pondelok, októbra 06, 2008

Mike Gogulski interviewed: "The Seed of Agorism Grows in Every Person"

American Mike Gogulski has lived in Slovakia for several years. He wants to renounce his citizenship and become stateless person. Person interesting enough to make the interview.

From your surname, it appears your ancestors came from Eastern Europe...

My father’s parents were the children of Polish immigrants, and my mother’s the children of German immigrants. All four families left the old world for the new between 1900 and 1910. There is some interesting detail that I recently discovered that I wrote about here.

How do you feel after living here for years (particularly regarding personal freedom) as compared to the USA?

There are several things that I like about Slovakia as opposed to the US. Perhaps first among them is that my conversational knowledge of Slovak is still not good enough for me to detect all the bullshit in general conversation around me, and not good enough to listen to the news on TV. I know it's all the same sort of low chatter and nonsense that goes on anywhere, but so long as the act of listening to spoken Slovak is still an exercise in practicing my listening comprehension, I feel comfortably separated from the flow of things (especially local/national politics).

The pace of life in Slovakia I think is much different. Americans are largely conditioned by culture for optimism and acquisitiveness. Slovaks seem to have been conditioned rather for pessimism and for seeking security, very likely as a result of being subject to communist rule for nearly 50 years. I don’t really value either of those things, but simply having a change of pace in my cultural environment is refreshing and brings me new perspectives.

One thing which occurs to me over and over again, even after several years of living in Bratislava is the huge difference in the number of police. If you walk around central Bratislava all day on some days, you may never see even a single policeman. Most days you will see two or three. If you walk around the center of any American city of the same size or larger, you will see a hundred or more on any given day. American political discourse has been dominated by security-seeking and suppression of "the other" since the revolution in cultural values that took place surrounding the emergence of the hippy counterculture during the Vietnam War. The number of police on the street is a reflection of that, and also a direct cause of the radical "crime problem" in America; more cops, more arrests need to be made, more criminals that need to be found – or created.

At the same time, I have lived in few cities where I felt no fear at all walking home 5 kilometers at 4:00 am through any neighborhood. Maybe the cultures of the former communist bloc are more self-regulating in that way, I don’t know, having not had the experience of others.

Finally, at an essential level the Slovak government is no different than the American. It presumes that it can dictate the every action of every individual, and that doing so is right; all that is necessary is to pass a law. Slovakia has an advantage, though, in that it is ideologically running away from socialism while America is running toward it. Additionally, Slovakia is a new country. The criminal class who make up government are not nearly as entrenched and powerful in Slovakia as they are in the US (the power of the mafia in the US is far less than its power in Slovakia, to make one comparison). The new ruling class is still consolidating its power and learning to adapt to a more open, modern system. It seems to me that in this space there is at least the breath of freedom, of its possibility. In the US, freedom is being constantly taken away. Slovaks have the recent memory of freedom being returned, even if many in the country don’t really know what that means. But there is an energy there, a potential, which I find very refreshing.

Do you know what practical consequences your renunciaton might have? Are you prepared for these?

In the first place, my renunciation may fail. The US State Department can pull out any number of reasons to refuse my petition to renounce American citizenship, or can do so for no reason at all, leaving me to challenge the matter in an American court. If my renunciation is recognized, I will become a stateless person with no citizenship at all. Immediately, I will have surrendered my US passport, which means that I will have no official means of identifying myself to companies and agencies I must transact with in Slovakia or elsewhere. During this period, I will use power of attorney instruments to designate a trusted third party to manage my affairs. There is the possibility during this period that I may come into conflict with the police for some reason and end up in jail, though I think this is unlikely. Traveling outside Slovakia by air will likely be impossible. Traveling outside the Schengen area in any form will likely be impossible. Next, I will obtain a 1954 Convention Travel Document issued by the aliens’ police, documenting my identity and confirming me as a stateless person. This should allow me free travel by any means within the Schengen area, though I will need to obtain a visa to go anyplace else. This is something I am prepared to deal with as necessary. Beyond this, there should be no real effect. Slovakia is party to a number of treaties which protect the natural rights of stateless persons and confer duties upon their signatories to provide certain services and protections.

Are you counting on interest from the UNHCR, which deals with refugees and stateless persons? They should engage with you...

It is possible that I may end up consulting with the UNHCR at some point over a matter of policy or bureaucracy, but I doubt I will meet them at all. If I did, I expect that they would not be very helpful to me. In the first place, I believe that all UNHCR employees are working for a criminal organization (the UN). Second, I will not be a refugee or stateless person as contemplated by the treaties that UNHCR is concerned with. Very likely the UNHCR people would think that I'm quite a jerk for exploiting law designed to help people with real problems for the purposes of carrying out my own crusade.

Do you know any other cases of renunciaton of american citizenship?

Hundreds of people renounce their American citizenship every year, though largely for practical rather than ideological purposes. These are generally people who want to become citizens of other countries which do not permit multiple citizenship, or who wish to restructure their finances for more favorable tax treatment. The only contemporary example of someone who attempted to renounce his American citizenship for ideological reasons is Ken Nichols O’Keefe, who failed. But Terry Gilliam did it in 2006.

The greatest individual anarchists like Rothbard or Spooner would be proud of you. Who were (are) your teachers? Did (do) you have any?

I have a lot of respect for Rothbard and Spooner, and learned a lot from reading both of them. Also Bastiat, la Boétie, Nock, Hayek, David Friedman and even some fiction writers like Heinlein and LeGuin.

What would Rothbard and Spooner think of what I’m doing? I have no clear idea. Both men lived in very different times. Spooner might not really appreciate the idea at all, since during his time the modern concept of citizenship – with its restrictions and passports and visas – wasn’t really born yet. In those days you could travel anywhere in the world without anyone’s permission; the modern system of global control of the movement of people hadn't yet been implemented. Rothbard also grew up in a very different world, defined perhaps largely by the defeat of fascism and the rise of Soviet communism. In the years when he was the most active, the idea of moving to Czechoslovakia and giving up US citizenship I am sure would have been anathema. The post-communist world of today is a bit different, and the revisionist narratives of 20th- and even 19th-century American history which emerge perhaps cast America in a light different from that in which Rothbard may have seen the country when he was in his prime. I expect that the events of the GW Bush administration would have confirmed Rothbard’s most radical innermost thoughts, though, and I could certainly imagine him taking off for friendlier shores.

How did you arrive at anarchist thinking? How and when did you realize the state is a criminal group?

This took place for me over many, many years and it would be hard to point to a single event which led to a change in my thinking. It starts perhaps with me at the age of 14 or 15 rejecting Christianity. This led me to reading about a lot of other religions as well as esoteric traditions. That reading led me to the works of Aleister Crowley, who if nothing else taught me to doubt everything, including my own self and my own thoughts. I was also led to the works of Robert Anton Wilson, and through him, Timothy Leary. Besides the anarchist streak in Wilson’s writing itself, both these writers had a great deal to say about the drug culture of the 1960s. The topic fascinated me, and I read a great deal on the nature of psychedelic experiences (long before ever taking any of the drugs myself). One thing I recall very clearly is arriving at the thought: “If so many people have had so many life-changing, positive experiences through the use of these drugs, why are they illegal?” The response that I answered my own question with then was, “because the content of those experiences threatens the people who rule us.” There are more reasons than this for drug prohibition, but I still believe that intuitive conclusion I arrived at so many years ago.

At 18, in 1991, I was a protester against the first US-Iraq war – a complete waste of time, in retrospect, but educational. Around that time I found and joined the Libertarian Party. I obtained a lot of education through the Party on the philosophy of liberty, and came to define myself as a libertarian minarchist. Around 1997 I encountered and read Lysander Spooner’s "No Treason: The Constitution of no Authority". Spooner repeatedly described governments as they really are: bands of robbers and murderers that pretend to have some sort of “legitimate” authority. Spooner’s arguments utterly destroy the legitimacy of the state. In 1998 I began volunteering for a couple of drug-policy reform organizations in the US, and eventually went on to found one of my own, getting tangentially involved in political agitation thereby and entering briefly some of the circles around the “big money” and supposedly philanthropic donors like George Soros. Besides the futility of the cause itself, I found myself disgusted to be surrounded by people who not only didn’t challenge the legitimacy of the state on any fundamental level in the drug policy context, but who were also actively campaigning for more and greater state intervention into other spheres of people’s lives. I fell out of this sphere when I decided to chase a girl across the American continent.

Some time around 2000 I encountered the “Strike the Root” website and mailing list, and began reading its daily news and commentary. One of the most influential things I found there were the many thinkers who had written about voting and political participation, not as privileges or as triumphs of modern society, but rather as moral evils and – in some cases – criminal actions.

A lot of other things happened along the way, too, of course, like reading David Friedman’s "The Machinery of Freedom", which presents thoughts of how an anarcho-capitalist society might be structured, and also Neal Stephenson’s novel "Snow Crash" which presents a sort of caricature of that world and delves into some of the consequences. Like I said, it’s long and complicated history!

How do you see Slovakia from an individual-anarchism point of view? Is there solid ground for spreading thoughts like these?

I really have very little information on which to base an answer to this question. My guess is, "poorly" and "no, not really". The history here is one of collectivism. There is a very strong strain of obedience to authority in the culture. I know very few people who have been exposed to these ideas, and fewer still who value them. I would like to be hopeful, but I really don't know. The system (educational, cultural, political) is certainly not set up to encourage the ideals of liberty.

What about other european countries?

It’s hard for me to say, as I’m not really deeply aware of the nature of European societies. The idea of the virtue of political government appears to me completely entrenched everywhere in Europe, however. One thing which may be positive, though, at least as an indicator of hope, is that the influence of Christianity is fading at a historically remarkable rate; I remember a few years ago reading of churches in Spain closing their doors and parishes consolidating because the younger generations were simply not turning up to masses. As I believe that the same sort of insanity underlies religious belief as underlies devotion to statism, I have some reason for hope. But as other commentators have said, dismantling statism is a multi-generational project. It began perhaps with Étienne de la Boétie’s "Discourse of Voluntary Servitude" and is continuing today on blogs and in essays and in interviews like this one.

What do you think about existing think-tanks? Is there any which stands for views close to your own?

I’ve worked with and/or supported a number of different organizations over the years. None of them really stands for principled anarchism; they are all beholden to donors who would stand to lose too much if the state disappeared. Nevertheless, these have been: the US Libertarian Party, the Drug Policy Foundation, the CATO Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Future of Freedom Foundation and now, in Slovakia, INESS. I think all of these groups, and many others, have parts of the picture, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses.

Why did you join the Libertarian Party and why did you leave it?

I joined because the LP then was basically a minarchist party, promising to dramatically reduce the size of government. I left after a number of years of realizing that LP candidates would never get elected. It was only later that I adopted the view that voting is immoral.

Imagine you were a (native) Slovak citizen. Would you renounce due to actions of the state?

I can imagine any number of situations in which I would choose to do so, yes. However, Slovakia’s acceptance of one of the treaties on statelessness requires that Slovakia not permit a citizen to renounce his citizenship unless and until he obtains citizenship from another country.

Wait, does it mean that any Slovak choosing to renounce can´t in fact do that?

Slovaks can renounce their citizenship, yes, but under the terms of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (to which Slovakia is a signatory), Slovakia will not recognize the renunciation unless and until the would-be renunciant has citizenship someplace else.
This part of the treaty was enacted into Slovak law and now forms §9(2) of Act no. 502/2007 Zb. on Citizenship of the Slovak Republic:

Zo štátneho zväzku Slovenskej republiky možno prepustiť osobu, ktorá preukáže, že má štátne občianstvo iného štátu, alebo prísľub jeho udelenia v prípade prepustenia zo štátneho zväzku Slovenskej republiky.

How do you see the EU? Is it a more dangerous criminal group than the state?

If the state is an abominable, monstrous, immoral organization of robbers, murderers and thieves, than a super-state must necessarily be an even more abominable, monstrous and immoral variant on the same theme. Despite politicians’ words to the contrary, the EU is the beginning of a federal super-state for Europe. This is bad because state power is the less harmful to the world when it is confined to smaller areas – you don’t see Peru going off and invading Bangladesh, for instance. Additionally, I think there are a lot of well-meaning but mistaken people who see the EU as a means to avoid wars of the type that so damaged Europe in the 20th century. The super-state, to them, should be a means of uniting peoples across national boundaries. This is completely wrong to me. The German-led horrors of the two World Wars, for example, would not have been possible if “Germany” hadn’t existed, replaced instead by a number of smaller independent states. Without a central government to harness and command the industrial power of a large area like Germany, raising armies to “conquer Europe” would have been much more difficult. To me, the solution to the evils of “rogue states” is to break up the existing ones into pieces, and then repeat the process. So long as we are to have states at all, they should be as small as possible.

Do you think there will come a time when the state will fall? And is it possible for most of the world?

I hope so, but I don’t realistically expect such a thing to happen in my lifetime, at least not globally. There is the possibility that current or future small states may choose to reorganize themselves along anarchist lines, but at the same time there is massive international and institutional pressure to prevent that from happening. As one example, the “failed state” of Somalia existed for many years without a functioning central government. What government existed was a reversion to local tribal and religious forms, and these were not really anything like the anarchist philosophical ideal. Even so, the existence of a “nation without a government” was a great threat to the ruling classes elsewhere, as shown by the support for the fraudulent “government in exile” (really a debating society of would-be rulers) based for a long time in Nairobi, Kenya. And the recent history there has been bloody, with US-backed Ethiopian military units invading the country in attempts to support the new, “legitimate” central government.

What do you tell those who claim anarchists are extremists with their heads in the clouds?

I would suggest rather that statists are fools with their heads in the clouds at best and blood on their hands at worst. The crimes that states have committed are so much vaster than the crimes they pretend to shield us from.

My fundamental view is that states are immoral and evil institutions and that they ought to be abolished – a view that many other (but not all) anarchists share. One does not compromise with evil if one is to be a moral person, and besides, a compromise with evil today will always be met with a request for further compromise tomorrow, increasing evil’s presence in the world. You don’t choose the “lesser” of two evils, and you don't surrender to the apology that says that the state is a "necessary" evil. You also don’t try to reform evil by attempting to circumscribe it with paper nonsense like constitutions and treaties. So long as people give moral support to the evil institution that is the state, evil will continue to thrive at the core of our social existence.

Different schools of thought exist as to what institutions (if any) would replace the state if states were to disappear. As long as we’re not going to enshrine the basic immorality of unjustified authority as the core of society, I'm not really concerned with the fine details of what that better society will look like. Let’s purge the evil of statism – as we have purged the evil of slavery, for instance – and look for ways to build society on love rather than on evil.

But how could be the state abolished? By the legislature or by another state branch? By a citizen´s revolution? By educating them about the state´s evil?

There are a number of different narratives of how states might eventually cease to be. First of all, the state is emphatically not going to abolish itself, anywhere or at any time. The people who profit from state evil are not going to give up those illegitimate profits, having one day awoken with a moral conscience and newfound respect for their fellow human beings. They are going to fight very hard to hold on to those privileges.

Violent revolution to eliminate states and replace them with functioning anarchist societies is very unlikely to be successful in this generation or the next few generations. Where such is attempted, it is much more likely that the leaders of the revolution would in fact become the core of a new state, just as illegitimate as the last, though founded on different mythology. Bloodshed should not be our goal.

There is a beautiful vision I read of someplace, of people just gradually withdrawing their support for the state, first at the fringes and then spreading inward as generations go on, with the end result that one day, the very last state employee turns off the light at the very last state office and quits his state job. There are extremely powerful forces arrayed by states against society to ensure that this doesn’t happen, no matter how glorious the vision may be.

The only practicable strategy to contribute to the minimization and elimination of the state today that I am aware of is called agorism, a term coined (I believe) by Samuel E. Konkin III back in the 1970s. Agorism’s political philosophy is anarchism and its revolutionary praxis is what Konkin termed counter-economics. The revolutionary path, in brief, is simple: arrange your individual affairs such as to have as little contact with states as possible; avoid paying taxes where possible; avoid taking state services or engaging state businesses where possible; expand “gray” markets; establish enterprises and trading networks with like-minded people; develop non-coercive means to provide the services that states claim monopoly power over today. The seed of agorism, I believe, grows in the heart of nearly every person already. Who enjoys paying their taxes? Who, given the opportunity to under-report or not report certain income without being caught, reports it for confiscation because he believes it’s moral to have his wealth stolen? (much more at www.agorism.info)

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