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What is a state?

I’m in an email conversation with an online acquaintance; we’re disagreeing about whether or not a state can help us keep the fossils in the ground. We both agree that states currently are actively complicit in drilling and burning, but the disagreement is over the fact that I think we need to regulate and that a state can help us there, and he’s saying no to that.

Maybe I’ll edit some of my thoughts from that convo into an essay on here once it has settled a bit. Doing that prematurely would get in the way of me actively trying to listen & learn from the guy. Carving my canonical ex cathedra position into granite is not a good start to a dialogue.

But I was kvetching about that conversation with a friend IRL, and I was like “how the heck do the anarchists propose we stop the oil companies without a state?” and he was like “Decentralized autonomous cells?” (I do not oppose extralegal opposition to the fossil economy and extraction. I’ve been speaking out in favor of the activists, not against them.)

For the purposes of this philosophical conversation, that is a state. We’re falling into semantics here. Decentralized autonomous cells enforcing a fossil ban has a lot of similarities to state-like power. There’s no insight or democracy, and that sucks, but there’s hopefully less susceptibility for corruption, is the idea.

In a world “governed” that way, with the formal states dismantled, the fossil industry will retain their own violent forces that they already do have, which we’ve seen again and again historically & presently. And they’ll have the power of fossilized industry and manufacture on their side. A scary world. But sure, maybe it would work.

I’m not eager on guerilla fighting as a way to enforce policy (and semantics, I know, but from where I stand, “leave it in the ground” is policy), so I am also interested in the more vanilla social democratic solutions of state-mandated energy-rationing & a ban on fossil extraction (for example if the EU ETS could undo their horrific grandfather-based allotment, that might become a good route forward. As it is, it’s done more harm than good, but with tweaks it could start working).

The US desperately needs election reform to clean the money out of politics and abolish the FPTP-based executive power which leaves the world strangled in a good-cop-bad-cop trap where the Dems and the GQP drill and frack all the way to the bank while using marginalized groups as a piñata to vie for votes from each other. How to get to these kinds of reforms with these clowns on the throne is a pretty difficult nut to crack.

We also need new kinds of economics and that’s where the ancom crowd really can shine. The “an” part implies a willingness to think in terms of emergent systems rather than the sorta fordistic “command” economy tankies would propose, and the “com” part implies a focus on bottom-up control over means of production. The latter is also a bit of a problem since the bottom-up nature makes it impossible to regulate transaction externalities such as climate-forcing gasses.

When I was deep into ancom I was, like many of my fellows in that worldview, jumping through hoop after hoop to disprove the tragedy of the commons model. After all, we’d seen success after success in gift-style economies, from open source to Wikipedia to the local food-not-bombs program and CrimethInc-sustained living. But as soon as the ancom-tinted goggles slipped off, even for a brief second, I started thinking that there are some situations where the tragedy of the commons idea probably does apply—I could think of several examples from my own life, but above all: the global fossil economy itself! Market capitalism rewards exploitation, and unaccounted-for externalities are the ultimate exploitable.

Fossils are an Eden apple that’s gonna be constantly dangling and even if 99.99% of people can keep their paws in check, that 0.01% can still wreck the world for everyone else. We need to put the kibosh on that. That means a policy-making organization. If you don’t wanna call such an organization a “state”, we’re arguing semantics. Which, OK. Whatever you wanna call it is fine by me.