I recently had some custom Voluntaryist lapel pins made. I designed a 1″ black and gold AnCap flag pin, and a 1.5″ Voluntaryist “V” pin, with the Daily Anarchist motto around the rim, “Building a Voluntary Society… Without Permission.” You can get the pins at www.ShinyBadges.com.
Last week I had my first opportunity to wear one to a formal dinner, pinned to the lapel of my coat, similar yet entirely different from the flag pins that the sociocrats wear. The pin generated a lot of questions and a lot of conversations at the dinner and I want to share my experience.
The dinner was the annual fundraising banquet for a muslim civil rights organization where my wife is the executive director. There were about 700 in attendance, mostly muslim and mostly from the political left. Estimates are that 85% of voting eligible muslims voted for Obama, just to give you some sense of the audience.
I chose the black and gold AnCap flag, mainly because it was the more inconspicuous of the two.
As the husband, I often run various last minute errands before these dinners, even though I don’t work for the organization. I was asked to go and pick up 300 ballpoint pens. During checkout the cashier joked “You must be writing the great American novel.” I replied that they were for a fundraising dinner and quipped that people need pens to write donation checks. Then he asked me about my pin.
Now, imagine this. I’m of Germanic descent. I’ve got a full beard, and a shaved head. I’m wearing a nice black suit. A collared shirt, no tie, and a pin of an unfamiliar flag, at least to him. So, I went all in.
“It’s an anarchist flag.”
He looked shocked. That was the last thing he was expecting. You could see the gears turning in his head. Fundraising dinner… 300 pens… donation checks… anarchist pin. He gave an awkward laugh and said, “Well, you’ve got the beard for it.” I wished him a good day and went on my way.
Now, to be fair, I allowed him to believe something that was not entirely true, that I was organizing an anarchist fund raiser large enough to justify putting on a suit and buying 300 pens. It’s an unlikely occurrence today, but I’m fully confident that such events will be common in the future. It’s also apparent to me that he probably assumed I was talking about some branch of left anarchism, based on the beard comment. But that’s ok. The important thing was that it prepared me for something I hadn’t anticipated. People were incredibly eager to ask me about an embossed lapel pin in a way that I’ve never been asked about any run of the mill political button.
I expected the pin would be a visible insignia to other Voluntarists, but I didn’t expect it to be conversation piece. I was asked about the pin by literally a dozen people at least.
What this forced me to do was put together a very concise elevator speech and the one I came up with was really successful in my opinion, and far more successful than other things I’ve tried.
What I said was, “It’s the flag of the Voluntaryist philosophy. The black field symbolized the zero aggression principle, and the gold field symbolizes the Golden Rule.”
Now, I realize that this is a densely packed sentence, and that I’m committing a number of innovations which I believe and I can justify. And if you don’t think these innovations are justified… that’s freedom baby.
Firstly, I call it the Voluntaryist flag instead of the Anarcho-Capitalist or Market Anarchist flag. I’m not the first person to do this, and I won’t be the last. There’s lots to be said for either label, but I gravitate toward Voluntaryist for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it more accurately describes me. I’m not against the State. I’m against aggressive violence. It just happens that the State is a monopoly on aggressive violence. Voluntaryism strikes me as an ethical methodology whereas anarchism strikes me specifically as a political conclusion. So, some self-identified anarchists may be in favor of a Stateless society, but don’t accept the zero aggression principle. I don’t want to be associated with or mistaken for those people. Also, I don’t want to alienate those Volunatyists who identify as Left Libertarian, who accept the zero aggression principle but describe their economic ideal as “markets not Capitalism.”
Secondly, I redefined the fields of the flag. According to the common symbolism the black field represents the absence of a flag, in juxtaposition to the bright colors of most national flags, and stands for opposition to the concept of nation states. I’d rather be defined by what I’m in favor of rather than what I’m against. For me Voluntaryism is more than a political ideology. It means applying the zero aggression principle in the social sphere as well. So, redefining the black field as symbolizing the zero aggression principle not only encompasses the original meaning of opposition to the State, it also show cases the core reason for that opposition.
There is also intention behind choosing “zero aggression principle” over the more popular “non-aggression principle.” I was persuaded to adopt the former by Ben Stone the Bad Quaker. “Non-aggression” is more easily confused for pacifism” while “zero aggression” echoes “zero tolerance” and denotes open opposition to aggression in all times and places.
According to the common symbolism the gold field represents the commodity of exchange, but this is deficient for many reasons. Firstly, there is nothing integral to the philosophy of Voluntaryism or market anarchism indicated by the 79th element of the periodic table. Secondly, many adherents of the philosophy actually prefer to conduct commerce in silver or Bitcoin. The ruling principle is that the transaction is voluntary, not that the transaction is made in gold.
I chose to go with the golden rule because it gives the laymen something that is both familiar and difficult to reject. I realize this may be somewhat controversial to those Voluntaryists with Objectivist leanings who rightfully point out that the Golden Rule is an imperfect formulation of the ideal. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is terrible advice to give to a masochist, and it would better be expressed as “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” None the less, its widespread familiarity as an ethical maxim outweighs its minor technical imperfections in my mind. And the Golden Rule is in fact listed among the historical formulations of the zero aggression principle on Wikipedia. So it’s not a complete innovation.
The result was that not one of the people who asked about the pin had a negative reaction. Instead they were curious and eager with follow up questions. There’s plenty embedded in the original statement to spark questions. For example most people understand “zero aggression,” but “zero aggression principle” is an unfamiliar concept to most people, and that’s right were most people went with their questions. This is really excellent because it means you cut right through all the apologetics and preconceived notions and drive right to the root of the philosophy. Start by talking about aggression, not poorly misunderstood terminology.
Second, a number of people asked about prominent personalities who espoused the philosophy. I went straight to Murray Rothbard, who was unfamiliar to most people. For a familiar personality I went to Mahatma Gandhi with the sole caveat being that he rejected self-defense.
Finally, a select few, two to be exact, recognized the anarchist implications of what I was saying, and once they dropped the “A word” I was free to discuss the relative merits of using the label on my own terms. They both enthusiastically promised to Google the term and look into it more closely.
Over all I’d say it was a tremendous success for Voluntaryist/market anarchist outreach. Admittedly, this is a soft sell, but it was the most positive response I’ve ever gotten to talking about it with strangers. My one regret is that my elevator speech tragically lacked any statement of economic theory, and although I believe that free market principles can be derived completely from the zero aggression principle itself, I think it’s too important an element of the philosophy not to showcase. In the future I think I may call it the Agorist flag instead of the Voluntaryist flag, that way defining “agora” opens the door to discussing economics.