Theocracy Causes Famine

Recently, I got an e-mail from the Foundation Beyond Belief, which is working with USAID to raise awareness of the continuing drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. The toll in lives is already appalling, including over 29,000 deaths from starvation and outbreaks of measles and cholera, and hundreds more dying every day. The crisis has produced almost a million refugees, including over 400,000 at the Dadaab camp in Kenya.

I have to admit that my first reaction to this news was a feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes it seems that occasional famine is a painful fact of life, especially in poor, overpopulated regions of arid, sub-Saharan nations, and that any effort to help, however well-intentioned, is only going to delay the inevitable. I won’t deny that I’ve had some of these thoughts myself. But I was brought up short by a passage that Johann Hari wrote in a recent book review:

As recently as the mid-1980s, it was thought that famine was usually an “act of God” – a “biblical” failure of rains or crops or seasons. But in the 1990s Amartya Sen, the Nobel­winning economist, showed this was wrong by proving one bold fact: “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.” Famine, it turns out, is not caused by a failure to produce food. It is caused by a failure to distribute food correctly – because the ruler is not accountable to the starving.

Although a natural disaster, like drought, is often the trigger, the ultimate cause of famine is almost always a corrupt, greedy, or unaccountable government that siphons off food from the needy. For example, during the infamous Irish potato famine of the 1840s, Ireland was producing more than enough food to feed itself, but the imperial British rulers of the time demanded that the majority of it be shipped abroad for export. The only space left for the Irish to grow their own food was on small and marginal plots, and when the potato blight wiped out their chief crop, disaster followed.

And the same thing is happening now in Somalia. As Nicholas Kristof writes, the country is experiencing a historic drought – aggravated, no doubt, by climate change – but that alone wouldn’t have caused such a severe crisis. Kenya and Ethiopia, which are also affected by the drought, are coping better thanks to technological advances, like drought-resistant crops and irrigation systems. But the closest thing to a government in Somalia is the violent, ignorant Islamist movement called the Shabab that’s the only authority in most of the country. Kristof puts it chillingly:

The area where large numbers of people are dying almost perfectly overlays the regions where the Shabab is in control.

The Shabab has actively kept out aid workers and relief shipments, apparently viewing them as unwanted intrusions from corrupt and godless Western countries. They’ve blocked rivers and stolen water from villagers to divert it to farmers who pay them bribes. They’ve even tried to prevent starving people from fleeing.

So, yes, famine is an “act of God” – but only in the sense that it’s caused by God’s self-appointed agents, the forces of religious darkness that don’t value human life and are perfectly willing to allow suffering and death. Famine is not inevitable, even in a warming and overpopulated world. The question is whether we, the defenders of humanity and civilization, the people who care about this life, are willing to act to prevent it.

Whenever I think of Somalia, I’m reminded that the brilliant, amazing Ayaan Hirsi Ali came from there. Could there be other minds like hers swept up in the famine, people with the same potential as her even now cradling their dying children or trudging to refugee camps? Will we stand by and permit the strangling darkness of theocracy to snuff out these bright sparks?

If you want to help, see the FBB’s Humanist Crisis Response Program, supporting the International Rescue Committee.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.politicalflavors.com MissCherryPi

    Oh, you are just uninformed! All the libertarian anarchists on Reddit informed me that Somalia is doing just fine.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    I believe they said it’s “better than before” not “just fine.” Somalia has existed without a central government for over 2,000 years, and they have resisted every attempt to impose one, for good or ill. Regardless, are the improved welfare statistics in the document wrong? (Not to say they could not still improve of course). It’s a little bit more than just Al-Shabab too-we have the breakaway states of Puntland and Somaliland, along with areas under warlords or tribal Xeer law. The official government is limited to a few blocks in Mogadishu, with almost no support (along with not being voted for by anyone). You cannot simply put a Western-style government in place (not to mention democracy) and magically expect it can work out. As you note, the famine is exacerbated by Al-Shabab: better to research if Somalia suffered from this before government. Anarchy is the rule, not the exception, there.

  • Brian M

    Sorry…but I think you are seriously oversimplifying here, even if the Shabab are a particularly noxious plague on Somalia.

    Somalia is certainly a wreck in most respects. But Miss Cherry Pi, Somalia was a total wreck when it had a “government” as well. As fun as it is to ding the Free Republic style “libertarians” the history of conventional governments (typically military dictatorships with pseudo-Marxist trappings) is not pretty.

    Isn’t a big part of the problem decades of Western (and Soviet) interventions and interference? Certainly, the use of the Ethiopian dictatorship’s military forces as Amercian proxies (which killed and displaced tens if not hundreds of thousands…but then Shabab is purportedly part of Al Qaeda, so that excuses all the death and destruction we support, doesn’t it?). Given the Cold War era proxy wars and various nastyness…how can any marginally successful culture be expected to be resilient…even if there was no religious nuttyness involved? And…what led to the rise of Shabbab? The rump “statelet” in Mogadishu seems to be incompetent, corrupt, and utterly unable to govern. This vacuum leads to things like Shabab coming to power.

  • Brian M

    Thanks, Michael. I see we both had simultaneous and similar responses. Miss Cherry Pi needs to read a little bit about the glories of the Soviet-allied State which existed pre-anarchy.

    I would also argue that Somalia does not lack a “government”. It has a society dominated by clans, a “primitive” and somewhat chaotic system, perhaps…but it may work for them if outsiders stopped dumping arms and bombs to support a pseudp-government. Was Sidde Barre that much better? Perhaps Miss Pi just wants the Italians (Berlusconi is almost fascist enough) to swoop in and reeducate the wogs?

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    Thanks, Michael. I see we both had simultaneous and similar responses. Miss Cherry Pi needs to read a little bit about the glories of the Soviet-allied State which existed pre-anarchy.

    Yes, we did, and you’re welcome. Siad Barre took over Somalia in the same year Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born, and her father was imprisoned for opposing him. Barre imposed his “Islamic Marxism” on Somalia (sounds kind of like Muammar Gaddafi) with a disastrous result. After Barre sought to conquer land where ethnic Somalis lived in Ethiopia to form “Greater Somalia” he was defeated when the USSR and Communist bloc supported the Ethiopians (who at the time were also ruled by a Communist military dictatorship). The US government then backed Barre until 1989, so they hold some blame for this. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Siad_Barre#Supreme_Revolutionary_Council https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Siad_Barre#Nationalism_and_Greater_Somalia
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Siad_Barre#Foreign_relations

    I would also argue that Somalia does not lack a “government”. It has a society dominated by clans, a “primitive” and somewhat chaotic system, perhaps…but it may work for them if outsiders stopped dumping arms and bombs to support a pseudp-government.

    Well, government is one of those tricky words… The Somali customary law, Xeer, is one of the oldest continually functioning legal systems in the world. So they do have a traditional rule of law, enforced among clans. No central government however. This is the norm for many clan-based societies (examples include Anglo-Saxon England, Celtic Ireland and the various German tribes. Xeer is remarkably similar to those legal systems too.) That “primitive…chaotic system” worked for over 2,000 years. It may not be perfect (nothing is) but its theirs. And its much better than what is there now. In any case Somalia, though historically with no central government, has multiple statlets now, as I mentioned, let alone the would-be central government which is rejected by all.

    Perhaps Miss Pi just wants the Italians (Berlusconi is almost fascist enough) to swoop in and reeducate the wogs?

    I doubt that, but indeed many of their problems can be traced (like always in Africa) to colonialism. This introduced them to the joys of the state.

  • jane hay

    In most of Africa, the famines of the last 50 years, since the fall of colonialism, were political, not agricultural. That is why famine relief is so frustrating. It’s not just that it’s a stopgap, but there is no history of robust recovery or actual reform following. It’s sort of “disaster capitalism” at a primitive level, where opponents take advantage of temporarily deteriorating local conditions to press their political advantage, and make more lebensraum for their side. Weak democracies, warring clans, fundie terrorist religions, Soviet/Chinese/Russian interference, corporate exploitation of resources, primitive agricultural practices, no educational facilities, access to clean water or even primitive medical care, make the Sahel and its neighbors a continuing saga of misery. Parachuting in personnel/supplies is nothing but a bandaid on a cancer. No quick fix.

    The solution will be long term, extremely costly, difficult, and must develop organically from the ground up, aided by agricultural reform and technologies appropriate for a population in poverty, a strategy that no Western power is interested in, since it involves slow slogging, no profits and isn’t glamorous, and would have to span many decades/political cycles, thus being unsustainable through the changes in party control. Same applies to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    That being said, I am a monthly contributor to OxFam and CARE, and a supporter of MedecinsSansFrontieres. I may be a skeptical atheist, but I care.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Regardless, are the improved welfare statistics in the document wrong?

    Perhaps you didn’t read this post, Michael, but I’m fairly certain I mentioned that Somalia is currently in the midst of a staggering famine and accompanying refugee crisis, while its neighbor states are pulling through under the same weather conditions. Do you think that should be taken into account in any consideration of whether the Somali people are better off with anarchy?

    I doubt that, but indeed many of their problems can be traced (like always in Africa) to colonialism. This introduced them to the joys of the state.

    But this makes no sense. I don’t dispute that colonialism has caused many of Africa’s problems, but if “the state” is the real problem, then Somalia should be thriving, since there is no longer anything resembling a real state there. I agree that the U.N.-backed transitional government is completely corrupt and incompetent, and “governs” nothing but a few blocks of Mogadishu in any case, but that just goes to prove that they can’t possibly bear responsibility for the disasters afflicting the rest of the country.

    Instead, what we’re seeing is what always happens when there’s no effective state: whoever has the biggest group of armed thugs moves in to fill the power vacuum. It happened with Afghanistan and the Taliban, and it’s happening with Somalia and the Shabab. I don’t deny that Cold War meddling by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. played a large part in this, but that doesn’t prove by any means that abolishing the state completely is the solution.

    I would also argue that Somalia does not lack a “government”. It has a society dominated by clans, a “primitive” and somewhat chaotic system, perhaps…but it may work for them if outsiders stopped dumping arms and bombs to support a pseudp-government.

    I assume your definition of “work”, Brian, doesn’t include the fact that the clan- and tribe-based system treats women as property on a level with livestock.

    Also, I have to ask: If you’re a libertarian, on what basis do you object to outsiders shipping guns and bombs into the country? If the Somali people want to buy weapons and have the money to do so, isn’t that their right?

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    [jane hay]: The solution will be long term, extremely costly, difficult, and must develop organically from the ground up, aided by agricultural reform and technologies appropriate for a population in poverty, a strategy that no Western power is interested in, since it involves slow slogging, no profits and isn’t glamorous, and would have to span many decades/political cycles, thus being unsustainable through the changes in party control. Same applies to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Yes, exactly. Though after those many decades pass there could be substantial profit in (re)building the government and economies of these famine-prone countries, there’s almost no one on Earth who is taking such a far-sighted view to actually make that investment.

    “Parachuting in personnel/supplies is nothing but a bandaid on a cancer.” Indeed, and a superbly concise way to put it. We can’t do nothing for fear of looking heartless, but the deep actions which need to be done for the future are out of scope and interest of those with the ability to enact them.

  • Emburii

    ‘Perhaps Miss Pi just wants the Italians (Berlusconi is almost fascist enough) to swoop in and reeducate the wogs?’

    That’s a pretty heinous presumption of bad faith right there, Brian M, and a far sight off from what she actually posted. That particularly nasty sentiment is on your head, not hers.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    Famine is often made worse by dictatorial governance, whether the government is the recognized government , or a de facto unsanctioned government run by criminals. In the case of theocracies, the ruling class, claiming divine right, feels no need to be held accountable of even responsible for their subjects.

    There are certain earmarks of theocracies which add to the problem. Theocratic leaders encourage rapid population expansion, which leads to overpopulation. The population, in turn rapidly outstrips the limits of the land to support. This increases to violence and the theocrats turn a blind eye. They feel their power is in increasing the number of people under their control not the quality of life that is important.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    Perhaps you didn’t read this post, Michael, but I’m fairly certain I mentioned that Somalia is currently in the midst of a staggering famine and accompanying refugee crisis, while its neighbor states are pulling through under the same weather conditions. Do you think that should be taken into account in any consideration of whether the Somali people are better off with anarchy?

    Oh, I definitely read it Ebon. I wondered if we have any data on whether famines occurred prior to a central government in Somalia, and if so, their severity, cause, etc. Unfortunately that is something I do not know. I was not referring to Somalia as it is-rather their condition in the past, before it acquired central government. I do not describe it as anarchy or stateless-rather, there is a collection of warring states, as I noted in my first post above. However, they did exist with no central government for most of their history.

    But this makes no sense. I don’t dispute that colonialism has caused many of Africa’s problems, but if “the state” is the real problem, then Somalia should be thriving, since there is no longer anything resembling a real state there. I agree that the U.N.-backed transitional government is completely corrupt and incompetent, and “governs” nothing but a few blocks of Mogadishu in any case, but that just goes to prove that they can’t possibly bear responsibility for the disasters afflicting the rest of the country.

    I think you may have misunderstood me. I do not blame this famine on the Transitional Federal Government (at least not solely). Rather, Al-Shabab, which is the government in a large part of Somalia, as you said yourself.

    Instead, what we’re seeing is what always happens when there’s no effective state: whoever has the biggest group of armed thugs moves in to fill the power vacuum. It happened with Afghanistan and the Taliban, and it’s happening with Somalia and the Shabab. I don’t deny that Cold War meddling by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. played a large part in this, but that doesn’t prove by any means that abolishing the state completely is the solution.

    Problem: “the biggest group of armed thugs” is the government. The Barre regime was that. The Taliban were. To the extent both of them were “effective government” things were very bad. My point is that a central government did not exist prior to colonialism, and, as I said earlier, is the exception. Regardless, the state is not in fact abolished. Your definition of anarchy is presumably “chaos”-mine is a stateless society. “Anarchy” is not desirable in every case, nor are states created equal in your opinion I’m sure.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Problem: “the biggest group of armed thugs” is the government.

    And Libertarians have never provided a solution to this intractable problem with their ideals.

  • Jim Baerg

    Is Michael just expressing himself badly?

    While I much prefer living under the government of my country to living in the chaos of Somalia, some governments (eg: the current North Korean government) are even worse than such chaos.

    Jim Baerg 51 N 114 W

  • Brian M

    Mea culpa re: Berlusconi and Miss CherryPi. Yet…there are those out there who would advocate for that and MissCP’s post itself was somewhat snarky.

    OMGF: You’ve got to be kidding. Who has to answer what questions? Look at history. Statists have never answered the multiple questions about the tyrannical histories of centralized military empires and tyrannical states.

    Pot…meet kettle.

    As bad as the situation in chaotic Somalia may be…the abuses of tyrranical centralized states put them to shame. And we are not talking only about the usual suspects. How many people did The Truly Essential Light of The World kill in Vietnam? Have you seen photos of the Central Highlands after American airplanes dumped thousands of tons of PCB? based defoliants on the jungle?

    Ebon: I am not a “libertarian”. Libertariansim is a term bastardized to mean basically Ayn Rand nut cases and apologists for centralized corporate power (enforced, oddly enough, by very vigorous State power). I am SYMPATHETIC to the anarchist critique of the State while have no illusions that a coercion-free, anarchist society can be easily created (if at all). As with Marxism,. anarchism makes a better critique than a prescription. If one could even find a single anarchist prescription other than severe dislike of coercion.

    As for your specific question: Can’t be stopped. The world is awash in arms. The Somali clans could are less about my/our moralizing. Especially as the United States is the biggest arms dealer by far, and we supply weapons to the worst of the worst when it benefits some narrowly defined “policy” or other.

  • Brian M

    Jim Baerg:

    I don’t know. I think Michael is expressing himself very well.

    As for women’s rights, well…let’s look at how well women are treated in many of the States in the region. Saudi Arabia…our newly and wonderously liberated Iraq, Iran. All have states. All have issues with women’s rights. Why is a clan-based system, horrific as it may be, uniquely to blame for unfortunate reality?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    OMGF: You’ve got to be kidding. Who has to answer what questions? Look at history.

    I’m not, and please do look at history. Find me any example of large scale groups of people living without some sort of governmental function. The best thing I can come up with is hippy communes. Anything larger and some sort of mediating governmental function is necessary. As the scale gets larger and larger and groups of groups affiliate with each other, a government becomes necessary to mediate amongst group disputes. The central government might be a boogey man to you, but I see no way around it and ample historical evidence that without it you’ve got chaos which leads to all kinds of disaster.

    Statists have never answered the multiple questions about the tyrannical histories of centralized military empires and tyrannical states.

    Is this a strawman, false dichotomy, or both?

    Some central governments are corrupt and do bad things, but that doesn’t mean that all central governments are bad. Those who advocate the abolition of those governments do have to explain how that will work, however, and make it plausible. That’s what I was pointing out. No libertarians have ever done that, nor can they. You’re welcome to try, but I doubt you’ll be any more successful than all the others before you. (And, yes, I’m aware that you’re trying to re-brand the term “Libertarian” but I’m not going for it. Own up to what you advocate.)

  • Brian M

    OMFG:

    My point is that EVERY state engages in horrific activities. The United States was basically born on invasion and genocide.

    When traditional liberals claim that a stateless society is uniquely horrible and leads to death and destruction, my response is not illegimitate: the history of states is worse when it comes to death and pillaging. Note that I even avoided the usual worst cases (Mao, Stalin, Hitler)…”good” states, Western democracies, even The Light of The World, have engaged, repeatedly and conscioussly, and deliberately, in horrific massacres. We are engaged in some pretty terrible activities right this moment, with assassination squads operting in dozens of countries, two hot wars/invasions, hundreds of millions of dollars spent propping up genocidal regimes like in Yemen (Obama is increasing…yes increasing…by 50% the military aid to the Salah government next year!)

    Given this history of terror, why is Statism automatically the default position? Why do anti-Statists have to prove their case, while advocates for states get a free ride?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    My point is that EVERY state engages in horrific activities.

    And your remedy for this is something that we know doesn’t work.

    Given this history of terror, why is Statism automatically the default position? Why do anti-Statists have to prove their case, while advocates for states get a free ride?

    Because we know that your system doesn’t work. The system of having a government to mediate may not be perfect, but it’s better than the alternative that you seem to have in mind.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @#12:

    And Libertarians have never provided a solution to this intractable problem with their ideals.

    This problem applies even more to people who would expand rather than limit the government, no?

    @#13:

    Is Michael just expressing himself badly?

    Most likely.

    While I much prefer living under the government of my country to living in the chaos of Somalia, some governments (eg: the current North Korean government) are even worse than such chaos.

    That was the point I had attempted to make…thanks.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Given this history of terror, why is Statism automatically the default position? Why do anti-Statists have to prove their case, while advocates for states get a free ride?

    Because we have abundant evidence that stateless societies are far more violent. To quote from a previous post of mine:

    If you lived in a hunter-gatherer society prior to the advent of modern civilization, what were your chances of dying by violence? The anthropologist Steven LeBlanc, in his book Constant Battles, estimates that in some primitive societies it was as high as fifty percent. And that’s solely from deliberately waged warfare between competing tribes, without counting additional deaths from disease, accident, or starvation.

    Steven Pinker’s new book A History of Violence is all about this topic. He discusses two lines of evidence: archaeological evidence, including prehistoric sites where we find skeletons that can be analyzed to determine cause of death, and ethnographic studies of modern hunter-gatherer tribal societies and other stateless peoples. Both show that, as a percentage of the overall population, far more people died from violence in those anarchic societies than in our own, even during the bloodiest eras of recent history. In spite of headline-grabbing atrocities, the evidence is clear that the overall rate of violent death has been decreasing for centuries, and an increasingly effective state is part of the reason. As Pinker says:

    …Hobbes got it right: a Leviathan, namely a state and justice system with a monopoly on legitimate use of violence, can reduce aggregate violence by eliminating the incentives for exploitative attack; by reducing the need for deterrence and vengeance (because Leviathan is going to deter your enemies so you don’t have to), and by circumventing self-serving biases. One of the major discoveries of social and evolutionary psychology in the past several decades is that people tend to exaggerate their adversary’s malevolence and exaggerate their own innocence. Self-serving biases can stoke cycles of revenge when you have two sides, each of them intoxicated with their own sense of rectitude and moral infallibility.

    Remarks like Michael’s, in #11, conflate groups like the Taliban with legitimate governments, lumping them all together under the label of “statism”. The problem is that these represent two completely different phenomena. Groups like the Shabab or the Taliban are what, I would argue, inevitably happens in an anarchic society: whoever has the most weapons and the greatest ruthlessness will seize power.

    The violence that libertarians blame on “the state” is simply due to people’s willingness to inflict harm on each other, which is not going away regardless of whether or not we have a government. (I assume Brian M’s comment at #14 concedes this point.) The best thing we can do is to create a single entity, the state, which has a monopoly on the use of force and which is accountable to all of us. That way, people can defend themselves against unjust uses of power through peaceful, democratic means. In a true anarchy, the only way to resist violence is with violence, and that’s just what we see in the anthropological evidence.

  • Lagerbaer

    Anarchy automatically leads to a dictate of the thugs. The idea of a state is precisely the desire of citizens to be free from the arbitrary whims of whoever amasses the most followers with the best guns.

    There is no such thing as a state without a government, because someone will always be there to tell others what to do!

  • Brian M

    Darn it! The system ate my long eloquent reply…. I don’t know what happened but I got a demand for proxy server password and user name!

    Anyway: much breifer and less eloquent:

    Lagerbaer….what are most governments, especially in Africa, but arbitrary states run by thugs with the biggest band of followers? Yemen…Ethiopia…etc. etc. etc. Menawhile Prezzy Hope and Change is sending $250 big ones to glorious President Saleh, while bemoaning how MEAN he is to his citizens.

    Ebon: I have argued some of your points (I used the terms drug gangs and religious sects) but I don’t think the anthropology and archaeology is as conclusive or universally accepted as you argue. Not an expert and wouldn’t even know how to Google-Fu an answer…but not so sure.

    Anarchism is not a solution….it is skepticism, atheism extended beyond the realm of religion and turned to look at the assumptions behind patriotism and statism. I prefer to remain skeptical about the truth claims of politicians, bureaucrats (of which I am one), and self-appointed maxium leaders.

  • ToemossCS

    I don’t know if I’d say that living in North Korea would be worse, necessarily, but it is at least just as bad, in many cases. Despite having a powerful central government, they still suffer from disease and famine just like in Somalia. I definitely think it’s an argument for the main point though, because Kim Jong-Il (and his father, too) is worshipped like a god and the official state philosophy of self-reliance, “Juche,” is arguably a religion, in many ways. Almost all of the food aid given to North Korea is either given to the military or re-exported with the proceeds going to weapons development (and Kim Jong-Il’s private cognac collection).

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    Remarks like Michael’s, in #11, conflate groups like the Taliban with legitimate governments, lumping them all together under the label of “statism”. The problem is that these represent two completely different phenomena. Groups like the Shabab or the Taliban are what, I would argue, inevitably happens in an anarchic society: whoever has the most weapons and the greatest ruthlessness will seize power.
    The violence that libertarians blame on “the state” is simply due to people’s willingness to inflict harm on each other, which is not going away regardless of whether or not we have a government. (I assume Brian M’s comment at #14 concedes this point.) The best thing we can do is to create a single entity, the state, which has a monopoly on the use of force and which is accountable to all of us. That way, people can defend themselves against unjust uses of power through peaceful, democratic means. In a true anarchy, the only way to resist violence is with violence, and that’s just what we see in the anthropological evidence.

    I said nothing about “legitimate” governments (legitimacy being in the eye of the beholder), just government. They come together in the sense that all are, in fact, states. I am well aware there is a continuum of more or less violent governments. However, all, as you said, have “a monopoly on the use of force” which was Max Weber’s definition, and one I agree with. Please tell me how governments you dislike do not fit that definition as well. You might want to look at the work of the sociologist Franz Oppenheimer concerning the history of states. They were not begun for a benevolent purpose. Conquest occurred, with ideology (religion in particular) used to make people obey and keep the rulers in power. The more centralized and powerful, the more violent they are. I do not say that the state is solely responsible for violence-I say that the more centralized and powerful the state is, the more devastating the violence that can be inflicted, not to mention more likely to occur. I feel that government is too powerful and centralized. Given history, that makes me very afraid. Yes, I know that ours is mild compared to many-nonetheless, I fear its growth. I also fear the multinational corporate power it supports, if you wondered. They are hand in glove.

    Anarchism is not a solution….it is skepticism, atheism extended beyond the realm of religion and turned to look at the assumptions behind patriotism and statism. I prefer to remain skeptical about the truth claims of politicians, bureaucrats (of which I am one), and self-appointed maxium leaders.

    I hold something like this view. I do not know the solution, if we can even say there is one “solution” (doubtful). Anarchism for me is more of an impulse at this point. If God does not exist, then the State is the ultimate authority on earth. I am very skeptical of it, and the institutions created. I lost any real belief in God long ago, if it was ever there. I have lost faith in government (the difference being that it exists). This may or may not surprise you, but I was a Progressive until a few years back. My atheism became explicit at the same time. For me they are linked.

  • Emburii

    Brian M, Miss Cherry Pi’s comment was snarky. However, it was not at all racist. And if you’re going to admit to being at fault, how about you not go right back and once again smear her with your distasteful framing? ‘Some do think that’…but her comment didn’t even come close to such an implication. Again, that you graft such hateful sentiments onto a mild dig of exasperation and then can’t even really apologize says more about your brainspace than hers, and not good things at that.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Michael,

    This problem applies even more to people who would expand rather than limit the government, no?

    No, it does not, for the reasons Ebon outlined. And, you choice of wording (framing as a false dichotomy and/or strawman) is noted.

    Brian M,

    Ebon: I have argued some of your points (I used the terms drug gangs and religious sects) but I don’t think the anthropology and archaeology is as conclusive or universally accepted as you argue. Not an expert and wouldn’t even know how to Google-Fu an answer…but not so sure.

    How is this not just like an evolution denier who is presented with the evidence by people who actually study this sort of thing and then says, “Well, I’m no expert, but I don’t think everyone accepts this and I’m not so sure, so I’m going to reject the evidence presented and continue to say evolution is false?”

    Anarchism is not a solution…

    Yet, that is where the idea of continually less government leads. The libertarian mantra is always “less government” yet there’s no indication of where we should stop doing less government, except for the idea that government is “always” the problem. Yet, you balk at the idea of anarchy which would supposedly eliminate the problem completely? I wonder why so many people reject libertarianism and see it as juvenile…

  • Brian M

    I’m sneaking comments in at work, OMFG. There are anthropologists and historians who express doubts about the eternal war of all against all school of stateless societies.

  • Brian M

    I would also note that some of consider creating yet more govenrment programs and endlessly expanding the state is also pretty juvenile.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    There are anthropologists and historians who express doubts about the eternal war of all against all school of stateless societies.

    Cites please.

    I would also note that some of consider creating yet more govenrment programs and endlessly expanding the state is also pretty juvenile.

    Thanks for attributing to me a position that no one actually holds. I appreciate that.

  • Brian M

    Google Fu: Lots of discussion, some good sites (encyclopedia.com is wordy and erudite), some doctrinaire sites (mises.com….not a big fan of Austrian economics here LOL). I’m not saying I KNOW that stateless societies are always better.

    http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=pfwc&cp=37&gs_id=31&xhr=t&q=Are+stateless+societies+more+violent&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&safe=active&site=&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=Are+stateless+societies+more+violent%3F&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=8b39c7b95b72b1c1&biw=837&bih=420

    The claim was made that I am an “evolution denier” because I suggested that Ebon’s sources may be superficial and not universally accepted.Especially as we do not have all that much data about pre-literate societies, at least not enough to make a universalizing claim…It is certainly doubtful that States create this propensity for violence, which seems inherent in humans. Some argue that States amplify and channel and organize the violence…just like religion????

    I’ll be honest…I’m surprised at the defensive tone here. Many of you sound exactly like religious apologists. Without a Maximum Leader riding herd over us with armed thugs authorized to kill us, we will all be raving loons. That is the exact same argument as the religious make when we question their “God-given” morals. yet it is often the Maximum Leader that is engaing in direct violence against his subjects or outside “enemies”…just like it often seems to be the most pious who commit the most bizarre crimes LOL.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The claim was made that I am an “evolution denier” because I suggested that Ebon’s sources may be superficial and not universally accepted.

    No, I compared your use of the “I’m no expert but I’m going to disregard the work of experts and claim that I’m right regardless” to what evolution deniers do. You may want to work on that reading comprehension.

    I’ll be honest…I’m surprised at the defensive tone here.

    I’ll be honest too then…what are you talking about?

    Many of you sound exactly like religious apologists. Without a Maximum Leader riding herd over us with armed thugs authorized to kill us, we will all be raving loons.

    Nice bit of projection here. Who is arguing for “Maximum Leader” or anything of the sort? How can you argue against a position that you don’t or won’t even understand? Nope, you just know that we’re wrong and you’re right regardless of what we are actually saying or what the evidence shows. And, we’re the religious apologists in your little fantasy? Please.

  • Brian M

    OMFG:

    I never claimed I knew the answer or even that I definitively disagreed with Ebon. what I said was that I have read other anthropologists, other sources, which do not agree that the record is so clear. That’s all.

    Projection???

    The basic theme here is that a State, any State, is better than the EVILLLLLLS OF ANARCHY…JUST LIKE SOMALIA, OMG. Even when others provide examples of States that actually don’t work very well.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The basic theme here is that a State, any State, is better than the EVILLLLLLS OF ANARCHY…JUST LIKE SOMALIA, OMG. Even when others provide examples of States that actually don’t work very well.

    You’ve done a good job setting up and then knocking down that flimsy strawman. Meanwhile, what we’re actually arguing is that there are better states and worse states, but that a good state will always be superior to an anarchy, which is an intrinsically unstable and violent condition.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    No Brian, you simply don’t get it. The basic theme is that given no state, no government, one will form and it will be whoever has the most muscle. And, in cases like that, it’s been shown that those regimes tend to be repressive and violent. Those states that don’t work very well are generally born of this type of power grab or due to instability where a power grab happens. What you are proposing is to get us ever closer to the state where a power grab is imminent so that we leave ourselves vulnerable to something that we know from copious examples in history will not work and will not sustain a free and open society.

    And, yes, we know that anarchy does not work. We know that some type of government will form in social animals and that if unchecked that government will most likely be repressive. And, let’s contrast this to your stance that the state is prett much evil and it’s always the problem and we’d always be better with less of it. Not all states work well, but they are inevitable and the alternative just about always leads to worse (I’m not aware of any examples where anarchist power grabs did not lead to repression).

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    [Ebonmuse]: Steven Pinker’s new book A History of Violence is all about this topic. He discusses two lines of evidence: archaeological evidence, including prehistoric sites where we find skeletons that can be analyzed to determine cause of death, and ethnographic studies of modern hunter-gatherer tribal societies and other stateless peoples.

    Pinker has a lot of interesting things to say, and a great deal of data to go along with it. However, there is definitely uncertainty in the prehistoric data set especially regarding determinations of something as specific as cause of death. One has to remember that far enough into the past, the most sophisticated weapons are simply blunt instruments. Death by a blunt instrument can happen in a surprisingly large number of ways in nature. Even if you happen to find several skeletons killed in a very similar manner in the same place, it’s sometimes not feasible to rule out a natural disaster.

    If more skeletons were well preserved, we could have a more convincing data set. The introduction of metallic weapons also changes the picture, as they leave much easier to recognize permanent markings in bone which won’t easily be confused with being hit by a rock/tree/bear even after thousands of years of geologic processes.

    However, the prehistoric data of the deep past isn’t really that important to the argument anyway. Even if one is to totally toss out that data and focus entirely on strong historical evidence, it’s quite clear that the relative level of violence has fallen over time.

    The key element in my view is not really the growth of the state, but the development of technology. Without countless technological improvements over the ages, central government would never have replaced tribes to begin with. Agriculture and animal domestication didn’t coincidentally arise at the same time as the first civilizations. Better tools and better knowledge make the consolidation of power possible in the first place. At the same time, previous techniques are obsoleted and people are forced to find new ways of life.

    From this perspective, it’s not the state itself but the relative abundance of commodities created by improving technology that causes the decline in violence over time. There’s no reason to risk your life for something which you can acquire peacefully through labor and trade. As long as society is able to provide adequate food, shelter, education, and medicine to its citizens the gain that would be had through violence is effectively erased.

  • lpetrich

    Michael:

    If God does not exist, then the State is the ultimate authority on earth.

    That’s almost as dumb as “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.” If anything, it seems like a transference of the divine-command theory of ethics.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The basic theme is that given no state, no government, one will form and it will be whoever has the most muscle. And, in cases like that, it’s been shown that those regimes tend to be repressive and violent. Those states that don’t work very well are generally born of this type of power grab or due to instability where a power grab happens. What you are proposing is to get us ever closer to the state where a power grab is imminent so that we leave ourselves vulnerable to something that we know from copious examples in history will not work and will not sustain a free and open society.

    Very well said, OMGF.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    A good way to tell who is right and who is wrong in any debate is which side actually argues about things that are relevant and back up their assertions with hard facts.

    Anti-Statists, your impressive parade of strawmen, irrational hyperbole, arguments that don’t follow, and baseless projection have made you the clear loser.

    Statists, way to go. Eloquent, pertinent, based in hard facts and expert consensus, and a hell of a lot easier to read if anything, I think you guys clearly won.

    Unless, of course, we want to continue and start loopin back over old arguments…?

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment#36: I’m saying it’s a reason to oppose government power, not obey it. So the opposite from a transferred divine command ethics, the state as God here. Put it this way-if the God of Abraham existed, I would consider it my duty not to obey. My view of divine command ethics is that, taken logically, it leads to the conclusion “if God exists, anything is permissible by His command.” I rebel at any such transferred divine command ethics, to use your term again. Incidentally, what authority is more powerful than government, when God is taken out of the equation?

  • Brian M

    Ebonmuse: It’s not a strawman. The “Somalia” example was originally posted by Miss CherryPi and “Somalia” is always posited as the archetypal example of “anarchism” in every single case. If anything, the focus on “Somalia”, which is always thrown out, by liberal Statists, is the strawman here.

    As for the statement by OFMG that power vacuums always generate horror, I have a couple of thoughts:

    In this modern interconnected world, there are almost never power vacuums. There are always outside actors, generally States, ready and willing to intervene and interfere. The United States’ proxy war via Ethiopia in Somalia killed far, far more people than a dozen 9-11s did. The violence in the Congo (the biggest ongoing war horror story…the Congo makes Darfur look like a neighborhood spat) is exacerbated/funded and armed by surrounding STATE governments…and other modern entities looking to ensure access to rare earths and minerals. That’s ignoring a history of Western governments (Belgium) installing the original horrifc colonial state over a diverse, divided landscape and exploiting it to hell for decades). OFMG’s “vacuum” is as much a chimaera as any Internet Anarchits’ positing of coercion-free mutualism.

    Second…you keep bringing up the “horrors” of mythical stateless anarchism…which has never existed in a stable society on any scale. You posit mythical thugs taking over. Yet, you ignore that in the vast majority of cases, throughout human history including right now in this real world, it is the “State” structure of government that creates the horrors. That is the bull in your china shop. Given the horrors of State power in the real world today (for every Denmark there seems to be five or six Burmas or Zimbabwes or Irans) how can you claim that anarchism “always” leads to a worse situation that State societies? I’ll just close from the real point here, and I think a point which this site, at least, should keep in mind:

    “When I look into the home of a good, normal citizen I see a softly lighted room. In one corner stands a well-cared-for shrine, of which the man of the house is very proud and to which the attention of every visitor is drawn in a loud voice. On it, in large letters, the word ‘Patriotism’ is inscribed.

    “However, opening this shrine is normally forbidden. Yes, even the man of the house knows hardly, or not at all, that this shrine holds the moral requisites of animal hatred and mass murder that, in case of war, he obediently takes out for his service.

    “This shrine, dear reader, you will not find in my room, and I would rejoice if you came to the viewpoint that in that corner of your room a piano or a small bookcase would be more appropriate than such a piece of furniture which you find tolerable because, from your youth, you have become used to it.”

    [...]

    The state, he wrote, “does not play the least role in my spiritual life; I regard allegiance to a government as a business matter, somewhat like the relationship with a life insurance company.”

    ALBERT EINSTEIN

  • Brian M

    Ipetrich:

    You deny that in the modern United States worship of the American State does not reach religous levels? Mythical pasts. Exceptionalist doctrines. Us versus them rhetoric. Solemn “pledges” to the flag, religious rituals, coinage with religious slogans, multi-post defenses of “governemnt” when an atheistic minority questions the true faith?

  • Brian M

    J. James.

    EXCELLENT post, my man.

    “My side is right.
    Your side is wrong.
    My post contributes absolutely nothing to this debate.
    So there!”

    Way to sum it up!

  • Brian M

    I should clarify my comment at #40 as referring to the “modern” era.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Spectacular quadruple post there, Brian.

    I assign you the combo breaker medal and multiply your word score by 16.


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