The Ethics of Voluntaryism – An 8 Step “Cross Examination”

The key here is to get agreement on a step by step basis and refer back to points that have already been agreed upon, should the other person ever contradict himself at any point in time.

Here’s how I would approach it:

1. Let’s say we want to establish a set of rules of preferable human behavior that lays out what people should or should not do (= ethical framework). Do you agree that at the very least the  framework you come up with in the end should NOT allow for the mass genocides, enslavement, or displacements of large number of peaceful people by others? Do you agree that we can safely say that a framework that prevents mass genocide, imperfect and improvable as it may be, is at the very least better than one that DOES allow for such depredations?

So what I want to establish here is a sine qua non for any ethical framework. Everyone knows that people will not always follow rules with perfection, that’s a given. But let’s make the assumption, for the sake of the opposing side’s potential arguments, that people do follow the ethical framework we come up with with 100% perfection. Shouldn’t we make sure at the very least that under that assumption the framework does not allow for any of the unspeakable horrors that we have seen throughout history? Given that people don’t follow any framework with 100% precision, surely if it already allows for mass murder under perfect compliance, then how can it possibly be viable once people start deviating from the rules proposed?

If you can’t get the other person to agree with you on this, then there really is no point continuing the discussion. As you will notice reading on, agreement on this point eliminates certain tricks that dishonest and inconsistent people tend to use whenever they have no more arguments to support their ethical framework.

2. Do you agree that any set of rules about human behavior is always and by necessity absolute and immutable?

This is formulated as a question but it really is an axiom. The other person needs to understand this and fully grasp it. There is no way to deny that any proposed ethical framework  is immutable and absolute. There is no way around this.

Why? Well, this is because even in the most extreme case where somebody says that there should be no rules at all he is in effect proposing an absolute and immutable rule: That you should not establish or follow any ethical rules.

With the average statist you’ll be having the conversation with it’ll be a lot easier. He may say something like “No, I think the majority may, at times, change the rules imposed, through the process of voting.” – So unwittingly he is, again, proposing an immutable, absolute, and overarching rule, and that is that whatever rules the majority votes on are the rules that should be followed.

Again, don’t bother continuing the discussion unless you get agreement here.

3. Do you agree that any immutable human behavioral rules proposed should apply to all humans equally, no matter what their color, religion, race, origin, location etc. is?

This is the requirement of universality. A crucial definition for any ethical framework, just as with any other scientific framework, is that its rules need to apply to all its subjects, in this case human behavior, equally. The idea of equality for all before the law is pretty widespread. So it shouldn’t be too hard to find agreement on this question.

You may not get a racist to agree with you here, but then, why would you want to debate a racist on such complex matters anyway! :)

4. Do you agree that any such set of absolute and immutable behavioral rules has to be consistent and free of contradiction?

This is testing the person on his acceptance of logic, meaning his connection to reality. Again, if someone disagrees on this fundamental point, you can stop talking to him right then and there. If one says you can have a moral framework that says “You should never rape others.” and then in the next sentence “You are allowed to rape others.”, then he’s not someone to be taken serious.

5. OK, let’s say you find something useful in nature that nobody else has touched or used before. You take control of it and transform it for your own use. For example, you find trees, chop wood, and build a small 1 person cottage. Do you agree that if someone else tried to occupy your cottage against your will, that you should be allowed to assert your control over it, and, if he initiates violence against you, use violence yourself to defend it?

This is a crucial step. The answer to this question establishes property rights as derived from homesteading.

I will go through the different possibilities of rules regarding preferable human behavior to deal with this situation now, always keeping in mind the 4 points that we have agreed to above:

(a) Denial of Ownership Claim

Let’s say the answer is that you’re not allowed to use violence to defend your control of the property and that it’s OK for the other person to occupy your cottage and to use violence if you insist.

Thus the absolute, universal, and immutable rule would have to read “Everyone should be allowed to take control of things that another person controls.”

The rule essentially tells you not to assert any claim to things that you’re in control of. But at the same time it tells you that it’s OK to assert claims to things that others are in control of. But the very moment someone takes something from you, he takes control of it and violently asserts a claim to what he now controls in so doing.

Now you would again, according to the rule, have the right to assert your own control over the cottage against the other person’s will. It would be and endless back and forth.

So the whole rule defeats itself. You can’t establish a rule that says “You ARE NOT ALLOWED to assert claims to control things that you have gained control over and you ARE ALLOWED TO assert claims over things that you have gained control over”,  and expect it to comply with the requirement of logical consistency established under #4.

(b) Democratic Approach

One could say that the other person does have the right to occupy your property against your will if the majority of people within some relevant territory agree to the appropriation, in other words, “if it’s majority will”.

This would mean that any group of people could always, and at any time, kick another group of people out of their houses, if only they get 51% of the vote, or whatever other percentage the rule requires.

If the people whose homes were being intruded dared to raise a gun to assert their control, this would mean that in last resort the majority representatives would have the right to gun them down in order to gain control of the properties in question.

Thus invoking majority will, and acting in 100% accordance with the principle, allows for mass genocide or at least enslavement and displacement for the disowned on a large scale, without any violation of the moral principle proposed.

So if your conversation partner agreed to #1, then he cannot possibly support this approach to the question of property rights, since, as we said, any ethical framework should at the very least not allow for mass genocide or displacements of innocent and peaceful individuals, which our peaceful homesteaders in our example are without any doubt.

(c) Nobody Should Control Anything

Another consistent and universal moral rule would be to say that nobody should even homestead anything at all in the first place; that we should all be without control of any goods provided by nature.

Since I think it is safe to assume that anyone who’s debating you does not do so in the nude (at least I would hope so), this proposition can be discarded relatively quickly. But even without clothes, anyone you’re debating must be standing, sitting, or lying somewhere.

He is thus using up and controlling, at least for a brief period, room provided by nature. Thus it would look pretty silly for him to make the case for no ownership at all while violating it on every possible level.

Furthermore, if he agreed to #1 above, then it is pretty clear that he would be contradicting himself in any case here. For if humans should not take control of anything in nature they would all starve to death within a few days. Any ethical framework that desires to prevent mass starvation has to discard of this option completely and unconditionally, if it is to be taken even remotely serious.

(d) Property Rights

Another possibility to approach this question would be to say that nobody should occupy another person’s homesteaded property against his will. From this follows that the homesteader may use violence to prevent the initiation of the occupation of what he has homesteaded. Otherwise, if he was not allowed to, then we’d be back to (a) which is invalid.

This is, out of all the options of establishing an ethical rule to address the question, the only consistent one that also conforms with the four aforementioned requirements.

6. Do you further agree that if you and another person decide to exchange your homesteaded goods between one another, that no third person may initiate violence to prevent the two of you from doing so?

This question establishes the right to free trade.

If #5 has already been agreed upon, then 6 logically follows from that. If one were to initiate violence to prevent the transaction from occurring then he’d be in violation of the very property rights established for homesteaded goods under #5.

7. Do you agree that nobody should be allowed to occupy, against your will, any of those goods that you have acquired in such free exchange?

This question can be approached in exactly the same fashion as question #5, just that here the goods have been acquired in exchange and not via homesteading, except that point (c) is not relevant here since the denial of free exchange and enforcement thereof would violate the conclusions from question #6.

This, then, fully establishes that any form of theft of peacefully acquired goods, be it homesteading or be it mutual voluntary exchange, is to be universally proscribed in any valid ethical framework.

8. Do you agree, then, that people who initiate the occupation of things that others have obtained via either homesteading or free exchange (such as government bureaucrats via taxation), are violating the absolute rules established above?

This question fundamentally establishes the unethical and immoral nature of the concept of government. It simply follows from everything that has been said above. It leads to the natural conclusion that, if one has agreed to all the prior points, the government has to be abolished completely and unconditionally.

It will be very hard to get explicit agreement here, even when people fully get in their heart of hearts that it has to be answered in the affirmative.

However, the good thing is that any counter arguments that people will advance at this point will in one way or another always contradict the points they have already agreed to before.


So you will now always have a way to go back to previously agreed upon principles to demonstrate to people who object to voluntaryism, that their belief system at the very least faces some serious problems that they might want to work out before flat out objecting to a system that happens to be nothing but the necessary outcome of rigorous logic and reasoning from first principle.

Also, don’t get caught up in the lure of pragmatism. People will, even after agreeing to all of the above, often say that we’re just not in a position to make such radical changes and that we have to work within the system etc…

Such objections are missing the point. It may be true that in our lifetime valid ethical rules will not be able to permeate all of society. But that has nothing to do with the validity of the concepts proposed. People at some point also did not believe that the earth was round until sufficient evidence was provided. Abolishionists did not harp on the practicality of abolishing slavery, but on its moral necessity. Feminists accurately pointed out that denying women the right to property ownership was immoral, nobody would say today that their ideas were invalid because they were impractical at the time.

True change takes time. What has been destroyed and eroded over multiple generations will not be fixed in the timespan of a few years or even decades. What is important is to consistently and unabashedly point out the rank immorality at the core of the system to as many open and curious people as possible. The corresponding societal changes will follow sooner or later.

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How to Debate Without Looking Things Up

In any science truth is on the side of those who rigorously and objectively subjugate themselves to the scientific method, that is logic and evidence.

It’s not different in the field of ethics, in particular its subset morality.

Anyone who proposes government solutions, almost inevitably steps into the realm of morality since a government cannot tax and thus cannot exist without the initiation of violence or threat thereof against peaceful individuals.

The problem is that most people studiously avoid admitting to themselves the obvious: That government solutions are nothing but aggression.

To pick a recent example, our San Francisco board of sociopaths supervisors passed a regulation that prohibits the sale of toys alongside meals that don’t meet their desired nutritional guidelines, obviously targeting McDonalds and similar fast food chains.

So here is an example of how this could work:

Your average San Francisco granola lover may argue:

I’m glad they passed this ban. There’s too many obese people in the US as it is and not enough health regulations.

That’s quite a fascinating statement to make when you think about what’s behind it all. It may be completely accurate that there are too many obese people in the country and there may be statistics upon statistics to back this fact up, etc.

However, that’s not the point here. Nobody is even arguing these things.

Now, you could turn into the eternal libertarian google bot and start supplying all the evidence in the world about how FDA regulations and the USDA’s involvement in food and agriculture regulation encourage corruption and conglomeration and introduce huge entry barriers for small and healthy food producers, how corn subsidies and sugar import restrictions have led to an almost universal usage of high fructose corn syrup in all processed foods and how the origins of America’s obesity epidemic can be traced back to all this excessive government involvement in the food sector, and how giving government agencies even more power in this field cannot possibly solve the problem.

But why should you? Why should it always be us to supply all the evidence in the world while our opponents don’t even spend a fraction of that time and then still ridicule our ideas in the end.

When it comes to the big decisions, opinions, and principles, most people really fundamentally don’t care about objective evidence, facts, numbers, efficiency etc. What people do care about is morality, doing what’s good, right, just, etc. And their ideas of what is right and wrong are formed during their childhood. Evidence is only sought selectively, and for the purpose of reaffirming the preconceived beliefs that childhood trauma has already instilled in their minds.

So then there is a much easier way to approach this debate. Use the argument from morality and make it immediate and direct, cutting out all the buzzwords of “government”, “regulation”, etc.

In this particular case the argument could look as follows. In responding to our San Francisco friend above you could say:

I respect your preferences for health happy meals and I respect your choice, be it as a consumer or a seller, to refrain from buying or selling a McRib alongside a toy from/to others. I would never dream of supporting that your body or property be aggressed against for acting upon those preferences.

But would you do me that same courtesy?

Am I allowed to peacefully disagree with you and sell or buy burgers with toys from/to people who are willing to voluntarily give me their money in exchange, without you supporting that violence be initiated against my own body and my own property for doing so?

Now your discussion partner only has two possible responses:

“Yes”, in which case he agrees with your position that government shouldn’t control or “regulate” the food market.


“No”, in which case there is no point in pretending that this is a debate since he obviously wants to see you aggressed against in case you disagree peacefully.

To be sure: Don’t think for a second that people will stay in this corner! They will kick and scream to get out of it. They will try to avoid the answer, try to shift the discussion elsewhere, or go on into tangent-land. Like I said above: The problem is that most people studiously avoid admitting to themselves the obvious: That government solutions are nothing but aggression. It is ferociously difficult, for most people even too late, to rethink ideas that have been pounded into their heads for their entire lives, in particular during the childhood years.

This is just one example. But you can use the exact same argument for every single government policy out there in that same way. Be it the military, health care, education, etc.

This is what Stefan Molyneux called the “Against Me” argument.

Try it out … and see if it works for you in your own debates with friends, family, or strangers. But be aware that this is an explosive argument. For if someone responds with “No” he has given away the fact that he or she really is a complete fascist who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your ideas, preferences, and freedoms. In fact, this person would rather have you dragged off and locked up in a cell than allowing you to live a peaceful life.

And to learn that about people you still have in your life, and then ask yourself why you still do, is not always an easy thing to do. But it’s the first step toward setting yourself free and it accomplishes a million times more than any political action will ever do in your whole life.

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Human Rights in Relation to Ethics, Morality & Aesthetics

I want to set something straight for future reference.

Ethics, as I explained before, is the process of examining the logical consistency (validity) and the empirical proof (accuracy) of statements regarding universally preferable human behavior.

If a statement about preferable human behavior cannot be logically universalized it automatically fails the test of validity and can be discarded easily. For example, the proposition “Theft is universally preferable.” faces a rather insurmountable logical contradiction. If it was universally preferable to steal things from others, then that would mean that, in order for the victim to be in compliance with this theory, he would need to prefer non-ownership to ownership. But the thief only steals something in order to obtain ownership over that thing. But then ownership would have to be both valid and invalid at the same time, valid for the thief and invalid for the victim. But then theft cannot be universally preferable, since it can’t be applied to all humans at all times and at all places.

The issue of rights falls right into the realm of ethics, in particular morality, that subset of ethics that deals with logically consistent universal rules involving the use of violence.

In common debates, the term is used all too often without any clear conceptualization behind it. The most helpful and most consistent way to define a right is, in my opinion, only this:

A right is a universally defensible claim.

For example, when I say “Everyone has a right to his body.”, then what I am really saying is: “Everyone has a universally defensible claim to his own body.” And what I am really saying with that is: “It is a logically consistent proposition to say that all humans at all places at all times may violently assert their ownership over their own bodies when aggressed against.”

This is a logically consistent and thus a completely valid proposition. It faces no inner contradictions.

This works in exactly the same way with the proposition “I have a right to my property.”

In this manner we can also easily test propositions such as “Healthcare is a fundamental human right”. This proposition would more precisely read “Every sick human has a right to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.” This could be translated into: “Every sick human has a universally defensible claim to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.” or “Every sick human may violently and universally assert his claim to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.”

This proposition faces several severe challenges:

  1. By introducing the word “sick”, one has left the realm of universality. To say that “only a sick human being has a universally defensible claim …” is an inherently contradictory statement. The criterion for universality is that it apply to all humans at all times and at all places, not just to certain humans with certain conditions.
  2. Another problem is that we have already proven above that every human being has a right to his property and in particular to his body. Even if introducing the term “sick” was valid, the above proposition breaks down because it is logically inconsistent to say that a person has a right to his body and his property but another person simultaneously has a right to this same person’s body or property. So in order to proceed on the proposition at hand, one would first need to disprove the validity of the, so far, valid theorem of self-ownership and property rights.
  3. Another possibility would be to remove the term “sick” from the proposition in order to rescue its universality. But the problem with this would be that the proposition would read “Every human being has a universally defensible claim to another’s owned goods and body parts.” This proposition, however, is equivalent to the one of theft, which suffers from inner logical contradictions. If one had a claim over another’s property or body that may be violently asserted, then he would never have a defensible claim to the obtained goods. But the very objective of such an action would be the assertion of such a claim. Thus the proposition is invalid.

To be sure, the moral invalidity of such a violently asserted right to health care in no way discourages from the validity of other potential ethical propositions, in particular in the field of aesthetics, which deals with propositions involving non-violent behavior such as, “It is universally preferable to help suffering people in need.”

It is just important to understand that rights are fundamentally a concept that falls in the realm of morality, meaning that of universally preferable behavior involving violence, not in the realm of aesthetics, which deals with all other universally preferable behavior propositions.

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