On Being Agorist

April 7th, 2014   Submitted by Davi Barker

BeingAgoristI have been a full time Agorist since October 2012. That means I set my own hours, I don’t answer to an employer, and I have no one to blame for my failure but myself. I have jokingly called it, “bootstrapping through life.” Agorism is a species of market activism where people trade voluntarily in an untaxed, unregulated barter economy to avoid faceless corporations and intrusive bureaucracies. Agorism holds all coercion and fraud as moral evils, and aims at manifesting a society where all coercive systems are replaced by consensual competitors. Being an Agorist combines the skill set of an entrepreneur with the sensibilities of a radically anti-establishment political activist.

The first thing you learn as an Agorist is that the full weight of your decisions falls on your own shoulders, and no one else’s. It’s not a weekend waving signs for the politician that you want making decisions for you. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a game. The Agorist puts their livelihood on the line for their principles. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck, because I don’t get a paycheck. If I need more money I don’t beg for a raise or search for a better job. I’ve got to come up with a way to earn it.

Try to imagine this. I knew it was time to get out of the rat race when I realized that during the day I was sitting in a jail cell, designing achievement awards for the cops who were firing tear gas at me in the evening. You think I’m kidding? The shop I used to work in was converted from an old police station. The cops moved into a larger facility. My office was literally an old jail cell. The bars were gone, but it got plenty cold in that concrete block. I was doing production art for screen printing and laser engraving. The recession dried up a lot of our legitimate business, but somehow municipal clients always had plenty of money. I set up jerseys for high schools, lapel pins for bureaucrats, and yes… award plaques for same Oakland cops who evicted us from Occupy Oakland with tear gas. The irony was not lost on me.

I also lost a lot of good legitimate clients when I left. That’s my fault. I depended on the company to maintain the contact information for all these great relationships that I had spent years cultivating. I depended on the company to bring in sales, to advertise, and to seek out opportunities with new vendors. And because I spent those years content to keep my head down and do my art in isolation, I didn’t spend nearly enough time looking around to see how the business was run. Now these things are my responsibility. I maintain my contacts. I build my relationships. I advertise. And I invest in new products to launch.

The next thing you learn is that an Agorist lives and dies by the demands of their clients. Anyone who tells you that the free market isn’t controlled by the customers has never run their own business. I am constantly seeking customer feedback. Constantly over delivering. Constantly trying to improve the experience of my clients, because the food in my belly and the roof over my head are dependent entirely on my customer’s satisfaction.

My first successful Agorist enterprise, other than freelance work, was ShinyBadges.com. It is essentially a mockery of my previous work. I design products that parody government insignia. I am literally using my power for good instead of evil, which is a good feeling. I began with a simple black and yellow flag pin, similar yet entirely different from the flag pins worn by bureaucrats. What I discovered is that people are eager to ask about an embossed lapel pin in a way that they never ask about conventional political buttons, making them ideal for outreach.

Since then ShinyBadges.com has launched dozens of pin designs, full sized police badges, full sized and desk sized black and yellow flags, and a number of bitcoin themed iron on patches. It’s grown into an entire Agorist product line, and every new design is crowd tested before I ever go into production. I solicit feedback from previous customers. I post new designs on the ShinyBadges facebook page, so fans vote them up or down. Even the motto on my most popular pin, “Free the Market – Free the World,” actually derived from a highly popular Tweet that originally read, “End the Fed – End the War – Free the Market – Free the World.”

It may seem like there is a tension between being responsible for all your decisions, and being beholden to your customers, but not really. What you have to realize is that what customers say, and what customers are actually going to do, are different things. Fundamentally this is why markets succeed, and democracies fail. Because apparently political activists will clamor for gun-run health care, but when it comes time to actually register for it they stay home. Similarly, I received at least a dozen emails from left anarchists who wanted a black and red flag pin. So, I made it. In fact I made the whole rainbow of anarchist flag pins, and in over a year I have sold exactly two of the red pins. So, just like in politics, the Communists are all demand, and no supply. This is how we learn. The point is, the Agorist is not a slave to consumer demand, merely guided by it. Ultimately is it the Agorist who is taking the risk, and the reward.

And the third Agorist realization, profit is the key to sustainability and growth. Most political activism is a losing economic proposition. It relies on the irrational exuberance of the activists, and when that enthusiasm bubble pops it depends on the zeal of converts, which is a non-renewable resource. The unsustainable activist burns out, and soon can’t be bothered to do more than vote. Conversely, the Agorist typically doesn’t bother voting, seeking activism that might actually work, and profit is the dividing line between sustainable and unsustainable activity.

Enter SurvivorMax.com. When I do freelance art on commission it’s worthwhile on an hourly basis, but once the job is done that’s it. I can not continue to earn from that labor. I can choose like-minded clients, but I don’t really control the message. Shiny Badges gave me the ability to mass produce designs and sell them over and over, but I still have to manage an inventory, and shipping procedures. Survivor Max is a fast-paced adventure story about an eleven-year-old boy surviving alone in the zombie apocalypse. Luckily, his father imparted the training he needs to be prepared. It’s the first in a three book series. Like promotional products, a book series is mass produced, and I even solicit reader feedback on the Survivor Max facebook page when Max gets stuck and I don’t know how to get him out. But a novel allows me to introduce the philosophy of liberty to a young audience who has never heard it before, and in a fun and exciting way. And best of all it generates a passive income, which means that while it’s selling on Amazon and from the publisher, my time is freed to pursue other projects, making my activism that much more sustainable in general.

Most Agorists have one foot in the counter economy, and the other in some day job. We’re like superheroes with a secret identity. But the key to putting both feet in the counter economy is taking the initiative, soliciting feedback, and making a profit. Agorism provides the most sustainable activist strategies because it’s rooted in the market, not in the political system. But perhaps the most important lesson for successful Agorism is to cultivate the relationships and partnerships that will support you along the way. Striving to be self-sustaining shouldn’t mean being isolationists. We have to be willing to hire each other in mutually beneficial arraignments rather than trying to do everything ourselves.

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20 Responses to “On Being Agorist”

  1. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t need no stinking badges.

  2. DaveNo Gravatar says:

    It’s interesting that you mentioned losing your contacts when you left your job. With the rise in LinkedIn, your contacts become yours forever. Whenever I meet anyone in a business setting, I always search for them on LinkedIn, and then, usually Twitter. As a result, I have my own database of contacts, and I can see what they are doing professionally. I, of course, post what I’m doing to keep them interested. This is really empowering, and allows each person to take control of their business relationships. I now work for a small, but established, global company, and they embrace social media. In the past, I worked for an old, stuffy company that shunned it. The culture of the two places was night and day, and where I am now is much more nimble and market driven. The previous company – you guessed it, partially clinging to state support for survival.

    • dennis parrottNo Gravatar says:

      @Dave says

      Just remember Mr. “Dave says” that ANYTIME something is given to you “free” that YOU ARE THE PRODUCT.

      Facebook takes possession of your data, your clickstream and sells that to interested corporations including _government_ corporations. LinkedIn is the same.

      This notion of “being the product” is why I will be migrating all of my email traffic to my own domains, away from the snooping of corporations who market me.

      The concept of LinkedIn is really nice but only if you want to be the product. A paid service that did not sell you out would be better…

      • DaveNo Gravatar says:

        I agree. But, you still have to deal with the NSA and who knows how much other snooping. But, I don’t disagree with anything you said.

  3. Michael HendricksNo Gravatar says:

    I’d be interested in a treatise about how your tactics and strategems have evolved if you have the time and inclination.

  4. geoihNo Gravatar says:

    Why is working for a paycheck not earning?

    • Davi BarkerNo Gravatar says:

      That wasn’t the point being made in that paragraph. Obviously a paycheck is earned. The point was a paycheck is a fixed amount earned at a fixed interval. I have no such fixed values.

  5. Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

    What you have to realize is that what customers say, and what customers are actually going to do, are different things. Fundamentally this is why markets succeed, and democracies fail.

    An interesting parallel to what programmers have known for a long time, made more interesting by the incidence rate of libertarian leaning programmers.

    • VanmindNo Gravatar says:

      On the contrary. Oh, I hear what you’re saying, certain geeks pretended that common knowledge suddenly became “Cathedral and Bazaar” heroics after a few of them finally started grabbing a clue (“Cathedral and Bazaar” is of course little more than a restatement of the following Bastiat quote: “Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race”). Problem is, most of those geeks still tend to insist that the paramount consideration for any open source project is the producer, otherwise known as themselves — no, wait, they will refer to it as “The Community.”

      Cue: Karl “RMS” Stallman and the deliberate Orwellian conflation of free and enslaved. Anyone ever had to deal with an open source project’s bureaucracy? They are, by and large, thorough n-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e-s of “entitled” philosopher kings using tactics of condescension and outright hostility. All to often, the bureaucrats therein act like that character from the SNL skit that aired fifteen years ago or so, I think it was Jimmy Fallon playing some SOB of an IT guy trying to make everyone who asked for tech help feel as bad as possible (“Duh, stupid!”).

      That’s the very pith of the modern matrix difference. Some neophytes mistake open-comment forums as “real online places for socializing with real people” while others mistake legitimate peer-to-peer communication channels such as mailing lists for “stages on which I can play-act as belonging to an aristocratic cabal of Committer-Kings.” It is the reason why open source projects rarely get anywhere in the market, and it is the reason why so many avatars on general web forums are sensitive about imaginary cyber-feelings (sometimes people — including myself — confuse their actual existence with the make-believe existence of their online avatars and thereby get trapped a little “bit” more within the matrix).

      Speaking of either general or specific online communication, one is an appropriate place to use a real meatspace name, the other is a place where only dimwits make a conscious effort to try to “make everyone act like they would in real life.” All of the “it would be nice if ‘people’ on here were courteous toward each other so I don’t have to socialize in the flesh…” whining that comes from some general web forum participants is just socialism bubbling to the surface, just their desire to be in control of social engineering — while at the same time all the “it would be nice if ‘people’ on here knew as much about this particular technology as I already know so I don’t have to keep remediating…” whining that comes from open source bureaucracies is just socialism bubbling to the surface, just their desire to be in control of social engineering.

      Once again: you can have a scripted play (the equivalent of real-world totalitarianism) in which actors are expected to “stay in character” (Real-world equivalent: “Remember your place within your caste!”) so that everything goes as scripted-smoothly as possible, or you can have an improvisation (the equivalent of real-world anarchism) where actors can be expected to switch from one character to another (Real-world equivalent: “I’m changing careers!”), sometimes mid-sentence (mid-life).

      One wouldn’t heed anyone insisting that an actor doing improv must “stick with one character” (i.e. remember their place) any more than one would expect an actor doing Hamlet to heed some audience member’s advice to “Dracula it up a bit no matter what other ticket-purchasing people might want to see” (i.e. goading someone into facing off with a jackboot while standing aside to witness the result). Online activity is quite similar to the is-it-real-or-fiction interaction between writers/directors/actors and audiences. Think of a television commercial. Is it promoting an upcoming show (enticing you to embrace fiction) or is it hawking a sponsor’s product (enticing you to embrace something real)? The internet can be just as confusing — actually, much more so. Does anyone believe that deliberate frauds like MK-ULTRA are bad for both directly-targeted actors and indirectly-targeted audiences? Well, who out there has even started contemplating the equivalent things that the NWO is trying to do to people and their “real” online avatars? Into how many alters is each of us going to allow our identity to be split?

      Just ask Neo: the matrix is a place appropriate only for interacting with things that you know are not real. If you want real, or at least near-real, either take it to the email/list fringes of the matrix (e.g. Neo talking directly from a payphone to someone on The Nebuchadnezzar) or take it offline altogether (e.g. Neo getting unplugged so he can talk face-to-face with someone on The Nebuchadnezzar).

      Actually, don’t ask Neo anything. Not only is Neo not real (“Duh, stupid!”), what’s worse: films like The Matrix and V For Vendetta are mere disinformation vehicles for faking people into the false impression that they can remain somnambulant because “heroes” are out there ready to stick up for them. Hands up, all those who believe that things can’t possibly become all that bad until we’re literal batteries for machines. That’s the programming for the masses: tricking them into knowing with their heart-of-hearts that things in the “real world” are still ok because no one has even started serious discussions yet about The One.

      The next “stage” of programming: tricking the masses into believing that some scripted NWO character like a Snowden or a Maitreya is The One.

      • Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

        I don’t happen to be one of those birds that picks undigested corn out of horseshit, so would you mind summarizing your actual point out of that sludge?

  6. Jim DaviesNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you, Davi, very good article. I’d often wondered what an “Agorist” is, and now I know more. Looks to me very similar to a free-market entrepreneur. Do Agorists have employees, ever? – or are they all partners in some form?

    How does an Agorist differ, if at all, from an anarchist committing capitalist acts?

    I visualize fast-increasing numbers of people needing to find new ways to earn a living as they graduate from the Freedom Academy (tolfa.us) and then leaving government employ. I wonder if you have worked out any principles to offer them, about how to join the resulting White Market?