L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 901, December 4, 2016
Ben Stone’s Field Manual
by Jim Davidson
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the
same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
— Marcus Aurelius
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change
something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
— Buckminster Fuller
Ben Stone has written an excellent book. To understand it, and to understand this review of his book, you should read his book. However, to review a book by telling you to read it in order to understand my review of it would seem, on the whole, rather silly. If all you needed was an inclination to read a book, I would simply point you to the resources for obtaining it.
Since that may be the case by the time you reach the end of this review, I’ll go ahead and do that part, now: http://www.badquaker.com/product/sedition-subversion-and-sabotage-field-manual-no-1
Ben’s book, the Sedition, Subversion, and Sabotage Field Manual No. 1, is a work of parody. It is a parody of similar field manuals actually deployed by outfits like the OSS, the predecessor to today’s CIA. So, in making fun of their work, Ben does a good job. On that basis alone, it is a really good read.
It is, however, somewhat more than just a fun thing to read. The most important thing in understanding how to accomplish a goal, or a set of goals, is to have a proof that there exists a path from where we are now to where we wish to go. It is not necessary to follow that exact path, obviously, nor is it ever the case that everyone who shares a set of common goals is even going to travel the same path, let alone wish to do so. The existence of one path is a clear sign that there are other paths, some similar, some very different. But seeing that there is a path is very helpful.
For a great many years, since well before I began writing for this publication, near its inception in 1995, I have believed very strongly that compromise on matters of principle is a dangerous mistake. I have, in my own weird ways, gleaned this fundamental understanding from works of fiction by people like Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Larry Niven, and L. Neil Smith. It is the case that philosophers going back to, say, Hegel, have noted that it is only possible to move the “synthesis” if you are willing to stake out an extreme position for either the thesis or the antithesis.
Rand said it well when she noted that a compromise between food and poison is not good food. L. Neil has pointed out that compromising principles has never worked, even if it were possible to imagine that doing so would bring some kind of victory. An uncompromising belief in human liberty has always characterised L. Neil’s political positions, his essays in this publication, and lives in every single book of his that he’s ever written.
When I was a child, a man orbited the Moon at Christmas 1968. It so happened that my father, a frequently violent man with a drinking problem, was also a really good teacher, an important physicist, and interested in politics. For various reasons, until I was 5, my father felt it was a bad idea to have a television in the house. But there were things happening in 1968, including national party political conventions, that simply could not be understood without access to television. Thus, he caused a 14-inch black and white television to appear in our living room, and I watched it a bit, some times. The idea of a man going into orbit around the Moon and then reading a passage from the book of Genesis was really exciting to my imagination. I believe it was at that moment that I felt confident that people would be going to the Moon while I was alive, and that I wanted to have something to do with all that space stuff.
The particulars of my story from that moment in time to today are not essential to this book review. Suffice it to say that I did quite a lot of those things one would expect a young man to do, including excelling at maths and science, getting academic credentials, working for a private space company in Houston, etc. I learned, very starkly, and in a way that nearly shattered my spirit, that I was not living in a free country, in 1991. I had already some inkling of this fact, since I had voted in 1988 for then-Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul. But the agreed injunction signed in May 1991 amongst the Texas attorney general, Harris county district attorney, and my business associate David Mayer, and myself, indicating that we had been engaged in a lawful business, and forbidding us from doing so in order to avoid prosecution on what were therefore admittedly false charges of “felony gambling promotion of a lottery” was the only way out for the two of us. We gave up our dreams, our belief in “the system” and we walked away with some amount of our liberty. As David had said to me when we were arrested in February of that year, “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.”
From that day in May to this one, I have been looking for free countries. I believe a free country is an essential (but not sufficient) condition for my goal of making humanity a multi-planetary species for fun and profit. It is certainly necessary to have a free country in order for me to build the hotel in the Moon that I have always wanted. For various reasons, outside of a free country, there won’t be flying cars. I could continue in this vein at some length. If you want to know what is possible from living on a planet with free countries, places where people really are completely free, I suggest you pick up a copy of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, in either prose or graphic novel form.
So, the goal is to live free. I believe that that goal is better stated as, “The abolition of slavery.” In order to abolish slavery, the state, which was designed and has always been a mechanism to place people in servitude, must be abolished. So, the people who share this goal should be known as Abolitionists. It is a long and storied history, including quite a lot of people like Giordano Bruno, Roger Williams, John Locke, John Wilkins the Bishop of Chester, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Lysander Spooner, John Brown, and many others, including the authors I’ve already mentioned.
Ben goes over a number of strategies in his book. I believe it is important to understand what he says in these passages, even as I heartily and vehemently denounce his book. My denunciation is intended to fulfil what I see as my obligation to Ben, who has requested that all above-ground Abolitionist activists denounce his book.
There have been a very few recent letters to the editor of this publication that suggest a few minarchists are still alive and well. There seem to be some people who continue to believe that the system can be changed by working from within. Some of these people believe in politics, including running candidates, raising money for them, actively campaigning, and getting out the vote. I should point out that, among the rather dismal results one can see from this strategy, the record breaking number of votes for any Libertarian Party presidential candidate, ever, were recently collected by Republican governor Gary Johnson and his running mate Republican Bill Weld. At 3% of the vote, they are unlikely to gain even a single electoral vote, and certainly won’t be forming a presidential administration. Thus ever with compromise.
Having done away with the illusion of a political strategy, Ben turns to civil disobedience. It is the case that civil disobedience, refusing to obey a law because of a belief that law is unjust, is a kind of strategy known by the system and, in some cases, approved by it. Civil disobedience is never intended to overthrow the system. Rather, it is meant to ask the system to “right itself,” to stop doing some action or set of actions, that are unjust. Rosa Parks, in refusing to stand up, was both tired and determined. Her determination was certainly heroic. But the fact remains that her strategy was state-based. It was based on asking the state, through a court hearing, and through a series of appeals, to review the justice of the public bus segregation policy. Did the state stop owning busses? No. Did the state end all forms of segregation? No. Is the system entirely free of all institutional race-based policies, today? No. Jim Crow has been replaced by affirmative action, but people are not free of institutional racial discrimination. Civil disobedience is not a strategy for abolition of slavery and the state.
There is also a strategy of speaking truth to power. Ben notes that this phrase had currency among members of the Quaker faith long before it became fashionable. Unfortunately, speaking truth to power necessarily acknowledges power. The point of speaking truth to those in power is, as with civil disobedience, to get them to see the injustice of their policies, and change policies. It cannot abolish the power to which truth is being spoken. A variation on this theme is worth remembering: speaking truth to posterity. Telling people who are not present what is really going on, so that they can take effective action. Ben endorses that approach.
Another strategy that I have found intriguing, and on which I have regaled the readers of this publication with essays for many years is agorism. To me, agorism was a strategy first hinted at by Etienne de la Boetie in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. It was thoroughly defined with rigorous statements by Samuel Edward Konkin III. It was put into an excellent action-adventure novel by J. Neil Schulman. And, as Ben is at some pains to point out, while it can do much to relieve the suffering of the victims of the state, it is not, by itself, a sufficient strategy to bring about the end of the state.
Notwithstanding that it, by itself, does not bring about the abolition of slavery, agorism does have merits. It is good practice for people to set up alternative paths. It is excellent to engage in spontaneous order without the government. And, I believe there is merit in noticing that since the hearings before congress in the last few years of the 20th Century, when the IRS defended its brutality by pointing out that 66 million Americans they thought ought to file taxes every year did not do so, that number has evidently increased every year since then. More and more people are not voting, and not even registering to vote. About a third of the country refused to participate in the census in 2010. I think we have fertile ground, as illustrated by these statistics, in expecting Americans to be effective participants in the abolition of slavery. But for this abolition to occur, we have to be prepared to go further and do more than simply engaging in private trade and commerce on a counter- economic basis.
Let me return for a moment to the cover of the book, which shows a scorpion. To the viewer’s left the grasping claw of the scorpion is labelled Education Propaganda & Above-Ground Activism. To the right you see a pincer labelled Simple Sabotage. The stinger is named “Ethics-based Irregular Warfare.” Like any good metaphor, the scorpion is a kind of analogy for the overall strategy that Ben outlines.
How does a scorpion trap its prey? For small fry, it can actually use its pincers. It can simply grab, hold, crush, eat. But for larger prey, the claws are distractions. The two claws move about, confusing and distracting the prey. Eventually, the stinger comes down and the prey is poisoned into submission.
You can, of course, continue reading Ben’s book. You may choose to evaluate the kinds of activism, the kinds of beneficial activities like filming the police, and the kinds of propaganda that are appropriate to abolition. You are free to delve further and look at the simple sabotage, the kinds of things that clever men and women have done in the service of the state for generations, and the kinds of sabotage that may well serve the cause of abolition. You are also free to evaluate ethics-based irregular warfare.
But, as I mentioned above, I denounce this book. I want you to know that it is wholly inappropriate, decisive, rude, vehement, and in many other ways wrong-headed. You simply cannot take this kind of parody seriously, unless you have reached the point where you have traveled the world, evaluating free country initiatives, watched the system work its corruption, and left you with the conviction that if there is ever going to be freedom in this world, you will have to take action to bring it about. If you haven’t reached that point, then don’t worry about Ben’s book. It’s just parody, satire, inconsequential.
If you have reached that point, don’t worry about Ben’s book. It outlines an effective strategy, goes over specific tactics, and offers many opportunities for creative people to extend on its ideas, add their own ideas, and issue additional field manuals as they see fit. It is, as I’ve said, simply an existence proof that a path exists to the future we seek. But, it is important, to me, that you know that Ben’s path is not the only path. And your path may not coincide exactly with any part of what Ben suggests.
For all these many reasons, you are now reading my denunciation of Ben’s book. If it has a single redeeming value, it is proof that it is possible to be free. Nothing in Ben’s book suggests that it is easy. There is no reason to expect it to happen soon. But it is possible to abolish the state, everywhere on Earth, and free the slaves, stop the wars, and build a society which has nothing to do with coercion, compulsion, and slavery. In my view, despite its aforementioned flaws, Ben’s book is worth reading.
Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, space enthusiast, extropian, raconteur, and bon vivant. He took Heinlein’s admonition to be capable of many things to heart a long time ago, and can kill a beast, prepare a carcass for cooking, tan the hide, use the small bones for sewing, gather herbs, make fine sauces, clean a house, programme a computer, build a database, populate a spreadsheet, engage in forensic accounting, and read at blinding speed. He currently is a principal at EldarCapital.com and is planning a spectacular conference in June 2017 and an affordable one in October 2017. You can read his essays on Being Sovereign in his book by that name from Amazon.com, where it was briefly among the million best sellers. You can read his essays on Being Libertarian from Lulu.com. And if you are very nice to him, he might make available copies of his book The Atlantis Papers.
Was that worth reading?
Then why not:
Just click the red box (it's a button!) to pay the author
This site may receive compensation if a product is purchased
through one of our partner or affiliate referral links. You
already know that, of course, but this is part of the FTC Disclosure
Policy found here. (Warning: this is a 2,359,896-byte 53-page PDF file!)