People are looking for solutions to the tyranny they live in their own lives. Reformism offers nothing by false hopes and broken promises, which does little else other than drive individuals further into despair. Any tactic or strategy of direct action, even if only experimental, gives a sense of purpose for those who are willing to take the plunge by giving it a real effort, preferably by documenting their results.
Vonu, simply defined, is the hardening of one’s lifestyle to such an extent that an individual could be said to have rendered himself nearly invulnerable to coercion; in other words, vonu is the comprehensive application of security culture to every facet of your life. The word, “vonu,” itself is the awkward contraction of the phrase “VOluntary Not vUlnerable,” which means that just because something is voluntary does not therefore mean that it must also be susceptible to coercion. If there were a formulaic way to express the most important facets of vonu, it could be written:
Self-sufficiency, whether that be in the context of “bugging out” or off-grid homesteading, does harden your life by making you independent of the power grid and supply chains. Refusing to give your “sanction of the victim” to Leviathan makes you less dependent upon formal institutions, which better enables you to serve your fellow man through mutually beneficial relationships. Although the word, “minimalism,” has been verbicided, simple living encourages individuals to be conscientious of both their environment and their wallets.
What vonu is, is just as important as what vonu is not. Working inside of the system, in order to change it from within, does not work to secure liberty, as it entails that all kinds of concessions, compromises, and deals are to be made with the State and its special interest cronies who gain undue favor at the expense of your freedom. Vonu is also neither lawfare nor legal opportunism, because the invulnerability to coercion is held to be more important than just the absence of coercion due to “legal interstices” (that is, exploitable loopholes). In terms of flexibility, vonu is not stubborn like agorism – it would be more than fair to say that vonu has shades of grey whereas agorism is, very much, black and white; depending upon your lifestyle, vonu could be an alternative to agorism, especially for the risk-adverse.
Its ideological development and publication history are intertwined within libertarianism itself. Some have asserted that the modern libertarian epoch began in 1943, in part due to the publication of Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom. In 1980, Samuel Edward Konkin published The New Libertarian Manifesto, which was followed only eight years later by Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s original proposal of argumentation ethics.
As part of this historical development, an anthology of articles about vonu was published in 1983, the exact same year the second edition of The New Libertarian Manifesto was published. The pseudonymous author, first known as El Ray and then later as Rayo, was eventually revealed by his legal name due to R.W. Bradford and Benjamin Best’s articles (out of respect for Rayo’s deep sense of privacy, I will continue to refer to him by his chosen identity). Following the publication of the August 1987 edition of Liberty, Wally Conger wrote a short blog post about vonu in 2007, and Kevin Swindle wrote a not too dissimilar one in 2011.
Before the publication of Rayo’s anthology, an article he wrote that was originally published in 1967 categorizes the various types of authoritarians and libertarians alike; this overview of Rayo’s politics was expounded upon in Section 1 of his anthology. His observations of the LP’s partyarchy and his predictions regarding their current and future failures, was really quite spooky to read, even for me, given that he had less evidence than I had when I wrote about my political field trip to the WCLP last year. As Rayo put it:
“One who continues in a vulnerable life-style and then complains when he is plundered, is somewhat like a West Indies resident who builds a flimsy house and then blames the next hurricane for demolishing it. Certainly, people are to blame when they inflict coercion. But merely blaming them does not bring liberty. The self responsible person builds a home which can withstand likely storms, and develops a way of life not vulnerable to likely attempts at predation.”
No doubt you can tell that Rayo considered vulnerability as a defect to be remedied by an individual’s voluntary choice to harden his lifestyle as within the realm of personal responsibility. He also used derisive terms like “political crusading” and “bullshit libertarianism,” to further emphasize the irresponsibility of assorted reformists, which, I must admit, I will consider using from now on, such as against the “constitutional” sheriffs and Tenthers. In the words of Rayo:
“Vonu, while difficult, is easier now than it has been since the neolithic period perhaps as high as one or two percent of the population, through accidents of heredity and environment, have values and abilities sufficient to achieve it. To become vonu we must disentangle ourselves from those who won’t or can’t achieve it – reject all ‘reform-society-as-a-whole’ schemes, put aside utopian dreams of world-wide free societies, and get with ourselves and each other – build our vonuums and vonuist mini-cultures.”
Interestingly enough, he was also quite dubious as to the dreamy visions of some voluntaryists to establish free market security and arbitration companies, mainly due to the operating assumption by too many “activists” that the population en masse must first be persuaded by the virtues of libertarian theories before lending support to libertarian practices, which is downright silly because only libertarian practice has any real chance of convincing amoral individuals the empirical value of libertarian theory.
Section 2 examines quite a variety of practices that vonuans take up. Rayo describes the notion of “import-export” as such:
“An optimally-liberated life-style must involve a sort of one-directional isolation. The liberator maintains his access to their open-but-not-free trading centers while denying them access to his home. This requires a skillful blend of concealment and deception, plus perhaps elements of mobility and deterrence. A freeman obtains information, techniques, key equipment and supplies out of the Servile Society, exporting labor or products in return. And during import-export activities he practices deception – perhaps carries a driver’s license (‘genuine’ or faked); perhaps pays some sales taxes he cannot conveniently avoid. But the freeman’s ‘home base’ is physically concealed. There he spends most of his time. There he may sleep, imbibe, love, design, build trade (with fellow freemen), and raise children in relative safety from the savages of State. A freeman’s home must be a figurative castle.”
In other words, “imports” are supply runs and “exports” are the selling of one’s labor for a paycheck through what could be abstractly thought of as a portal between a vonu shelter and the outside world. As a pioneer and trailblazer, Rayo experimented with not only the typical survivalist concerns like food storage, but also with behaving as a grey man as well as evaluating the virtues of being a perpetual traveler (what he termed, “country shopping”). Apparently, Rayo was also a van-dweller, and his experiences are worth comparing and contrasting to Alex Ansary’s descriptions of his life for over a year as a full-timing digital nomad. Rayo described the market demand for direct action thusly:
“Freedom does indeed ‘need’ more full-time professionals; not collective-movement preachers seeking a coterie of followers, but explorers/inventors/developer of liberated life-ways.”
This, I think, is where actual libertarian practice is heading, slowly but surely. Despite what the anti-libertarian “gradualists” might stamp their petty little feet over, the fact of the matter is The Freedom Umbrella of Direct Action is getting out to those who seek a real alternative to reformist dribble.
Rayo’s Vonu: The Search for Personal Freedom is a practical application for how the “men of the mind” could go on strike. As the real life version of the fictional “Going Galt,” vonu holds promise for those who seek to experiment with alternative lifeways. As Rayo himself described it:
“A vonuan, to me, is not just someone living in a particular manner. Life-styles may change. A life-style which was vonu 100 years ago may not be vonu today; some life-styles vonu today were not possible 100 years ago and may not be vonu 50 years from now. A vonuan is someone who places a high value on relative invulnerability to coercion – someone for whom freedom is worth a fair amount (though not infinite) of effort, inconvenience, discomfort. To a vonuan, vonu is not just a means to other ends, nor is it an ultimate end – like most qualities of life, and life itself, it is both. A vonuan will choose whatever way of living offers personal sovereignty and will change life-style again and again if necessary.”