by Richard Rieben
When I was living in the third world, over many years, I was struck (nearly knocked over) by the idea of reciprocity. I encountered human beings living under primitive, inefficient governments, and effecting an awesomely humane environment through informal traditions of mutual respect, reciprocated one to another, as their best and most effective security for the boundaries of their own freedom of action.
It came to me that, with this essential idea, you wouldn't need government or a power structure. That this was the active principle of liberty.
Researching through old books, I have found many references to the reciprocity of liberty, as an essential, definitive attribute. These were commonplace references. It was experientially familiar to the authors and their contemporaries. Tom Paine's comments on the subject are almost embarrassed by stating the obvious:
'. . . for every civil right has a natural right for its foundation, and it includes the principle of a reciprocal guarantee of those rights from man to man.' [On First Principles of Government, 1795]
'The principle of an Equality of Rights is clear and simple. Every man can understand it, and it is by understanding his rights that he learns his duties; for where the rights of men are equal, every man must finally see the necessity of protecting the rights of others as the most effectual security for his own.' [Ibid.]
Respect one another's equally possessed sovereignty, in exchange for the same value in return: respect, for the same quantity: the sovereign boundaries of each person. The action of securing our boundaries is the reciprocal exchange of respect, one to another.
There is little else needed. Certainly no formal government or institution 'over us.' Perhaps some form of agreement, mutually engaged, such as to get us on the same page in regard to what individual sovereignty is, what constitutes violations thereto, and how to effect repairs when the contract is breached.
It is not founded on constraint, nor upon trust, but upon the self-interest of each party to be secure in his sovereign control over the affairs of his life, such that he recognizes that the best way to obtain this value is to respect the same value in others. Formalize it however you wish, but it is not a thing, once framed, that needs any but the individual to practice it ' and to effect it, in concert with his equally empowered and equally self-interested neighbors.
A reader of my book, Reciprocia , wrote to me: 'The idea that respect and reciprocal relationship are the foundation for human political interaction seems remarkable to me ' one of those concepts that in a certain way seem so self-evident you wonder why we don't embrace it forthwith.'
Me, too. Why don't we? She went on, 'Well, I can imagine those who wouldn't.' Who wouldn't -? But . . . why not? I mean, aside from those holding the whips, why do the rest of us continue to submit, when there's no need?
In Lowell Potter's recent article, Board Games , at Strike-The-Root.com, he comments, 'I've got my own life to run! The only thing I must remember while I do it is to respect other folks while they're busy running their lives. Simple, really--no scary science or advanced math involved.'
Unfortunately, the science is all on the side of domination institutions. Well, it is not science, really.
During the 1920s, the rage for logical positivism (an offshoot of empiricism) was intent on analyzing and taking apart conceptual understandings, breaking them into pieces of empirical data. The commonly accepted understanding of reciprocal liberty was split into 'positive liberty' and 'negative liberty.' This 'scientific' interpretation declared that reciprocity was really just two old bits of domination government, typical master-slave stuff . . . and really much easier for masses to understand (said the wizards of empiricism).
The masses, who had lived with reciprocal respect for several millennia without any problems understanding this unified concept (which was just what the wizards feared most), were beguiled by the scientific methodology.
When empiricism was misapplied to the normative (prescriptive) branches of philosophy, it was able to justify old clan concepts of bondage, slavery, and power structure with intellectual rationalizations. This is what I call 'good old bullship logic' ' the wrong conceptual tools for the wrong job; like using screwdrivers and hammers to treat influenza. Only wizards can get away with stuff like this. And they did.
To the western, educated public, who consider themselves modern and scientific, the lack of 'scary science or advanced math' (all of it, admittedly, bullship) is the most suspicious part of liberty, of reciprocal respect, and of humanity.
You may be thinking, 'Come on, Richard, most people know what reciprocity means, and, as you say, mutual or reciprocal respect is already the subtext for the greater part of our social interaction. We are already practicing it, for the most part, so what are you talking about here?'
I'm saying that reciprocal respect is not merely some part of what we need for minimal levels of social harmony, it is all that is needed, politically, in whole.
Grasp the arena to which it applies ' the sovereignty of the individual ' and that one concept is all that is needed to secure our political boundaries. Formalizing it in some sense, as an agreement or contract, is mainly a matter of giving it recognition and primacy, such that we would no longer be tempted by solutions of force, which destroy the efficacy of reciprocity and subordinate ourselves to a group power or a group agenda.
Because you are correct: To the extent that we function at all, it is due to this principle of reciprocal respect, and we fail to achieve individual security and social harmony to whatever degree we depart from recognizing and practicing this principle.
But we depart from it regularly on the premise that we need force in order to attain security, and on the premise that we need the authority of a group or collective in order to attain harmony, and both of these premises lead to inquisitions, holocausts, wars, and continual crucifixions. I don't think it is because we lack faith in reciprocal respect, but because we are indoctrinated by group priorities to discount its importance.
According to institutional propaganda, only group solutions based on force will be effective in creating social harmony and security. This 'science' teaches us that reciprocal respect is weak, irrelevant or useless. The group propaganda does not even recognize the sovereignty of the individual, which should be a big tip-off, right there.
Institutional propaganda teaches us this misinformation because, with full recognition and implementation of reciprocal respect for the boundaries of sovereign individuals, we would have no use for empowered groups, would no longer have any rationale for subordinating ourselves to such collectives, and would not tolerate the possession and exercise of force by any group, institution or agency to any end whatsoever.
In other words, we would take away their whips, strike the chains, and invalidate the entire power structure of 'civilization' for the past 10,000 years. Is there a reason why the concept of reciprocal respect of sovereign boundaries is ignored, discounted, and discouraged?
Did I hear someone say 'vested interests'? 'no more empires'? 'no more power structure'? 'no more slavery'? 'there's no profit in it'? 'no more hand-outs'? 'no more meddling'? 'no more resentment, envy, hatred, and war'?
Reciprocal respect is the most profound, direct and effective means of securing liberty. It's the active principle of individual sovereignty. It is what makes liberty tick. It is the only saving grace that allows human societies function at all.
Today, it is a new idea ' a salvation idea. Reciprocal respect is an expansive, loving, giving, and healing message. It sets the stage for our capacity to BE human. This message needs to sweep the world more rapidly, thoroughly, and intimately than any religion has done in the past. Again. Because it's really an old idea. We just lost track of it.