Is that title too provocative? Well, my intention is to provoke, not because it’s my style but because it’s his. In some circles he is known as “He Who Shall Not Be Named,” in part because when people discuss him by name he apparently demands equal time, or so I’ve heard. I invite such demands. Chris is free to comment, and also to submit a rebuttal, or a clarification if I’ve got the facts wrong. As the editor of Daily Anarchist I can say with relative certainty that we will publish it (No special treatment. It would have to meet our submission guidelines). But before there can be a rebuttal there must be a proposition, and I would put forward that according to Chris Cantwell’s ethic (not mine), Chris Cantwell has already committed a capital offense, and it may well be time for him to put a gun in his mouth to prevent his own future aggression.
To be clear, I don’t consider my proposition the advocacy of violence, because I suspect that Chris Cantwell isn’t even real. My strong suspicion is that the Anarchist Atheist Asshole that we’ve all come to love and hate is in fact a sort of Tony Clifton of the liberty movement. Even if the Andy Kaufman behind the curtain happens to have the same name in this case, it’s the fictional character that I’m discussing, and violence against imaginary people is an unusual, but none the less victimless crime. Tyler Durden can blow buckshot through Jack’s spleen and Chuck Palahniuk lives on to invent new, more interesting characters. So, what I’m really proposing is that it may be time for Chris Cantwell to invent a new character, because this one has transgressed. I say this not as a fan of the fiction, but as a fan of the author.
This soap opera begins with an ongoing debate over paperclips, mailmen, and the sanctity of flower beds. Is it a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle to kill someone who steals a paperclip? Cantwell says “no.” That makes some people uncomfortable. Is it a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle to kill a mailman? Cantwell says “no.” His argument being that all government agents are paid through taxes, and therefore they are the recipients of stolen property, and accomplices in the transgression. Is it a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle to shoot a little girl in the face for trespassing on your flower bed? Cantwell says “no.”
Now, to be perfectly neon-flashing clear, Cantwell is not advocating these things. He is drawing a line between what is philosophically sound, and what is tactically sound. As he puts it, the bullet is worth more than the paperclip. But the philosophical iron he’s striking is that once the Non-Agression Principle is violated any level of force necessary to stop anyone from further transgression is morally justifiable, even if it’s tactically imbecilic.
This debate has resulted in a split in the complete liberty crowd between those who believe that aggression justifies commensurate defensive force, and those who believe that aggression justifies unlimited defensive force. I lean toward the commensurate force crowd, but ultimately this will be settled by tactics and not by philosophy. Someone exercising unlimited defensive force in a free society not only loses the bullet to save the paperclip, they risk all the social and economic loss that would result from almost everyone either openly ostracizing them, or simply avoiding them out of caution. Someone exercising unlimited defensive force in the current slave society stands to lose quite a bit more, and until there’s an actual case study to examine I find the debate essentially meaningless. Or perhaps I should say I don’t find the conversation tactically sound.
It seems the ostracism was preemptive in this case. The ongoing controversy, specifically Cantwell’s statements about shooting cops, prompted the board of the Free State Project to remove him from the list of participants, and declare him unwelcome at Free State Project events like PorcFest and Liberty Forum.
To his credit, Cantwell did not throw a tantrum about free speech, like some people did. He didn’t even advocate that people leave the Free State Project or stop moving to New Hampshire. He took the perfectly philosophically consistent position that the Free State Project owned their parties, and could ban whoever they wanted. He wrote, “Other people go to prison for their beliefs, I think it’s quite a small sacrifice for me to miss PorcFest for mine.” He didn’t cry about it. He just moved on. No victim. No crime.
The crescendo peaked at PorcFest this year. Cantwell honored the request not to attend, but in his place he sent in activists wearing Chris Cantwell masks who littered the campground with posters that read “Wanted By PorcFest Security for Blogging” and asked attendees to report Chris Cantwell sightings. Another poster read “Cantwell threat level high.” The fake announcement was made that Cantwell would be speaking at Gigi Bowman’s tent at 2 PM on Friday.
Some people saw this as playful lampooning. Others saw it as a marketing win for Gigi Bowman’s baked goods. I saw it as a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle.
It’s not only a to transgression to assault someone. It’s a transgression to threaten to assault someone. It’s not only a transgression to steal from someone. It’s a transgression to threaten to steal from someone. It’s not only a transgression to trespass on private property. It’s a transgression to threaten to trespass on private property. To threaten transgression is itself a transgression. What Cantwell and his team did was threaten to trespass, not only against the request of the Free State Project, but against the owners of Roger’s Campground, who also made it clear that Cantwell was not welcome on their property after a drunk driving incident last year.*
From a strictly philosophical perspective, Cantwell’s transgression is more severe that donning a mailman’s uniform. The mailman is the beneficiary of coercion, for sure, but so is everyone else on some level. Many have argued that it is legitimate to take money from the government because the government has already stolen far more from us than can ever be taken back. Philosophically speaking cashing a tax return check is no different from cashing a paycheck, and whether the individual agent regards their wage as legitimately earned income, or the reclaiming of stolen funds cannot be discerned from the uniform alone. Absent an overt act of coercion by the individual, retaliation against the uniform is not only collectivist, but pre-crime. The possibility exists that the person will disobey when the evil orders come, and you have to give them that opportunity. But fundamentally Cantwell’s transgression is worse because the mailman is most likely a useful idiot, while Cantwell knowingly threatened to violate the property rights that he had previously acknowledged in his own writings.
For those who believe that aggression justifies unlimited defensive force, like Chris Cantwell, it sure seems like it is now philosophically sound to shoot Chris Cantwell, although not tactically sound.
The real tragedy here is that Cantwell had already won in absentia. He has said over and over again that he’s not advocating violence, he’s advocating a conversation about violence, and thanks in part to his writing that conversation happened at PorcFest. The panel included Larkin Rose, who echoed everything Cantwell would have contributed, as well as Carla Gericke, the president of the Free State Project.
In his enthusiasm to give the Tony Clifton performance, the Andy Kaufman half of Chris Cantwell lost sight of his own creed and violated his own principles. And while the attendees and organizers of PorcFest may see this in the theatrical spirit with which it was intended, the owners of Roger’s Campground did not. This transgression is admittedly minor, but for the unlimited defensive force crowd any transgression is sufficient. So, I am asking, as fan of the comedian, but not the joke, for Andy Kaufman to kill Tony Clifton.
* Correction made 7/11/14: I’ve been informed that the drunk driving incident occurred two years ago, and Cantwell attended one year ago.