Sunday, March 9, 2014

An Evening with Nikk and Bret

Back in March of 2011, SE contributor Bret Alan interviewed me for his blog Anything But Theist. It was a long, sometimes rambling interview that went on for several hours, and I'm not sure if it really ended or if we both just fell asleep at our computers and declared the interview over when we woke up (it was already evening when we began, if I remember right, and we used Yahoo's messaging service).

Back then we had an agreement that I would cross post the interview here, but I never got around to it. My views have continued to evolve, of course, so not everything I stated here coincides with my current views or thoughts on many of the things we touched on. Be that as it may, I present it unaltered as it happened on that night three years ago. It was fun, and perhaps the most civil interaction I ever had with Bret.

By the way, I titled it "an evening" for SE because Bret broke it up into 3 parts, which was no doubt wise, but I'm feeling reckless tonight, so I'm giving it to you in one dose, and also perhaps hoping the daunting task of finishing reading it will make you give up before you get to any really embarrassing answers on my part. I can't remember all the stupid things I may have said, and even I don't want to read the whole thing to check. Hey, I lived it!

 Bret: I’d like to thank Nikk of Skeptical Eye ahead of time (in case he hates me by the end) for being my first interviewee.

Bret: So Nikk, I’m gonna get right to it... what kind of sandwich are you eating?

Nikk: Tuna. I don’t eat it much (mercury levels you know) and I don’t eat albacore as it has about 3 times as much mercury (I think) as other tuna species.

Bret: Delicious, any mayo?

Nikk: I just use generic brand mayo. Sometimes I like to add chopped pickles or relish to my tuna

Bret: Classic. So how would you describe your blog in one sentence which can be easily taken out of context?

Nikk: The Nikk Jakson/Bret Alan fight blog! No, it’s just a blog. I had the name (and owned the domain) long before I even knew it would go with a blog. At first it was going to be just about atheism and James Randi type skeptical subjects. In one sentence? How about a long sentence? “A libertarian, anarchist and left-wing blog that also covers music, food, books and religion, actually just about everything, but never in too serious a manner”. Or I could go with “exposing the machinery of mass conformity.”

Bret: How long have you been an anarchist?

Nikk: Good question! Believe it or not, I was a traditional socialist before I moved to libertarianism. I would say I’ve been an anarchist for about 5 years, but it was an evolution. I slowly moved over to more of a left-libertarian, more socialist anarchism, very anti-corporate and anti-capitalist (state capitalism, that is, though I’m against all kinds).

Bret: How long have you been an atheist?

Nikk: I was a Christian of a very evangelical sort for years. I had an awakening upon reading a book called “The Mind of the Bible Believer” by Edmund D. Cohen. It really went into detail about the way Christianity was really a form of mind control, and a very clever one at that. I still retained some belief in God for a while, but couldn’t get past the problem of evil (still can’t). I would say I’ve been outright atheist for about 6 years, though I’d call myself agnostic right now.

Bret: Would you say your atheism and anarchism are ideologically linked?

Nikk: I thought that for a long time, as if the two were inseparable (perhaps influenced by the fact that almost all anarchists are atheists, and also by Bakunin’s “God and the State”). I once got into an argument with Lew Rockwell about the subject (he’s a Catholic) and he told me basically that he didn’t care what I thought, but as there are many Christian anarchists, and I don’t think a majority of the population will ever become atheists, I wouldn’t say anymore that they are necessarily linked.

Bret: But for yourself, you would say there was a sort of connection?

Nikk: Yes, because if you are against all hierarchies, how can you believe in the ultimate hierarchy of God ruling over everything, like a complete dictator.

Bret: But you would say you’re agnostic now? What to you is the difference between atheism and agnosticism?

Nikk: Okay, sure. Well, I’m no longer as certain as I used to be that the arguments (and they are good ones) of atheists are as unassailable as I thought they were. There is always room for doubt, so I prefer to be called an agnostic. I honestly don’t think we can know for sure one way or the other.

Bret: True, but I find that how someone self-identifies may not always be an indication of their actual actions. If you don’t believe in a god, are you not without theism? I don’t mean to be cornering you on changing how you label yourself, but I guess what I’m asking is... do you pray or go to church or throw spilt salt over your shoulder?

Nikk: I don’t do any of those things, no (well, I do find little prayers on occasion are a hard habit to break from my Christian days, but they’re like playing the lotto; I don’t really believe it will make a difference). I’m an atheist in the sense that an agnostic doesn’t have a belief in a god, but thinks maybe a god might exist.

Bret: Which gods do you hope exist?

Nikk: I said might, not “hope”. However, I hope if there is a god it would be the god of philosophy, outside of any religion, who loves all people and will provide us with life after death. He/she wouldn’t be much of a god worth caring about or hoping for, if there’s no afterlife to right the injustices of life on earth.

Bret: So you’re not keen on reincarnation?

Nikk: I see reincarnation as just another form of life after death..we continue on in some way. I’m don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other. I’m going to do more looking into the work of Ian Stevenson (which I know has critics) which has interested me for years. My girlfriend is a Buddhist, so it’s kind of part of her belief system.

Bret: Supposing you had the choice, what would you reincarnate as?

Nikk: A very healthy, young billionaire! I’m tired of being poor. Actually, the thought of coming back as anything doesn’t appeal to me too much. I don’t want to go through all the nonsense and heartache again. The eternal sleep of the grave almost is more desirable.

Bret: Dark stuff. So, enough religion, I know that isn’t your thing. The Daily Show just ended [11:33 pm] , after being off the air for a week. So as a liberal, I finally know what’s happening in the world and I can ask questions about topics you’re more used to covering. So... Libya... there must be a question in there somewhere... what are your thoughts on all that mess?

Nikk: I don’t like dictators, but I also don’t think it’s any of our business. You can be for the rebels without wanting intervention by the U.S. and its puppet states (and our wars aren’t about freedom and democracy anyway, our leaders have other motives).

Bret: How would you feel about selling cruise missiles to the rebels? That way, instead of spending millions of dollars, we make money AND fight against dictatorships.

Nikk: That would still be by our government, which would still be intervening, so no, I don’t think I’d be for that. I’m not a pacifist, but I don’t think we should be selling weapons of death either.

Bret: Well, in an anarchy, it wouldn’t be up to us, it would be up to arms manufacturers, right?

Nikk: Well, if the whole world was anarchist...No, I think it WOULD be up to us, or to those who owned the arms company, which would be the workers in an anarchy. Without the national security state to support it, the arms industry would collapse as we know it. We would still need some weapons for defense against foreign enemies, and there might be the temptation to sell arms to various rebel groups around the world, but it might not be wise. Better to live in peace with all nations but be ready to defend yourself if attacked.

Bret: Well I’ll be honest, if there was no one manufacturing the weapons of war, that sounds like the industry I would break into, since it would lack competition. Why would ruthless men cease wanting things like bombers and tanks and unmanned Predator drones?

Nikk: Oh, they wouldn’t cease wanting it, I suppose, but without a state, what’s the point.?

Bret: Without a state, who would stop them? It wouldn’t be a stateless world for long, I guess is what I’m saying, unless we managed to make all people “wise.” I agree, I would like to live peacefully with people (especially after the people I hate are dead), and it is wise to seek peace, but there is a type of peace on the other side of war which cannot be achieved through talks, or do you disagree on that point?

Nikk: Without a state, who would stop any sort of crime? Anarchy doesn’t mean there aren’t rules of conduct. Society is quite capable of managing without rulers who impose their values and laws on everyone. But I don’t think the existence of nation states has lead to peace, just the opposite. I don’t think war is necessary to achieve peace, you don’t need to “defeat” an “enemy”, though you may have to repel them. Some modern wars may or may not have been unavoidable, but were talking about a world where states are the only governing systems, and they’ve proven their capacity for mass murder over and over.

Bret: That first question is a good one, who would stop any sort of crime without government? I don’t think a nation or even a state is necessary for enforcement of rules, as humans did it for thousands of years before the first true nations were formed. But what would be your ideal model for mitigating power in such a way as to prevent abuse?

Nikk: Well, these are good questions. I will say this first, and that is you don’t have to know all the details or provide complete solutions before you can be against something or know it’s just wrong. There were atheists long before there was any scientific theory of evolution, and the gods must have seemed like the only explanation for life and complexity, yet thousands of years ago, there were atheists who knew god wasn’t a good explanation for anything. As for what I do think, first, the current system sucks, and it’s evil. Hierarchies are wrong. You have to have decentralized democracy on a small scale, such as decision making in the workplace, where workers govern themselves.

Bret: I don’t want to go off on a religious tangent... but I’m going to. Atheism is actually not that old, and it did appear right alongside the rise of scientific answers. Are you speaking of philosophers like Epicurus as “atheists” in the modern sense of not believing in gods?

Nikk: Well, go back to more modern times if you want. David Hume didn’t have a good explanation for the existence of complex organs such as eyes, but he was no doubt an atheist (many atheists weren’t open about it when it was too risky to proclaim such defiant unbelief, so they called themselves deists, or whatever). My point is, you don’t have to provide all the answers before you declare you no longer believe in something.

Bret: Would you say it’s important then for anarchists to focus on finding those answers?

Nikk: Of course. Part of the answer we know already, it’s just the details that have to be worked out. We know we have to built alternative social structures to the state that can exist alongside it and eventually fulfill many of its functions after the state has been dissolved or overthrown.

Bret: Part of why I find Skeptical Eye frustrating is that I see more criticism than I see problem solving. I shouldn’t be surprised given the name (it’s not Solution Eye). But I see a fundamental difference between criticizing religion without all the facts and criticizing government without hardly any answers. If I stop believing in gods, the sun will rise tomorrow, gravity will still hold us down to the Earth, babies will still be born, flowers will still bloom... basically nothing depends on our religions. Some stupid people might lose their minds, but that doesn’t seem too different than the situation we have now regarding religion. Governments, on the other hand, do things, and the roles they play won’t continue to be filled without tangible solutions. What’s more, everything I have ever seen regarding anarchism relies upon models which require privatization (which is code for, “You pay for everything yourself”). The biggest problem I see in anarchy is this: how does an anarchy handle millions of orphans, millions of people who are too disabled to even breathe on their own and whose very ability to live is funded by taxes (or as it’s called on SE, “thievery”). I guess my question is this... what is wrong with stealing (if you insist on that language) from people who have so much in order to solve the problems which private charities and churches have failed to handle throughout history?

Nikk: Well, I don’t think the state has solved those problems either. We have inequality now, and we have to look at why we have it. Taxation in the arbitrary manner it’s done, where basically the government decides how much of the money I earn I get to keep, is wrong. I don’t believe justice can be achieved through unjust means. However, the system of state capitalism we have now is the root problem, so I don’t really disagree with many left-wing critics of the super rich and their enormous weath. How did they get so weathly? Most likely through some form of exploitation or state-granted priveledge. I want to address your point about criticism without solutions, though. Part of my aim, or any anarchist’s aim, is to undermine the legitimacy of the state in the minds of people. Anarchy has no hope if people continue to give legitimacy to the state because of continuing propaganda that says states have rights that no one else has and that the legal monopoly on the use of force is somehow moral and right. People have to doubt and question the existing system before they can begin to see there might be an alternative. Capitalism and statism are the problem. The solution is liberty AND equality. You can’t have one without the other. The state cannot provide or guarantee it because it exists to give special rights to a ruling class. All states have done this, even “socialist” ones.

Bret: I’m not sure I really asked about equality, simply that there are people whose very survival depends upon the state, and these are people who have fallen through the cracks of the systems I have seen various libertarian and anarchist thinkers say will take care of people in absence of government. Not really a question, more a critique.

Nikk: Fair enough. But when we have a society that is based more on cooperation than on the dog eat dog competition we have now, we’ll have far less poverty, and I don’t believe anyone will starve of go without basic needs. It will be a less cruel society.

Bret: Well, time to steer this interview into the lightning round, since I bet you’re losing interest. I’m going to go through a laundry list of issues, and I want you to give simple and straight forward answers regarding your stance, don’t worry about explaining it. And remember, you aren’t running for office, so no bullshit.

Bret: Abortion: yay or nay?

Bret: Abortion: yay or nay?

Nikk: Abortion? I’ve said before that it is NOT an issue about the humanness of the fetus, but about the right to control your own body. A woman has the right to expel an unwanted parasite. It’s that simple. Whether she should or not, that’s another question. I believe in the right to abort a pregnancy for any reason.

Bret: So... can I get a yay for abortion?

[long pause]

Bret: Kidding... Unions, yay or nay?

Nikk: As long as they’re not public schoolteacher’s unions! Yes, I believe in unions, but more, I believe in the right of workers to their workplace. It belongs to those who are the real creators of the wealth. I’m a real big fan of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).
Bret: I’ll resist the urge to point out the hypocrisy of saying it’s okay for a government to step in and tell people how they can organize... failed. I’m so weak.

Nikk: Well, I’m just against the coercion of the public school system, so its teachers aren’t much of a concern of mine. Compulsory education is anti-human and anti-child, and exists to prepare wage slaves for the capitalist system. It’s also funded through property taxation, which is immoral and makes the government a landlord and the homeowner merely a tenant. No one should be forced to pay for a service they don’t use, either.

Bret: That’s not how the lightning round works, cheater!

Nikk: Well, I’m sorry!

Bret: How about child pornography, yay or nay? I’m determined to just get a simple answer on one of these.

Nikk: Child porn violates the rights of children, as they don’t give their consent to be in it. It’s a form of very cruel exploitation, of course.

Bret: So nay on child porn?

Nikk: I answered that.

Bret: You said nay? Or you said child porn violates the rights of children... blah blah blah. Just say nay, it’s not a trick.

Nikk: I’m against child pornography, yes. I’m also against expanding its definition to things where no real child is ever involved.

Bret: You’re over-thinking this.

Nikk: No. The law has tried to claim it’s illegal to depict children in sex acts in a comic book that is entirely the creation of someone’s imagination, for example. I wouldn’t be in favor of such comic books, or novels, or whatever. But you can’t arrest people for thought crimes.

Bret: Torturing Bradley Manning, yay or nay?

Nikk: Nay on the torture of real heroes.

Bret: If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?

Nikk: Dead, Karl Marx, to ask him if there’s any substance behind that enormous beard. What was up with that beard?

Bret: I think him and Darwin were having a Satanic beard-off.

Nikk: Living? Someone who will pay for a very nice restaurant. I’m too broke to afford a good meal

Nikk: Dead, second choice, Isaac Asimov. He would be fun.

Bret: How many free meals are you expecting here? Maybe you are left-wing.

Nikk: At least one! When do we eat, Brett?

Bret: We just did, you had a tuna sandwich.

 Nikk: Well, what other questions can you possibly ask, or what else would you like to know? I have plenty of time...

Bret: Where do you see the US in 10, 20 and 50 years?

Nikk: I’m going to attempt to eat a giant chocolate chip cookie before I answer that.

[time passes]

Nikk: Okay, cookie was too big. I had to break it up into smaller pieces. Just like the U.S. is too big, both geographically and in population. You can’t effectively govern such bigness from a single capital city. In ten years I see the US as a dying superpower, with such massive debt that it must pull out of its overseas military operations. In 20 years, either some form of temporary stability through real reform, or a strong man named Bret Alan comes to power to “solve” our problems [editor’s note: not a role I ever want, and not something I imagine I will ever have to worry about being offered]. In 50 years, I think the country will be broken up into smaller, independent states.

Bret: So which state will attack another first when we break up? My money is on Texas invading Calizona. No no, Calizonada. Hmm…. or Calizonadagon… ooh and Texahomsas.

Nikk: Don’t mess with Texas! I’ve known a couple of people who’ve moved there. They like it. No one will attack; they’ll have learned the foolishness of such things by the failures of the old Federal government’s invasions.

Bret: See, I disagree. European history indicates that people don’t “learn” that lesson. As does Chinese history.

Nikk: The US isn’t Europe.

Bret: True, we didn’t last even a fraction as long as Rome.

Nikk: No, we didn’t, and it would be interesting to see what future historians will say about the United States.

Bret: I think historians will talk about the US like they talk about the Habsburg Empire... which is to say only historians will be talking about us. So you believe in American exceptionalism? Or am I mistaken in my interpretation.

Nikk: To an extent, I do. I think something different was created on this American continent, and those ideals are still there below the surface. What other nation gives at least the lip service that we do to freedom of speech, even offensive speech, as one example. There isn’t the commitment to such things as basic principles anywhere else.

Bret: Well, Japan is pretty free. Holland is pretty free.

Nikk: Okay. I like Japan. Hate speech, openly racist speech, use of certain symbols, denying the Holocaust, in Europe those are an issue. I can’t speak to Holland in particular.

Bret: You know what I find interesting about Japan? While our biggest production industry is weapons, we prevented Japan through government order to not produce weapons and not even keep a standing army, and look at their industry.

Nikk: Big standing armies are bad for economies and bad for liberties.

Bret: Well that’s just it, they aren’t bad for economies (at least in some respects), which is one reason why people support it.For example, if you shuttered the doors of businesses that produced the weapons of war, you’d have hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. You or I would say “They should get another job,” but those jobs don’t exist yet.

Nikk: Oh, I disagree. In the long run they are bad. They cost too much without producing real growth except through government spending, but that party doesn’t last forever.

Bret: I agree, because we’re just dropping our future in the form of explosives over innocent people. How to put this... I’ll approach this another way, do you agree that government can have an effect on an economy?

Nikk: Positive or negative? Both. But anything it does is harmful over the longer term. In the short term, it can create what looks like prosperous times (especially if it has some free markets as the foundation of wealth generation).

Bret: I don’t get it... how can everything it does (or doesn’t do) end up being harmful?

Nikk: Well, it’s best when it’s not doing much of anything. When it does, it creates more problems, though they may not come for generations. I’d throw Social Security in there, as there is no way to meet those obligations, certainly not now with the baby boomers beginning to retire. You can inflate and destroy your currency, or go into more debt and tax young workers at higher rates, but none of those solutions will really fix it without doing even more harm to the economy.

Bret: And yet countries like Japan have effective social security and socialized medicine (not to mention very high life expectancy), despite a stagnant fertility rate. Plenty of countries have very effectively governed themselves into success, which is undeniable on many counts. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and pretty soon we might even see nations that were once thought to be too large to succeed coming into the same success using similar methods, like in China. I don’t understand how you can actually ignore the numerous examples we have of effective governance. Look at the education systems in these nations: run by the state, more successful than in the US, and their teachers are even unionized.

Nikk: Well, the money has to come from somewhere. The US government has tens of trillions of dollars in currently unfunded liabilities with both Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is in the red right now, with less coming in than is going out in retirement checks.
Bret: But the logic of anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, and other “small government” advocates is that those countries should be falling apart like the Soviet Union. Those other countries have higher taxes rates, that’s how they pay for their success. We have pitifully low taxes, especially on our mega-wealthy. I mean. come on, we have people pulling in billion dollar bonuses who add basically no utility or productive capacity to the system. I could be a CEO of any company in this country, and I’m not even that bright.

Nikk: Who says they’re not going to? Other European countries are already seeing the strain and experiencing unrest.

Bret: Other European countries... that foolishly invested in America. You want to talk about a collapsing system, that would be unregulated capitalism.

Nikk: Well, I don’t think higher taxes can solve the enormous obligations that exist under those entitlements. They’re too big. What will happen is that average workers (not the rich) will see more and more taken from their paychecks, as was the “solution” under both President Carter and President Reagan to “save” social security. It worked for a while, but now we face it again. Young workers will start to resent it and resist it.

Bret: I don’t think you’re ever going to see anyone get rid of something they paid into, and if you are seriously expecting the young to get politically active about an issue, you picked the wrong one (though I think picking any would be foolhardy, given the apathy of American youths). You could actually not tax 90% of the population and still pay for social security, to be quite frank. Some very high percentage of the population doesn’t even pay taxes, because they either don’t earn enough or they earn nothing. I don’t know it off-hand, but it’s approaching 40% I believe. Taxes are not why Americans are pressed for cash, they’re pressed for cash because the pool of money that the rich are looting for their undeserved fortunes is the same as the pool that workers are paid from. No one goes bankrupt due to taxes. Hell, half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills.

Nikk: If they work, they pay the tax to fund Social Security, though they may not end up owing any income tax.

Bret: That’s true, but no one is losing their house because of SS tax. And if they’re that poor, they’re the type of person who can’t afford to pay for their retirement and need SS the most anyway. If you want to save on SS, there are ways to do it, like means testing for benefits.

Nikk: I myself have difficulty paying my rent because of taxes. I’m going to owe again this year, with my income tax at several thousand dollars, and I earn less than $30,000 a year. That money would make an enormous difference to me. I don’t even know at this moment where I’ll come up with the part I’ll have to pay on April 15.

Bret: I think it’s criminal that you work and can’t even get by, but the criminal isn’t the one who’s taking some tiny percent of your paycheck to pay for poor people to eat and heat their homes or for children to get an education and a warm breakfast. The criminal entity is the company who is not paying you a decent wage for your work. The criminal is the jackass who drives a car worth more than your house. And a house worth more than your life is valued by an insurance company.

Nikk: As for means testing Social Security, it won’t ever happen. It was designed to be a univeral program that you “earned”, not welfare. Trying to change it would create a thunderous lobbying effort from senior citizens, many of them well off enough to not really need that SS check every month to survive, but they feel that it’s their’s because they paid into the system for decades.

Bret: I wouldn’t say many are well off enough. Some are, probably not even enough to make SS break even right now without additional funds from non-SS taxes. But it’s just a start. It’s strange that you think means testing is a stumbling block while ending SS entirely is plausible. Besides, in any good system, there will still be people disappointed. My goal isn’t to make everyone happy, it’s to make sure everyone can pursue happiness. Right now, there are entire classes of people and regions of the country that are doomed by our system, or lack thereof. What’s more, I think extreme taxes on the rich solves one of the major problems we both have with government, namely that our politicians are bought and paid for by the wealthy.

Nikk: But yes, I’m against the current system, too.

Bret: I think everyone is, which is why I’m so confounded as to why no one is moving to change it. I imagine it’s a function of the fact that we have no unified direction.

 Bret: What are your feelings on America’s addictions, drugs and oil?

Nikk: Oil is a finite resource, drugs we can create an endless supply. Draw your own conclusions.

Bret: Actually we might run out of ecstasy. It’s harvested largely from the oil of some tree in Asia, I think it’s primarily found in Cambodia. The illicit production of the oil results not only in deforestation, but pollution, because the chemical run off from the on-site manufacture pollutes the area.

Nikk: Well, then, we run out of it, there’s always something to get high on.

Bret: True, but how will people dance all night and die of dehydration? The electronic music industry will collapse.

Nikk: I wouldn’t shed any tears over that...

Bret: I just shudder to imagine all of those house DJ’s beat boxing on the streets, begging for change. So you don’t have any problem with drug use or abuse?

Nikk: No, of course not. People have the right to do what they want with their bodies. Drug abuse is sad, but sadder still is the toll the drug war has wrought.

Bret: Do you know much about the Anglo-Chinese Opium wars?

Nikk: A little.

Bret: So do you think the economic exploitation of a population caused by pushing an addictive substance on a people is a problem?

Nikk: Pushing? The illegality drives the process. Those drug gangs in Mexico don’t want legalization. Alcohol causes millions of deaths, but prohibition wasn’t the answer.

Bret: I agree, but how would you tread the line between these two problems?

Nikk: I think all economic exploitation is a problem. The banks do it, the company you work for does it...

Bret: Right, but we don’t have to swing between two extremes. I wouldn’t make banks or corporations illegal just because they can and have exploited people, just as I wouldn’t try to deny the usefulness of government. But I wouldn’t have them be completely free to do whatever they want, be it a bank, company or government. I mean... just look at the pharmaceutical industry. They have the freedom to do pretty much anything they want, within some limits, and look what we have: a bunch of kids running around doped up, diagnosed with phony “diseases” because they don’t sit still like an adult.

Nikk: Let free exchange take place, and get people into treatment who need it (you can’t force it, but you can make it a very open process where they feel they’ll be helped to a better life). Overall, we have to end the economic exploitation of capitalism so people can earn a decent, human living.

Bret: Who pays for treatment, considering most people who seek it are flat broke after hitting bottom?

Nikk: Well, Big Pharma, you know I hate that state-supported industry.

Bret: Yeah, but the state-supported part is the important part, namely development.

Nikk: Who pays for it is like asking who will build and maintain roads. Some things will be done voluntarily but in common. No one should own large tracts of land that they can’t possibly use personally, and people can choose to pool their resources for things like drug treatment so it’s available when they or a freind or family member needs it. I’m more of a socialist than you think I am, but an anarchist socialist.

Bret: Yeah but most people don’t want to willingly do that. You’re talking about a population that doesn’t want to give poor kids medicine, and you expect me to believe people will pool their resources out of the goodness of their own hearts to help drug addicts? Most people are just going to say “Fuck ‘em, they made a dumb choice, why should we pay to help them? We should spend our money on helping orphans and the physically disabled.” Except here in reality, we have to deal with the consequences of everyone’s actions, and we can’t just dismiss a person as not worthy of help when they are in trouble. I get what you’re saying, but you have to realize that the people who are making millions of dollars would never give 30% of their income to help people, which isn’t even what they’re giving now after tax loopholes. And yet we’re still short on cash. I just don’t understand how a selfish people will magically become generous in the absence of government.

Nikk: IP, like real property claims that aren’t based on use, is a fraud. You can’t patent something and then morally make the claim that someone else, who may have come up with the same idea independently, is stealing from you because they failed to get to the patent office before you did.

Bret: Most IP has nothing to do with independent discovery. It has to do with compensating those who innovate while discouraging those who poach ideas and seek to put creative and intelligent people out of business. We can talk about how IP law should be changed in many cases, but to say people don’t have a right to profit exclusively from their discoveries is not a very good idea. It might work in medicine, because most medical research is done in public universities funded largely by tax dollars. So in that case, yeah, it would be nice if publicly funded discoveries were public.

Nikk: Even if they did “steal” your idea, you can’t morally prevent them from using their own property to create something using your idea. I’ve gone over this before, and the history of invention really doesn’t support your notion.

Bret: Actually the history of invention shows that in nations that defend IP, science and industry grow at a more rapid pace. And what’s more, from an artistic point of view, IP is the sole method for success. If I write a book and someone else can just print thousands of copies of it and sell it for a dollar less than I sell it for, how is that going to encourage me to write another?

Nikk: So, you’re a utilitarian? I’m not. And again, I don’t think the facts support what you’re saying anyway.

Bret: I’m just a pragmatist, I see that certain things work and certain things don’t. I don’t see people like Edison as particularly amazing, but I know his drive to invent was largely premised on the goal of making money. I don’t think people would make a career out of innovation if there was no incentive to do so.

Nikk: What encouraged Shakespeare to write all those plays? Not to mention that he stole all his plots.

Bret: Shakespeare earned money for having his plays performed. Do you think he would have written more than one if he hadn’t? I know I don’t write for the hell of it, I hope to one day be paid to be a writer.

Nikk: But he couldn’t copyright them. Today, musicians can still earn from performing their music, too, and most earn far more from that than record sales.

Bret: Meh, record sales and online piracy are fundamentally different. No one is making money off of pirated music. Well, not the online piracy anyway. Plus there’s also a unique situation where the pirated version is superior to the legitimate version. MP3s are more useful than CDs. So yeah, if someone was giving away vaccines that were better than regular ones, I would support that. But that isn’t happening.

Nikk: I’m not sure what your point is...the argument goes that “illegal” downloading cuts into music industry profits, but like Shakespeare and his plays, you earn most of your money from live performance anyway.

Bret: I’m not saying downloading music illegally for free is wrong, nor would I see it as violation of IP, since no one is profiting off of someone else’s IP. If downloading a song for free is IP infringement, than so would pulling up to someone who has their music on loud, since you could hear it without paying for it. I’m even on the fence about sneaking into a concert. Is it wrong? Who’s to say? Now, if you’re charging people to sneak them in, you’re an asshole who should be punished.

Nikk: Again, profit or not isn’t the point or focus of the copyright Nazis. They say that the fact that you can get something for free makes people unwilling to pay for it, depriving record companies of profits.

Bret: Right, but we’re talking about how we would do it. I also wouldn’t be in Afghanistan or Iraq, but I am not willing to say war is always wrong. IP can change, I just don’t think it should be eradicated. In fact, I can’t even think of something off the top of my head that ought to be eradicated at all.

Nikk: Well, you’re more reasonable than the corporate assholes who control most copyrights, then. Reform would be better than what we have now.

Bret: I’m more reasonable than people who would directly benefit from overzealous application of an otherwise useful concept? Shocking. This is why I think we need government, there is no such thing as self-regulation. You need someone standing apart from it all saying, “Uh, excuse me, what the hell are you doing?”

Nikk: Society can govern itself, that’s all I’m saying. We don’t need a class of people to do it for us and lord it over us.

Bret: Society is governing itself, some societies better than others. I think your fundamental flaw is in seeing government as apart from the rest of us somehow.

Nikk: Exactly. But society is not the same as the state. Don’t make the mistake of conflating them.

Bret: I see the president as no different than me (besides him being wrong, of course). “The state” isn’t a thing, it’s an idea. It’s certainly not a person or group of people or some particular class.

Nikk: Yes, goverment is apart, because it claims special privileges for itself that don’t apply universally to everyone.

Bret: There are going to be certain actions I don’t want the average person to be able to have. And yet those actions may need to be taken in some fashion. But I think you’ll find that citizens have more of those rights than you think. Most states allow for basic things like citizen’s arrests, and people are arming themselves (despite the fact that I don’t even want most police to carry weapons).

Nikk: Well, I don’t want them to have the power to kidnap people for non-violent actions either, the difference is, the state does claim that right.

Bret: But you can’t use another example to justify this one. If drugs were legal, for instance, would this even be an issue? Isn’t the hostility most people have towards the police these days a product of the perception that they enforce laws we don’t want or need? And if this is the case, why are we blaming the executive branch for a problem of the legislature? I want cops to be able to “kidnap” people, especially people who are committing crimes and would just commit more if they were left free to do so. And I’m assuming real crimes here.

Nikk: Well, it would still be an issue as long as there are any laws that make non-aggressive activities or actions (including refusing to pay taxes that you didn’t agree to) illegal. Real crimes are crimes with or without a state. It takes the state to invent crimes where they didn’t exist before.

Bret: Why not go some place you don’t have to pay taxes? I think it’s a crime to refuse to pay taxes. It’s like saying you’re more important than everyone else. I don’t see why anyone should just get a free ride because they morally object to taxes.

Nikk: Why should I have to leave? You’re begging the question and assuming the government has the right to tax me in the first place.

Bret: No, I’m looking around at the things taxes have paid for and thinking “This wasn’t free.” You should fight to have taxes spent the way you want, not try to justify to yourself that you are above paying taxes. I don’t like knowing my taxes go to bomb foreign nations, I don’t like knowing my taxes go to oil companies and farming corporations. But not paying my taxes isn’t going to fix that.

Nikk: No, it’s saying you don’t have the right to steal from me, just because you’re bigger and stronger than I am. If everyone refused, that would fix the problem.

Bret: No, it would kill millions of Americans who rely on the kindness of others to live. Besides, income tax is much better and more equitable than sales tax.

Nikk: If they’re relying on kindness, then you don’t need to take from anyone by force.

Bret: I don’t think you understood what I said... there are people who rely on a government check to pay for assistance and basic amenities just to live. They won’t find that kindness elsewhere, or else they may find it with conditions through some private means. I guess if you’re trying to push people into the waiting arms of churches, then yeah, this is a brilliant plan.

Nikk: Well, we’re dealing with a different subject. But theft is theft. Are you saying that people don’t want to help anyone, that they’re so bad and selfish that they need to be forced to give their money to the state to do it for them? You’re saying even Wal-mart workers would rather keep their own money than have to pay income taxes, but if that’s true, then the whole system you support is anti-democratic. You can’t have it both ways...

Bret: There are countries that don’t have taxes. Want to guess how they’re doing?

Nikk: You didn’t answer my question, though. If taxes were voluntary, including sales taxes, would anyone pay them? People would give to help others, but that’s not what I’m asking.

Bret: I don’t understand your question.

Nikk: If people would not willingly pay, then the system is anti-democratic to its rotten core.

Bret: If I could kill someone, I would, does that mean it’s oppression to prevent me from doing so? I think you’re mistaking selfishness for democracy. Democracy doesn’t mean we all just give in to whatever we want to do.

Nikk: Not wanting to pay a tax is the same as wanting to murder someone? Most people don’t want to go around killing people, but the vast majority would not pay a tax if doing so was made voluntary, not mandatory, that’s my point.

Bret: That’s weird, because the vast majority don’t pay the vast majority of taxes, so we’re almost there. And I can come up with a thousand things from speeding to littering that would be allowed if people were just given free reign to say “Do whatever you want.”

Nikk: Everyone pays sales tax. Do you think most would if they were asked if they wanted to add another 5, 6, 7 or even 10% to their purchases?

Bret: I not only find this to be am empty argument, I think the ultimate result is so monstrous I don’t even want to bother thinking about it. We can argue all day about how we’re all forced to wear clothes or we’re required to not yell fire in a crowded theatre or whatever miniscule thing it is that makes you think you’re somehow being oppressed. But ultimately the freedoms paid for with taxes are mountains compared to the molehill of “tyranny” that results from the “force” applied to collecting taxes.

Nikk: The speed laws are also anti-democratic and mostly about making money for local government, not about safety. Most people ignore them when there are no cops around, at least when it is reasonable to ignore them. If only a few people are speeding on certain road, then my point about governing ourselves is made.

Bret: Speed laws are largely about safety and fuel consumption. Tickets are about income. Tickets wouldn’t even be written if people followed the clearly stated law. You’re really hitting on a nerve here with me, because you’re talking about something that kills thousands of people a year. You can’t convince me auto safety laws are tyranny, if anything we have far too few.

Nikk: Yeah, thousands die, on GOVERNMENT roads.

Bret: It’s the government’s fault people drive like psychopaths? If only there was some group that would educate people on how to drive and regulate who is allowed to drive... I can’t imagine who could ever do that...

Nikk: I’m in favor of abolishing all state DMVs. They’re just another government extortion racket. Driving your own car is a right, not some government granted privilege.

Bret: I think I have the right to not be endangered by other drivers. Maybe I’m insane for wanting that right, since it requires a governing body that can tell people “you’re too old and blind to drive.”

Nikk: Who said you didn’t? But what’s that got to do with it? I have to keep getting my driver license renewed, even though they no longer test me on anything. In my state, I just send in the fee and get a new one. So how is it about safety? If I fail to renew, though, suddenly I’m a dangerous driver because I don’t have the approval of the state?

Bret: Again, it’s not about what it’s like now, it’s about what could/should be done. I think the licensing process (especially for new drivers) is a joke that should be taken seriously, but my point is that dismantling the DMV system doesn’t bring us a step closer to what I want, it’s a huge step back.

Afterward (March 2014):

I was supposed to get the last word, per the terms of the interview, but as you can see, Bret got it instead. There was supposed to be a second interview but it never happened. We did have several informal conversations subsequently, that perhaps could be published as "An evening with Nikk and Bret part 2", so who knows. To be fair, Bret offered after the interview to allow a final response/word from me that he would insert, but I never bothered.  

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