by James Corbett
August 1, 2020
Have you entered a store without the mandated mask affixed to your face?
Visited a friend in violation of a lockdown order?
Frequented a New York bar that didn’t offer “substantive” food to go with your beer?
Congratulations! You’re a thought criminal!
And here’s the best part: There are more thought criminals being born every day!
What am I talking about? The counter-economy, that’s what!
As you’ll no doubt remember from my previous writing on the subject, counter-economics is not what the Pentagon does to cook its books each year. No, it’s both an idea and a practice that was pioneered by Samuel Edward Konkin III, everyone’s second-favourite Canadian émigré anarchist.
In An Agorist Primer, Konkin explains that “All (non-coercive) human action committed in defiance of the State constitutes the Counter-Economy.” That’s a deceptively simple definition, so let’s tease out some of the nuance here:
>“Non-coercive” is important because murder, theft, assault, fraud, extortion and other forms of coercion are not part of the counter-economy, but, as Konkin notes, are simply “other forms of statism.”
>“Human action” is important because, as Konkin is at pains to stress, counter-economics is not a dry, dusty theory to be discussed in a philosophy classroom, but an idea that can only be realized in practice.
>And “in defiance of the State” is important because the purpose of counter-economics is to undermine, and, eventually, shrink the state out of existence.
So, you walk into a store without a mask in defiance of your city’s ordinances? Congratulations! You’re a practicing counter-economist.
You pay a barber under the table to cut your hair despite lockdown orders to the contrary? Congratulations! You’re a practicing counter-economist.
You’re a business owner who fails to implement the government-mandated physical distancing and disinfection standards in your workplace? Congratulations! You’re a practicing counter-economist.
Now, this idea could be extended to the point of inanity. Yes, you could technically be a counter-economist if you drive 51 km/h in a 50 km/h zone, but such action is less likely to be an attempt to undermine the authority of the state and more likely to be an attempt to get to a dental appointment on time.
A key part of counter-economics is that this “human action committed in defiance of the state” is consciously directed action. Its purpose is to defy the state, or to carve out a space for people to interact and transact with each other in ways that defy the state’s edicts. This space—the truly free market, unfettered by concern for the state and its mandates—is the agora. Derived from the Greek word for the marketplace, the agora is the space where counter-economic activity flourishes. (But you already knew that, right?)
As Konkin puts it: “The goal is living in the agora and the path is expanding Counter-Economics.”
It should now be apparent how applicable agorism is to our current situation.
Take the recent demonstration in Berlin. Depending on which source you rely on, there were thousands or hundreds of thousands of Germans who took to the streets of Berlin to protest the stifling coronavirus restrictions in their country. But this wasn’t just a protest; it was human action in defiance of the state. Note well: These Germans didn’t object by writing scholarly papers challenging the restrictions or by starting an online petition. They physically took to the streets in defiance of the very orders they were opposing. That is counter-economics in action.
Or take the recent action by Defending Utah, a liberty-minded organization based in Utah. To protest local face mask ordinances, they began a regular Thursday event whereby interested members would be texted the location of a particular grocery store and a particular time. At the appointed hour, members of the group all enter the store without masks. They can’t be stopped on their way in because there are simply too many of them, and they can’t be ignored by the establishment mouthpiece media, who have to resort to smearing them instead. That is counter-economics in action.
There are plenty of other examples. Like the Texas salon owner who cut customers’ hair in defiance of lockdown orders and who chose jail time rather than make a court-ordered statement admitting to being wrong and selfish. Or the New Jersey businessmen who were thrown in jail for refusing to shut down their gym despite statewide shutdown orders.
You see? This whole COVID-1984 phenomenon is giving plenty of otherwise ordinary, obedient tax cattle the chance to become counter-economists. It is growing the agora.
But it needs to be restated: All of these counter-economic activities that are happening as a natural response to the lockdowns and restrictions mean nothing if they are not consciously directed counter-economic activity. If people are not aware of the importance of their decisions, if they don’t understand why we must expand the agora and broaden popular support for unsanctioned activities, then they will be easily led back into the system at the first convenient on-ramp.
If the state slackens the rules here or creates some leeway there, then people will—as usual—take the path of least resistance.
“Sure, we could form trading communities outside of the purview of the state. We could begin building up alternative currencies, supporting local businesses, disconnecting ourselves from the Big Brother enslavement grid . . . but that seems like a lot of work. And what if we get caught? What if we face resistance? What if we get a bad social credit score! No, much safer to just sign up for our new Digital Dollar account with the Fed and receive our monthly UBI payment. Of course, it means we’ll have to roll up our sleeve for the coronavirus vaccine and keep our COVI-PASS app current, but what’s the harm in a little prick and a quick update? At least we’ll be taken care of!”
It’s impossible to argue that the counter-economic path is going to be an easy one, because it’s not. But for those who care about human freedom, it’s the only path. And, as the technology of control available to the state increases in sophistication—from brain chips to 5G to gene editing—the agorist path becomes even more important. It is no exaggeration to say that there will be no humanity as we’ve known it by the end of this century if the would-be societal controllers get their way.
The choice of whether or not to grow the agora is quickly becoming an existential one.
In the end that choice is ours to make, but we’d better make it quickly. Are we counter-economists committed to growing the agora and ending the state? Or are we merely tax cattle to be slaughtered when the state deems us to be sufficiently fattened?
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