Seven Samurai, Times Ten

Column by tzo.

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In Akira Kurosawa's classic film Seven Samurai, a village of farmers must contend with raiding bandits. Not being skilled in or equipped for the martial arts, the farmers are easy prey for the armed thugs on horseback.
Near the beginning of the story, the bandits are about to invade the village when they realize that they did just that not too long ago and it may be better to wait a bit until the next crop is harvested. This discussion is overheard by a farmer, who returns to the village with the news of yet another impending attack.
The farmers decide to hire “hungry samurai,” who will assist them in the defense of the fruits of their labor in exchange for food, the only coin available to the farmers.
Seven samurai are eventually recruited, and they help train the farmers in putting up an armed resistance to the bandits.
Along the way, it is discovered that the farmers may have killed previous bands of hired samurai after their services had been rendered, and the enraged samurai entertain thoughts of killing the dishonorable farmers themselves. But one of the samurai points out the hardships faced by the farmers, who must eke out their survival while living under constant threats from the warrior class, and then points out that the for-hire samurai themselves are partially responsible for making the miserable farmers behave as they do.
The samurai continue on with their task after this without animosity and the bandits are eventually fended off, but at great cost to the samurai. Only three survive.
The story ends with the farmers happily working in the fields after the threat has passed, while the remaining samurai are left to wander off in search of work and food once again. The samurai consider themselves the losers, while the farmers are seen as the winners. But winners for how long?
What a timeless, universal, and fascinating theme. What options do producers have when they find themselves immersed in a world full of plunderers?
They can allow the bandits to raid their harvests and try and keep what they can for themselves.
The farmers can hire protection services from samurai. But if the farmers are at the mercy of the bandits, and the samurai are strong enough to defeat the bandits, then the farmers will be at the mercy of the samurai. The best-case scenario here is that most of the samurai get killed in the defense effort so the farmers can either finish them off or let them walk away.
The farmers can become proficient at fighting, but this reduces their ability to farm, and they will be going up against a professional warrior class. Fact is, if they wanted to be warriors, they wouldn’t be farmers.
So there really are no good long-term solutions for the farmers. I believe they actually found the best stopgap solution in hiring the hungry samurai, considering their position. If success in the world is predicated upon being able to exert leverage over others in order to make them serve your needs, then what better choice could they have made? If your only choice is to become the winner or the loser, you try to win. Obviously. Too bad for the other guy, but if it’s between him and me…
But consider that this story takes place in 1587. It deals with an isolated village of a few dozen farmers, perhaps 30-35 roving bandits, and seven hungry samurai. In such situations of remote communities and groups of human beings, the issue of protection, if individuals are unwilling or unable to provide it for themselves, is indeed a tough nut to crack.
Amazingly, a large percentage of people today still consider the viable options for the provision of security as being limited to the feudal-era Japanese menu items. Without surrendering tribute to a dominating gang in exchange for protection, bandits will plunder production worse than the tribute that needs to be paid in exchange for receiving protection from the plunderers.
But come on: The world has changed juuuust a little bit since then. Almost half a millennium has passed, and the communities of today, numbering in the thousands, are bound tightly together by sophisticated communication and transportation systems that connect many millions of people together. Very few communities today are truly isolated.
Governments purport to be the defenders of productive individuals, but their modus operandi is identical to the gangs of bandits with whom the producers have worked out uneasy arrangements while having to consider the swords hanging over their heads. This Old World, 1587-style arrangement is severely outdated. It’s like insisting on using candles and outhouses when electricity and running water are readily available.
Using force to make peaceful people behave in a desired manner is old and tired. Are we really bound to having to exploit others in order to meet our needs? Is there no way to voluntarily cooperate and change all the win-lose relationships into win-win?
Well, it’s just possible that dependence upon these self-appointed government “defenders” is in fact declining, and that these fraudulent entities are being seen more and more as the parasitic plunderers they really are, and not the honorable providers of security they proclaim to be.
Today, arbitrary physical borders laid down by governments are effortlessly traversed by wireless signals. Information, money, and markets can increasingly break the artificial constraints laid down by governments.
Slowly, the invisible bonds may be loosening and breaking. If we venture to update our feudal-Japan scenario just a bit, perhaps we can get a glimpse of how the problem of defending the producers against the plunderers may best be solved.
Producers naturally connect with other producers in a free market in order to facilitate trade. Now imagine a collection of ten interacting villages instead of just one. Each producing village then becomes dependent upon the others for their markets. This is a good dependency, because mutual benefit always results from the win-win voluntary exchanges of goods and services that takes place between them.
Now imagine that each village has its own seven samurai dedicated to its defense. If 30 or 40 bandits manage to organize themselves for an attack on a village, the combined strength of even a portion of the defense network of 70 samurai (with the assistance of the farmers) is sufficient to repel the invasion.
The keys here are having connected and interdependent production centers, each with their own independently-funded security force. There are not really 70 samurai, there are seven samurai, times ten. There is a critical difference. A band of 70 samurai may decide to run roughshod over each village, one at a time.
But ten groups of seven, each receiving their paychecks from different sources, will have some very strong incentive barriers and logistics problems to overcome before deciding that the most advantageous course of action would be to mutiny against the network of producers.
But could this unfortunate regression actually happen? Is it possible that these independent bands could congeal back into a government gang? I suppose so. Would it be inevitable? Certainly not. Probable? Can’t really know unless we try. And how can it make sense not to try, considering what’s at stake? If the absolute worst-case scenario is ending up right where we are currently standing, then it seems that every other result is pure upside. This would appear to be an unbeatable, nearly-infinite reward/risk ratio, as the risk is pretty much zero.
Relationships between producers (trades in a free market) are win-win. The production of defense and security must be identified as one of the many goods and services available on the free market. The time has come to treat these providers as the production specialists they are and bring them into the production fold by instituting win-win voluntary exchange relationships between them and everyone else.
Applying this updated win-win model of voluntary exchange and mutual benefit to today’s communities that can instantaneously exchange information with and respond to one another seems to be a much more reasonable, desirable, and successful model than the one currently being implemented.
Win-lose is so passé. It’s time to get over it.
Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners. ~Edward Abbey

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tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


Samarami's picture

Good updated encapsulation of Rothbard's Anatomy of the State, Tzo.

    "The dog that guards your gate now threatens your house"

(The flaw in the above proverb is that dogs won't bite the hand that feeds them -- that, I'm sorry to report, is the purveyance of human beings: Samurai leading the foray).

    "Applying this updated win-win model of voluntary exchange and mutual benefit to today’s communities that can instantaneously exchange information with and respond to one another seems to be a much more reasonable, desirable, and successful model than the one currently being implemented.

The primary means of enactment (as I see it) for sovereign individuals is to encourage family, friends and neighbors who still vote to Abstain From Beans.


AtlasAikido's picture

tso, nice read and gratifying for me.

A business-oriented, personal responsibility-friendly, insurance rate-enhancing approach will never be recommended, suggested, or condoned by statists types. But as you point out there are models that do not require Statism (enslaving/victmizing oneself nor others)

Solutions for the Pirate Problem [AND Statism] (SARC Intended).
by Karen Kwiatkowski

Solutions to Land Pirate Organizations (Statism).
The Art of NOT Being Governed, by James C. Scott.
(Anarchy: The Unknown Ideal)
Bionic Mosquito

The following link addresses how and why it IS customary law that ACTUALLY keeps order and NOT Govt; It also shatters the myth that government must define and enforce "the rules of the game".

I recommend: "Enterprise of Customary Law" Mises Daily: Friday, June 29, 2007 by Bruce L. Benson

PS I also like your 7x10 vs 70 model. It reminded me of the Swiss Model (strong multiple states, multiple currencies, good will via competition, statute laws rescinded via small numbers of signatures, weak central govt etc. It relies most assuredly more on customary laws than statute law. Its as if its politicians, central govt and statute laws are a freaking add-on. Mere tokens. Both, to live free with "Bullet Proof Privacy" AND to deflect multiple Nation State "Hologram Of Liberty" agendas. (See James Royce's books B.P.P. and H.O.P.)

Why The Failing US and EU Should Follow the Swiss Government Model!

Paul's picture

Tso, I like your use of "The Seven Samurai" to ask these questions. I too find it one of the ultimate films with deep meaning for the human condition. However I would come to a different conclusion than you.

"Is there no way to voluntarily cooperate and change all the win-lose relationships into win-win?"

There are other models of cooperation. First I would ask, why put up with hiring samurai at all? The problem with hiring protection out, is that protection implies submission.

"The farmers can become proficient at fighting, but this reduces their ability to farm, and they will be going up against a professional warrior class. Fact is, if they wanted to be warriors, they wouldn’t be farmers."

This may have been true in 1587, where proficiency with a sword was a lifetime pursuit. But weapons have become easier since that time. It takes comparatively little effort to become proficient with a battle rifle or scoped bolt rifle. And you will find that today's farmers know how to shoot that deer in their pasture quite well. There is really little need any more to hire samurai when you can defend yourself. I don't know why people don't take the minimal effort for it but I suspect it's a part of belief in government. Why anarchists still think like that is completely beyond me. Perhaps in their case it is habit, or lack of confidence.

Whatever the reason, there will always be people around who want to "let the experts do it". But this is not the optimal solution due to the "protection implies submission" problem, but it also adds costs and risk for people who are more in the "do it yourself" mode. Perhaps we should move away from attempting find artful ways of making the hiring of samurai work for us, and just do the obvious instead.

AtlasAikido's picture

Thanks Paul for: "Want protection? Protect yourself and your own, or join vigilance committees to do the same thing, or submit. Those are your only choices". And for why and how that is so! Bravo!

Protection Implies Submission
by Paul Bonneau

And I will use this: "Whenever the state makes a case for protecting you, what you need to do is get into the habit of substituting the word "submission" for the word "protection", or "submit" for "protect". Then see what you feel about it".

Suverans2's picture

It is no mere coincidence that "vigilance committees" are depicted, by the plunderer's and their lackies, as something immoral; that, "taking the law into one's own hands," is a bad thing.

    vigilante NOUN ...2. A member of a vigilance committee ~ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Can't say we didn't know, though, can we?

    "It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." ~ John Philpot Curran (1750–1817)
AtlasAikido's picture

I agree with Paul,

Teasing out the different contexts using a real life example: "Solutions for the Pirate Problem" by Karen Kwiatkowski:

In the Straits of Malacca, South China Sea and Indonesian waters, insurance rates have increased drastically, routes altered, and some freight companies have hired onboard security guards. A 2004 study explains

"These guards … are being [forced by Statism and the real and present danger and threat by such to] *deploy..discreetly*, because the legal status [statute law] of armed guards on board commercial vessels is not clear under international law [Wonderful!!]. …If the guards use deadly force, they and their employers may be criminally liable. [As it should and would be for ALL with no exceptions under customary law but for statute laws] Yet the policy is pursued [despite the very real threat of Statism] because it is working [*and has worked when potential victims are not disarmed by submission to the State: See "Protection Implies Submission" by Paul Bonneau*]; *numerous, potentially deadly piracy attacks are being thwarted on a daily basis by the mere presence of armed guards, who, working in groups of four to eight per ship, often do not have to fire even a single shot in order to keep the pirates at bay*. Ship owners also favor hiring armed private security guards because the practice may help them negotiate better insurance premiums.

It goes on: "The deterrence effect can also be achieved when pirates know or *expect that the ships' crews themselves carry firearms*. Pirates deliberately avoid Russian- and U.S.-flagged ships [and would others if they were armed], for example, because they believe that many of them carry small arsenals for protection." Incidentally, the crew of the US-flagged Alabama was not armed — and yet was still able to get the better of the four Kalashnikov-armed hijackers. *This heroism is individual and team based, autonomous.* [under customary law].

Conclusion: [Paul's identifications regarding **the submission problem** show that it makes much more sense for the WHOLE CREW to be armed on ALL ships. Joint efforts are possible, and necessary to increase productivity profits and security. But each person must retain CONTROL over his own responsibilities, efforts and rewards (most especially in security), if any meaningful incentives and effectiveness (without the threat of submission) are to be preserved in order to not fall into The Group Trap: The belief that you can accomplish more by sharing responsibilities, efforts, and rewards with others than you can by acting on your own. HIFFIUFW by Harry Browne]

Protection Implies Submission
by Paul Bonneau

The differences between Paul's and tso's positions for me in the above issue is: Paul's does not fall into the Group Trap whereas tso necessarily does.

~ And since I am not hiring myself on as a passenger / security guard en route to Switzerland via an ocean going cargo freighter [Indirect Alternatives], here is one way I can progress Paul's points regarding the power of "Direct Alternatives" via incremental improvement and prototyping.

A Direct alternative: A choice available to you that requires only direct action by yourself to get a desired result. [And necessarily does not fall into the Group Trap because each individual retains direct control, personal responsibility and benefit and thereby does not fall into submission].

An Indirect alternative: A choice available to you that requires that you induce someone else to do what is necessary to achieve your objective. [And necessarily falls into the Group Trap where each individual does not retain direct control/responsibility/benefit...and will at some point fall into submission (replacing one master with another)]. Excerpts from How I Found FREEDOM in an UNFREE WORLD A Handbook for Personal Liberty HARRY BROWNE....

It is easier (with less risk and cost) to Exit Govt ideas, Govt parchment and enter stage left: One can write one's own personal moral and *interpersonal covenant*. USE it as a guide to know others and let them know you (with all the implications that come with such based on "Unanimous Consent"); and as a twig/flag to avoid/be prepared for UNSAFE places/situs, and UNSAFE people especially when seconds count. When one is clear about what is and/or will happen and WHOM one is dealing with, then it is bullets that are rendered USELESS (up to a point). Keep your personal parchment dry and your daubber up...(I will have to go look up this Scottish aphorism but my copy of the Westering Man by Bil Gilbert is out of reach for the moment).

*The Covenant of Unanimous Consent*

*Collected articles about the Covenant are found here*:

The difference between Paul's and tso's positions is: Paul's proposes Direct Alternatives, and tso talks to Indirect Alternatives.

tzo's picture

I agree completely that there is no substitute for DIY self-defense. It is a common criticism of the police to say "When seconds count, they will be there in minutes." Of course this will pretty much be the same case if a person decides to hire a private security firm to protect him as well.

And I also agree that with the weaponry available today, the field is much more level between producers and aggressors, as a productive person doesn't have to dedicate a large amount of time to become proficient with weapons that can be used to effectively fight back against immediate threats.

And in this article, I really just addressed the 'front end' of the security service—immediate self-defense—which is arguably its least efficient offering. But a security industry based on an insurance-provider model also includes tracking down stolen property, finding aggressors at large, providing goods and services that discourage crime, and making sure cases and disputes are properly resolved.

And there will always be some people who just can't defend themselves for various reasons, and having a service is better than having nothing at all.

But I disagree with characterizing the hiring out of defense service as 'submission.' I do not 'submit' to a plumber because I don't want to tear into my pipes myself. I just pay him for a service rendered. I don't see the gun-for-hire being able to hold me hostage any more than the plumber, so long as there is no monopoly operating in either market.

But yes, after all is said and done, the absolute best solution is that as many people as possible take responsibility for their own defense. But while I believe there will always be a market for security service providers, the more distributed the better.

AtlasAikido's picture

I think the point Paul brings up--which I am focusing on--is that the direct alternative option can best be translated into a group effort by being armed oneself--as an actual check and balance--and part of the vigilance committee instead of just protected by it. It is more akin to the Swiss Model. See above. In the Wild Wild West most were armed (woman most especially) and the men were respectful of that. Not so in the whaling towns where crime rates were much higher...

The issue of vigilance committees is addressed in the following link. I am reading thru this myself with Paul's points in mind.

An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism:
The Not So Wild, Wild West*
by Terry L. Anderson and P. J. Hil

Competition rather than coercion insured justice.

While the above evidence suggests that the wagon trains were guided by anarchocapitalism, it should be noted that their unique characteristics may have contributed to the efficacy of the system. First, the demand for public goods was probably not as great as found in more permanent communities. If nothing else, the transient nature of these moving communities meant that schools, roads, and other goods which are publicly provided in our society were not needed, hence there was no demand for a government to form for this purpose.

Secondly, the short-term nature of the organization meant that there was not a very long time for groups to organize to use coercion. These were "governments" of necessity rather than ambition. Nonetheless, the wagon trains on the overland trails did provide protection and justice without a monopoly on coercion, did allow competition to produce rules, and did not result in the lawless disorder generally associated with anarchy.

The Nomadism of the Wild Wild West would seem to tie in with "The Art of NOT Being Governed" [in South East Asia all the way up into Afghanistan], by James C. Scott.
(Anarchy: The Unknown Ideal)
Bionic Mosquito

Paul's picture

"I don't see the gun-for-hire being able to hold me hostage any more than the plumber, so long as there is no monopoly operating in either market."

I addressed this in my article. I think hiring a bodyguard actually would still imply submission. If you don't submit to his security concerns you are not letting him do his job. If you are not letting him do his job you are paying him for doing nothing, which is a waste of money. The most important difference with the government protection racket is that you can at least fire the private security provider.

The parallel with a plumber is not very strong since a plumber rarely tells you to not do what you want to do. Anyway if you insist on flushing dirty diapers down the toilet, it is just more work for him, which he appreciates.