Doug Casey on Phyles

(Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator)

Doug Casey, Chairman

L: Doug, let’s take a break from the woes of our weary world. A lot of readers keep asking for more information on phyles, even though we’ve touched on the topic several times, so let’s have a closer look. What is a phyle, and why do they matter?

Doug: Okay, well, a phyle is a group of people that’s self-defined by whatever values they share. A phyle is not limited by race or language or geography – or, most importantly, by borders on maps or other such fictions – although it could be, if its members chose to be so limited. The word phyle was coined by science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his masterwork, The Diamond Age. It comes from the Greek, φυλή which means "tribe” or “clan."But it would be at least as apt if they were called philes, stemming from the Greek word philia, which means “love”– the same root in the word “philosophy”. The basic idea is that man is a social animal, and we tend to prefer to run with others who are like us – or who love what we love. Birds of a feather flock together, in either case.

People organized as clans and tribes from the dawn of mankind until about 5000 years ago, when the agricultural revolution greatly increased the population. Then they organized into kingdoms and empires – where, instead of giving their loyalty to their close relations, they gave it to a king. Things started changing again in about the 17th century, with the rise of the nation-state; you were now supposed to be loyal to a country, as opposed to a ruler per se. I think we’re now at the point where the nation-state is on its way out.

For one thing, national governments are almost all bankrupt, even though they already consume most of the wealth in their countries. Basic economics is compromising their ability to maintain power. Most of their revenue goes to warfare and welfare, which are destructive. They’re also – and this is very important – losing their legitimacy in the eyes of those they govern. More and more people are starting to sense that they don’t need a different government; rather, they don’t need a government at all. They see that the institution is just a scam for the benefit of some people: those who are in it, their friends, and those who act as parasites by using the state to live off others. These feelings are usually inchoate, of course. Most people still think, stupidly, that the U.S. government, the British government, the French government, and such – the ones in charge of prosperous countries – are eternal fixtures in the cosmic firmament.

But this is one of the great things about the revolutions now taking place in the Arab world. A lot of people can now see that the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan – all these governments – are just swindles that work against the average man in every possible way. I think we’re on the cusp of seeing new forms of social organization arise. That’s what Stephenson postulated, and I think he’s right. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll see more and more people grouping themselves in phyles. They’ll stop identifying themselves as Americans, or Russians, or Chinese – unless that accident of birth is really important to them.

But that is just as stupid as identifying yourself as being black because you happen to have been born with black skin, of thinking of yourself as white because that was an accident of your birth. Racism and nationalism are the hallmarks of an unevolved, or even degraded, person. I have neither time nor patience for either of them.

L: You’re talking about widespread, radical change – pretty scary stuff to most people. Are you sure the possible disappearance of nation-states – countries – is a good thing?

Doug: Today, individuals are still grouped by whatever nation-state happens to claim one as a citizen. But what is a citizen? Being a citizen of today’s nation-states has no relation to being a citizen of a Greek city-state, or even the early Roman republic – the places where the concept arose. A citizen today is no more than a tax slave, really. He doesn’t in any way control, or even mildly influence, the fate of his country. He is really just a serf who is forced to hand over 50% of whatever he earns to be disposed of by his rulers – or else be punished severely. This is one of the most stupid ways imaginable for people to group themselves, if you ask me. It amounts to defining who you are according to which government issues you an ID.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: I have less affinity with my neighbors in Aspen than I do with friends in the Congo – even though we’re of a different race, religion, culture, and mother language. Why is that? Because those things are unimportant to me. What’s important to me is character, and the values one holds dear. Some Congolese think the way I do and care about the same things I care about – unlike most of the people in Aspen. In fact, most of my “fellow Americans” are probably my enemies. Why? Because they’re net recipients of money from the government, and that money was taken from producers by force. They not only have nothing meaningful in common with me – at least in the current context – but they are an active threat to my well-being.

The simple fact these “U.S. persons” – can’t call them Americans – were born in the same bailiwick as me means next to nothing. I have much more in common with my friends in the Congo, or Colombia, or Thailand – people who want to play polo or race cars or do business with me. They don’t see me as somebody who is a source of taxes, but as a valued ally.

So, sure, I think the advent of phyles is a very good thing. It means I can live and work with people of like mind, rather than be bled by a bunch of leeches who happened to be born near me. The end of kingdoms was excellent, as will be the end of nation-states. It can’t happen soon enough.

L: Sounds like an anarcho-capitalist’s dream. But it seems to me that this could – or should –be welcomed by many of the groupings of people in our world today. The Catholic and Mormon churches, for example, are voluntary member organizations that already exercise considerable governance over their flocks –including the regulation of very private behaviors –and they run social services such as schools and welfare systems. It’d be a relatively small step for them to start exercising sovereignty in a world that permitted it.

Then they could start really living the way they see fit, without government interference. They are never going to get the whole world to do things their way. Take abortion, for example. If they cannot accept the killing of the unborn, they’d be better off without countries. They’d be able to ban abortion or anything else they wanted in the areas they control – or even simply among the people they control, if they don’t bother exercising control over any territory.

Doug: That’s an important point about phyles. They don’t have to control any particular territory the way states do. They could, and many probably would, once the state withers away, but their members could also live in territories controlled by others. A phyle that stakes turf will have to defend it, whereas a phyle that simply accepts members would only have to defend its members.

L: How would they do that?

Doug: There are lots of possible ways. Large phyles would probably develop military branches and develop a treaty system between them that would attach serious consequences to the mistreatment of members of other phyles. Mafia organizations have developed effective ways of protecting their members that don’t rely on the state. I’m sure a free market for protective services would do even better.

L: What’s to prevent one of these phyles form becoming a government?

Doug: Nothing. A phyle could exercise far more control over its members than any government today is able to do. But the governed would have to choose to submit to that phyle’s governance, and they would know they have many choices. Competition for members would, I predict, result in far, far more phyles that offer us great freedom to live they way we want –and opportunities for wealth creation. It’s like being a member of the Lions Club, Optimists, Kiwanis, or the Rotary; if you don’t adhere to their values, they’ll kick you out. You don’t want that to happen, because there are many benefits to being a member. In the past there were many more fraternal organizations than there are now, and they were much more important. But many of their functions have been usurped by the state and they’ve lost ground – a trend that I think will soon be reversed.

There would be phyles of all types, including those that value strict control, regimentation, and limitations. Groups like monks and nuns are proto-phyles, as are the Mennonites. A phyle can form around anything that’s most important to any group of people– and that could include everything from business, to hobbies, to religion, to culture, to philosophy. There are endless possibilities.

It’d be like a job fair, except that it’d be all sorts of voluntary organizations at the booths, not just companies. Many large companies are –like some churches –almost phyles already, and could evolve in this direction.

L: It’d be interesting to see how many people would sign up for the Marxist Worker’s Paradise phyle, the No Sex Except For Making Babies phyle, or the Big Brother Will Make You Safe From Terrorists, Drugs, And Global Warming phyle, when the booths next door offer them more freedom.

But what about people born into – and some might say brainwashed by – coercive phyles? Their choices won’t be free.

Doug: Every nation-state on the planet today has public schools, and regulates the schools it doesn’t run itself. The idea of producing “good citizens” is at the top of the agenda. How is this brainwashing different from what you are asking about? And most nation-states around the world are highly dysfunctional, with looters and thugs in fine hats preying on the poor schmucks who believe in the divine right of Those Who Wear Fine Hats. We might think some phyles are nasty and misguided. But how is that different from the existence of places like Zimbabwe or Haiti in the world today? The important thing is that phyles don’t have a monopoly on violence, and membership is strictly voluntary.

Look, I’m not proposing a utopia here, and I don’t claim nothing bad would ever happen in the stateless world of the future.

Actually, I’m not proposing anything at all – I’m just saying that today’s industrial-era   governments are in the process of collapse. And it seems to me something like phyles are likely to replace them. People like order and some type of structure– it makes life easier. But the change from one type of structure to another is never easy. This one, I suspect, is going to be a very, very difficult transition, and probably quite bloody. Events in the Middle East today are a reminder that large-scale social change is never easy, and often very ugly. And I do see the world’s worsening economic crisis as a big push in this direction – which is why I’m building a home, along with many of my friends, in the quietest, safest, and nicest corner of Argentina I could find. Our La Estancia de Cafayate project is not just a real estate development, it’s a seed that could grow into a large and strong phyle some day.

This is scary stuff, but the good news is, as above, that as societies become voluntary associations, they will have to compete for members, rather than exert control over citizen-subject-serfs. A market for governance services will improve those services and make them much more user-friendly.

Be that as it may, I truly believe the state as we know it is a dead man walking, ready to fall over at any moment.

L: Agreed. And who knows; wealthy people in freer phyles may find it uplifting – or thrill-seekers may find it amusing – to go in to the covert ops business. They could get their jollies bringing free information into repressive phyles and extracting those who long to be free from them. The latter could be a very good business, because people with enough independence of spirit to seek escape from repressive societies are often the most creative and enterprising – the most valuable, if you will.

Doug: Right. Although the U.S. government actually has laws against that type of thing today. Far from being a promoter of freedom, it’s become among the most repressive and dangerous of the world’s governments.

But we can imagine a lot of ways various things would work and various situations will be dealt with. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash describes and illustrates a world in which the nation-state has just become irrelevant, for those who can’t imagine it on their own. The Diamond Age describes a world where, although states still exist, life is dominated by various phyles and illustrates ways in which they might interact. L. Neil Smith’s North American Confederacy series, starting with The Probability Broach, doesn’t really illustrate phyles, but it does describe many ways of dealing with serious problems in a nearly stateless society, from crime to attempted coups d’état.

L: All good books. But let’s look at your assumption that the state will wither away. As I recall, Marx said the same thing; giving all power and control to the socialist state was a temporary measure, the means necessary to create a free and equal society that would flourish and no longer need the state. You say you’re not a utopian, but you’re building a community in rural Argentina. Why are you right when Marx was wrong?

Doug: Apples and oranges. Marx and his intellectual successors advocated amassing the most hideous amount of state power. Naturally, that power fell into the hands of psychopaths – Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Jong, Castro, Pol Pot, Ceauşescu – all of them. Power not only corrupts, it draws the corrupt. The communists’ ideas, economic policies, and wars impoverished billions of people, killing a hundred million in the process. Marxist, socialist, communist, and fascist states are essentially mass-murder machines.

I’m not out to impose some new “–ism”on the world, nor anything on anyone. I just want to be left alone, to live my own life as I see fit. I prefer being around people who feel the same way. And as a speculator, I’m watching trends in the world, one of which is the unraveling of the nation-state, one consequence of which is the probable emergence of phyles. And I’m trying to position myself – and our readers – to weather the storm, and possibly even benefit from it.

L: Okay, let’s talk specifics. Why will government as we know it cease to exist?

Doug: The state is a dead man walking because its ability to extort support from its subjects is rapidly disappearing in the face of new technologies.

L: Such as?

Doug:The Internet, for one. It makes it possible for people all around the world to get information governments can’t control. It lets people see how others around the world live, and how things might be different – better – than what they are told. Most important of all, it lets people meet and mingle, to come to know each other. That makes it harder for those in power to manipulate atavistic feelings of xenophobia into battle cries.

Jet travel, for another. It has made it cheap enough to go just about anywhere in the world that even individuals of modest income can save up and become world travelers – something even kings of old never dreamed of. Cheap transportation in general has brought us the global marketplace, which, contrary to the claims of the neo-luddites, is doing more to lift the masses out of poverty than all the government welfare programs combined. In fact, government welfare programs generally just cement poor people to the bottom of society.

There’s also micro-manufacturing, the advent of private digital currencies, and many other technologies that are making industrial-era forms of organization obsolete.

The Internet and cheap travel alone are shrinking the planet, making it easier for people of like mind to find each other and organize themselves along lines of common interest, rather than accidents of birth.

L: In explaining this to people, I’ve often said that even if you are one in a million, then given the earth’s current population, there are about 6,000 people just like you on the planet. You’d never meet these people, except by extremely rare – one in a million – random chance events in our physical world. But because of the way the Internet works as a self-selecting process, connecting people as they seek out what’s important to them online, we now have ever-increasing odds of hooking up with people we really want to meet.

If you could link up with just one sixth of the people who are exactly like you, that’d be 1,000 people. What could you do with an organized group of 1,000 people just like you? Quite a lot, ranging from creating new businesses to new communities, to new technologies… well, maybe not if you have an extremely divisive personality, but for most people, having a band of brothers or sisters who could really understand you and work on a shared dream with you – well, it’d be a very powerful thing.

Doug: For sure. It doesn’t in any way rule out finding supplementary and complementary types, either. In fact it would make it easier. It would make the world a lot more pleasant, fun, and productive, the way I see it. You’d have a pretty good idea not just who you want to know, but who is antagonistic, and who you want to stay away from.

L: Can you think of any examples of phyles coming together in the real world?

Doug: Other than the ones I already mentioned… Well, Casey subscribers, for one. People who read our various publications tend to share a lot in terms of how they view the way the world works, and what they think is important. They tend to be market-oriented, nonviolent, and free-spirited. A Casey subscriber is unlikely to recognize a fellow Casey subscriber on the street, but thanks to the Internet, we’ve been able to help them connect, and there are now groups of fellow travelers organized into Casey phyles all over the world. There’s a Casey phyle in Auckland, one in Montevideo, a half a dozen sprang up in the Los Angeles area, Toronto and Vancouver have Casey phyles, there’s one in London… Really, I’ve lost track of how many there are, but the number seems to grow every week.

L: What do members of Casey phyles do?

Doug: For now, they simply like to associate. Here in Buenos Aires, a number of guys got together and were just amazed there were other people around who had the same views… they thought they were the only libertarians in the city.

Some phyles operate as dinner clubs, other simply have discussion meetings. Some collect dues and have some structure, others are completely free-form. We don’t try to control them nor tell them how they should do things, nor do we have any interest in doing so. We don’t collect fees nor make any money on the phyles directly, though I think it’s very good for our business for our readers to get together and share ideas, data, strategies, etc. The more informed and effective they become, the better for us.

L: So, it’ll be a while before we can grow into a larger Casey phyle that can offer members sovereign protection or stake a claim on a chunk of the moon.

Doug: [Laughs] Unfortunately, that may take a while. We’ve no such grand plans. But who knows; if the state goes the way of the dodo, as I think it will, we might need to develop them.

L: So, what should readers do if they are interested in joining a Casey phyle?

Doug: For now, they should write to our main office at phyles@caseyresearch.com. If there’s a phyle in their area, we’ll put them in touch. If there isn’t, and they want to volunteer to start one, we’ll put out the word and see if others in their area are interested.

L: Sounds good. I’m actually speaking at the Vancouver Casey phyle meeting on April 21, when I get home from Serbia. Our readers are all different, and yet always seem to have that spark of above-average intelligence and awareness about the world. It’s fun to meet them.

Doug: That’s the idea. Who wants to spend time with a bunch of statist busybodies, losers, government drones, socialists, or the like? Life is too short.

L: So, investment implications?

Doug: This fits in with our general view of where the world and the global economy are headed, so there’s no specific stock pick I’d give in relation. I would just remind people of my mantra: liquidate, consolidate, create, speculate – and diversify your political risk. For more details, people should read The Casey Report.

L: Fair enough. Though, in connecting with other people who see the world as we do, you can meet many interesting potential business partners. As a networking tool, I think the Casey phyles can have a lot to contribute to the material well-being of our readers.

Doug: Good point.

L: You know, whether or not the old world order collapses as you expect, it’ll be fun being your neighbor in Argentina.

Doug: I’m looking forward to it. It will make it much easier to observe the dictum Mens sana in corpore sanum. Anyway, that’s the best kind of speculation; when you can invest in something you enjoy anyway, and so can’t lose, even if there’s no financial yield – but if things do go the way your best judgment projects, you can win a bundle.

L: I’m with you on that one. Well, thanks for your thoughts. Talk to you next week.

Doug: A pleasure, as always.

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Apr 13, 2011