasps of state intervention and political control. What’s good in life comes from those voluntary relationships we maintain with family, friends, neighbors, playmates and workmates, not those relationships imposed by political violence. Anarchy is about free choice, the state is about obedience. Which method of organizing society do you prefer?