Friday, March 11, 2011

George Ought to Help

A friend asked me to watch this video and respond to it:



There's nothing new here, but it is a nice, concise presentation of things that many people have said to me over the years, trying to defend the morality of selfishness. That isn't the politically correct way to put it, of course; they would rather frame it as the immorality of forcing individuals to participate in our larger society. In this particular video, the message is that it is immoral to force one person to help another.

In order to determine whether I agree with that message, I start with two test questions:

1. Do I agree with that statement?

2. Is that what is really happening, or is this a false analogy?

On the surface, I agree with the general statement - it really is immoral to force one person to help another. But something about it bothers me, so I need to dig a little deeper.

I still believe in the concept of Charity, so I'll always make my decisions about helping others with the assumption that I should do so, but forcing someone to behave charitably means that it is not, by definition, "charity" - if their gift does not come freely from within, then it is no longer charitable, but given grudgingly. And, as the video illustrates, you're left with a choice between two actions that seem wrong.

Of course, someone who behaves selfishly all the time is not a very good citizen, either. Refusing to help others - as George does here - usually leads to being shunned, so when you are in the position where you need help, you can clearly expect it to be refused in return. Maybe that's a risk George is willing to take. I note that we are painted a picture in which Oliver's need is pretty innocuous; it's not as if Oliver is portrayed as having been laid off when his bank sank under toxic assets, and it isn't as if his children require life-saving medical treatment. It seems rather easier to imagine George saying no to a guy who wants to send his kids to a swanky school than he would to a guy with more urgent needs. I feel a little manipulated by this.

But for the question at hand, it doesn't matter; none of that is being debated in this video. Instead, it sticks to the very clearly defined moral situation in which an individual is compelled against his will to provide financial assistance to someone else. We are intended to agree with that message, and to draw the comparison between this small scale situation and our current government, with an eye to suggesting "better" ideas about government. Those alternative ideas may offer a better way to test my first question; which brings us to the suggestions at the end of the video inviting us to consider a list of alternatives to a coercive police state forcing participation in charitable activity.

Voluntaryism, (also called voluntarism, though it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with "volunteering" for things) is a philosophy according to which all forms of human association should be voluntary as far as possible. In other words, if George doesn't want for there to be an association (here consisting of tuition money) between him and Oliver, he shouldn't be forced to be a part of it. Consequently, voluntaryism opposes the initiation of aggressive force or coercion, which leads us to the non-aggression principle.

The non-aggression principle is an ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. The video clearly wants you to emphasize the first part of the definition, but I want to draw your attention to the inclusion of Fraud. That will be important in a minute.

So, all of that still looks pretty good. I do agree that it is immoral to use force or the threat of force to compel someone to perform what should be a charitable act. Helping someone else should be something that is agreed to by both parties - the Helper and the "Helpee", if you will. I do wonder how should that work under "voluntaryism", actually. What is the proper mechanism for those in need to find willing helpers? What is the moral implication of leaving the vulnerable as prey to those who would exploit them? Or to religious organizations with which the vulnerable would not otherwise voluntarily associate? It seems an impartial third party would be needed in any event.

Well... maybe those are details that can be worked out by someone else.

What about that second question? Is anyone in America being forced with violence or the threat of violence to give money to help others? The video presents this as a foregone conclusion, and uses the classic, faceless authoritarian boogie-men to get that point across.

It *sounds* obvious, doesn't it? We hear about famous people going to jail for tax evasion all the time - Wesley Snipes, Willie Nelson, Spiro Agnew. And there are other stories of less famous people in the news - like this guy you've never heard of and this high dollar/high profile arrest clearly intended to make an example of someone making a defiant point. Heck, Tax Attorneys - like this guy - are all over the Internet and TV telling you to watch out.

Clearly, that is both "force" and the "threat of force" - things which I've already agreed are immoral. If the government is initiating that kind of aggression against its citizens, that is wrong! But there was another clause in that definition of non-agression: remember when I told you that Fraud would be important?

You see, it is not actually against the law to owe money to the IRS. (We could quibble over whether the IRS has a legal foundation or whether you agree that a government should have the power to tax in the first place - but that is also beyond the scope of this video.) The crime is not "keeping your money" - the crime is committing fraud by either not filing at all or by lying on your return. Maybe you think that is hair-splitting, but it is an important distinction that the makers of the video have ignored. After all, following the definitions of "voluntaryism" and "non-aggression", every tax payer either explicitly or tacitly agrees to remain a citizen year after year, and only the fraud violating that voluntary agreement is punished - consequences agreed upon through due process, and enforced with due process.

The point is that the "initiation" of the "aggression" is NOT happening by the action of the U.S. Government - it is happening when the citizen violates an agreement into which he voluntarily entered.

Okay, but what about that animated picture where the money is sucked out of George's pocket against his will and given to Oliver's family? Why should the majority be able to force the rest of us to "redistribute our wealth"? I did not agree to allow that to happen!

There are two bitter pills that the would be anarchist or libertarian has to swallow here: one is "representative government" and the other is the concept of "fungibility".

Obviously, there is a lot of room for argument about what our elected officials are allowed to do. This very conversation is evidence of that, and it is why we have agreed to a Constitution spelling out the rules they have to play by. That document was written with the intention of allowing room for interpretation in order to protect both the will of the majority and the rights of the minority, which is why the framers used words like "due process" and "reasonable" all over the place. But at the end of the day, that Constitution every citizen has at least tacitly agreed to support and abide by gives your elected Congress the power to decide how and when to tax and spend.

(If you think those rules should change or be interpreted differently, you are welcome to enter into all kinds of "voluntary associations" to try and get that done, by the way.)

And that is where "fungibility" comes in. Because money is fungible, the chain between George and Oliver is broken. There is no way to determine whether the money paying for Oliver's childrens' tuition is George's, any more than it is possible to tell how much of the money going to maintain the stretch of I-95 George uses to get to work came from Oliver's taxes. When you look at the breakdowns of the U.S. Federal budget on display at sites like What We Pay For, and you get all bent out of shape over the $3.50 that the U.S. Government ripped from your pocket under threat of force you voluntarily rendered to your duly authorized government to support the Corporation for Public Broadcasting... it isn't necessarily your $3.50 that was handed over to them.

So no: I don't think that the analogy presented in this video is correct. Using the concepts of "voluntaryism" and "non-aggression" as the basis for answering the question, I have to say that there is nothing here to object to.

(And if you're trying to stay out of trouble with the IRS, here is some advise for preventing IRS tax debt. Nothing about arming and provisioning your compound, but plenty about planning and doing the basic paperwork that you voluntarily agree to by remaining a citizen.)

24 comments:

Admin said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response to the 'George' video.

I'm in agreement with you almost until the end. I'll focus on the disagreements:

"The crime is not "keeping your money" - the crime is committing fraud by either not filing at all or by lying on your return."

I don't believe that a person has a right to an answer, and an honest one, if they ask another person a question. _Unless_ (at a minimum) there is a prior contractual agreement between the parties that specifies that A will honestly answer B in certain situations. Does such a contractual agreement really exist between the government and a person living on the land it claims? That goes to your next assertion:

"every tax payer either explicitly or tacitly agrees to remain a citizen year after year,"

Do you believe that by not leaving the land claimed by a given group (regardless of the validity of the claim), a person tacitly agrees to comply with any and all demands made by that group for the duration of his stay? and that this 'agreement' has equal status to an explicit contractual agreement? I don't.

Admin said...

Oh, one more thing:

"but it is a nice, concise presentation of things that many people have said to me over the years, trying to defend the morality of selfishness."

Your comment quoted above isn't simply a less flattering way of framing the video's message, it's a fundamental misunderstanding. You're conflating two separate questions.

Libertarianism is a position on the acceptability of using violence (or the threat thereof) against peaceful people. It says nothing about the moral acceptability of withholding help, and neither does this video. It's an important distinction: A libertarian believes that it's morally unacceptable to threaten violence against George. A libertarian may also believe that George has a moral obligation to help Oliver.

Tad said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, too!

I left in a lot of simple assumptions about very complicated concepts, and this comment box is probably not the best venue for exploring them.

I've struggled with the ideas of Libertarianism for a couple of decades. While I'm omitting a lot of real answers to your specific questions when I say this, I think it would be a great way to build a new world - we just don't live in that world.

The world we are born into has a lot of baggage. I don't believe in holding children responsible for their parents' actions, but I have to recognize the fact that all actions have consequences. I may not have ever signed a piece of paper agreeing to accept all of the benefits of growing up in America, but the fact is that my parents brought me up here, and I did come up through the public education system, do drive on the roads, and did enlist in the military. I have had numerous opportunities to leave, and haven't done so - mainly because I preferred the opportunities available here.

So, yeah, in an over-simplified nutshell, I do believe that living here in our open-bordered society is a tacit agreement to live by the rules. But the rules are flexible, and the "threat of violence" is small. (Compare David Koresh with Fred Phelps and consider which actions brought violence and which didn't.)

I don't know what "a Libertarian" believes. I know what I believe, and have been told that I am libertarian according to those beliefs. Because I don't accept the baggage that comes with the label, I do not accept the label.... which seems to be very Libertarian behavior, if I understand it at all.

Admin said...

"So, yeah, in an over-simplified nutshell, I do believe that living here in our open-bordered society is a tacit agreement to live by the rules."

A couple of questions about this:

Do you believe that _you_ have tacitly made this agreement, or that everyone who lives in (assuming for the sake of simplicity that you're based in the US) the US has?

Imagine I were to make the very modest demand that you pay me $10 every year for the continued privilege of living in your house, under penalty of some kind of violence for non-compliance. In my view, I have no right to your $10, because even though you knew about my demand, and you continued to live in your house, I have no claim on your property--so there is no tacit agreement. I see the 'agreement' with the state the same way.

Tad said...

The difference is that you don't have any basis for making that arbitrary demand on me, while local governments do have some basis for their claims; usually having to do with providing services that aren't practical to offer on a "free market" basis.

In our county, property taxes are assessed in order to pay for sewage, waste hauling, road maintenance, schools, etc. When I bought this house, I knew this was the case. I could have chosen to seek out another place in another county. I could arbitrarily decide I object to the principle of property taxes, but there are consequences that I don't wish to suffer - the inconvenience of waste disposal, health hazards, etc.

Your example equates ANY charge or tax that you do not wish to pay with extortion, and equates any penalty with violence. I'm sorry if you live an a mafia-controlled area where they actually break kneecaps, but I'm pretty sure that's not the accepted norm. :)

(By the way; one of the things I have agreed to pay taxes for is that police station down the block.)

Tad said...

Oops - I didn't answer your direct question:

"Do you believe that _you_ have tacitly made this agreement, or that everyone who lives in (assuming for the sake of simplicity that you're based in the US) the US has?"

I am in the U.S., and I do believe that everyone living here has chosen to be here. (Or has had that choice made for them by their parents, I suppose.)

Admin said...

You said:
"The difference is that you don't have any basis for making that arbitrary demand on me, while local governments do have some basis for their claims; usually having to do with providing services that aren't practical to offer on a "free market" basis."

You seem to be implying that it's not simply having the opportunity to leave, and not taking it, that seals the implicit contract between you and the person claiming to own the land you're living on. Can you be more specific about the extra conditions you believe are required for this implicit agreement to come into being?

As a point of reference, I don't believe any such agreement exists if the the person claiming the land has no legitimate title to it.

To go back to the hypothetical situation in which I claim the land you live on: even if I offered you (and your neighbours) goods that i was convinced could not be optimally provided on a free market--and used the threat of force to prevent other parties providing those goods in your area--you would not be bound by an implicit agreement with me by not-leaving (even if you ended up using the goods i 'provided'). This is because I still have no right to set the terms of use of land that I don't have a legitimate title to.

Tad said...

Two things:

No one is making claims on the land you live on. They are claiming payment for services rendered. Conflating the two is as fallacious as calling fees and penalties for failing to hold up your end of the agreement "violence".

And I'm confused by your insistence on a definition for citizenship. Assuming you are in the U.S., you are either born here (and citizen by default) or an immigrant of some kind (in which case you clearly agreed to the rules when you applied). You seem to be hearkening back to that "stateless society" in which cowboys and cavemen wandered the earth non-aggressively voluntarily associating with each other. It's a nice fantasy, and a great thought experiment, but it leaves out something that you can't simply ignore in real life: human nature.

Government has evolved for a reason. We are social creatures, and have always banded together to accomplish things that individuals can't (from hunting mammoth to moon landings) or to defend ourselves against "the Other" (a concept that many of us are trying to evolve past).

In the real world, you can't simply take your ball and go home, because the world you want to go to doesn't exist.

(Unless we get Firefly back on the air, that is.)

Admin said...

"And I'm confused by your insistence on a definition for citizenship."

I didn't ask for a definition of citizenship. I asked, specifically, for clarification about the conditions under which the 'agreement' you believe exists, between a person living on the land claimed by a certain group, and the group itself, comes into existence. I'm still trying to find out.

You've indicated that it has to do with services provided by one party, and the 'receiving' party's ability to move to an area where the 'offer' does not apply.

Imagine that I arrive at your doorstep and forewarn you that soon I'll be delivering you a yachting magazine every month, at the cost of $100 each time. You haven't asked for this magazine, but I'm going to be providing you with it anyway. I'm letting you know this in advance so that you can choose to move away if you prefer not to receive the magazine.

The next month I arrive at your door with the first issue, and I demand payment. Are you in breach of an implicit agreement if you choose to withhold payment for the magazine?

If not, I'm very curious as to why not, in your view.

Tad said...

This isn't as unclear as you seem to want to make it: either you're a citizen or you're not. If you're a citizen, you have rights and obligations. If you're not happy about the rights or obligations, there is a process in place to change them. You can always strike out to seek your fortune (my friend Emily suggests Somalia as a great example of a "stateless society" you might consider), or even try Civil Disobedience if you're really being mistreated.

These scenarios you're throwing at me don't really have anything to do with this. You're talking about individuals in improbable and silly situations (most of which are not legal under U.S. law) and trying to imply that their behavior scales to larger concepts of government. But a government is NOT an individual, and these comparisons are useless except as semantic distractions.

I suppose you want me to point out that your demand for $10 would be considered extortion (and maybe harassment) and the yachting magazine scenario would probably involve some kind of mail fraud. And then am I supposed to believe that you would refuse sewage service to your house on the same principle that you would refuse the magazine? Or that "armed thugs" will come and take your money away?

I think it would be more likely that your sewage problem would reduce the value of your home, and your family would sicken and die before "armed thugs" would bother. But maybe you consider that a semantic victory?

Admin said...

"This isn't as unclear as you seem to want to make it: either you're a citizen or you're not. If you're a citizen, you have rights and obligations"

Even though it may seem clear to you, it's not so to me, and you're still avoiding answering the central question.

"These scenarios you're throwing at me don't really have anything to do with this."

Then don't keep me guessing! These 'rights and obligations', please clarify the special circumstances under which you believe they come into existence.

Somalia: You might want to direct your friend Emily to the following report http://namcub.accela-labs.com/pdf/Better_Off_Stateless.pdf (PDF) where she'll learn that Somalia, though still a terrible place to live, has improved significantly since the fall of the state.

Tad said...

I'm looking at this question: "Can you be more specific about the extra conditions you believe are required for this implicit agreement to come into being?" I assume you want more than a tautology (you're a citizen because this is where you are a citizen). Are you asking me to justify the claim that you, personally, as a citizen of the United States have agreed to abide by the laws here?

I'll assume you were born here, since becoming naturalized requires an oath to uphold the Constitution. I'll also assume you've never enlisted in the military or registered for selective service. It's possible you've never applied for a Social Security Number (and thus, never been legally employed), never bought property, never entered into a rental agreement, never been summoned for jury duty, never pledged allegiance to the flag, or overtly accepted in any way the burden of citizenship.

None of these things "prove" citizenship, anyway. Neither do these, but it's possible you've never subscribed to telephone, television, or internet services (but the evidence here seems to indicate otherwise). If you're on Google services, you must have at least clicked a EULA acknowledging that you intended to abide by their rules - under the laws they cited, which included California State laws and U.S. codes. Maybe your mom signed up for these accounts, and just let you use them.

Signing up for stuff like this tells the other party that you're operating under the same rules as they are. When you accept their rules and represent yourself as someone who will abide by those rules, you either do so, or you are a fraud.

And assuming you accept the definition of non-aggression from the original post, committing fraud makes *you* the aggressor.

Of course, if you really aren't a citizen or legal resident, that also comes with legal consequences. (Not that immigration is beating down your door with thugs over this.) If you're here illegally, simply refusing to acknowledge that the law applies to you won't serve as any kind of legal defense.

And when they hand you that ticket to Mogadishu, I doubt your intellectual victory will impress the local warlords for long.

Admin said...

I think you're not yet taking into account the background situation at the moment a contract is signed. Specifically, the way in which the presence of threats of force affect the validity of any contract entered into with the aggressor.

I'm not in the states, but let's assume that I lived there and had signed various agreements including ones with words to the effect 'I agree to abide by the laws of the US government'. Imagine that at the time of signing the contract I intended to break certain laws.

It does not necessarily follow that I am violating the NAP because this act may either be a _retaliatory_ 'substitute for force' against an aggressor. Or the agreement may be considered to be void from the start.

Consider the following hypothetical: I group of bandits occupy a primitive town and kill all the bakers. They set up their own bakery and they use the threat of violence to prevent anyone else from baking bread.

Now, an inhabitant of the town has the option to sign a contract offered by the bandits. The contract states that in exchange for a steady supply of bread, the signee agrees to do the bidding of the bandits, whatever that might be.

I hope you agree that the bandits are the initiators of force here. They didn't simply agress once, they continue to agress by maintaining threats of force against non-aggressors. As such, any agreements the townspeople signed--trading obedience for bread--are void. Or if you prefer, you can view breaches of such contracts as retaliatory force against the aggressor.

The same is true for the state: The aggression of the state is typically used to maintain its monopoly status for various services/goods (analogous to the bandits' bread monopoly). Any contract entered into with this aggressor is invalid for the same reason.

Tad said...

I don't think that "background situation" holds for the example of the U.S., because we don't have any compulsory citizenship requirements - theoretically, you could choose never to participate in society, and hardly anyone would notice. As long as you didn't try to claim any benefits you haven't paid for, there would be no expectation of payment. (And even if you turned up at an emergency room, say, our laws require them to provide you treatment - and if you turn out to be a "stateless" freeloader, there isn't much they can do to recoup their fees.)

The exception to this in the U.S. is the property tax. I can't think of anywhere off the top of my head where you can avoid paying *some* kind of annually assessed tax on land that you own. I do think that is wrong, and it fits with your Bandit Bakers scenario.

But everything else is optional - provided your behavior doesn't violate our laws (no killing, raping, or Bandit Baking!), you could stay off the radar.

What you have to remember, though, is that the U.S. is NOT a stateless society, and few here want it to be one. If you were here and wanted to change that reality, you could join society, add your voice to the representative process, and try to change it - but our history shows that we need processes and institutions to regulate trade and arbitrate disputes. Life here was not exactly a grand experiment in "stateless society" under the Articles of Confederation (1777-1789), so our society created the Constitution. I'm sorry if you don't recognize the legitimacy of that government, but some perspective on the conditions we used to be in, and the direction we (humans in general) seem to be evolving would probably do you good. It's worth remembering that ours was the first society built in this manner that our British predecessors described as "chaotic" and "anarchic" - and even 230 years on, we're still trying to figure out the basic principles and ideals under which we live.

But your philosophically "neutral" scenarios assume a kind of world that has never existed; objecting to predation on moral grounds has never been an effective deterrent of predators, so humans have always banded together for safety - first as families, clans, tribes and then kingdoms and nation-states. I don't claim that they were ideal, or that what we have now is perfect, but reality forces you to choose between available options. Your personal fantasy about how the world *should* work isn't one of those choices.

Sorry.

Admin said...

I'm glad you oppose the US property tax.

"I don't think that "background situation" holds for the example of the U.S., because we don't have any compulsory citizenship requirements"

The analogy holds because the US government, just like the bandits, maintains various coercive monopolies within the territory it claims to own: roads, healthcare, police, law. In both situations potential competing providers of important goods and services are prevented from going into business by the threat of force.

(In case it makes a difference, you could modify the bandit town scenario such that the residents could survive by living off turnips instead of bread. So they wouldn't die if they chose not to sign the contract (not immediately anyway). Does this somehow render valid the 'bread contracts' that were signed? I don't see why it would.)

Even if you believe the state is a necessary evil, can you grant that there is no legitimate/binding agreement between the townspeople and the bandits, and between 'citizens' of a modern state--because in both cases the contracts were agreed to under duress?

"but our history shows that we need processes and institutions to regulate trade and arbitrate disputes."

Well, arbitration and law at least are very important. But processes and institutions certainly don't equal the state (a sovereign territorial monopolist of the right to initiate force).

"Life here was not exactly a grand experiment in "stateless society" under the Articles of Confederation (1777-1789), so our society created the Constitution."

No no no! 'your society' did not create the constitution any more than 'your society' shot JFK. Don't conflate a group of individuals with society.

On the topic of a 'grand experiment' in the US though, my understanding is that historically in the US the trend has been the less state the better (relative to contemporary standards of safety etc). This book's on my list, might be interesting for you too: http://www.amazon.com/Not-So-Wild-West-Economics/dp/0804748543

"I don't claim that they were ideal, or that what we have now is perfect, but reality forces you to choose between available options. Your personal fantasy about how the world *should* work isn't one of those choices."

Anti-abolitionists made similar claims about the inevitability of chattel slavery, and the inability of any society to successfully assimilate large numbers of freed slaves. Your assertion here isn't persuasive for same reasons that theirs wasn't.

Large numbers of people have changed their minds about things in the past. So you're going to have a hard time showing that this is impossible with regard to the currently dominant, but inconsistent, view that initiating violence is unacceptable except for when the initiator is the state.

Tad said...

"...the US government, just like the bandits, maintains various coercive monopolies within the territory it claims to own: roads, healthcare, police, law."

Except that most of those things are not "owned" by the state. Most roads in our country do belong to the community - public property being as artificial an idea as the concept of "private property." I grew up in a neighborhood without paved roads because the land was never incorporated into a town. Property owners did not wish to share the expense, but as new owners purchased the properties and other neighborhoods grew up around them, they decided to allow the City of Peoria to incorporate them, and thus agreed to be assessed taxes to pay for paving and maintaining of local streets.

At larger levels, the Federal government plans highways and negotiates to buy the land on which to build them (using public funds authorized through the representative government). There are occasional holdouts who don't want to give up their property for these projects. When the City decided to build up the area around 83rd Avenue and Bell Road, one old coot didn't want to sell his land. Because the state *doesn't* have the power to use violence to enact its will, that man stayed on that property in his house for years after the strip mall and neighboring Jack in the Box were built up around him. (After he died that his family sold that corner for what must have been a lot of money by then. I can Google the map, and show you an In'n'Out burger joint standing where his house used to be).

My point: everyone has choices. The options may suck, and you may wish everyone else would just leave you alone, but the reality is that we (in the U.S. at least) have Government because we choose to; you can look at the story of that old man as an example of the State putting pressure on someone (like the bandits), but the reality is that the State was the only barrier allowing him to maintain his individual right to stay in the face of numerous powerful and wealthy entities - which fit your bandit analogy much better than the state does in this case.

Tad said...

In the case of healthcare, the government clearly does NOT "own" healthcare. The creeping bureaucracy of the "health care management industry" owns our health care. Various corporations that sell insurance, drugs, and health services behave more like the bakery bandits than the State does. Personally, I think we're going to ruin our economy clinging to that artificial bureaucratic model instead of choosing between a true free market system or a state run system.

"Police" and "law" are not things that are owned. Laws *are* the contracts between citizens - and the police only have the power that we giver them through the law. What I observe is not so much a scenario where each individual is forced to comply with every law (you should see how people drive!), but where the law is used to determine liability. We have speed limits - which most people ignore. We have authorized our police to stop drivers who are speeding and cite them, but the real purpose of the law is to allow the arbitrators in the court to assign liability when damage is done.

Personally, I find it hilarious when pseudo-libertarians claim the police are "aggressing" them with speeding tickets, and claim "I am a responsible adult - I don't need the government telling me how to drive!" Clearly, when you were pulled over for doing 75 in a School Zone, you were *not* behaving as a responsible adult. But regardless, by applying for a driving license, you agreed to abide by traffic law - and violating that law makes YOU the aggressor.

If you're going to reach back into the non-existent past where all individuals roamed free and retroactively decline to participate in society with all of its frustrating bureaucracy and complicated authorities, and if you're going to insist on defining "violence" so broadly when talking about the state while defining it so narrowly for yourself... I doubt you'll accept any reasoning that doesn't fit your worldview.

The reason I choose to participate in government is because I don't fancy trusting my welfare and my family's welfare to the whims of anarchists. And once all of the rationalization is sorted out, that's all most libertarians are.

Admin said...

"Except that most of those things are not "owned" by the state."

I didn't claim that the state 'owned' these things (though i do think its arguable that it does). A clearer way to put it is that the state maintains monopolistic control over the areas I mentioned. To frame the same fact in a more familiar way: In the US there is not a free market in healthcare, police, law, roads.

"but the reality is that we (in the U.S. at least) have Government because we choose to;"

Who is this mysterious 'We' who chose Government? In this context it's a weasel word: At no time has every resident within the territory that the US government claims the right to tax (for instance) consented to the rule of government. So at very best, there was once a time when _the majority who were asked about it_ were in favour of granting government the powers it enjoys. Again you're conflating a subset of individuals with an entire collective.

"but the reality is that the State was the only barrier allowing him to maintain his individual right to stay in the face of numerous powerful and wealthy entities"

The bandits would say a similar thing: the villains in the neighbouring town are twice as bad! The residents of the town ought to be thankful that the bandits only abuse them mildly. In both cases the argument is faulty because it tacitly depends on the assumption that the existence of a territorial monopolist on the right to initiate force, and of ultimate decision making authority, is a prerequisite for the effective protection of property rights (while ignoring the fact that such an entity can be counted on to be a serial violator of precisely those rights!). That's a difficult case to make. Good luck if you want to try.

"Laws *are* the contracts between citizens"
No. Contracts between citizens are contracts between citizens. I already explained why the social contract idea is invalid: there cannot be a legitimate contract when one party is using force, placing the other party under duress, and that's precisely what the state does. Laws are sometimes voted on, most often they're not. In either case it's an bizarre stretch to pretend that they're contractual.

"We have authorized our police ..."
No 'we' certainly haven't. See above.

"If you're going to reach back into the non-existent past where all individuals roamed free and retroactively decline to participate in society with all of its frustrating bureaucracy and complicated authorities"

I'm not going to do that. I hope you're not going to continue attacking straw men.

"and if you're going to insist on defining "violence" so broadly when talking about the state while defining it so narrowly for yourself."

I'm not going to do that either. There is no double standard. If i initiate force, or threaten it against another, i'm the aggressor. If someone signs an agreement with me while under duress thanks to my threats of force (for instance by maintaining a coercive monopoly), then the agreement is void. I think this is very simple, what is it that you're not understanding?

"The reason I choose to participate in government is because I don't fancy trusting my welfare and my family's welfare to the whims of anarchists."

You needn't be so horrified by the thought. Anarchists are simply people who don't believe that anyone has the right to initiate force, or threaten the same, against another person. If you're going to take a gamble on trusting others to maintain your safety, and to not aggress against you themselves, I'd take the 'whims' of anarchists over the 'whims' of statists any day.

Tad said...

I find it interesting that you object to "we" as a weasel word, when you keep using "force" in the same illegitimate manner. You also seem to have misrepresented yourself as a Libertarian - someone who believes in *limited* government, but nonetheless in government - while actually being someone who apparently does not believe in the legitimacy of any government. I find this to be dishonest of you, but then you've already justified dishonesty by stating that you don't feel it is necessary to be honest with someone if you haven't previously agreed to be honest. (How does that work exactly? At what point can anyone trust your word?)

You also seem to be completely unfamiliar with U.S. history, particularly with the writing and adoption of our Constitution (I can point you to http://teachingamericanhistory.org/ratification/ and http://www.amazon.com/Ratification-People-Debate-Constitution-1787-1788/dp/0684868547 to help with that).

I'm not horrified by the idea of Anarchy - I simply don't find it plausible. You seem to imply throughout this conversation that monopolistic control and an exaggerated definition of force make almost any human interaction illegitimate - conditions which will exist in any transaction in a world without any kind of social contract or widely held conventions - which makes you a thoroughly untrustworthy person to interact with.

Perhaps when you've studied a bit, and come prepared to discuss ideas using words whose meanings we agree on, this sort of discussion would be more productive.

Admin said...

"I find it interesting that you object to "we" as a weasel word, when you keep using "force" in the same illegitimate manner."

I explained why 'we' is inaccurate and misleading. I noted that you offered no objection to this. Can you point to any instance of my uses of the terms 'force' and 'threat of force' that are not factually accurate?

"You also seem to have misrepresented yourself as a Libertarian - someone who believes in *limited* government,"

Your mistake is common and understandable, but I strongly recommend you double-check this kind of thing before you accuse another person of dishonesty in future. Here's the opening paragraph from the Wikipedia entry (emphasis added):

"Libertarianism is a political philosophy which upholds individual liberty, especially freedom of expression and action. Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs and organizations; all advocate either the minimization or the elimination of the state, and the goal of maximizing individual liberty and freedom."

Your apology for assuming dishonesty will be a good assurance that you're still debating in good faith.

"but then you've already justified dishonesty by stating that you don't feel it is necessary to be honest with someone if you haven't previously agreed to be honest."

No. Again, please be more careful. Here's what I actually said: I don't believe that a person has a right to an answer, and an honest one, if they ask another person a question. Don't you agree?

"You also seem to be completely unfamiliar with U.S. history, particularly with the writing and adoption of our Constitution"

I'm not sure what you're referring to here exactly. If you believe that a specific claim I made about US history wasn't accurate, please let me know which one, and why.

Admin said...

"You seem to imply throughout this conversation that monopolistic control and an exaggerated definition of force make almost any human interaction illegitimate"

Certainly not. It's not necessary for me to exaggerate anything. If i drag you somewhere you don't want to go, that's force. If i hit you that's force. If I threaten to do these things to you if you don't do something I want you to do, that's the threat of force. If I initiate force or make a threat to do so against you (ie. if my force against you is not retaliatory), then I'm aggressing against you. None of this is controversial as far as I can see.

" - conditions which will exist in any transaction in a world without any kind of social contract or widely held conventions"

The threat of initiated force, as illustrated above, is certainly not a feature of all or even most human interactions. If you know that a person has ruled out the initiation of force as a legitimate way of dealing with others, then I submit that this is a reason to trust the person more than you ought to trust a statist who has not.

Tad said...

"Your apology for assuming dishonesty will be a good assurance that you're still debating in good faith."

I do not owe one, based on your statement here:

"I don't believe that a person has a right to an answer, and an honest one, if they ask another person a question."

If I can't trust you to an honest answer, at your own insistance, in what way am I "assuming dishonesty"? You've made dishonesty a part of our "explicit agreement" in this discussion. Using your own definitions of course - I wouldn't presume to point to an authority we had not previously agreed upon... such as Wikipedia. (Or did you assume an implicit agreement from me based on my earlier use of Wikipedia as a source?)

Referring to U.S. history: "I'm not sure what you're referring to here exactly. If you believe that a specific claim I made about US history wasn't accurate, please let me know which one, and why."

You've repeatedly stated or implied that there is no consensual agreement behind government in general, and behind the U.S. government in particular. I disagree with you, on the basis of my understanding of history. You have not given me any reason to assume that you know our history, so I've provided two resources to help you explore it further.

"I hope you're not going to continue attacking straw men."

You keep standing them up - the "$10 Ground Rent thugs", the "Mafia Bakers" - I implicitly assumed you proposed them so that I could attack them?

"If i initiate force, or threaten it against another, i'm the aggressor. If someone signs an agreement with me while under duress thanks to my threats of force (for instance by maintaining a coercive monopoly), then the agreement is void."

Leaving your straw men alone, let's address reality for a moment. I assume you do not grow all of your own food; nor do you cultivate your own wood and cotton, nor do you mine and smelt your own metals. I find it doubtful that you generate your own electricity or treat your own potable water and dispose of your own waste. Yet, you apparently survive in a society which is technologically advanced enough for you to survive for a full week and communicate with me via this service almost daily. Whether any of those goods or services upon which you depend are or are not "monopolies", you are effectively "forced" to deal with them or do without something that could affect your health or well-being. How do you interact with them? Do you barter for something of value, or do you use money (which implies your participation in some kind of government)?

Are all of your agreements with the sources of your food, water, electricity, internet service void because you refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the society in which they exist? And why would they trust you not to do that without the implicit assumption that you are playing by their rules?

Admin said...

"I do not owe [an apology], based on your statement here:"

I didn't claim otherwise. Yet again you're not paying attention to what I'm actually saying.

"If I can't trust you to an honest answer, at your own insistance,"

Again, I said nothing of the sort. As you would know if you were listening more carefully. You do not have a right to an honest answer to any question you may ask me. I do not have a right to your honest answer to any question I may ask you. This says nothing about how likely I am to answer you honestly, just as it says nothing about my moral feelings towards volunteering false information (i disapprove). Please understand the distinction, it's an important one.

Since you're unwilling or unable to offer your apology at the moment, I can no longer trust that you're debating in good faith. That's a shame. Let me know if you change your mind.

Tad said...

I'm sorry you aren't capable of communicating clearly.