Monday, February 27, 2017

Food for Thought

Taken from an essay by Dr. Michael Vlahos, Professor at Johns Hopkins University, entitled “America: Imagined Community, Imagined Kinship.”

The focus of his essay is to develop the concept of “kinship as a key dimension in modern state relations….”  More interesting to me is the underlying idea of imagined kinship as opposed to actual kinship. (In all cases, emphasis added.)

Kinship drives culture, and cultural rules shape society.

This is quite easy for most to understand and accept, I hope. 

The nation most dependent on invented kinship as the basis of its politics is the United States…

Who does the inventing?  Isn’t that the question?  And the answer is…

Imagined kinship is the foundation of national community…. Imagined community also makes the state the trusted manager of this process…

There you have it.

Nations remain together, and belong together, because people believe, at some level, that they are a clan, a tribe, a family.

This belief is certainly being challenged today both in the United States and between the states of Europe.

But if the nation, however amazing and wondrous, is simply a collective human artifact, then the nation-state is a construct within a construct. The state, arguably, is even more dependent on conscious collective loyalty than is the nation, its mother.

Hence, explaining the need for the state to perpetuate myths.

This judgment has been proven throughout modernity—the epoch of the nation-state. Nations since 1789 have overturned state regimes and their establishments by the hundreds. Hence, it is understandable, even necessary, that the state accomplish three things to ensure its perpetuity.

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

First, it must cement the conviction that the nation and its state form a unitary body, which the state rules as the head (the caput), and the nation lives as the body: a true "body politic" that is necessary only to support the ruling life and thought of the head.


Second, the state must arrange the civic—even the daily personal life—of the nation so that it is always ritually and symbolically reminded in public display that the body serves the state's sacred vision (again, the US Pledge of Allegiance is a prime example).


Finally, the state must seize constitutional power to claim the lives of its citizens in times of crisis, so that such authority over the body, however the idea is sold politically, is understood by all citizens to rest with the state.


There should be no doubt that the life of the state depends on the death of kinship and traditional culture; this is why the state works so hard to destroy it. 

There will be something that holds society together beyond respect for property.  Libertarians who avoid this avoid fundamental human nature; we have no choice on this matter.  The only question that remains: what shall be that something?

I suggest kinship and culture.  Legislation from afar and by strangers (if not enemies) has proven neither stable nor favorable toward peace.


  1. War has been effective in uniting a nation against its interests. Social justice seems to be the latest ploy.

  2. There's a (collectivist) reason so many people refer to the US as a "melting pot", but even Fondue can leave a bad taste in your mouth when different cheeses are mixed together.


  3. And many people have traded their localized natural occurring culture for the hollow security (i.e. govt. job) of the State's ability to plunder unopposed their fellow man. In my particular swath of the US the culture is still there, but is rapidly being diluted.

    I say with the government having such a hold on the entire economy local cultures are harder and harder to establish with the pilgrimage that is economic reality of being part of the corporate state for a lot of folks and nesting in a suburb just at least IMO doesn't cut the mustard. Granted my statement is not 100% Gospel...but just an observation I have seen.

  4. Would you mind discussing how this applies to Switzerland and it essentially being the most peaceful state, despite being multiple nations?

    1. The “state” has relatively little political power. Political power is greatly decentralized into the “nations” within Switzerland. There is a culture throughout Switzerland of respecting this decentralization.

      “The cantons also retain all powers and competencies not delegated to the Confederation by the Constitution. Most significantly, the cantons are responsible for healthcare, welfare, law enforcement and public education; they also retain the power of taxation…Citizens may demand a popular vote to amend the cantonal constitution or laws, or to veto laws or spending bills passed by the parliament.”

      Out of 26 cantons, all but three have a population below 500,000 and eight are below 100,000. The citizens within a canton know each other – certainly not all personally, but culturally. Kinship.

      Given the decentralized political power and the small size of each political unit, the citizens believe – with good reason – that they have some real control over important issues in their daily lives.

  5. I would say what you speak of here is the main motivator for the sane alt-Right.

  6. Bionic,

    Once again, thank you. I continue to learn all of these things I somehow already believed, but didn't know...if that makes any sense.

  7. Your statement

    > There will be something that holds
    > society together

    might be considered tolerable despite its collectivist assumptions. The real contradiction comes from the qualification

    > beyond respect for property.

    when you really mean "apart from respect for property." But then we see the real objective:

    > I suggest kinship and culture.

    namely, promotion of the source of the state and all its evils---and certainly nothing which has ever provided resistance to them. Sorry, this is like saying the Constitution which says "it's okay for the rulers to steal your stuff," is going to provide a solution to the problem of taxation (in any and all of its forms). It's like saying the Catholic church whose ruler claims legitimate control of your every waking action *and* the disposition of your immortal soul, provides a bulwark against the evils of the state---as the Lew Rockwell crowd likes to repeat with mind-numbing regularity. How can you people embrace such absurd contradictions?

    Once you submit to the idea of human ownership (by other humans), whether imagined to reside in the state, the culture, or the kin, your goose is cooked.

    But you do continue to produce some of the most suggestive article titles. I will give you that. They very often draw a click out of me, though I always know what's coming and from whom.

    1. Sonja, you keep wanting to fight human nature. People want bonds; people want to belong; people want community. These require conformance to *something*.

      People will forever want these things; the only question is, based on what?

      In any do continue to produce some of the most consistent feedback. I will give you that.


  8. Fair enough. Conformity to *something* I am happy enough to grant. And the question is indeed "Based on what?"

    The answer is not the Constitution (which I think/hope you've figured out). The answer is not the Catholic church (which I wish Woods, Vance, Rockwell, et al would figure out).

    If you will permit me the same ambiguity which you throw in my face: These things are against human nature.

    I have no intention to fight human nature, any more than Semmelweis wanted to fight human nature by telling people they should wash their hands.

    In any case, to treat your refrain about human nature with benevolence, there is another question: What is human nature?

    Is it human nature to have germ ridden hands and use them to pass deadly diseases to others? Is it human nature to arbitrarily enslave other humans?

    Or are these things, more or less, arbitrary tradition, which can be rejected and replaced with a foundation for human society which is not arbitrary? If so, then it will take men of good will to do it. It will not be accomplished by people whose only answer is aggression against others.

    Everything in society, everything is culture, everything in a particular community of kinship is not worthy of rejection, nor do I reject all. But to embrace all, simply on the basis of current practice (with the pseudo-justification that "this is culture" or "this is human nature") is a grievous and fatal error.

    1. "Everything in society, everything is culture, everything in a particular community of kinship is not worthy of rejection, nor do I reject all. But to embrace all, simply on the basis of current practice (with the pseudo-justification that "this is culture" or "this is human nature") is a grievous and fatal error."

      On this (I say with some trepidation, given our past and running the risk of perhaps not understanding your meaning), I agree entirely!

  9. I am happy to have finally expressed something clearly enough to have been understood, and I am glad you agree. (I have one regret. There was typo: "everything IS culture" should have been "everything IN culture." But I trust I was not misunderstood.)

    If you agree, I hope you consider carefully the fact that you have, for months, been pounding the agenda of using "culture and kin" as a basis for human interaction without the slightest qualification, i.e., what you are writing can very easily be interpreted as a defense of the unethical status quo motivated by fear of change, fear of losing your privileged place in the current unethical order, and/or fear of losing what has been misinterpreted as civilization.

    Indeed, you express "trepidation," i.e., fear, above, though I know of nothing I have expressed worthy of it---unless it be in the list above.

    I suggest a foundation alternative to your "culture and kin." I suggest common understanding of perception and mutual agreement. This will require you to listen. And I return to what some of my allies have called the "strong form" of the nonaggression principle:

    All things being equal---if (a) I have not aggressed against you and (b) if I wish to be unaware of your existence, then you should respect that wish and make an effort to leave me alone---absolutely. If you have no basis for retaliation, then you have no claim on me.

    And I will treat you with the same attitude.

    Now, do you agree that this principle should be embraced and internalized? Or do you find it unreasonable? It is not really a "strong form." It is simply the nonaggression principle. You either accept it or reject it. So what will it be?

    1. “…I hope you consider carefully the fact that you have, for months, been pounding the agenda of using "culture and kin" as a basis for human interaction without the slightest qualification…”

      Sonja, this is absolutely, unequivocally false – frankly, I am stunned that you write this. Let me say this again, because your statement is so over-the-top false: I am stunned that you write this.

      I have written of a certain type of culture; I have described my view of that culture; I have stated clearly that it is a culture that respects the NAP; I have also stated clearly that the NAP is insufficient to hold a society together. I have written all of these things only about 6 dozen times.

      And as humans have demonstrated since the beginning of recorded history, they want to belong to society…even if it means accepting some cultural norms with which they do not fully agree.

      “All things being equal---if (a) I have not aggressed against you and (b) if I wish to be unaware of your existence, then you should respect that wish and make an effort to leave me alone…”

      No problem for me. But many of my neighbors might not be so charitable when you have that whipped cream and oil induced sex orgy party on your front lawn. It isn’t a question of what you and I wish in libertopia; it is a question of…(oh, I hate to say it)…human nature.

    2. Sonja,

      You say the Catholic church is "against human nature." Are you singling out Roman Catholicism, the Christian church more broadly, or all religions in general? If the Roman Catholic church specifically, what about it do you find to be against human nature? If you find religious rituals and activities generally to be against human nature, you're clearly arguing contrary to historical reality, since there is evidence as far back as history goes of belief in the supernatural and rituals to appease and/or gain favor with supernatural entities. Not all human nature is good, but it is all part of human nature, nonetheless.

      What is in our natures and what is good for us are often at odds. I'm sure you would agree. The question is, what is both desirable and viable given our human nature? A socialist utopia may be desirable (to some), but it's certainly not viable because it ignores human nature. A society based solely on the NAP may be desirable (to some), but again it isn't viable because it ignores our innate desire to belong to and find a sense of identity in something greater than ourselves. And belonging to a common, global humanity won't cut it, because it's not specific and local enough to be meaningful.

      Humans desire constraints - it is only through constraints that we develop meaningful identities. We can say these constraints should be voluntary, but it's difficult to decipher what is voluntary in all the complexity of human action. This is where the NAP is limited - it can only define voluntariness in obvious, legal terms - i.e. non-aggression against person and property. But every day my actions are constrained by social and cultural forces that prevent me from doing what I would like to do. In a sense, these constraints are voluntary, since I am choosing to abide by them and not act on certain, perfectly legal impulses. But in another sense they're involuntary, since I can't control those social-cultural forces that nevertheless overtly influence my behavior.

      Libertinism may be perfectly consistent with the NAP, but it's ultimately destructive to society and the flourishing of humankind. Natural law and the NAP can only be preserved in the long term under certain cultural conditions, and that includes, first and foremost, a society organized around the traditional, hierarchical family structure.

    3. Mr. Stayton

      Your final paragraph is perfect. Thank you.

  10. I think I see the problem. When you write "culture does not respect..." your statement is (to me) absolutely meaningless. Only an individual human being can respect or disrespect. (Or perhaps God can respect or disrespect, but a non-volitional collectivist entity called "culture" cannot do it.) To say that "culture" does something that only an individual human can do is meaningless. Thus, I see no qualification, and what I say is true rather than false.

    This is where it comes back to common perception. You apparently have the (absurd) collectivist perception that "culture can respect the non-aggression principle." I perceive that only individual humans can accept or reject the non-aggression principle. It is not about your neighbors, it is not about whipped cream and oil. It is about the common agreement between two individuals on rejecting aggression---or the possible disagreement according to which one accepts the principle and the other rejects it. It is possible that more than one person accepts the non-aggression principle. But when I ask *you* if *you* accept it or reject it, your neighbors are absolutely irrelevant. Culture and kin are irrelevant.

    Civil(ized) society has not arisen (and probably can not arise) on any other basis than commonly understood perceptions and mutual agreement among individuals. Illusions about libertopia are a misallocation of effort.

    So please try to be clear: When you write about "holding society together" and people wanting "to belong to society," do you perceive "society" to be a monolithic entity or is a plurality of societies a possibility? Do you perceive people as wanting to belong to "a society" or to "society." The "society" you wish to see "held together," must it include all humans, or can it include some subset?

    My perception is that *a* society can exist in the world without including all. It is the only kind of society in which I am interested. The obvious corollary is that I seek to surround myself with individuals who have internalized and embrace the non-aggression principle. As a partial aside, if your neighbors get their kicks out of molesting oily revelers (or if they are such cowards that they will not do it themselves but contact some others emboldened by costumes and badges to do it for them), then maybe you ought to consider finding some different individuals with whom to surround yourself.

  11. Another comment about whipped cream and oil: Thinking people will find your rhetorical device of attributing to me the intent of public sexual display to be unnecessarily provocative and somewhat dishonest. If you want to discuss what you and I, as individuals, might do---or how we should view such a display (which we might both view as anywhere from distasteful to delightful)---then that would be much better. We can also discuss if the execution of such a display (were it to take place) constitutes aggression against one of us, one of your neighbors, or someone else. But I do not appreciate false insinuations about my behavior, and I'm sure your readers (at least some of them) will not appreciate reading such.

  12. I won't address everything in your post, and I'm sure you and everyone else will be glad for that.

    One comment on religion: I was using the ambiguity (which you don't seem to recognize) in the notion of "human nature." From that point of view, what I primarily had in mind was the idea of having a person (the pope) tell others what to do. In that context, one might limit my comment to the Catholic church. More broadly, Christianity is based on the perverse invention of Ignatius that the interests of God are served by having rulers over the faith of others---"do not so much as participate in the eucharist without an elder present." This contradicts the teaching of the apostles that the head of every man is Christ and that a believer should call no man upon earth "father." It was an unfortunate expression of lack of faith by Ignatius which resulted in a faithless and Godless movement called Christianity. Thus, the teaching of Ignatius is contrary to both the nature of man and the nature of God. Christianity (i.e., practical atheism) and belief in Christ (i.e., faith in God) are antithetical. Of course, as a woman I shouldn't really pretend to be a teacher, but this stuff is beyond obvious.

    One other comment:

    > A society based solely on the
    > NAP may be desirable (to some),
    > but again it isn't viable because
    > it ignores our innate desire to
    > belong to and find a sense of
    > identity in something greater
    > than ourselves.

    You seem to have made an enormous leap here (off the deep end). First of all, "we" do not have an "innate desire." You may have a desire, and I may have a desire. The only way that "we" have it is if we agree about it. The only way we can agree about it is if we have a common perception. There is precious little evidence to suggest that.

    Secondly, I see absolutely nothing in the NAP which precludes "belonging to and finding identity in something bigger than myself." The only way that I can imagine this makes sense is if that "something bigger" involves aggression against others as an integral part. I reject belonging to and finding my identity in something of that nature, and I have no need to do so. That is my human nature, and I think that is the human nature of any man/human of good will.

  13. We agree that the NAP should never be violated.

    We agree that the NAP doesn't preclude membership in a larger group or cause.

    However, assuming I understand you correctly, we disagree that it is not human nature to violate the NAP.

    I disagree that human beings are of good will. Barring divine intervention, we are of very ill will. What is the state if not a great number of individuals actively violating other individuals' rights? And how else did the state come about but by individual human action?

    "If only each individual chose to abide by the NAP" is the same as saying "If only human nature spontaneously transformed into its complete opposite." You need more than "common perception" - whatever that means - to achieve something so radical.

    1. Mr. Slayton,

      You nailed it. Dead on with this post. Succinctly.

  14. > assuming I understand you correctly,
    > we disagree that it is not human
    > nature to violate the NAP.

    Our disagreement precedes what you state as our disagreement. I never asserted a relation between aggression and human nature because I do not think "human nature" is well-defined between the two of us. Thus your statement of our disagreement is ill-posed at best.

    I made no assertion concerning "human nature." I only asked questions in an effort to understand what you and others mean by "human nature."

    Many human individuals were unaware of microbial infection and subjected themselves and others to disease. Is it "human nature" to have poor hygiene in this sense of not washing your hands?

    You see, any observable behavior can be called "human nature." In point of fact, many people do wash their hands because they (as individuals) have internalized the idea that washing their hands provides something they find desirable: less experience of microbe induced disease. Poor hygiene, in this sense, is not human nature, but one could never know this until the behavior changed.

    My only question is: Do you agree that if you aggress against another individual, then that individual is justified in defending himself by any means possible and (should he decide to do so and have the ability) in killing you?

    If not, why not?

    Consider your statement: "I disagree that human beings are of good will."

    Do you mean by this that no human is ever of good will? Your mention of "divine intervention" perhaps suggests that some humans can be of good will under certain circumstances. Then you trail off into collectivist statements to the effect that "we" are of very ill will. If I am of ill will, please explain to me what I have done to convince you of that.

    I think that good will among humans is possible. I believe it is possible for a man to be a man of good will. Perhaps divine intervention is a prerequisite for that. If one believes there is a God, then such a thing is possible. Since you seem to believe that such a thing is not possible, perhaps I should conclude that you do not believe in the existence of God. You are an atheist then?

    Consider the first statements in your final paragraph. The way you are using "each individual" here seems to me to be equivalent to "everyone." Yes, I agree you are right. Practically speaking, it can not be expected that all people will abide by the NAP. Certainly I never suggested achieving anything of the sort. I am suggesting, however, that to use that statement as an excuse to reject the NAP as an individual, to take responsibility for your actions and interactions with others as individuals, to not do what you obviously can do as an individual and to blather on about imagined collective volition and opposition is a mistake.

    1. You need to rethink your definition of collectivism.