“The First Realm is ruled by politicians, personal freedoms are inhibited and restrained. Rather than advocating a revolution, they want to build a ‘Second Realm,’ one that is free from the rulers of the First Realm. More and more parts of our lives can be transferred to the Second Realm, until an individual lives mostly free in the Second Realm, while technically being ruled over in the First Realm. One day, the First Realm rulers may lose their power, due to everyone joining the Second Realm. Technically, the Second Realm is described as encrypted communication, encrypted currencies, anonymous and pseudonymous identities and untraceable action. Like Neo in the Matrix: by day, he’s just a computer programmer. By night, he’s an expert hacker. Only in the Second Realm, nobody will find the connection between the two. Or so they say. I could be my usual self in the First Realm, pay some taxes, pretend to have a normal job and be an ordinary citizen. In the Second Realm, I could be free. Do whatever I want. This not only sounds like freedom, it sounds like an adventure.”
– Daniel LaRusso (the protagonist of #agora)
Understanding agorist class theory necessitates the practice of black market trading, sooner or later. One explanation argues there are two ways of doing this – underground and aboveground. As the author says:
“So where do we start? The traditional and old way of doing a black market business was to stay invisible. This is not the approach I really recommend…I don’t want to have to live in fear…[a]re you going to come down where you’re completely open, as I am?”
Wait a minute…is he seriously claiming that there is such a thing as an aboveboard black marketeer? Dr. Tarrin P. Lupo continues:
“I like to look to nature for answers and there is a great example of this strategy I would like to share. A new form of activism that is also a way to run a black market business is on the rise and having great success. My advice, ‘Become a poisonous frog’ with your activism. Everyone has seen pictures [of] those bright yellow and neon green frogs that live in the rain forest. They don’t even bother with trying to hide in the backgrounds or with camouflaging themselves. Why aren’t these amphibians hunted into extinction? The frogs are poisonous and advertise that fact to the world with their bright colors. This is the strategy I promote in this book. I will teach you how to advertise yourself as being to[o] poisonous for the authorities to mess with. These are non violent ways to convince the local gang of thugs that your business is not worth the time, money and embarrassment you will cause their department if they choose to mess with your way of making a living.”
I think this is misapplied symbolism. Such a poisonous frog has poison that can injure and/or kill its enemies; so ask yourselves, what exactly is the poison that black market traders have to incapacitate the bludgies? Furthermore:
“Putting as many layers between your actual identity and the identity of your business as possible is very safe, but complicated. But I try to encourage people to be open about running a business while at the same time making it hard for the state or financial institutions to deal with you at all. Make it so if a bureaucrat does come after you, they’re not going to find crap and you’re not going to cooperate with them. Bring such a negative, public and/or media storm down upon them and whatever agency rock they climbed out from under that they just back off and leave you alone.”
Although it is good for Lupo to give some pointers as to how to discretely participate in black markets (such as through mail drops, limited liability corporations, and e-commerce), he makes his preferential bias for teasing the bear quite apparent and unapologetic. It’s almost as if he’s relying on bad public relations against the government to inexplicably sway in favor of the black market entrepreneurs who happen to find themselves caught in the crosshairs of the Bluecoats.
Are there any real world case studies Lupo uses to justify his argument in favor of the poisonous frog strategy? Only one is mentioned:
“A good example of this would be what happened in Savannah [Georgia]. There’s a restaurant business that proudly runs without any licensing or zoning. They do delivery; they cook in their family kitchen, and then they deliver the food. They were openly running their business illegally. One of their customers got mad about an order and decided to snitch them out. The cops set up an illegal sting, wasting their time and taxpayers’ money. The Garden City PD used five cops in this sting to catch this business with their illegal biscuits and gravy…[b]ecause there’s an existing network of independent media, the story got massive press. The police department was so embarrassed about it (since other Agorist businesses and liberty activists made such a stink about it) that the police then made a statement that even the Last Biscuit is operated illegally, they’re not going to press charges and will let the matter drop. Now Savannah’s Last Biscuit can now work in Savannah without any fear of licensing fees, or any fear of bureaucrats harassing them, because the bureaucrats are scared of the media! The police department has given them free press!”
Known more commonly as Biscuitgate, Dr. Lupo’s sole case study from 2009 fails to adequately justify becoming a poisonous frog; if anything, it demonstrates the terrible security culture the Last Biscuit had, given that all it took was for one ex-customer to snitch to the king’s guards. Of course, there’s also the element of what kind of black market activity the Last Biscuit was engaged in (notice it wasn’t drug dealing, prostitution, or gun running – all three of which can be done ethically by being victimless, as fictionally demonstrated in the Alongside Night novel) – I suspect that had the Last Biscuit been selling uncut cocaine, Tommy guns, or “escort” services, such media exposure would swing greatly against any form of “sympathy.” Lupo also said:
“This story serves as a good example of how and why there are two ways to do it. Make yourself invisible if you don’t have all your ducks in a row and you’ve got too much to lose. Or, you can be open about it, defiant, and you will rally other liberty activists around you who will point a huge spotlight on the corrupt system. Many times the bureaucrats will just go scurrying away from the spotlight as fast as possible, like they did in Savannah.”
No, wrong, herr doktor – what Biscuitgate serves as a good example of, if anything, is why good security culture is the first (and too often, the only) line of defense, and that placing your fate into the hands of the servile society through publicity is a high stakes gamble where the odds are not in your favor; to loosely paraphrase the fictional Don Draper, the truth is that what’s worse than a tyrannical system is an indifferent universe, particularly when such indifference is directly enabling grotesque horrors not otherwise possible (put another way, public relations as a vehicle to promote individual liberty makes an assumption that relating to the public at-large is worthwhile in the first place).
Segueing here regarding so-called “activism,” which I sincerely believe to be a chimera, Lupo wrote:
“It’s important to know that if you’re a liberty activist, it’s actually safer to do things in the open – once you have some back-up. When possible, ground your business in the existing liberty community and organizations. If you don’t already have activist friends, get involved with social media! Sites like Facebook, MySpace, MeetUp, and other boards provide a virtual community bringing together geographically far-flung people of like mind…[s]urrounding yourself with even a virtual community of like-minded individuals allows you [to] have both a market-place and a consumer base. They will support you if you will support them.”
Excuse me, but what the hell is a “liberty activist,” anyway? This has never been defined by anyone who flippantly uses the term (to my knowledge), and even if a so-called liberty activist were defined as a libertarian who is a content producer within the alternative media, then why should anyone hitch their wagon to them, or more importantly, any activist organizations at all? It’s almost as if Lupo is disregarding or ignoring the existentiality of disingenuous activists and the implications their very existence means to any forms of grassroots pushback (not to mention all the various case studies showing this in detail). Whether he be genuinely ignorant or cunningly sidestepping the issue, the fact of the matter is that self-declared “activists” are much more likely to hurt you and your family (think doxxing, for instance) than any government agent might try to, since it might as well be the equivalent of inviting the vampires into your home, all other factors being equal. On a related note, Lupo mentioned that:
“If your occupation is more highly regulated, your risk of detection and harassment is higher. In dealing with things like alcohol, tobacco (and of course, fire-arms), government regulation and interference has made both the risk of harassment by goons greater, and the price of the regulated product higher! Prohibition has never worked…[s]tripping, prostitution in all its forms, the purchasing, selling and using of drugs – all these activities which the state calls criminal, you should be able to engage in without fear of being locked in a cage…[t]he higher risk and the socially frowned up[on] professions will want to use a combination of the privacy techniques and the open activism style. Keep your business invisible but work and support the activist’s community. If you support them, they will support you even if it is socially unpopular.”
Okay, this is some serious backpedaling if I’ve ever seen any; so, is the good doctor implying that black marketeers ought to be both underground and aboveboard, or that they are mutually exclusive strategies? If the former, then how is it possible to remain discrete if you advertise your wares to the servile society instead of just to the agora? It appears to me that Dr. Lupo wants to have his cake and eat it too, when he should know better that you can’t have it both ways, because reality will smack such an individual upside the head via the consequences of their actions.
That being said, I think Lupo did a good job presenting overviews of mail drops, prepaid cards, reselling (such as through flea markets or a website like Craigslist or eBay), e-books, and affiliate marketing. Of course, to do any of these things competently would require both more detailed information as well as practical experience (such as through an informal apprenticeship and/or experimental trial-and-error), but then again, I got the strong impression that Lupo intended his e-book to be an overview, not a detailed guide on how to do much of anything useful. While I’d prefer a user manual (given that, presumably, the technical information would be falsifiable), such is now obvious to me that Lupo is more of a strategist, not a tactician; therefore, as long as the outline of his PR strategy passes enough muster with his readers “buying” into it, then his arguments might be worth something to them.
Tarrin Lupo’s How to Make a Living Outside the System: A Practical Guide to Starting a Black Market Business is a less stellar explanation of black market activity than that of the Second Realm, the latter of which is truly coherent and sober. Lupo’s approach to black markets is more evocative of a suicide pact whereby one is expected to rely on the kindness of strangers to bail them out of their reckless civil disobedience through an artificially generated media frenzy. That being said, the question of how to transition people into black market activity is one worth exploring:
“I have a buddy who makes baklava out [of] his house, and when he started to devote real time to it, within a few months he had already paid off his credit cards, and if he keeps at it, he’ll probably make at least enough to live comfortably, if not exceed his previous ‘regular’ income. He has one of the greatest quotes of all time: ‘It’s sad, and speaks to today’s society, that when cooking and selling baklava out of your house is now considered activism.’ It really puts things in perspective, when in this country you can’t even cook and sell food out of your house without it being an act of civil disobedience. In the end, my friend is a great example for anyone wanting to start a black market business: he did something. And you can too. Just keep your normal job, and start a side job on the weekends. Go to the flea markets, start a dog washing business, cut hair, anything, find a need and fill it. Keep building this second, side job, and begin thinking about what your tipping point should be. Have a threshold at which point you can say, ‘Ok, I’m making this much money, I can now give up my regular job.’ And then, again, transition into it.”
This transitioning away from the First Realm and towards the Second Realm is essential for the preservation of individual liberty. Although financial independence cannot be ignored, it would be foolhardy to completely discount the importance of where such wealth used to achieve such an independence ultimately came from (for instance, it is equally possible for government agents to retire early via intensive saving as their path to financial independence); as such, the source of capital accumulation, whether it be from the white market, red market, pink market, black market, white market, or even grey market, must be taken into consideration regarding one’s personal integrity.