(Note: This article was originally written for Key64 and published a while back. However since they seem to be down at the moment I’ve decided to republish).
I was born in the UK in the year of 1974. The cold war was in full swing and I grew up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over. From an early age I came to understand that I was fortunate to have been born onto the side of the war where the people were free, the government democratically elected and no one lived in fear of the secret police. Or so I thought for some years in my childhood innocence.
As I grew into an adult I had become increasingly aware of the limits to freedom in the democratic West, and came to understand the degree to which people seemed to tolerate government intrusion into our lives. And I found them unacceptable. To begin with I knew not what to do about them. I found my friends and allies in the anarchist underbelly of society. A strange world full of beautiful subcultures that share as their common thread a healthy disrespect for authoritarian politics. Of course, some of these subcultures have a darker side, harbouring those with communist or even fascist leanings, and they are not always as obvious to spot as they should be having found many cunning ways to disguise themselves. Such is the sophistication of the hiding mechanisms, it seems like some of those with authoritarian leanings may have deceived even themselves.
The reasons people end up in the ‘counter culture’ are diverse, but are usually related to having a taste for something frowned upon by society at large, or even actually illegal. This can be as simple as holding a minority political view, or belonging to an unconventional religion. It can be attendance at raves and squat parties, if not actual squatting. It can be membership of direct action and protest movements. It can be smoking marijuana, and perhaps increasingly tobacco as it too becomes ostracised from the mainstream. Other things like motorcycles, or skate boards, surfing and extreme sports. Sexual attraction to the same sex, or both sexes, cross dressing and transsexualism are all unconventional enough to lead to counter culture. Even something as basic as an interest in non-mainstream music can lead one to the counter culture.
Of course, a lot of people meeting some of the criteria above will find themselves only on the fringes of counter culture. Others will attempt to hide their difference in a veneer of normality and a revulsion for anything else that causes them to stand out.
However, when I say underbelly, I do not wish to confuse counter culture with the underclass. The counter culture is made up of people from all walks of life, some living on benefits, some in low income employment, others are students, or in professional graduate jobs. Some run businesses, or work in creative media perhaps even as artists, poets, musicians and those with fairly successful acting careers. Some are quite wealthy and drive nice cars/have big houses. Whilst others are homeless and live on the street or in squats. However, those unfortunate enough to become jobless and homeless pretty much become counter culture by default since the dominant culture failed them they need to turn elsewhere for support. Counter culture is where they find that support. If they are lucky. It partly depends on how well evolved their local counter culture is.
Commitment and membership of the counter culture varies, many who think of themselves as part of it are only paying lip service, whilst yet others deeply ingrained within it may not see themselves as part of anything. What is more, it is deeply divided with many factions that dislike and distrust other factions. And yet if one has an understanding of their commonality, it is easy to move around within it and be liked by most of the diverse strains.
The single most important rule to get along in counter culture is to remember to never grass on anyone to the police for any activity the authorities unfairly classify as a crime or for which you know the punishment will be entirely disproportionate. Nor indeed to make undue fuss about such things when they have no negative impact upon your person or your freedom.
Manifestation of this counter cultural rule depends entirely on the innate sense of fairness common to the vast majority of human beings, and will vary greatly depending on the nature of the current injustices being perpetrated by the worlds governments.
For example, when being Jewish was a crime punishable by death in Nazi occupied Europe, many non-Jews recognised the unfairness of the ruling power and were willing to risk their own freedom, and even their own lives, in order to hide, feed and assist in the escaping of those directly persecuted. This is an extreme example from a particularly vicious totalitarian government, although we must remember that whilst they disbanded democracy in favour of dictatorship they could only do so because they were voted in using a system based almost exactly on the democratic model still officially in use in the modern day United States. It also demonstrates quite clearly that sometimes it is only by breaking and tolerating the breaking of unjust law that true justice can be served.
Another example closer to home would be those living in a post war democracy before the legalisation of homosexuality who recognised the injustice of their persecution, and who would knowingly keep the company of gay men without reporting them. In the modern day United Kingdom as I write this, it is still illegal for three or consenting gay men to have sex with one another. I remember reading somewhere that more people were arrested for homosexuality after it was legalised than before. I don’t know if that still holds true but it was fairly recently that a group of gay men were arrested for nothing more than making video of themselves having group sex. Making the video wasn’t the crime, it was just used as evidence that these men had illegal group sex. Still, whether people know it is illegal or not, I very much doubt I know many people that would go so far as to report group sex practising gay men to the police, and I certainly wouldn’t count such people amongst my friends.
Indeed I myself would not report any illegal activity to the authorities that occurred between consenting adults. Nor would any of my friends. It is all very well democratically elected governments passing laws that violate the sovereignty of consenting adults in their private lives, be it in the bedroom, a private party, a muddy field or an organised centre of recreation if no-one is actually willing to report violations of such unjust laws.
Of course, some misguided people are willing to report such things, sometimes even quite well meaning people. It is partly to make such people think about the true meaning of justice and liberty that I am writing articles like this one. Others however have quite hypocritically turned on their fellows out of spite or revenge. For example I know of an adept (second in command) of a magic order that got involved in a custody battle with an ex member of the same group. In the ensuing court case she actually had the nerve to out the father of her child as a witch in the hopes of prejudicing the court against him. Luckily freedom of religion is very much an excepted part of the modern legal system these days and so her tactic backfired. None the less she demonstrated considerable hypocrisy in her actions which are one of the many reasons I no longer count her as a friend or even someone to be trusted.
By this point I have come to notice that I have been bandying about terms such as ‘unjust law’, ‘individual sovereignty’ and ‘consenting adults’ without defining precisely what I mean by such terms. On the surface they seem self explanatory, but if we explore them deeper we find that they are not without ambiguities and each raise questions. Of what exactly is the individual sovereign? What makes a law unjust? How are adults able to grant or withdraw consent, and under what circumstances can we consider consent to have been broken?
These are valid questions and so for the purposes of this book I will attempt to define these ideas in as simple a form as possible.
Individual sovereignty means that the individual is sovereign of their own mind and body. It can also be extended to refer to sovereignty over personal possessions, and whilst I see this as a natural conclusion, at no point should it distract us from the core issue of sovereignty and ownership of ones own mind and body. Ownership of the mind is something we have come to take for granted in the democratic west. We can believe and think what we want although we are not always free to say it. Freedom of speech is of course a much touted cornerstone of democracy but in practise it has never been total. Slander and libel laws have ensured that. To say nothing of incitement to violence/crime and hatred laws. Thought however has never been a crime in a real democracy.
Of course, most democracies in the world are currently turning their backs on what democracy means, seeing in their majority vote a mandate to do exactly as they please, and so it is not surprising to see thought crimes starting to appear on the statute books. For example here in the UK a young woman was imprisoned for simply owning Jihadist literature. The UK is no stranger to terrorist attacks. Throughout my life there have been far worse troubles in Ulster, which often fed into the UK mainland, with far more dead than the Jihadists have so far caused, and yet it was never to my knowledge a crime in those days to simply own Irish Republican material. Nor when some neo-nazi’s nail bombed Soho did they make it illegal to own neo-nazi material. The tide it seems is turning back to its authoritarian roots.
Or perhaps it is just that the first wave of freedom broke and receded at the end of the seventies, the next wave arrived in time for the nineties but broke around the millennium. If this is cyclical the next wave should start in time for 2012, lets hope it reaches a bit further inland this time…
The freedom of an individuals mind is a cornerstone of democracy, whether or not it us under threat from current democracies, since without it the very discourse on which democracy is based becomes meaningless. But sovereignty of body is not something that has ever been fully recognised by any government, democratic or otherwise. Homosexuality has only been barely legal for a few decades, many democratic governments reserve the right to enforce conscription, even if they aren’t currently practising it, all control to a certain degree what medicine and recreational substances we are allowed, restrictions on who can get a sex change operation, the right to sell sexual services for money. You don’t have to look far to see that the law is full of instances where the government evidently feels it has the right to control what individuals can and can’t do with their own body, evidently feels that our bodies are its legal property.
Personally I do not feel this is a task that should fall within their remit. They are only elected officials. The only qualification they need to be appointed to their post is winning a national popularity contest based on sound bites, false promises, celebrity endorsements and having the best smile. Why should we trust such people with anything at all, much less our own bodies?
Many people are currently campaigning for all sorts of reforms to our legal and electoral systems. Some want cannabis legalised, others want a proportionally representative democracy, etc. And I am not saying that these aren’t worthy causes, but a movement I could really get behind would be one where the very legal right of government to violate the sovereignty of an individual was challenged. Imagine a world where we had successfully devested government of such power. This is the kind of world I would like to see achieved in my own lifetime. And that is why I am writing this, to help turn us back on track, so that once again we can move forwards towards a future of liberty and freedom from tyranny (instead of mistakenly assuming we’ve already got there as those with authoritarian outlook want us to believe). Let us continue the journey we started in the Enlightenment, rather than giving up and retreating back into totalitarian control.
With this in mind, it becomes clearer what I mean by consenting adults. For one adult to do something physically to another, consent must be given by the receiving party. If the technology exists to tamper with the contents of a persons mind, consent must similarly be obtained. We can see this in action already with regards to rape law, trials primarily concerned with determining whether consent for sex was given, or whether sex continued after consent was withdrawn.
Of course the problem is that the government presumes to intervene and make activities illegal despite consent being given. This is often done under the guise of ‘protecting the individual from themselves’ but is more often a pandering to the sensibilities of some influential religious group that are somehow offended by the activities involved and wish to suppress their practise, even amongst those who don’t subscribe to their teachings.
Just law is then all law that recognises the sovereignty of the individual over their own mind and body, recognises the right of consenting adults to be sovereign over their collective minds and bodies and protects that sovereignty from all who would violate it. Unjust law is law that permits or demands that such sovereignty be violated. This can be on an individual level, such as a law that permitted a man to rape a woman without consequence, or it can be on an organisational level, such as a law that required the authorities to arrest members of the public caught in certain sexual practises.
Individual Sovereignty is the absolute sovereign right of all individuals over their own minds and bodies.
Consenting Adults. Any activity in which all present consent, and are mentally mature enough to grant consent, have not been deliberately misinformed by others present with regards to the risks of the activities and are able to withdraw consent, is an activity that is taking place between consenting adults.
Unjust Law: Any law which fails to recognise the sovereignty of the individual or of consenting adults shall be deemed unjust.