Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How politics destroys harmony and creates conflict.

There is something very strange about how people think. Let me give you an example.

First, let us start with what I consider a proper moral perspective for living in a world with other people.

I believe that I must respect the rights of others to make choices over their own lives. I should not act violently against them in any way except if they are violating the life, liberty, or property of another person. My respect for their decisions does not mean I have to approve their decision. It doesn’t mean I have to finance their decisions. It just means I have no right to interfere with decisions that they make.

In other words, I’m obliged to leave peaceful people alone.

When it comes to my own needs I ought to work for what I have. Productive labor is necessary to produce the things we consume. I must contribute to that labor. I ought not be a burden on others unnecessarily. I should exchange my goods and services with other voluntarily. I have no right to force them to make exchanges which they prefer not to make. Nor is it right for me to take it from them through force or fraud.

In other words, the proper way to get the things I want is to work for them and to exchange with others voluntarily.

Sometimes people need help. Sometimes I am able to help them. When I am able to do so, when they require the help, and if that help doesn’t make them worse off, then it is good and proper for me to help them. But I have to be able to judge those circumstances. For instance, a person might be poor because they were hit by a drunk driver and unable to work. Or they might be poor because they spend any money they earn on alcohol or drugs. Handing money over to the first person helps them. Handing money over to the second person harms them. It subsidizes their problems and thus encourages them.

In other words, individuals must be free to be charitable as circumstances allow.

Very few people, of any political persuasion, would have problems with this. They would admit that if everyone did this the world would be a peaceful place.

If I were to ask people whether this brief moral code is a good one I think most people would say that it is. If I lived up to this code they would tell me that I was a good person for doing so.

But, the entire conflict comes in when I argue that others should treat me the same way I want to treat them. Suddenly people are aghast at the idea. The good moral code is twisted by them into “selfishness” or “greed” and condemned.

So it is good for me to respect the choices of others. But it is selfish and greedy of me to ask them to respect my choices.

I want to leave “good Christians” alone. They tell me that they appreciate that. The same “good Christians” then want to use the force of government to regulate what I read, who I love, what substances I put in my body, what I believe, etc.

I believe voluntary charity is good. Many recipients of that charity, and others, believe it is good. At the same time they argue that if I don’t voluntarily give that charity they have the right to come and take it from me. My money should be used for charity according to their whims, wishes and plans ignoring my own choices. In fact, they want to take my money even if I do give voluntarily. When I give my money voluntarily I’m being greedy. When they involuntarily give my money away they are being charitable. Charity freely given is greed. Charity coercively give is loving.

Yet, if I lived according to their system they would confess that it would be an unpleasant world. Instead of respecting the choices of others what if we all interfered with others? What if we constantly took what was theirs and used it for purposes we thought were “better” than those they wish to address?

If we all acted this way the world would be a place of constant conflict. Yet that is the political process.

Notice that when people go to the grocery store they don’t fight. I walk up and down the aisles and pick what I want. It may not be what you want but you don’t care. You aren’t paying my bill and I’m not paying your bill. I can respect your selections and you can respect mine. You might shake your head at some items I buy and I might look down on some of your choices. But neither of us is willing to fight over other people’s choices.

In politics the opposite is true. Everything is constant conflict. It is constant conflict because the political means of achieving goals means the use of government power to achieve goals. That means we direct the raw power of government against others to secure what we want. We DO take from people the things they own. We DO impose on will on others.

If the grocery store worked like politics it would be a hellish experience. We’d have to lobby for the right to buy the doughnut we like. The “health lobby” would oppose us. The bakery workers would want it subsidized. We’d have to beg elected officials to NOT strip us of the right to buy a doughnut. Every item on the shelves would be a political decision.

We’d have lobbies and special interests trying to sway the process. The simplest decision would be one of arguments and conflict. Every other person in the grocery store would now be a threat to our well-being. They could vote to take away what we want. And I could vote to take away what they want. We would eye one another suspiciously. And we would know that their well-being is in conflict with our well-being. It would truly be a place of constant conflict. The peace that reigns in grocery stores today would disappear if the market would replaced with politics.

James Madison told us that “The essence of Government is power....” And what he was speaking of primarily is the ability to use force against others. George Washington is alleged to have said that, “Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force...”

The under-appreciated Felix Morley wrote: “The State, in short, subjects people, whereas Society associates them voluntarily.” Our grocery story is a voluntary association. I shop at a specific shop because I choose to. But one is a subject of a government, born into that status involuntarily for the most part. Changing grocery stores is easy. Changing citizenship is not.

I have argued that if grocery shopping was part of the political process it would create constantly conflict between shoppers who now live in relative harmony with one another. Keeping in mind that government is force we can now turn to something that Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

When we say that government is force or power what do we mean other than government is monopolize violence. Standing between people and the state are the police, in various forms. These are individuals who are given a legal sanction to act violently to enforce the law. All laws or state regulations are ultimately backed up by the police. When we say that laws are “enforced” we mean that they are put into practice by legally-sanctioned violence at some point. Often the threat of force is all that is needed to accomplish this but a threat, that is not backed up by violence, is not a threat. What gives all state controls their power over people ultimately is that government is willing to act violently against people.

Let us go back to our peaceful grocery store. As I wandered through the aisles today I left everyone else alone and they left me alone. Each of us was happy with our own choices. The store was relatively quiet and entirely peaceful. What would happen if now and then I stopped to threaten another shopper.

“Excuse me, sir. You are purchasing a food item that I think is too high in fat for you. If you persist I will have to club you up the side of your skull. If you resist my clubbing I may have to use a taser on you. And, if at any point, I feel threatened by you, I will shoot you and, if necessary, kill you. Have a nice day”

I doubt my fellow shopper would take kindly to that.

Politics inherently introduces violence to areas where peaceful co-operation previously was the norm.

Now, we literally have special interest groups who are using the threat of state violence to forcibly prevent people from eating certain foods. What was previously a decision we could each make for ourself is centrally determined by politicians for us. We end up clamoring for political power ourselves just out of self-defense. If we don’t hold the reigns of power then someone else will. And if they do they can impose their will on us.

The Founding Fathers sought to limit this artificial sort of conflict by strictly limiting the powers of government to a few, specifically enumerated powers outlined in the Constitution. But that has been ignored for several generations now. Political conflict has increased because state power has increased.

Because the state defines what is marriage there is a great deal of conflict over marriage. Because the state took over education there is now conflict over who shall teach, what they shall teach, what books to use, what the library should stock, what the school cafeteria should serve, etc.

If government set the rules for grocery stores, the way it does for education, we’d all be at each other’s throats. The politicians would determine what is in your grocery basket -- not you. So every major corporate interest would line up in an attempt to have their products included in the shopping basket, while attempting to persuade politicians to ban the products of competitors. Special interest groups would jostle for the right to set the diet for everyone. Individual needs, wants or requirements would be ignored in the name of the common good.

I can pretty much guarantee that whatever the outcome no one will be satisfied. So there will be continuing efforts to “reform” the shopping basket. That harms everyone but the political classes who thrive on the process. Increased power for politicians would mean that all these groups would try to curry favor through campaign donations. The explosion in campaign expenses that we have seen is the direct consequence of the explosion in political control over every aspect of our lives. If you want to limit the influence of special interest through campaign contributions then limit the power of politicians to bestow favors on those groups. With no favors to purchase, contributions would plummet.

Under political control the natural harmony that exists in the grocery store today would disappear. In its place we would see rancor, discontent, deceit, threats, violence, fraud, dishonesty and ever increasing levels of conflict. All because the voluntary association of shopping was replaced by the political process. By making groceries part of the “democratic process” we guaranteed conflict where peace had previously reigned.

Morley argued that all state power comes at the expense of social power; that as the state expands the level of voluntary interaction must be contracted. Morley said the “increasing exaltation of the State and the increasing demoralization of Society” were not a coincidence because “the State has everywhere weakened Society”. It weakens the voluntary associations of life by moving such things from the voluntary sector to the involuntary sector. That is, the State is strengthened through the weakening of society itself.

But I argue that the social means of achieving our goals, or the voluntary co-operative means of achieving goals, is inherently peaceful. When we replace voluntary co-operation and its attendant harmony, with that of the forceful political means it comes with conflict. Expanding state power expands violence or the threat of violence. As such we enter into the downward spiral that Dr. King warned us about.

The moral principles that I laid out, at the beginning, are the principles of voluntary, peaceful co-operation. As such it minimizes conflict and creates conditions conducive to a natural harmony between men. That is why, when those principles govern a nation, that peace is more prevalent and prosperity more possible. The opposing principles are those of involuntary action imposed on others by threat of violence. That creates an engine of destruction by putting every man, and every group, in conflict with every other man and every other group.

If we want to find peace and harmony again, then our choice is clear. We must work to limit state power while expanding social power. We must replace the involuntary with the voluntary. We must remove the advocates of conflict and contention, the politicians, from more and more aspects of human life.

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