This Has Been Bothering Me For A While

The Last Psychiatrist has an astoundingly good post about whether modern feminism has any hope of empowering women, or whether it is actually enslaving them. [SPOILER ALERT: It's the latter.] The article is very long, and there are so many good points made that it would be too difficult to excerpt. Please take the time to go over there and read the whole thing. It is good. It is important.

But it is also deeply flawed in the same way that much of what might be called "libertarian culture" is deeply flawed. Here, I am not referring to the thoughtfully inquisitive, let's-work-for-whatever-we-can-get kind of libertarianism. No, I'm talking about the paranoid, the-system-is-out-to-get-me kind of libertarianism.

In a way, I think The Last Psychiatrist is a blog that reflects this latter branch of libertarianism, the "anarcho-capitalist" branch. These are the folks who seem to think that the state is not merely the one who has the legitimacy of force in society, but rather that the government is itself an initiation of force. According to these folks, the system is what keeps society down. The state exists to extract money from us, to transfer power away from us and into the hands of greedy individuals at the top.

To be sure, there are few arguments I can make against these claims. In one sense (once you get a handle on the basic anarcho-capitalist lexicon), they are logical. But in another sense, they are highly problematic. For example, if you have to invent a whole separate and unique lexicon to keep track of the internal logic of your own ideas - and looky here, I am totally guilty of this myself - then you are probably already on the wrong track.

The fact of the matter is, if your ideas are sound, they won't require their own, special language. They will be easy to convey. That's not to say that any idea that is easy to convey is therefore true. All I'm saying is that if your chain of logic has sufficiently many steps, you will start to lose track of whether it is actually circular logic to begin with.

Having said that, let's go back briefly to The Last Psychiatrist and his recent post on feminism. Riffing on the slavery theme, he makes a point about the movie Django Unchained [emphasis added]:
Of course Tarantino knew that the evil slaveowner's question has a hidden, repressed dark side:  DiCaprio['s character] is a third generation slave owner, he doesn't own slaves because he hates blacks, he owns them because that's the system; so powerful is that system that he spends his free time not on coke or hookers but on researching scientific justifications for the slavery-- trying to rationalize what he is doing.   That is not the behavior of a man at peace with himself, regardless of how much he thinks he likes white cake, it is the behavior of a man in conflict, who suspects he is not free; who realizes, somehow, that the fact that his job happens to coincide with the trappings of power is 100% an accident... do you see?   "Why don't they just rise up?" is revealed to be a symptom of the question that has been repressed: "why do the whites own slaves?  Why don't they just... stop?"  And it never occurs to 7th graders to ask this question because they are too young, yet every adult thinks if he lived back then, he would have been the exception.  1 in 10000, I guess.  And here we see how repression always leaves behind a signal of what's been repressed-- how else do you explain the modern need to add the qualifier "evil" to "slaveowner" if not for the deeply buried suspicion that, in fact, you would have been a slaveowner back then?  "But at least I wouldn't be evil."  Keep telling yourself that.
So here's my question, and it is a question I would like to pose to all those anarcho-capitalists out there who think they have it all figured out...

Why don't you assume that the kind of questions you're asking aren't the same kind of reflection of systematic slavery that you so easily see in other people?

Don't worry, I get it. I get that the answer is, "But we understand full well that we are slaves to the system." Now go back and read The Last Psychiatrist's blog post again, this time with the awareness that his whole point is that the struggle for power - in this case, feminism - is merely the struggle for what he calls "the trappings of power," i.e. the illusion of power, aka social respect for supposed authority without that actual authority.

I'm not sure what the libertarian response to this meta-question is, that's why I'm asking it. The point here is that maybe the entire libertarian lexicon is nothing more than what "the system" has devised for you in order to deal with your objections. Maybe the fact that you're so caught up in academic libertarian theory is exactly where "the system" wants you, to keep you out of "the system's" way.

Maybe, in giving you a few Capital-I-Institutes and PACs and academic branches, the system has figured out a way to contain you peacefully, where you can't rub anyone the wrong way, and where - if you must speak out - you do so in a way that makes you look either ignorant or crazy or at least quixotic.

And maybe - just maybe - "the system" is a fancy word for "human culture," and if things need to change, it's our culture, not our system.

You know, because maybe the reason women and non-whites have been the victims of violence and bigotry is that no one thought it important enough to stand up for them. Maybe society became more individualistic in the 18th Century because that's the way the wind was blowing, and it's been blowing the other way since the mid-1800s.

Maybe reforming or "subverting" "the system" is all a lot of cheap talk to make us feel better about the fact that human beings are constantly subverting each other in an attempt to deal with each other's difficulties and improve their own individualistic interests.

And maybe that's what "the system" really is.

Maybe we should figure out a way to deal with that, rather than point out how we are all slaves to a system that no one really seems to be able to identify in a way that doesn't imply the possibility of some idiotic Utopia.


  1. Ryan, this is my favorite blog post that you've written. Previously, I would have had you pegged as one of those "anarcho-capitalists."

    We've had conversations where I pointed out that we elected the people in government, so if we really wanted a different government, we should elect the people that will do what we want.

    I think this is the same principle you outline here - we need to change who we are and what we value. The government is simply a reflection of the people.

    1. One minor quibble: I don't think "electing anybody" is going to solve anything, period. I think The Last Psychiatrist's point about women senators is spot-on as far as elections go.

      I think we have to change human culture. Politics are just a byproduct of culture. It's not about electing the right people, it's about making a fundamental change in the way people think. That takes time and effort across a span of several generations. My generation will never see the kind of change that our culture needs.

      But thanks very much for the kind words. :)