Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Gun Control In a Free Society: A Thought Experiment

I don't really like guns. I think I don't really like guns because I grew up on a farm and owned a .22 rifle and a BB gun and my experiences with them weren't entirely positive. I almost shot my foot a couple times with the rifle as a teen, I shot critters for fun and felt horrible afterwards, and my friends and I used to shoot each other with BB guns until one of them almost got hit in the eye. I've seen guns take lives like they were nothing and I've seen myself and friends almost seriously hurt by guns. Guns scare me because I've experienced how dangerous they can be.

Every time there is a tragic shooting somewhere we have the same debate occurring between people with a left wing brain like me and people with a right wing brain. In a future article I'm going to write about what this means. Essentially a left wing brain was exposed to a primarily matriarchal family environment and the right wing brain was exposed to a primarily patriarchal family environment. Understanding this about oneself is important, preferences and politics were not developed through rational thought but rather our exposure to family. Predictably the debates that occur are between people who do not understand this about themselves  are emotionally charged and irrational.

On the left we have gun control advocates who are scared of guns and want to exert matriarchal power over the family (the state) and want guns removed, and on the right we have those who want to exert patriarchal control over the family which means they want to be able to use guns to protect against tyranny. The debate that ensues is essentially a debate over who should be running the family, mom or dad. The people advocating gun control are rarely the people that are the tyrants and the people advocating gun freedom are rarely the criminals. As nutty as Ted Nugent is, I'm just not all that worried about him owning guns.

My article on Oil Sands Anarchy seemed to resonate with readers so I thought it would be worthwhile to explore the topic of gun control from the standpoint of the non-aggression principle (NAP) which would dictate that no person has the right to initiate force against another person. This would mean that using force to disarm a peaceful human or prohibit them from owning a weapon would being would be prohibited. Force can only be used protectively from a moral standpoint, and since purchasing and possessing a weapon is not initiating force against anyone there is no justification to use force against gun owners.

My House - My Rules

Libertarians often jump on the anti-gun control bandwagon pointing out that government has no right to control guns and they are right, but often they miss a key point...I have the right to control guns. I have the right to control guns in my own house and my own business. So what kinds of rules would I have about weapons in my house? Well there are certain principles that I would follow:
  1. It is preferable to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who would use them against peaceful people. So the insane, the sociopaths, or those trying to impose their opinion with force would all be prohibited from carrying guns in my house.
  2. The greater the potential damage of a weapon the more precautions would be necessary. Knives would be at one end of the spectrum requiring less precautions and Nuclear weapons would be at the other end requiring an incredible amount of precaution.
  3. I feel safer when trusted and trained friends around me are packing heat. Strangers, or people who aren't "bondable" would have to earn my trust before I'd allow them to pack heat in my house.
I think that most people with left and right brains would generally agree with these principles and have similar rules in their own houses. Once everyone gets past projecting their fears perhaps a rational conversation can happen. If you agree that my principles are rational, then as a left brainer you have to admit that force can't be used to disarm a peaceful person or prevent them from owning a weapon and as a right brainer you have to admit that a truly free society would likely have far more regulation on weapons than we currently have making it much more difficult for criminals to get weapons and much easier for law abiders to get them. Incidentally these same rules apply for just about anything that can kill including automobiles.

The Arms Race

Listening to some gun enthusiasts talk about gun ownership I'd swear that their solution is to essentially start an arms race. The terrorists, government and criminals all have assault weapons and so we need to match the force that could be used against us. Maybe they are right, I mean 3-D Printers are available for under $1000 and the price is dropping and the technology is improving. Individuals are already able to print/manufacture guns in their homes. It seems likely that the ability to cheaply manufacture increasingly lethal weapons is inevitable. Stefan Molyneux, an anarchist philosopher, once posited that the safest possible world from aggression would be one where everybody could kill everybody else with the power of their thought and as soon as you killed someone everybody else would know it...this would be the ultimate super weapon and everybody would have it. I'm not sure I agree with the arms race view of protecting our freedoms.

One thing for sure is that eliminating guns from society from the top down with force is not going to work. It seems to me that just like prohibition of drugs and alcohol, the prohibition of weapons is a recipe for disaster. Imagine if a prohibition on all gun manufacturing and gun sales was imposed right now by the state, what would the result be? I would predict an increasing disparity in power between peaceful people and criminals. Criminals would manufacture and sell guns like crazy to cash in on the high prices and society would pay a heavy price in terms of the rate of violent crimes.

Prohibition doesn't work for a number of reasons; 1) It puts criminal gangs in charge of the market, 2) the only mechanism to resolve disputes is violence, 3) products quality is dangerous, 4) taboo things are more attractive than they otherwise would rationally be, 5) it punishes non-violent and responsible users, 6) It reinforces unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

So what then is the answer for a someone like me who is interested in less drug abuse and less gun violence? It seems to me to be a matter of reverse engineering; 1) Put peaceful people in charge of the market, 2) provide a peaceful process for dispute resolution, 3) regulate quality control, 4) remove the mystique and taboo around a subject by providing accurate information, 5) encourage and reward non-violent and responsible behaviour under professional guidance, and 6) offer help to those stuck in unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

Market Law

Normally the state takes on the role of dispute resolution, third party arbitration, law enforcement, and geographical defense and like any corporation that uses guns to enforce its monopoly, it gets inefficient, corrupt and expensive. As David Friedman points out, "Producing laws is not an easier problem than producing cars or food. So if the government's incompetent to produce cars or food, why do you expect it to do a good job producing the legal system within which you are then going to produce the cars and the food?"1

Third party arbitration services, free market insurance and dispute resolution organizations (DRO's) are all idea's or predictions that freed market scholars have about how people engaged in voluntary relationships following the NAP might solve particular predictable problems inherent in economic transactions and human relationships. For the next little bit I'm going to put on my entrepreneurial thinking cap and imagine I run a DRO and think about how I might attract customers and serve their need for decreased gun violence.

The Wrong Hands
The first thing I would do is recognise that it would be terrible business to underwrite gun ownership for people who are at high risk for violent behaviour. These would be people with a history of violence, the insane, sociopaths, and those who are intent on imposing their opinion with force. Underwriting these people would result in a huge liability to my company and my personal assets, if someone I underwrite goes on a rampage I will have huge settlement costs on my hands and I'll essentially be out of business and in the poor house.

Suppose someone in a high risk category decides they are going to own a gun, how will they go about getting one and what is to be done about this? Gun manufacturers, like everyone, would need DRO subscription/representation to do business with customers not having this would be like driving without insurance. It would be bad business to sell guns to unstable individuals because no DRO would want to insure you, and if you aren't subscribed to a DRO no reputable customer would want to risk doing business with you. Not having DRO representation would be a really good way of predicting who shady people are and these people would have a really hard time engaging in any economic transactions including; driving on roads, renting or owning property, or even buying groceries.

Lets suppose an unstable person wants to own a gun. They have two choices really, they can breach their contract with a DRO and be subject to the terms and conditions in their contract if they want to get back in good social standing, or they could terminate their contract and go off the grid in which case an immediate red flag would be raised that criminal activity is likely being premeditated. Let us imagine that a high risk client gets ahold of a gun. Possession of a firearm for this person would be a breach of contract meaning that they be unable to do business anywhere and in order to get back some sort of social credit rating they would have to repair their credit through voluntary incarceration into a treatment program and/or submission to closer scrutiny by their DRO. It is likely that there would be DRO's that specialise in high risk clients who would pay a premium for their service and would likely have to submit to close scrutiny until they were found trustworthy.

It is also important to note that the more dangerous the weapon the much more precautious I'm going to be about underwriting ownership of it. So for example assault rifles, tanks, and nuclear weapons are all extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. Someone who seeks to own a nuclear weapon essentially puts themselves in a voluntary prison of intense scrutiny by multiple parties. In an anarchic society the level of practical freedom one gets from weapon ownership essentially diminishes as the weapons one owns becomes more deadly.

The Right Hands

Protection against aggression would be a market demand. People would be worried about rogue gunmen, statists bent on imposing the greater good, terrorists, and aggressive nation states. Geographic defence and security is a lengthy article in and of itself so I won't get into it in detail. Entrepreneurs and organisations that serve this market demand would need to hold themselves up to heavy scrutiny. I imagine most customers would be anxious about a group of highly trained people with weapons forming a gang/government and so if I were trying to attract customers I'd have to find convincing ways of alleviating this concern in a climate where competitors are looking to make themselves more attractive than my services. I might do something like submit myself to regular third party random audits or offer large sums of money held in escrow payable to a customer that finds me in breech of contract in order to guarantee the contract. It is important to note that prolonged deadly wars, giant armies and massive stockpiles of weapons are only possible because of central banking and fiat currency which would essentially be abolished in a free society. It would be very difficult for a defense agency to stockpile weapons beyond what customers expect because it would require increasing subscription costs to the customer.

As an entrepreneur wanting to attract customers to my defence and security agency I would have to have highly trained and competent officers that understood the sensitive nature of their job and the incredible accountability they had with customers for the job they are contracted to do. As owner of this company I would be held personally liable if my officers beat up a Rodney King for example. Officers would be experts at de-escalating situations and preventing crimes as opposed to today where the system grows officers that escalate force and act as historians after crimes have been committed. These are the type of people we want to pack heat, people that understand how to resolve disputes peacefully and are very sensitive to serving the customers needs. Candidates with low academic achievement and an inferiority complex need not apply to my security agency.

So to sum up gun control in an free society; everybody has a right to own weapons and everybody has a right to withdraw from economic transactions with people who own weapons. Since all property is privately owned there is no problem of the commons except in unowned wilderness and if you are mentally unstable and want to own a weapon you'll likely find yourself alone in that wilderness being watched by intelligence agencies until you're ready to submit to the rules of my house.

There is no End Point

One thing is guaranteed and that is change never ceases. There is no end point called "free society" because even as we increasingly respect self-ownership and property rights we discover new ways to flourish and gain more liberty to do things we never imagined possible. Suppose we manage to gain a peaceful society with a citizenry that is armed to the teeth, what next? I would imagine that most people would realise that owning the means to easily kill other people is not as liberating as it once felt. Freedom in this anarchic world might mean beating swords into plow-shares and freeing oneself from the scrutiny and responsibility of gun ownership. Even now the idea that owning assault rifles protects you from our real assailants, the government tax farmers, is kind of silly. Central banking has given the state overwhelming power and owning guns didn't exactly help protect those at Ruby Ridge and Waco all that much, so the idea of an arms race against our biggest oppressors doesn't seem like a very practical solution to creating peace.

Darwin said that the organism fittest to the environment survives and flourishes. Most people misinterpret this as "the physically strongest survives". This is not what he was saying at all. The ability to physically dominate other humans may have led to flourishing in a brutal world like Sparta, the ability to dominate minds with propaganda may lead to flourishing in today's society (think religious and government leaders), and in a peaceful world of widespread NAP enlightenment the ability to meet the needs of others would be the fittest trait. People who try to dominate will not flourish or survive very well in an enlightened free society.

One trait that I think may be recognised as a disability in the world of the future is an enlarged right amygdala. An amygdala becomes enlarged when children are exposed to what George Lakoff might call "The Strict Father" model of parenting. An enlarged right amygdala is highly correlated to right-wing politics, and these are the people that love guns.2 Now I'm admittedly veering off into highly speculative territory here, but, I would guess that this enlarged right amygdala that conservatives have which makes them far more sensitive to fear (think xenophobia, terrorist threats etc) also leads to their love of guns to protect themselves against perceived threats. It is conceivable that as "Strict Father" parenting diminishes, the desire to own weapons will as well.

Portugal legalised ALL drugs a decade ago and is now reaping the rewards of treating the root cause of drug abuse, crime is down and addiction rates are falling. It could be that in the future, the desire to own weapons to quell irrational fears will be viewed on the same spectrum as the desire to abuse drugs and help will be available to people who want to kick the habit and lower their insurance premiums. Amygdala's could be treated with therapy to make them smaller or less sensitive to fear so that people with this disability could flourish.

I should note in all fairness here that I'm not suggesting there are no problems with the left-wing brain, its admittedly harder for me to see the problems because I have this type of brain. This brain is characterised by an enlarged anterior cingulate which makes me more tolerant of uncertainty, but also far less organised. This organisational disability may be something that could be overcome with treatment as well.
The Roots of Violence

The shooting that occurred in Connecticut at Sandy Hook School have a root cause, that root cause was not the gun because guns can't point themselves, the root cause isn't a crazed gunman because crazed gunmen aren't born they are created, the root cause isn't even the obvious suffering inflicted on this gunman as a child by his caregivers, nor is the root cause an incompetent mother or mental health professionals because these people weren't created in a vacuum either. There is a pattern at play here and it must be recognised to be broken. Nobody along the line was looking in the mirror asking how they might be contributing to the problem. Adam Lanza saw the world as the problem, the psychiatrists saw a disease process as the problem, Adam's mom saw a defective child as the problem, liberals see guns as the problem, conservatives see liberals as the problem etc.

Nobody ever seems to look at themselves and asks the right questions because we are trained to be dependant. The solution exists outside ourselves in mom and pop, in the state. It is classic co-dependency at work and it is tragic, looking inward is not on the program. Imagine if Adam had the insight to look at how his thought patterns were contributing to his own mental suffering. Imagine if the psychiatrist made a concerted effort to see life through Adams eyes instead of pathologizing his suffering, imagine if Adams mother saw Adam's behaviour and obvious suffering as a by-product of her parenting, imagine if liberals understood that asking for force to be used against peaceful people who want to own guns only makes them cling harder to those weapons, and imagine if conservatives understood that law and order aren't accomplished by pointing guns at people.

Lack of self-knowledge dooms us to be automatons playing out our childhood programming. It prevents us from noticing that as we argue about whether guns should be banned we fail to do the one thing that would cause real and measurable change for the better in this world...looking in a mirror.


1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4CcannofnY
Private Law

Monday, 10 December 2012

Oilsands Anarchy: A Thought Experiment

I recently came across an online discussion on a libertarian site about what the libertarian view should be of a big Chinese state-owned corporation (CNOOC) owning a piece of the oil sands. For those that don’t know a libertarian is generally someone with a political position that revolves around the non-aggression principle (NAP) which says that no person has the right to initiate force against another person. It got me thinking about what development of the oil sands might look like if the NAP was adhered to strictly by a tipping point of people living in the oil sands region so here is my thought experiment. Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions or how you think things might work in an environment of adherence to the NAP.

First of all strict adherence to the NAP means that government goes away and interactions are regulated by individuals engaged in voluntary relationships. Note this is slightly different than the typical libertarian position that concedes a certain amount of NAP violation is necessary and advocates small government (minarchism), what I'm talking about would be more accurately described as anarchy. Government is a group of people who claim a monopoly right to initiate force in a defined area and so if the NAP is adhered to strictly government cannot exist. All government laws are essentially threats of violence for non-compliance with a particular groups opinion. Threats of being locked in a cage, or threats of having money/property taken from you are how government laws are enforced. Radical disobedience of even the most trivial of laws, like say a ban on plastic bags, results in death if the government enforces the law: You disobey, receive a warning, continue to disobey, receive a fine, refuse to hand over money, continue to disobey, eventually enforcers try and shut you down, use defensive force to match the enforcers aggressing against you, guns get drawn, death ensues. All statist law is backed by murder.

Anarchy is a word most people use as a euphemism for chaos, lawlessness, and hooded hooligans. Here I am using it by its proper definition – no rulers. A huge body of scholarly work exists about the subject that delves into how a population would function if we did not have people initiating force and have every reason to believe (I’ll save this for another blog) that it would be a highly ordered, socially just world…the opposite of the chaos, lawlessness, and social injustice that exists today. Violation of the NAP would be viewed as criminal activity and so all governmental activity would be viewed as criminal enterprise.

The Regional Municipality of Woodbuffalo (RMWB) is one of the largest municipalities in North America and encompasses the Athabasca Oilsands where the majority of oil sands operations are located. Lets imagine that the majority of people in this region suddenly awaken one morning to the fact that the NAP is constantly being violated in the name of ‘the greater good’ and can see exactly how coercion is used being used and stop supporting it. What would the result be?

Power Structures Change to Empower Structures

People in positions of power would suddenly realize that they no longer want or would be legitimately recognized as having power (access to the use of violence) over others. So for example Mayor and Council would no longer be in power, however it is likely that most of them would still be recognized as community leaders and would start to exhibit what I would call legitimate leadership. Legitimate leadership is what happens when people strive to serve the needs of others and strive to eliminate the need for their leadership. So they would immediately start looking for ways to create private ownership of the RMWB’s assets and services which would immediately be open to entrepreneurs competing to serve the needs of customers.
Dispute Resolution and The Law

Since the only type of force permissible in a group of people following the NAP is protective force against aggression, dispute resolution and the practice of law would change dramatically. No longer could you threaten people with violence (or have some elected official do it for you) for non-compliance with your opinion. Entrepreneurs would recognize a market opportunity and would like start providing the type of services Molyneux1 describes with Dispute Resolution Organizations (DRO's) competing to meet the legal needs of people within the region. In fact because disputes are foreseeable it would be unlikely that anybody would lack DRO coverage, it would be too risky to engage in economic transactions with them. They would focus primarily on prevention, like a good insurance company, and justice would be restorative focusing on the restoration of the victim instead of punishment of the criminal. Criminals that failed to comply with their contracts or to abide by their DRO's ruling would be ostracized from all sorts of economic transactions as their social credit/reputation rating would make them very unappealing people to do business with and they would be unable to rent or buy homes, conduct business, buy groceries etc. For far more detailed info about how this might work see the references provided.

Geographical Defense (Defending off the Statist Hordes)

It is conceivable and even likely that people in the federal and provincial governments would take umbrage with over 100,000 individuals suddenly seceding and no longer recognizing them as rulers or property owners within the RMWB. There would likely be a need and a market demand for geographical defense of the RMWB from foreign states like Canada that could send in an invading force. Owners of security firms and DRO's would likely be called upon to negotiate on their clients behalf with elements that would invade and use violence. Every incentive would be to establish their clients sovereignty peacefully.

There is reason to believe that sovereignty can be achieved. We have numerous nations within the geographical boundaries of Canada called First Nations. For example the Kahnawake Nation2 in Quebec is probably considered by most politicians to be a reserve, however to the residents it is considered a sovereign nation apart from Canada. It flagrantly disregards Canadian law and houses a majority of the worlds on-line gambling servers and politicians leave it alone, possibly because they don't want another Oka Crisis3.

Crown Land and Waterways

Property from a libertarian perspective is based in the idea that you own yourself, the product of your labour, that which you homestead and that which you freely trade your property for4. This means that RMWB residents would suddenly realize that Crown Land is not owned and no permission is needed from the Queen to develop it and own it. The rivers and waterways in the region would be available for individual ownership as well5. This would bode well for individuals living downstream from the oil sands plants as they would now have a real legal mechanism for getting serious restitution and restoration if their property (the water) gets polluted.

The Oil Sands

Corporations are byproducts of the government. The idea that a non-material concept should be treated as a biological person is preposterous and problematic. Since only real people are responsible for the consequences of their actions it is real people that must bear the accountability for their actions not imaginary people called corporations. In todays world the state largely protects the heads of corporations from liability, you do not see corporate leaders losing their house and personal assets when poor decisions are made that they are responsible for, rather the imaginary person is punished and maybe even killed leaving real victims damaged and real criminals off the hook. This privatization of profit and socialization of risk obviously leads to a huge amount of moral hazard. In a newly awakened RMWB organizational behaviour would change drastically.

Oil sands operations like Syncrude and Suncor would no longer be recognized as legal entities. Rather they would be viewed as a group of individuals (each legally accountable) working and cooperating for a shared goal...the extraction, refinement and sale of oil products. Individuals who understand that they are now 100% accountable for their own actions and may have to pay for restoration if they cause damages, would become much more sensitive to other people and property owners that might be damaged by their operations. So for example property owners downstream in Fort Chipewyan would no doubt be constantly monitoring water levels and quality and would be entitled to restoration of any damages caused by individuals engaged in operations upstream. DRO's would be monitoring safety and environmental factors extremely closely to mitigate the risk of having to pay out massive amounts of insurance in the way of damages. 

Right now if an employee makes a mistake the owner of a company isn't likely to have to pay personally for that mistake, however in this new climate they will. Company owners (individuals that raise the capital and own the means of production) in this new environment would have a difficult time maintaining their personal span of control, so development of any mega-corporations is highly unlikely. It is likely that with an open market of competitors raising the capital and equipment necessary to develop the oil sands, all with an increased sensitivity to environmental and safety factors because of personal liability, that large operations like Syncrude and Suncor would split into smaller companies and sell off capital equipment and land to start-ups and that these operations with tighter spans of control would result in more efficient production of product.

What about state owned entities like CNOOC and other state monsters like LLC's and mega-corporations?
A prerequisite to engaging in economic activity in an anarchic region like this would be representation by a DRO. It would just be too risky to engage in transactions with strangers without insurance like this. That means you would need a DRO subscription to drive on roads and highways, purchase any items, rent any property etc. Selling to a known criminal would put your social credit rating at risk and it is unlikely that an existing operation would sell to what would be recognized as a mafia owned organization. If CNOOC or some other criminal organization did manage to either homestead or buy an oil sands operation they would find it extremely difficult to operate without being able to drive on roads, buy building supplies, pay their staff etc. They'd need to bring an army and military invasion by a state other than Canada would be highly unlikely.

Dealing with criminal customers outside the anarchic RMWB zone, in places like Canada, the U.S. and China will be unavoidable if one wants to sell oil. If I owned a DRO I would give discounts to my oil sands clients (who in turn would be able to sell cheaper oil) who found customers that were either peaceful private citizens willing to sign an NAP agreement and possibly even move to RMWB, or were willing to sign on to our NAP outreach program, or were willing to provide guarantees that they would not invade. Guarantees might include things like a large sum of money put up as invasion collateral paid by the customer in a trust account administered by a trusted 3rd pary that gets paid out to the DRO in the event of aggressive actions. These are just some ideas off the top of my head, but you can see that keen entrepreneurial minds competing to provide the best service can find millions of ways to incentivize good behaviour.

In this type of society you have much higher incentive to behave well. Oil sands would be developed in a much more environmentally conscientious and cost effective way. In fact, given that the rest of the world needs the oil in this anarchic zone, the rest of the world would be incentivized to be on its best behaviour moving towards a new enlightenment.


If you aren't steeped in libertarian or anarchic philosophy, this post will likely have confused or irritated you profoundly and if your curiosity has been tickled then I would suggest delving into some of the references below starting with the first one. If you're a fellow freedom lover then I hope I've given you some food for thought. I believe these thought experiments are useful because they make us think about how to apply the NAP to our own lives and create and expand our own zones of anarchy, even if its just ourselves and our family and friends to start, and incentivize and spread enlightenment values and virtue to those that are within our sphere of influence. I'd love to hear you thoughts :)


Philosophy of Liberty

Dispute Resolution and Private Law

Geographical Defense
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4639016n (Kahnawake nation is featured starting about 7.5 minutes)

Property Rights

Privatizing Water