The Case for Anarchism, Pt. 1: Social Ontology | Who Shaves the Barber? #14

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Stanford Prison Experiment

What does the Stanford Prison Experiment have to do with a case for anarchism?

In this episode, I argue for a certain view of the state. Piggybacking off Max Weber’s definition of the state as a “human community that successfully claims the monopoly over the use of physical force within a given territory”, I propose a similar but broader definition. Whereas Weber’s definition is a political one, based on power analysis, my definition purports to be sociological, and therefore less morally charged than Weber’s. Crucial to my take on the state is the concept of a Collective Interpretive Framework (CIF) – a shared lens through which we interpret reality. I argue that the state is a function of a particular CIF; in other words, it is a certain CIF we share that causes reality to manifest governments. This view of the state as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and “shared hallucination” sets the stage for the case for anarchism coming in part 2.



Next week: The Case for Anarchism, Pt. 2: Necessity and Strategy
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Topics discussed

0:20 – What I’m arguing and what I’m not
4:33 – Stanford Prison Experiment
12:04 – Weber’s definition of the state
13:17 – The “human community”
14:14 – Who has the power?
19:10 – The sociological v. political perspectives
21:47 – The correct definition of the state
23:23 – Mafias and cults
25:07 – Collective interpretive framework: necessary, inevitable, legitimate, real
29:05 – Summary so far
29:52 – The state-generating feedback loop
33:04 – Applying the analysis to all social phenomena
34:27 – Stanford Prison Experiment as metaphor
36:49 – Setting up part 2


Stanford Prison Experiment” by Philip Zimbardo (website)
Politics as a Vocation” by Max Weber
Would You Press the Button?

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The Meaning of a Free Market

There’s something that’s always bothered me about the concept of a free market, and I suspect it bothers others too. A free market is supposed to allow the free interactions of its many participants. Intervention by the state is exactly what doesn’t happen in a free market, by definition.

But the state is composed of people too. It’s an organization – a unique one, for sure, but an organization nonetheless. Why treat it as something extraneous to the market, imposing on it from without? Why not consider state regulations of the market to be just the contributions of one of many market actors in a free market? Isn’t the state/market distinction ultimately arbitrary? What, in principle, is so different about the state?

Behind these questions lies an important insight into how to best bring about the emergence of a truly free market.


Let’s first imagine that a free market is simply everyone doing whatever they choose.  Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone has unlimited options. Each person’s actions will impose constraints on the actions of everyone else. I cannot, for example, buy eggs if no one around me sells eggs. These inevitable constraints aside, let’s not stipulate any other limitations.

This scenario is “free market” at its extreme: it lets the “free it all!” disposition run full throttle to its logical endpoint.

Notice that this state of affairs is what we already have. Everyone – including all market actors, including the state – is already doing whatever they choose within the constraints imposed by the actions of others.…

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