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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.