Freedom and Rhetoric

Language absolutely fascinates me. It is an astonishing evolutionary achievement and tool that, in evolutionary terms, happened only yesterday in the history of our species, and it’s more important than I think some realize.

The history of civilization is in large part a reflection of the history of ideas, and the history of ideas is directly linked to the rhetoric that promulgated those ideas. Since humans first developed spoken language, rhetoric has literally shaped history for both better and worse.


If us anti-authoritarians wish to more quickly bring an end to involuntary hierarchies, we must remember this simple analogy: rhetoric, or the way in which language is used, is the vehicle in which ideas travel. Just as we will generally arrive more quickly and safely to our destination in a new vehicle as opposed to a bicycle with a flat tire, the ideas of the non-aggression principle and the free market will spread throughout the population and change minds (minds being the intended destination of ideas) – and thus change actions, and therefore the world – much more expediently if we are more proficient in our use of rhetoric, or the way in which we transmit these ideas.

There is a lot to be gained by tailoring a message for the person or audience that you’re talking to, and there is a lot to learn from the history of propaganda. Propaganda is *not* an inherently bad thing – it is just most often associated with horrific ideas or events – and its mastering can be useful for promulgating the message of freedom (and furthermore, for deciphering and unmasking the State’s intentions when they disseminate their propaganda through state media). Let me explain.

There is an entirely different reaction elicited from people simply based on how something is explained to them, and while the State constantly uses this fact to their great advantage, if we anarchists and libertarians do not, we are acting against our own interests for no reason at all.

Imagine that you have information that the person or audience you’re talking to does not possess. For example, if someone sees a member of the mafia (unbeknownst to them at the time that they were in the mafia) helping an old lady across the street, and later that night you tell them you should not associate or do business with him, or even that you were perfectly within your right to kill that mafia member (who they didn’t know at the time was in the mafia), they would be, unsurprisingly, appalled by your statement and would likely never take you seriously again. If, however, they knew what you knew – that the mafia member robbed the old lady before walking her across the street, kidnapped her granddaughter the day prior, and was on his way to shake down the local food market for their protection racket – they might be more susceptible to the justification of ostracism or violence in self-defense against that person.

If this example is lost on anyone reading this, the mafia is directly analogous to the local police department (or more broadly, the State itself). The only difference between the mafia and the government, besides the size of their operations, is our perception of them, which is based on the *language* surrounding the mafia and the government in our society. The mafia member, just as the police officer or politician, makes his or her living on money that was taken by force from some people who explicitly did not consent to relinquishing it to them, but were successfully bullied into giving in with threats of kidnapping or death. The mafia, just as the government, uses this money that was taken without consent to hire people with guns to enforce their arbitrary edicts (although the government has infinitely more violently enforced edicts than any local mafia, and the mafia is infinitely more honest about its intentions). We’ll save for another day a discussion of the masking language the State uses to defend itself from intellectual attacks and rebuttals.

Suffice it to say, however, anarchism will not win converts, so to speak, by coming out against the State crying, “Kill cops!” or, “Fuck the troops!” On the other hand, if one clearly and systematically lays out the moral opposition one has to government institutions based on adherence to the non-aggression principle (that the only justified violence is violence in self-defense), there’s a greater chance that the person(s) they are speaking with will recognize the contradictions in their own moral philosophy – in that while in their personal lives they would never use, justify using, or hire someone on their behalf to use violence against peaceful people, they more than happily will vote for politicians to use violence against people they want money from, people they don’t like, and people whose habits or lifestyle they find distasteful.

In short, if voluntaryists/anarchists want to be more effective at talking to non-anarchists about these ideas (which is important considering the fact that non-anarchists make up at least 98% of the population), language and rhetoric is just as invaluable as economics and ethics in this fight. It is perfectly possible to convince a statist who wouldn’t harm a fly in their personal day-to-day life that moral disgust, ostracism and even violence is easily justified (even if it’s not wise or practical) against that mafia member walking that old lady across that street – according to their own moral philosophy! All you needed to do was point out their inconsistencies. You need not sacrifice principles to tailor a message, just as you don’t have to change your destination when you purchase a new vehicle.

– Mark Allen. Instagram: @anarchoatheist Twitter: @anarchoatheists

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