Clearing My Mind: My Path to Voluntaryism

By Josiah Warren

I can’t remember exactly when the progression towards Voluntaryism began. I remember being about a mile and a half into cardio on a treadmill somewhere on the east coast quickly scrolling through polling numbers to see who might be the next Republican candidate for president. I was obsessed with politics and I was good at arguing. If anyone didn’t like my opinion, too bad, they were going to hear it, it didn’t matter who it was. More often than not I spoke loudly—and drunkenly—to the guy or gal sitting in the bar stool next to me. I’d check Politico and then take a few seconds to quickly thumb out a few strongly worded texts to friends and colleagues on the tactile keyboard of my Blackberry about which candidate I thought was best to lead the country.

I continued a prosperous career in finance while pursuing an MBA in finance and economics from a local university, completing two degrees without even being exposed once to Austrian economics or the ideas of liberty (I still believe that this was by design and was part of indoctrination rather than education). Several years prior to this, I had enlisted in the Marine Corps Infantry thinking I was doing something noble. It was I that walked into the recruiter’s office, and it was I that signed the papers. Putting that aside, looking back I find it odd that so many with whom I shared a bunk or a fox hole were from small poor and middle-class towns in suburbia, while the great majority of the ruling class sat in their ivory towers and gave orders to go die in some hellhole while they shared zero risks or responsibility in their decisions. I suppose it was a sense of adventure that led me there, but in the end, it really helped me see first hand how corrupt and inefficient government really is. For one, the proper equipment, most of the time, never got to the personnel that needed it due to the huge web of bureaucracy and red tape. There were often Marines that never left “the wire” driving MRAP vehicles to chow while those in heavy combat zones drove scantly clad humvees with little or no armor. Layers of paperwork had to be signed before anything could be done and there was much room for waste. Receiving orders from a top-down hierarchical system often left troops twisting in the wind, waiting for some officer to give the go ahead. Not only was it bureaucratic, but the worst part is that the hapless US taxpayers were footing the bill for defense contracts and needlessly excessive high priced weapons designed for mass murder.

Like many others, I came to discover the ideas of Voluntaryism through politics and economics. When I say politics, I mean I was once a devout statist who wanted desperately to get my views across to people and always looked forward to the ensuing bread-and-circus act that would inevitably lead up to the next election. I suppose it’s rather cliché to say that Ron Paul got me to look further into principled libertarianism, but it was also the sheer and utter disappointment I had with the political process in general. Here we had a washed up establishment ruler that had spent her entire life leaching off hard-working Americans running up against a New York progressive that had hijacked a party that once – at least appeared to – principally support spending cuts. One of the Libertarian political party candidates I followed sent me a reading list which was prefaced by, “Now this guy is an anarchist so you have been warned” in so many words. When I saw the word anarchist I immediately thought of my youth, where we used to wear Anarchy symbols that were jaggedly patched and painted on our home-made outfits and go blow stuff up and cause trouble (usually the neighbor’s mailbox or piles of trash). It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Rothbard’s FOR A NEW LIBERTY which was pretty much the catalyst for all the things I was experiencing in society but couldn’t quite make sense of.

Since I was already someone that had been used to research and writing, I continued reading stacks of books on Austrian economics, Libertarian philosophy, and the Non-Aggression Principle. Again, my previous impressions of any type of philosophy were, “Philosophy is useless and is only for people that get useless degrees and never go anywhere.” I had to change my perception of learning and knowledge, it wasn’t just about how many expensive pieces of paper I could get or my social status in society, it was my aptitude and curiosity that began to make me who I am, that drive to look into things further to find out why.

My personal experiences certainly shaped my view of all governments in general. For one, my previous six years of government service had left me with a significant amount of emotional problems, having witnessed other human beings, including children, being killed. Humans are not supposed to be okay with killing others, it has to be receptively conditioned into them (and yet there is still so much confusion that surrounds veteran suicides and PTSD). I handled it as best I could but I also had some run-ins with government enforcers on several occasions. There were no exceptions granted to someone that had put in their time and pissed away most of their youth to fight engagements and long campaigns for their rulers. The state simply discards its order-followers like pieces of trash. I also spent some time in correctional institutions where the state attempted to “reform” me of my non-violent offenses and make me a good compliant citizen again. An entire underbelly of the system exists solely to take advantage of those that suffer from addiction (drug addiction, alcoholism, etc.) and are there to profit from it. The enforcers earn significant revenues for municipalities by punishing non-violent offenders and treating citizens like common criminals. They felt that because of their prescribed laws that it was necessary to kidnap me and force me into their facilities (which also profit from the number of occupants they keep). Needless to say in the end, as I had been reading about the violent and coercive power of the state, I was also witnessing its violence and extortion first hand in my own life.

After reading several books by Spooner, Rothbard, and then later Larken Rose, I really started questioning why the government was necessary and why I continued to pull the lever to vote at all. It only took a few more questions until I thought, “If other governments are ruling over their people and extracting revenues from them in order to fund a violent empire, then maybe America is too.” I traced most of my one-sided thinking back to compulsory schooling, where I was fed the standard boiler-plate conditioning basket of ideas including how FDR was a God, that WWII was the greatest war in history and made this country great, that the nukes that murdered thousands of civilians were justified even though Japan was on the verge of surrender (among numerous other horrible atrocities committed on behalf of the US), and of course the daily ritual I carried out as a kid, standing with other children and pledging my undying allegiance to an authoritarian government. At no point in my indoctrination was individualism or self-reliance mentioned at all, because that’s not what it was about, it was about converting me from a kind, gentle, individualist who morally opposed all murder and violence by nature, into a compliant citizen with a moral double standard; “It’s ok when they do it, but it’s wrong when we do it.”

Presently, I continue to receive the VOLUNTARYIST newsletter as well as various other publications and podcasts and I continue to learn and challenge my own ideas. My views may change tomorrow, but currently, I believe that the most logical conclusion of uncompromising libertarian principles; of valuing private property rights and the non-aggression principle, is voluntaryism. I have a great life today, for one because I don’t have to spend countless hours mentally wrestling and justifying statist contradictions of collectivism and why needless aggression is okay for some but not all. I spend a lot of time in the wilderness because I think that there is true beauty in the state of nature and the spontaneous order, or as Thoreau once said, life reduced to the lowest common denominator. I constantly calculate risks based on the level of coercion (state and private) I might encounter. Even in the last several weeks alone and through this newsletter I have learned to develop my own personal code of ethics and to see the beauty in the world. When I look back at the person I once was I choose not to regret the past, but to consider it as a life experience. Many people have gone down the destructive rabbit hole of self regret and sorrow. I am just grateful that I am here today and that I am capable of love, peace, and joy and I try to exemplify these virtues every day. There is a better world out there, but first, it begins by clearing your mind.