On the Dialogue Between Neil Kiernan (V-Radio, The Venus Project) & Stefan Molyneux (Freedomain Radio): Questions, Suggestions and TakeawaysFebruary 8th, 2011 by Howard Ditkoff
I have to say it was one of the best and most important dialogues I’ve heard of late. This is exactly the kind of discussion we desperately need more of and I hope that they will continue it. While I don’t fit snugly into either of the Molyneux or the Zeitgeist/Venus Project camps, I’ve greatly enjoyed exploring the ideas put forth by both and I find that both make valuable contributions to the dialogue about how we bring about a healthier, more sustainable future for humanity and the rest of our ecosystem.
There were many issues and arguments that popped into my mind throughout this discussion and almost every one was addressed at some point during the talk, which gave me a great feeling. It’s very rewarding when, listening to a dialogue, you think “But wait. What about this?” and then, two minutes later, one of the participants mentions that very point and the topic is discussed rationally and thoughtfully.
There were only four main topics I was left wondering about or wanting to comment on, which perhaps can be addressed in future discussions.
The first two have to do with some unaddressed (at least in this particular interview) potential dangers of the type of free market economy that Stefan advocates. The third has to do with the potential inclusion of a wider range of anarchist thinkers into the discussion, especially a rational and articulate anarcho-primitivist. And the fourth has to do with the need for a clearer specification of the limits on defense of self and property rights in a paradigm based on the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP).
I will detail my thoughts and questions about each of these four issues below. After that I will detail what I think were the key takeaways from the dialogue.
Supply and Demand vs. Perceived Supply and Demand
In terms of the free market working on supply and demand, isn’t that to some extent inaccurate? It seems to me that part of the problem with a free market, even a true one, is that it can only operate on perceived supply and demand. So if people falsely believe, for whatever reasons, that there is more of a resource than there really is - for example if they are convinced there is a ton more oil to be had, even though they will later find that oil is more difficult to obtain than predicted - the price will reflect the false belief, not the true facts. This will then lead to an inordinately rapid depletion of the resource and a failure of the market to adequately incentivize alternatives in a timely fashion.
Considering this, I think there is a great point of collaboration between the Resource-Based Economy paradigm and Stefan’s view. RBE proponents seem to be advocating that we use the technology we have to get as absolutely accurate an inventory of resources and desires as possible. Even if we did have a price-based system, this can only improve its efficiency by bringing perceived supply and demand closer to actual supply and demand.
Disproportionate Incentivizing of Short-Term vs. Long-Term Efficiency
At one point, Stefan said that efficiency is driven in a market economy by where the most money can be made. So if an emerging market proves highly profitable, then more people will go into it, driving prices down, and so on. But isn’t it important to note that this is only taking into account short term efficiency? It doesn’t take into account what the costs may be to future generations of, for example, plundering a non-renewable resource to make those short-term profits. If more money can be made ignoring such long-term concerns, then they often will be ignored for the sake of short term efficiency paid for dearly by future generations. Also related to this point is the issue of the incentives for externalizing costs.
Potential Inclusion of an Articulate Anarcho-Primitivist in Future Dialogues
Many times during the discussion, the distinctions were raised between various types of anarchism - anarcho-capitalism (with which Stefan primarily identifies), anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism (elements of which influence The Venus Project) and anarcho-primitivism, among others. This is part of what made the discussion so fascinating. It is a rare occurrence, indeed, in my experience, to hear perspectives from all of these different anarchist schools articulated intelligently within the context of a mature discussion that not only doesn’t devolve into hostility, but actually ends in a call for collaboration and further constructive dialogue.
Both Stefan and Neil, along with one of the callers, talked about anarcho-primitivism at points, but all dismissed it out of hand saying we wouldn’t want to go back to a primitivist way of life. My comment here is that, despite the apparent anti-primitivism consensus among this discussion’s participants, it might nonetheless be fascinating to bring a well-versed anarcho-primitivist (in the Derrick Jensen or Daniel Quinn mode) into some of the future discussions. Even if you don’t favor a return to a primitive way of life (or believe that such a return is inevitable) such a person still might add a valuable new angle to the discussion or raise questions that stimulate further clarification of relevant topics. Moreover, I think many anarcho-primitivists actually have a more nuanced view that isn’t based on returning to a past way of life, per se, but – in line with Quinn’s concept of going Beyond Civilization – advocates that we borrow what principles we can from those ways of life and weave them into a new synthesis that can help drive our current lifestyle toward a healthier, more sustainable one.
Is There a “Statute of Limitations” on Defense of Self and Property Rights in a Non-Aggression Principle Paradigm?
Both Stefan and Neil agreed that the Non-Aggression Principle is core. However, I recently raised a question with Stefan about the application of the Non-Aggression Principle and I’d still be interested to hear more about this. Here were the thoughts I shared with Stefan about this issue:
“I think one other major issue that’s been bugging me is this.
You use the NAP as a core argument in much of your work. Even if we were to agree it is the heart of ethics, it still allows for self-defense. The question is what we define as self-defense.
I once heard an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian issue say that your view on every issue there will depend on “when you start the clock.” If you start it today, then whatever one side does out of context will be seen as wrong. If you go back a year, you may find that that action was in self-defense to something that came before. And this chain can go back for thousands of years.
The same is true in our economic system. What one person sees as someone using aggression to take property rightfully owned, another may look back at historically and say “Yes but that person used aggression to take that property in the first place.” After all, all of our land was taken from the Natives. Do they have the right to self-defense in taking it back violently? If not why not? Is there a specific statute of limitations?
I think many of us who agree with a lot of your thinking come to different feelings about it because we see the current state of allocation of resources as itself having been set up by aggression and theft. And so to then wipe out history and say “OK we’re just starting right now in the current economic situation. Starting now, nobody can aggress against anyone else.” is highly arbitrary and would be counter to all your views, for example, on parents, who remain responsible for the consequences of their actions long into the future.
I think this issue also has something important to do with the gap between your views and the Zeitgeisters’ views. I’d love to hear more about this.”
Key Takeaways from The Neil Kiernan-Stefan Molyneux Discussion
- Both sides (Stefan and proponents of The Venus Project) agree that the current social and economic systems are immoral, unsustainable and destructive.
- Both sides make this assessment, at least to the best of their ability, through a rational and empirical analysis and value the use of rationality and empiricism in exploring healthier alternatives.
- These first two facts should form a basis for mutual respect and kinship that outweighs any potential hostility raised by differences in current speculations about various solutions.
- This mutual respect and kinship should also apply, and lead to attempts at inclusion in collaboration, to others who also value reason and empiricism and similarly question the merits of our current social and economic systems.
- As practitioners of science and reason, Stefan and his listeners, as well as supporters of the ideas of Zeitgeist, The Venus Project and the Resource-Based Economy ultimately realize that - regardless of the specific potential solutions anyone may have proposed - all speculation is trumped by results observed through actual experimentation.
- Therefore, ideally, to the extent possible, those involved in this discussion would adopt a non-dogmatic, non-ideological view of The Venus Project. It would be seen not as the solution, but as one very valuable potential experiment among others. Hopefully Stefan and his listeners - as well as many others - can propose additional experiments. And none of these experiments should be seen as an endpoint, but simply as the beginnings of a process of constant strategizing, testing, observing and tweaking that will lead to the emergence of new, currently unforeseeable experiments along the way.
This spirit is captured nicely in the quote that graces the title page of Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure by Daniel Quinn (a book I recommend to anyone interested in applying the experimental method to the creation of healthier, more sustainable social structures, and which is concise enough to be read in one sitting):
“What would happen if we intentionally forged our social solutions in the fires of creative chaos?” – John Briggs and F. David Peat
- Rather than foster hostility by identifying with and investing ego in any particular solution, these various groups should instead support and help each other in running the various experiments. After all, ultimately what we all want is not for “our” solution to work, but simply to find whatever solutions work well so that we can improve our experience, that of our descendants, and that of the rest of the community of life of which we are a part.
- It appears that the most important experiments being considered revolve around the creation of new structures and forms of communities. As such, we do not have to completely reinvent the wheel, as there is already a burgeoning Intentional Community movement to learn from and to plug into. What is called for, however, as I discussed with Stefan in a phone call he was kind enough to have with me, is the addition of some new types of experiments to that already existing movement.
I am not an expert in the Intentional Community movement by any stretch of the imagination. I have not myself even lived in any such community, though I know some who have. But during my past perusal of such existing experiments, I found that many formed primarily on the basis of religious beliefs, sexual orientation or other factors not as centrally important to those of us interested in the types of ideas discussed by the Zeitgeist Movement or by Stefan Molyneux. It would be fantastic if more people from these movements started to strategize together and actually run experiments in creating some workable communities focused on the more fundamental principles that we care about.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, I have some thoughts on factors that might be worth testing out in any such experiment, which I’ve talked about with several people over the years. One involves the importance of including a balance of different personality types – for example Myers-Briggs or Enneagram types – when creating a workable and enjoyable community. Another involves the importance, as reflected in the concept of the occupational tribe championed in Beyond Civilization, of including in the community people with enough complementary skills to collaboratively make a living.
Kurt Vonnegut once said:
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
If we and the next several generations are able to succeed in finding the types of solutions being discussed in this wonderful exchange of ideas, hopefully we will cure – or at least alleviate – even more ills than just loneliness. I would love to see those of us interested in these pressing issues move from a phase of talking and debating into one of starting to run more experiments, however imperfect, and with the full knowledge that many rounds of observation and re-strategizing and re-testing will be required before anything lasting will likely be found.
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Tags: anarchism, anarcho capitalism, anarcho communism, anarcho primitivism, anarcho syndicalism, beyond civilization, daniel quinn, derrick jensen, economics, efficiency, empiricism, experimentalism, free market economy, freedomain radio, intentional community, israeli palestinian conflict, kurt vonnegut, myers briggs type indicator, neil kiernan, non aggression principle, occupational tribes, personality type, peter joseph, property rights, rationality, resource based economy, science, self defense, social change, stefan molyneux, supply and demand, sustainability, the enneagram, the venus project, v radio, zeitgeist