After spending months working on his machine, a local entrepreneur/inventor brings it to the town square. The inventor has an abundance of confidence for this invention with high hopes that it will help him make a living, increase productivity for society, and he will be supplying people with what they want.

 

He finds a perfect spot in the center of the square to show off this new invention, the inventor grabs an empty crate to stand on so the people who are shopping and passing by can hear him.

 

“I’ve invented a marvelous machine that can propel a wagon and its passengers at tremendous speed all the way across the city! I call it an internal combustion engine.”

 

The inventors loud exclamation draws a few from the crowd when one of them with no hesitation, and a bit of skepticism, approaches.

 

“It looks heavy, can one horse pull it?”, a man asks.

 

“No, no, we don’t need horses. My machine supplies all the power”, replies the inventor.

 

Another onlooker approaches, “If the horse is not pulling it, then is it pushing it?”

 

“No, my good lady”, the inventor responds, “you misunderstand me. No horses.”

 

The man scoffs at this idea. “We need horses, otherwise what will pull the wagons?”

 

“My machine does it. Look, here it is.”

 

“I don’t see anyplace to attach the harness”, the woman says looking confused and scratching her head.

 

“Correct”, claims the inventor. “Without horses, we don’t need a harness.”

 

The man jerks his head up in disbelief. “But without a harness, how will the horse pull it?!”

 

The inventor lets out a sigh. “Sir, please stop and consider. Everything we need is in this machine right here. It is not pulled by a horse”

 

“Oh, I get it”, the lady says with a look of satisfaction on her face. “So it carries the horse too? It looks too small to fit a horse. ”

 

You can sense the uneasiness in the inventors voice. “No, it does not carry the horse at all.”

 

“So the horse walks alongside it?”, the man asks, still puzzled.

 

“No” the inventor responds sternly, “it goes much faster than a horse can run.”

 

“So the horse won’t be able to keep up? If you do away with the horse”, the lady retorts, “what do you replace it with? A cheetah, perhaps?”

 

The inventor now has a look of shock crawling across his face, but remains confident. “We don’t need any animal. This engine does all the work.”

 

“But if you don’t replace the horse, then what will pull your wagon?”, the man questions the inventor a bit smugly now.

 

“No animal pulls it”, the inventor replies, feeling as it has been asked before.

 

“So your wagon just stays still?!”, the lady blurts out. “Hey! Look everybody, this man has lost his senses, he is trying to sell us wagons that don’t move! Hahahah!”

 

What it is like to talk to a statist.

 

 

I’d wager all libertarians have been in this discussion. I’d wager even more that for an anarchist it is an experience that we experience often, sometimes almost dread. “Oh, no. Not another version of who will build the roads?” Now, obviously, as an anarchist or someone who advocates a free society, it is important that we have an idea of how such society could work. A criticism [you skeptics may have] to this is that we are theorizing, or speculating what ifs.
However, this is exactly like any other objection you could think of, anything that worries you about how a free market might operate, in that your anxiety constitutes a consumer demand for which we can expect a supply to emerge. Now, an engine is quite different. Duh. We can take it apart, examine the parts, describing each one in detail along with how it works, unlike an ideal stateless society.

 

Sure, we “idealize” situations to understand things in their pure form, a la gravity without the complications of air resistance, and go from there. It is difficult to know because the apparatus of the state has been (for lack of a better term) intertwined in the economy for so long.  Certain things that are more complex are on a list of services which the State has provided and in most cases monopolized for as long as anyone can remember, and a complete lack of even an attempt to investigate whether these things have ever been provided by private for-profit enterprises, let alone whether the state actually outperforms them in terms of cost, quality and so on. Just as it would be if the state had a monopoly on shoes since time immemorial, or something more relevant to our current standards, like “muh roads” or law.

 

The problem this metaphor is about though is not the problem of people failing to understand how a society free of central decision making authority would operate, it is people failing to understand that it does away with central decision making authority. It is failing to understand the nature of what is being proposed, not the details of it. Even when that is pointed out explicitly, the questions are still all about how collective decisions would be made and implemented.

 

You could show a skeptic every gear, piston, plus all the equations for expanding gasses, and even if they understood it all, the first question would still be “so how does the horse use all that?”

 

Skeptics may claim that you can’t really start up anarchy like an engine nor display anarchy in action. Yes, you can, you just can’t show it in action universally. The nature of this problem is that individuals can’t see past their idea that what is being proposed is a “system“, and that as such, it would have to be collectively agreed upon. This means that discrete, isolated examples of anarchy in action are not recognized as such. If it is not systematic, it is not real. The horse/engine analogy breaks down on that point. The horse represents the idea of a system (in the deliberate, explicit sense).

 

Anarchy is chaos though, right? “No, it’s not”, says the anarchist, but you’re not buying it. You know that it is, and you look upon their ideal world with a sense of not hope, but dread. You just wish they’d go away, or at least shut up about it, and you’re glad that such a wacky fringe has no chance in hell of succeeding.

 

Let’s assume you’re right about all of that. The obvious logical conclusion is that you should support your local anarchist. Not necessarily with material support, but with encouragement at least. You should get to know him, make friends, get on his good side.

 

Why? Because of one other fact not included in your stipulated list of truths above: anarchy is coming, whether you or your friend want it to or not. And, if you’re like us, you’d prefer to survive it.

 

No, I’m not going back on the stipulation that you are correct in believing that he doesn’t have a chance in hell of succeeding. I’m not predicting that some glorious anarchist revolution is right around the corner. I’m saying that anarchy is coming because your system doesn’t have a chance in hell of succeeding. And deep down inside, you know it.

 

Everyone but the most cold-hearted, angry, and cynical anarchist hopes that the collapse of the world economies and the resultant contraction of civilization itself holds off as long as possible. That’s not what anarchists want; what anarchists want is the collapse of the State without the collapse of worldwide economies and civilizations (though there would obviously be some unavoidable disruptions).

 

Even though, as stipulated above, you are right to hope that even that more limited agenda fails, it is important to realize that your local anarchist, as part of pursuing that agenda, is working very hard on your behalf to find ways for you to survive a stateless society. He’s spending countless hours researching and arguing about how society could organize itself without the State, and he’s trying out a few of those ideas in limited contexts. He’s racking his brain to figure out how trade and commerce can continue without paper money issued by the state and all-powerful men in robes and badges to enforce contracts and keep order in the streets. He’s working out ideas for peacefully resolving disputes, and for continuing to produce even while armed and dangerous thugs wander the countryside looking for victims to loot, pillage, and rape (he calls them government agents, but the ideas he’s working on apply no matter where they come from). He’s developing technology in everything from non-centralized currency to communications to transportation to manufacturing, all in forms that can survive and thrive without the State.

 

He’s wrong to think that a workable and sustainable society can be built on those grounds, according to your beliefs, but nonetheless he is learning valuable things about the dynamics of society, trade, and conflict in what you call chaos (and he calls freedom). That knowledge would become invaluable to you if and when your system fails, if the economy really collapses, if anything even remotely like all those post-apocalyptic movies we love to watch comes to pass. That knowledge might just save your life, and the lives of those you care about.

 

So get to know him. Smile and nod when he goes off on a rant about State regulation, oppression, and the evils of his favorite bogey-men. Ask him probing questions, pick his brain. Trust me, he wants to talk about it, at any length you care to listen. Give him a pat on the back and tell him to keep up the good work. He’ll be grateful, and later, if all hell breaks loose, he might just see you as a friend worth helping. At the very least, you’ll learn some of what he knows.

 

You might object that such encouragement runs the risk of helping him to actually succeed, and therefore you should keep him at arm’s length and send social cues expressing your disapproval of his agenda. But if you are really confident in your assessment that this is a wacky idea with no merit, that he has no chance in hell of succeeding, that fear must be unfounded. Ideas that are not only fringe, but wrong, don’t stand a chance in a society full of reasonable rational people, so his ranting and protesting and agitation are futile anyway. Your encouragement won’t come close to tipping the balance.

 

And if everything goes along just fine, you’ve lost little, and maybe gotten some entertainment out of it. Maybe there’s even one or two insights that could help make the society we have now even better than it already is. So support your local anarchist. Throw him a bone. Humor him. Make him feel welcome in the neighborhood. Adopt an anarchist, and learn from him. The life you save may be your own.

 

In Liberty,
Jeff Peterson II
We the Individuals