William Gillis and Ryan Neugebauer: Anarchism | Who Shaves the Barber? #52

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A primer on anarchism from individualist anarchists William Gillis and Ryan Neugebauer. Anarchism is sometimes assumed to be synonymous with a call for chaos and disorder, a characterization which most of its adherents consider to be quite the opposite of what they strive for. But it is difficult to pin down just what unifies the many strands of anarchism under a single umbrella. In this interview, we discuss some of the central ideas behind most forms of anarchism: power dynamics in relationships, hierarchical vs. ‘horizontal’ organization, freedom as consent vs. freedom as the availability of options, among others. We conclude with a discussion on strategy: just what would bring about the end of the state? Does it require violence against the state? Is the aim of anarchism primarily a cultural shift, or is it something more concrete?



For more of Ryan Neugebauer’s take on anarchism, see ‘An Evolving Anarchism‘.

For more of William Gillis’s anarchist thought, found on his website Human Iterations, read ‘Your Freedom is My Freedom: The Premise of Anarchism‘ and ‘You Are Not the Target Audience’.

Also discussed:

Center for Stateless Society (where William Gillis is Coordinating Director)
The Seasteading Institute

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art and The Tin Box for the theme music.
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Nick Bostrom v. Anarchists and Libertarians

Nick Bostrom is an Oxford philosopher known for work on ‘anthropic reasoning‘, warnings about the dangers of superintelligent AI, and the simulation argument (see my thoughts on the latter). He recently released a new working paper: ‘The Vulnerable World Hypothesis‘ that poses a strong argument for strengthening global state power. Anarchists and libertarians of all stripes should consider the argument and address it, as it constitutes a serious challenge to their program.

In the paper, Bostrom argues as follows: think of human technological development as an urn filled with balls. Most balls are white: these are mostly beneficial, or at least harmless, technological developments. A few are gray: they’re dangerous and have potentially catastrophic consequences, but either act on a long enough timeline that it’s possible to prevent these consequences, or are otherwise containable (fossil fuels and nuclear weapons might both go under this category). Presumably, there are some black balls. These are the sort that, if anyone discovered this technology, it is almost certain that humanity would suffer a catastrophic, possibly species-annihilating, event within a very short span of time, unless it were possible to very quickly and effectively contain it.

Bostrom elucidates the black ball possibility vividly: we had no reason to assume that something like nuclear power, if it were possible, should be easy or difficult to recreate. Had it turned out that nukes were fairly easy to make in your own basement, we might not be around right now to talk about it.…

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Reply to Tyler Cowen’s ‘Stubborn Attachments’

Disclaimers! First: I (somewhat indirectly) work for Tyler Cowen.

Second, this is a reply, not a review. My review is simple: Stubborn Attachments is a fascinating, thought-provoking work of political philosophy. Given its depth and originality, it’s also remarkably accessible. I strongly recommend it.

Third: there is plenty of interesting material in the book that I will not address at all. This includes narrow arguments about redistribution and environmental policy, as well as more abstract arguments about ethical disagreement and decision-making. I will not touch on these because I either simply agree, or if I have reservations, they’re not all that interesting.

Onto the fun stuff.

Introduction: Cowen’s argument in a nutshell, and map of my response

Essential to Cowen’s position is the claim that the discount rate for the value of the wellbeing of future people should be zero. In other words, the fact that someone doesn’t exist yet does not at all diminish the ethical value of their wellbeing. John, who is alive today, living a life of, say, 100 net utils, is worth exactly the same as Linda, who will live two hundred years from now, living a life of 100 net utils.

Presumably, there will be many, many more people alive in the future than are alive today. So, when we think about hard things like public policy and social organization, we shouldn’t aim to maximize the wellbeing of people alive today. Instead, we should maximize the wellbeing of all people—present and future. Given that there will be so many more future people, in practice this means our focus should be on maximizing the wellbeing of future people.

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