Over the past twenty years, my political thoughts seem to have undergone quite a bit of evolution. It was mostly informed by my own lived experiences, vis-à-vis empty theories and naïve idealism over time. At the same time, I see in retrospect, my fundamental political beliefs remain unchanged since when I first developed a sense of political consciousness while in middle school. It was just that I did not know how to articulate those thoughts in the words or concepts that already existed, and it took me many years of engaging with a wide variety of political and social movements to finally realize this.
This history of my exploration took me to some wild mix of organizations and movements, both mainstream and extremist. At the same time, it also made me well-read and well-rounded in understanding all sides of controversial issues.
My mother was a product of the 1960s radical student movement. As a student at an art college, she was involved in the anti-war activism and student activism. By the time I was born, she was married to a privileged son of a reasonably wealthy entrepreneur, but she had consistently voted Communist. As such, I was influenced by the far-left ethos of the time. At the same time, my privileged upbringing availed me the kind of education that was seen as fairly progressive and experimental.
By the time I entered middle school, I was anti-authoritarian (sure, most teenagers are anti-authoritarian, but I took it to a much greater level) backed by a very strong DIY ethos. I was making zines and bought a low-power FM radio transmitter to run my own underground radio station that would reach a few blocks (I recall it had the transmission power of 500mW or so, low enough that it required no license). At school, I caused ruckus by rallying against the existence of the school-mandated, monopoly student government (which I saw as meaningless, only worked as an extension of the school administrators, and violated the constitutional guarantees of the freedom of association) and organizing a rival student union (which lasted for about a month).
Another major influence as it related to the formation of my early political consciousness was Christianity. Having raised without religion by parents who generally disliked any organized religion at all, I did not see religion as a limiting force, but rather as another way for me to rebel against my parents. Christianity instilled within me two important ideas: inherent human dignity and universalism. At the time, my exposure to Christianity was limited to Mainline Protestantism. Later, during my last two years of high school and the first year of college, I was exposed to the American Evangelical right-wing ideologies (My introduction to American Christian conservatism was Chuck Colson's BreakPoint radio commentaries that aired daily on a local Christian music radio station during the junior year in high school), but it did not take too long before I begin to realize the cognitive disconnect between this uniquely American form of theocratic nationalism and the essence of Christian gospel. While I remained a member of Evangelical Christianity (Baptist, later Pentecostal) until 1996, I was becoming more of a libertarian by then. I was an avid reader of Seattle's Eat the State newspape and the Reason magazine. The emerging cyberculture of the mid-1990s was also heavily libertarian-leaning.
In the 21st century
I was a hardcore (and rather naïve) Libertarian (in the American sense of that word) until around the turn of the new century. I had a particular dislike of identity politics and "group rights" as I saw them as contrary to the individual right to self-determination. By extension, I rejected the idea of class struggle or even equality in general; I even viewed absolute monarchy as morally superior to democracy (ochlocracy). I was also an assimilationist, who believed that immigrants would be disadvantaged by retaining their ethnic cultures and languages, as if their cultures were a hindrance to achieving freedom.
My view has, however, shifted precisely because as an adult I began to experience extreme poverty and ultimately, years of homelessness. This gradually took me away from American Libertarianism to the far-left activist movement (which was strong in Portland, Oregon, the "Little Beirut," where I lived at the time). I became heavily involved with immigrant rights activism and homeless rights movement, while also immersed in the DIY-Punk subculture of Portland. It was the Punk community that helped me survive in those tough years, through its social "institutions" such as Food Not Bombs, infoshops, free stores, Black Cross medics, and Punk houses.
My engagement with the radical left community culminated in the Occupy movement in the fall of 2011. I was a very active part of the encampment community and later, one of primary organizers of what remained of the Occupy organization well into 2015. But at deeper levels, I did not agree with most of Occupy's ideologies, nor with its tactics. I was beginning to get tired of the constant Oppression Olympics, conflicting identity politics, incessant infighting and organizational dysfunction, and the movement's penchant for "direct action" that was nothing more than aimless theatric for the sake of doing it. During this period, I had a period of soulsearching and explored the world of thoughts outside the radical leftist bubble. I studied the fundamentals of American and British conservative thoughts (or, classical liberalism), especially the works of Robert Nisbet, William Buckley, Edmund Burke, and Russell Kirk, but also paleoconservatism and even those of Alexander Dugin and Julius Evola. Ultimately, I felt burned out and withdrew myself from all political activities, shifting my focus on entrepreneurship and fine art.
Briefly (for about two years), I was a member (later an associate member) of American Solidarity Party, which billed itself as a centrist party with roots in the Christian Democratic political philosophy, Catholic social teaching (in particular, Subsidiarity and Distributism) and consistent life ethic. I disaffiliated when ASP's new leadership took the organization to a more theocratic and conservative direction in 2018. Currently I am affiliated with the Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the Libertarian Party. I am not affiliated with either of the two state Libertarian parties in Oregon. Thus I came a full circle back to Libertarianism after nearly two decades.
My kind of libertarianism
The very nature of the libertarian movement makes it very difficult to easily pigeon-hole all libertarians into one box. There is no official party ideology to which every libertarian must goose-step. The only unifying principle is the Non-Aggression Principle (and for the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, also the Non-Exploitation Principle). By nature, it is a big tent movement full of many variations.
While "libertarianism without adjectives" sounds like a lofty idea, in reality it is very difficult to articulate where I stand on a number of issues that way.
My philosophy and ideological tendency can be best summarized as Geo-Mutualist Panarchism, which, in turn is a fusion of Georgism, Mutualism, and Panarchism. In the Nolan chart (perhaps better known as the "Political Compass"), Georgism and Mutualism occupy the most "centrist" and most "libertarian" part of the Libertarian Socialist space. Panarchism is a radical libertarian thought that could appeal to both Libertarian Socialists and pro-capitalist Libertarians.
On practical terms, this means:
- I define capitalism as primarily a form of absentee ownership of means of production for speculative and sometimes predatory investment purposes. I oppose capitalism as it leads to a concentration of economic power, which I view as just as harmful as a concentration of political power. I reject anarcho-capitalism.
- On the other hand, I view entrepreneurship as a positive force in economic self-ownership and self-management, so long as businesses are owned by those who actively work in them. Micro-enterprises, sole proprietorship, small businesses, and cooperatives are great means to build parallel institutions (in the dual power theory of revolution) within the shell of the old.
- I believe in genuine free market and free trade in which everyone can meaningfully participate and profit from them. I find most of governmental regulations contrary to free market, but instead, benefits large and incumbent corporations by overburdening new and innovative competitors with regressive one-size-fits-all regulations. Occupational licensing is one of the worst examples of this trend, which does nothing to lift marginalized people out of poverty.
- Private property must be abolished. Unlike other "things" in life, lands and natural resources are finite, created by no human labor, but are fundamental necessities for human (and other) life forms to survive and thrive. Therefore, all lands and natural resources must be held in common and leased to users who actively use and occupy. They should never be profit centers for speculative investors, who would artificially inflate the prices in order to exploit. In a Geo-Mutualist society, all lands would be leased to those who intend to use them for their own dwelling or livelihood, and land value taxes would be assessed in such a way that would make land hoarding an extremely unprofitable endeavor.
- Major means of productions of common public interest, such as roads, transportation hubs, airlines and shipping lines, large factories, electric utilities, and telecommunication networks should be owned by a confederation or cooperative of local jurisdictions. This aside, I do not advocate for collectivization or syndicalization of all businesses.
- The time to demonopolize the state has come. With the emergence of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, the concepts of cybernations were proposed and experimented with (such as the Republic of Lomar). With the decentralized apps, blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies, and ubiquity of Internet access, panarchism now has a real possibility (such as the Bitnation app, which is a great proof-of-concept that is still evolving). Along with it, we will radically reimagine the state, away from the geographical (and/or often ethnic) monopoly of criminal violence (which every nation-state is), to a truly democratized structure in which every citizen is sovereign. This is just another historic stage of human evolution toward liberty.
- Ideally, the respect for inalienable and inherent human dignity means respecting the rights to self-determination by individuals and the communities of their choosing. No government should abridge these rights, however well-intentioned it may be. In a more pragmatic sense, however, nobody is free until everybody is free, and no one should be abusing their "freedom" to harm, oppress, or exploit from others (the Non-Aggression and Non-Exploitation Principles). Self-determination does not mean one can go about to abridge other people's rights to self-determination through discrimination or exploitation, and human dignity isn't complete if one is allowed to dehumanize and demean others in the name of freedom. To these ends, non-discrimination laws should continue to exist, workers' and tenants' rights to organize must be guaranteed until employers and landlords are eradicated, and authority figures (parents, teachers, policemen, prison guards, landlords, bosses) who abuse their charges must be held to account.
- I believe in radical decentralization. I do not necessarily believe that the U.S. federal government is in the best place to micromanage everything, and therefore, I staunchly oppose many of the progressive proposals for their leftist agenda (though that does not mean I disagree with their intentions), such as national single-payer universal healthcare. I call for a fundamental devolution of government powers back to the human-sized communities, so that cities and counties (who are more responsive to the needs of their residents, and where residents can still have meaningful engagement and influence) govern and manage most of public service, while larger-scale projects and coordinating tasks are delegated to the state government. The federal government's role should be strictly limited to what is explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution.
- I believe in a consistent life ethic that rejects institutional violence and systemic devaluation of life. This means I oppose wars, and call for the abolition of the military-police-prison state. While I personally oppose abortion and euthanasia, I believe this is a matter of culture and conscience, not something that ought to be enforced by the iron fist of police power. At the same time, I also believe that physician-assisted suicide (or death-with-dignity laws) should not be banned, as one's right to life is not complete unless one also has a freedom to decide when and how to end it by one's own volition, regardless of reason (this is somewhat different from abortion, since it does not involve the killing of another life or potential life). We need a culture in which abortion is no longer a necessity. This means making birth control universally available, educating the young people, and eradicating poverty -- something the so-called "pro-life" conservatives continue to hypocritically neglect.
- While "Libertarian Socialist" is an accurate descriptor, I am more "libertarian" than "socialist." (Bottom unity over left unity.) Of course, Mutualists are perhaps the most "libertarian" of the Libertarian Socialists, while the larger LS movement includes anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists, who are definitely more socialist than libertarian, and often ally themselves with pro-statist socialists (such as the Democratic Socialists of America).