Voluntary censorship is the heart and soul of a free society. My definition of a free society is one that is not governed by initiation of violence and where all relationships and business transactions are voluntary. This means self-censorship and discrimination of all kinds are the very foundation of a functioning free society.
I know this sounds controversial to those who are deathly afraid of racism, bigotry, and general social pressure. Please suspend your judgement until you finish reading this article. I am not racist and will gladly do business with anyone of any race who offers a profitable opportunity.
Free Market Solutions to Securing Life, Liberty, and Property
If you follow my blog you will know that I am constantly searching for non-violent alternatives to government. The anarchists among us know how challenging this can be. Most simply accept on faith that “the market will provide”, but few pursue the question of “how will the market provide?”. Those that do pursue the question of how the market will provide often do so on a purely theoretical basis.
What makes me different from the vast majority of armchair anarchists and voluntarists is that I am actively engaged in an entrepreneurial business of bringing viable solutions to the market. Theoretical market structures in a post-government world are of no use to someone attempting to bootstrap a business securing life, liberty, and property in a totalitarian state.
The only non-violent society that will have staying power is the one that can be born under oppression and through its own strength overthrow that oppression while adhering to its own principles.
Self Censorship is Self Government
Each individual is responsible for not acting in ways that would violate the non aggression principle. This means that they must censor their desire for revenge. They must hold their punches. They must honor their contracts and avoid fraud, slander, libel, and offensive conduct.
Not only must someone watch what they do, they must watch what they say. This is because you do not own your reputation! Contrary to popular belief, you have no right to control what other people think about you. Your actions are a major contributor to your reputation, but ultimately how your actions are interpreted by others is what defines their opinion of you. Their opinion of you then defines their willingness to do business with you. Furthermore, perception matters more than reality because people make their decisions on their perception which may have nothing to do with reality.
What if Society is Wrong?
Suppose the vast majority of society is against public nudity? Under such a society business owners would discriminate against naked customers. They would do this even if they had nothing against nudity simply because they could lose the business of their other customers.
Those who wanted to enjoy naked living would need to go to businesses that specialize in serving naked customers.
If nudity was sufficiently taboo, then businesses may ultimately disassociate themselves from anyone known to serve nude customers. This could ultimately make operating a business serving naked customers completely unviable if the business owner wished to maintain the benefits of having a good reputation with the rest of society.
Suppose your moral code sees nothing wrong with naked living. Suppose you wish to enjoy life living in a nudist colony? This society would completely shun you. It would ruin your opportunity to find jobs, make friends, and ultimately you would be forced to conform with the prevailing opinion. You would be forced to censor your own body anytime you were in the presence of anyone else.
What happened to your freedom? Is your naked body harming others? They seem to think so and ultimately public opinion is the judge of what constitutes “aggression” and therefore what behaviors should be shunned.
If the majority of society has a different opinion on what is “right” and what is “wrong”, then all you can do is keep your behavior out of public spotlight or engage in a discussion and attempt to persuade others to change their opinion.
As a society grows larger than a couple hundred people, it becomes impossible for any one individual to have first hand information from which to derive an independent opinion about another individual. Instead people must delegate the process of reputation to others. This is the birth of government.
Most people let the government define an individual’s reputation. If the government says someone is “bad”, then they also adopt the same opinion. Laws and courts are nothing more than the process of defining who has a “good reputation” and who has a “bad reputation”.
Once you have a “bad reputation” few people are willing to risk their own “reputation” defending you. Governments enforce coordinated shunning of those they deem to be bad through the use of prisons. They physically cut off an individuals freedom to do business with others.
The legitimacy of the entire process depends upon the reputation of the system itself. Control over the reputation system of society is absolute power.
The key to decentralizing power is to decentralize control over reputation. This is achieved in a free market through voluntary coordinated shunning. Each business owner gets to influence public policy by setting the price of doing business with them. A business owner who is against nudity can set the price of eating in his establishment as a combination of money and behavior (wearing clothes).
Those who wish to partake in the products offered by the market must be willing to pay the price. This means they must conform in order to earn the products and services they wish to receive from others.
The more of society that agrees on certain behavior norms, the more costly it becomes to violate those norms. The most universally demanded behaviors will be against violence, theft, and fraud. The price for violating these norms will be to pay full restitution or be completely outcast from society. A complete outcast becomes a beggar or slave to whomever will care for them and could potentially face death if they are unable to be completely self reliant.
The more controversial an issue becomes lower the price of not conforming.
Paradox for Anarchists
An anarchist is advocating a society that allows free expression without fear of others initiating violence in a systematic way. The only way to achieve such a society is to change public opinion. We all live and die by public opinion.
It is public opinion that currently enslaves us under governments and under an anarchy that same public opinion will continue to be the source of all power enforcing the non aggression principle.
This means that without using violence or taxation, a free society could conceivable compel everyone to purchase health insurance. It could conceivably compel a prohibition of drugs and alcohol. It could conceivably self-censor any topic and demand adherence to all kinds of behavior we currently find abhorrent about governments. All of this would be compelled through market forces; it would simply be too expensive to resist.
What anarchists know is that it is incredibly difficult to get people to agree on anything. Anything that was sufficiently controversial would be permitted because it requires a near universal acceptance of an opinion before coordinated shunning is effective. Most people are neutral toward anything that doesn’t impact themselves. In fact, most people are willing to “look the other way” if it will make them a buck.
The difference between a government and a free society is that all social laws must be incredibly simple and general because you would never get any consensus behind anything overly specific. It is the overly specific laws that allow individuals in power to abuse the masses and prevent individuals from making more decentralized judgments.
Those who complain about censorship motivated by social pressure are simultaneously guilty of applying that kind of censorship through their support of the government required to prevent it. We all wish we could live in a world where everyone shared our opinion and we could do what ever we want, when ever we want, wherever we want. That world is logically impossible. We will always be bound by public opinion. The best we can hope for is to sway that opinion away from accepting initiating violence as necessary toward complete shunning of anyone who initiates violence.
I would go so far to say, that a non-violent society would completely self-censor any suggestion of violence. There very suggestion that violence be initiated against someone is a threat to such a society. Such an individual could not be trusted.
Once you realize that an anarchist society would self-censor competing ideas, it becomes very clear why a statist society must censor anarchist ideas. A statist society would use violence to enforce their censorship, a voluntarist society would use peer pressure and self-censorship.
Censorship is a shield used to protect the prevailing opinion against anything that would change it. Whether it is used for “good” or “evil” depends entirely upon the idea being defended.