Bret: I’d like to thank Nikk of Skeptical Eye ahead of time (in case he hates me by the end) for being my first interviewee.
Bret: So Nikk, I’m gonna get right to it... what kind of sandwich are you eating?
Nikk: Tuna. I don’t eat it much (mercury levels you know) and I don’t eat albacore as it has about 3 times as much mercury (I think) as other tuna species.
Bret: Delicious, any mayo?
Nikk: I just use generic brand mayo. Sometimes I like to add chopped pickles or relish to my tuna
Bret: Classic. So how would you describe your blog in one sentence which can be easily taken out of context?
Nikk: The Nikk Jakson/Bret Alan fight blog! No, it’s just a blog. I had the name (and owned the domain) long before I even knew it would go with a blog. At first it was going to be just about atheism and James Randi type skeptical subjects. In one sentence? How about a long sentence? “A libertarian, anarchist and left-wing blog that also covers music, food, books and religion, actually just about everything, but never in too serious a manner”. Or I could go with “exposing the machinery of mass conformity.”
Bret: How long have you been an anarchist?
Nikk: Good question! Believe it or not, I was a traditional socialist before I moved to libertarianism. I would say I’ve been an anarchist for about 5 years, but it was an evolution. I slowly moved over to more of a left-libertarian, more socialist anarchism, very anti-corporate and anti-capitalist (state capitalism, that is, though I’m against all kinds).
Bret: How long have you been an atheist?
Nikk: I was a Christian of a very evangelical sort for years. I had an awakening upon reading a book called “The Mind of the Bible Believer” by Edmund D. Cohen. It really went into detail about the way Christianity was really a form of mind control, and a very clever one at that. I still retained some belief in God for a while, but couldn’t get past the problem of evil (still can’t). I would say I’ve been outright atheist for about 6 years, though I’d call myself agnostic right now.
Bret: Would you say your atheism and anarchism are ideologically linked?
Nikk: I thought that for a long time, as if the two were inseparable (perhaps influenced by the fact that almost all anarchists are atheists, and also by Bakunin’s “God and the State”). I once got into an argument with Lew Rockwell about the subject (he’s a Catholic) and he told me basically that he didn’t care what I thought, but as there are many Christian anarchists, and I don’t think a majority of the population will ever become atheists, I wouldn’t say anymore that they are necessarily linked.
Bret: But for yourself, you would say there was a sort of connection?
Nikk: Yes, because if you are against all hierarchies, how can you believe in the ultimate hierarchy of God ruling over everything, like a complete dictator.
Bret: But you would say you’re agnostic now? What to you is the difference between atheism and agnosticism?
Nikk: Okay, sure. Well, I’m no longer as certain as I used to be that the arguments (and they are good ones) of atheists are as unassailable as I thought they were. There is always room for doubt, so I prefer to be called an agnostic. I honestly don’t think we can know for sure one way or the other.
Bret: True, but I find that how someone self-identifies may not always be an indication of their actual actions. If you don’t believe in a god, are you not without theism? I don’t mean to be cornering you on changing how you label yourself, but I guess what I’m asking is... do you pray or go to church or throw spilt salt over your shoulder?
Nikk: I don’t do any of those things, no (well, I do find little prayers on occasion are a hard habit to break from my Christian days, but they’re like playing the lotto; I don’t really believe it will make a difference). I’m an atheist in the sense that an agnostic doesn’t have a belief in a god, but thinks maybe a god might exist.
Bret: Which gods do you hope exist?
Nikk: I said might, not “hope”. However, I hope if there is a god it would be the god of philosophy, outside of any religion, who loves all people and will provide us with life after death. He/she wouldn’t be much of a god worth caring about or hoping for, if there’s no afterlife to right the injustices of life on earth.
Bret: So you’re not keen on reincarnation?
Nikk: I see reincarnation as just another form of life after death..we continue on in some way. I’m don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other. I’m going to do more looking into the work of Ian Stevenson (which I know has critics) which has interested me for years. My girlfriend is a Buddhist, so it’s kind of part of her belief system.
Bret: Supposing you had the choice, what would you reincarnate as?
Nikk: A very healthy, young billionaire! I’m tired of being poor. Actually, the thought of coming back as anything doesn’t appeal to me too much. I don’t want to go through all the nonsense and heartache again. The eternal sleep of the grave almost is more desirable.
Bret: Dark stuff. So, enough religion, I know that isn’t your thing. The Daily Show just ended [11:33 pm] , after being off the air for a week. So as a liberal, I finally know what’s happening in the world and I can ask questions about topics you’re more used to covering. So... Libya... there must be a question in there somewhere... what are your thoughts on all that mess?
Nikk: I don’t like dictators, but I also don’t think it’s any of our business. You can be for the rebels without wanting intervention by the U.S. and its puppet states (and our wars aren’t about freedom and democracy anyway, our leaders have other motives).
Bret: How would you feel about selling cruise missiles to the rebels? That way, instead of spending millions of dollars, we make money AND fight against dictatorships.
Nikk: That would still be by our government, which would still be intervening, so no, I don’t think I’d be for that. I’m not a pacifist, but I don’t think we should be selling weapons of death either.
Bret: Well, in an anarchy, it wouldn’t be up to us, it would be up to arms manufacturers, right?
Nikk: Well, if the whole world was anarchist...No, I think it WOULD be up to us, or to those who owned the arms company, which would be the workers in an anarchy. Without the national security state to support it, the arms industry would collapse as we know it. We would still need some weapons for defense against foreign enemies, and there might be the temptation to sell arms to various rebel groups around the world, but it might not be wise. Better to live in peace with all nations but be ready to defend yourself if attacked.
Bret: Well I’ll be honest, if there was no one manufacturing the weapons of war, that sounds like the industry I would break into, since it would lack competition. Why would ruthless men cease wanting things like bombers and tanks and unmanned Predator drones?
Nikk: Oh, they wouldn’t cease wanting it, I suppose, but without a state, what’s the point.?
Bret: Without a state, who would stop them? It wouldn’t be a stateless world for long, I guess is what I’m saying, unless we managed to make all people “wise.” I agree, I would like to live peacefully with people (especially after the people I hate are dead), and it is wise to seek peace, but there is a type of peace on the other side of war which cannot be achieved through talks, or do you disagree on that point?
Nikk: Without a state, who would stop any sort of crime? Anarchy doesn’t mean there aren’t rules of conduct. Society is quite capable of managing without rulers who impose their values and laws on everyone. But I don’t think the existence of nation states has lead to peace, just the opposite. I don’t think war is necessary to achieve peace, you don’t need to “defeat” an “enemy”, though you may have to repel them. Some modern wars may or may not have been unavoidable, but were talking about a world where states are the only governing systems, and they’ve proven their capacity for mass murder over and over.
Bret: That first question is a good one, who would stop any sort of crime without government? I don’t think a nation or even a state is necessary for enforcement of rules, as humans did it for thousands of years before the first true nations were formed. But what would be your ideal model for mitigating power in such a way as to prevent abuse?
Nikk: Well, these are good questions. I will say this first, and that is you don’t have to know all the details or provide complete solutions before you can be against something or know it’s just wrong. There were atheists long before there was any scientific theory of evolution, and the gods must have seemed like the only explanation for life and complexity, yet thousands of years ago, there were atheists who knew god wasn’t a good explanation for anything. As for what I do think, first, the current system sucks, and it’s evil. Hierarchies are wrong. You have to have decentralized democracy on a small scale, such as decision making in the workplace, where workers govern themselves.
Bret: I don’t want to go off on a religious tangent... but I’m going to. Atheism is actually not that old, and it did appear right alongside the rise of scientific answers. Are you speaking of philosophers like Epicurus as “atheists” in the modern sense of not believing in gods?
Nikk: Well, go back to more modern times if you want. David Hume didn’t have a good explanation for the existence of complex organs such as eyes, but he was no doubt an atheist (many atheists weren’t open about it when it was too risky to proclaim such defiant unbelief, so they called themselves deists, or whatever). My point is, you don’t have to provide all the answers before you declare you no longer believe in something.
Bret: Would you say it’s important then for anarchists to focus on finding those answers?
Nikk: Of course. Part of the answer we know already, it’s just the details that have to be worked out. We know we have to built alternative social structures to the state that can exist alongside it and eventually fulfill many of its functions after the state has been dissolved or overthrown.
Bret: Part of why I find Skeptical Eye frustrating is that I see more criticism than I see problem solving. I shouldn’t be surprised given the name (it’s not Solution Eye). But I see a fundamental difference between criticizing religion without all the facts and criticizing government without hardly any answers. If I stop believing in gods, the sun will rise tomorrow, gravity will still hold us down to the Earth, babies will still be born, flowers will still bloom... basically nothing depends on our religions. Some stupid people might lose their minds, but that doesn’t seem too different than the situation we have now regarding religion. Governments, on the other hand, do things, and the roles they play won’t continue to be filled without tangible solutions. What’s more, everything I have ever seen regarding anarchism relies upon models which require privatization (which is code for, “You pay for everything yourself”). The biggest problem I see in anarchy is this: how does an anarchy handle millions of orphans, millions of people who are too disabled to even breathe on their own and whose very ability to live is funded by taxes (or as it’s called on SE, “thievery”). I guess my question is this... what is wrong with stealing (if you insist on that language) from people who have so much in order to solve the problems which private charities and churches have failed to handle throughout history?
Nikk: Well, I don’t think the state has solved those problems either. We have inequality now, and we have to look at why we have it. Taxation in the arbitrary manner it’s done, where basically the government decides how much of the money I earn I get to keep, is wrong. I don’t believe justice can be achieved through unjust means. However, the system of state capitalism we have now is the root problem, so I don’t really disagree with many left-wing critics of the super rich and their enormous weath. How did they get so weathly? Most likely through some form of exploitation or state-granted priveledge. I want to address your point about criticism without solutions, though. Part of my aim, or any anarchist’s aim, is to undermine the legitimacy of the state in the minds of people. Anarchy has no hope if people continue to give legitimacy to the state because of continuing propaganda that says states have rights that no one else has and that the legal monopoly on the use of force is somehow moral and right. People have to doubt and question the existing system before they can begin to see there might be an alternative. Capitalism and statism are the problem. The solution is liberty AND equality. You can’t have one without the other. The state cannot provide or guarantee it because it exists to give special rights to a ruling class. All states have done this, even “socialist” ones.
Bret: I’m not sure I really asked about equality, simply that there are people whose very survival depends upon the state, and these are people who have fallen through the cracks of the systems I have seen various libertarian and anarchist thinkers say will take care of people in absence of government. Not really a question, more a critique.
Nikk: Fair enough. But when we have a society that is based more on cooperation than on the dog eat dog competition we have now, we’ll have far less poverty, and I don’t believe anyone will starve of go without basic needs. It will be a less cruel society.
Bret: Well, time to steer this interview into the lightning round, since I bet you’re losing interest. I’m going to go through a laundry list of issues, and I want you to give simple and straight forward answers regarding your stance, don’t worry about explaining it. And remember, you aren’t running for office, so no bullshit.
Bret: Abortion: yay or nay?
Bret: Abortion: yay or nay?
Nikk: Abortion? I’ve said before that it is NOT an issue about the humanness of the fetus, but about the right to control your own body. A woman has the right to expel an unwanted parasite. It’s that simple. Whether she should or not, that’s another question. I believe in the right to abort a pregnancy for any reason.
Bret: So... can I get a yay for abortion?
Bret: Kidding... Unions, yay or nay?
Nikk: As long as they’re not public schoolteacher’s unions! Yes, I believe in unions, but more, I believe in the right of workers to their workplace. It belongs to those who are the real creators of the wealth. I’m a real big fan of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).
Bret: I’ll resist the urge to point out the hypocrisy of saying it’s okay for a government to step in and tell people how they can organize... failed. I’m so weak.
Nikk: Well, I’m just against the coercion of the public school system, so its teachers aren’t much of a concern of mine. Compulsory education is anti-human and anti-child, and exists to prepare wage slaves for the capitalist system. It’s also funded through property taxation, which is immoral and makes the government a landlord and the homeowner merely a tenant. No one should be forced to pay for a service they don’t use, either.
Bret: That’s not how the lightning round works, cheater!
Nikk: Well, I’m sorry!
Bret: How about child pornography, yay or nay? I’m determined to just get a simple answer on one of these.
Nikk: Child porn violates the rights of children, as they don’t give their consent to be in it. It’s a form of very cruel exploitation, of course.
Bret: So nay on child porn?
Nikk: I answered that.
Bret: You said nay? Or you said child porn violates the rights of children... blah blah blah. Just say nay, it’s not a trick.
Nikk: I’m against child pornography, yes. I’m also against expanding its definition to things where no real child is ever involved.
Bret: You’re over-thinking this.
Nikk: No. The law has tried to claim it’s illegal to depict children in sex acts in a comic book that is entirely the creation of someone’s imagination, for example. I wouldn’t be in favor of such comic books, or novels, or whatever. But you can’t arrest people for thought crimes.
Bret: Torturing Bradley Manning, yay or nay?
Nikk: Nay on the torture of real heroes.
Bret: If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?
Nikk: Dead, Karl Marx, to ask him if there’s any substance behind that enormous beard. What was up with that beard?
Bret: I think him and Darwin were having a Satanic beard-off.
Nikk: Living? Someone who will pay for a very nice restaurant. I’m too broke to afford a good meal
Nikk: Dead, second choice, Isaac Asimov. He would be fun.
Bret: How many free meals are you expecting here? Maybe you are left-wing.
Nikk: At least one! When do we eat, Brett?
Bret: We just did, you had a tuna sandwich.
[End of part 1 of 3... the interview went for hours and stretched 18 pages single spaced. Intense.]