Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Where I draw the line!

Each of us must, at some time, decide where we draw the line, in regards to what we will, or won't do. This applies to our cooperation with the State as well. Generally the State operates by making threats, explicit or implied, in order to force obedience from the "citizens."

But how cooperative we wish to be is entirely a personal decision. And any individual who takes morality seriously will have to decide where they draw the line in obeying State edicts. Often there are clear moments when disobedience to the law is the most moral position one can take. A clear example was the courageous individuals who, during the years when the National Socialists controlled Germany, helped rescue and hide Jews in violation of the law. The founding of the American Republic was a criminal act—that is, it violated the law. The founding fathers were rebels against the State and broke numerous laws in their rebellion.

Both these incidents are examples of when individuals drew a line and decided, quite rationally, to violate the law in the name of a higher standard. And, in both cases, I'm glad they did.

Many years ago I was in Chicago, perhaps not in the best of neighborhoods but still a relatively safe area. And I was mugged. To be more precise I was threatened and robbed. The thief claimed he had a knife in his pocket and would use it on me unless I gave him my money. I considered my options and gave him the small amount of cash I had in my pockets. I didn't own credit cards back then and ID theft was not a big thing, since the government was requiring it for everything you did then, it had little value and wasn't targeted.

But I also had my brother's car and I was right by the car. The mugger demanded that I had over the keys. I didn't give the matter much thought. I simply told him: "No."

My answer seemed to genuinely confuse the thief. I guess that, as he saw it, I had already shown my willingness to cooperate by handing him my cash. Yet, here I was being very uncooperative and apparently inviting him to inflict his threat upon me. He actually asked me why I wouldn't give him the keys but did give him the money. I answered: "The car is my brother's car, it is not mine. And I can't give you what I don't own."

At the beginning of the mugging the thief was threatening me and asking me to hand him what I owned. But he changed it by asking me to make the decision to inflict harm upon another person, other than myself. That is where I drew the line. When I was asked to cooperate with his attempt to inflict harm on another person I refused. That is where I drew the line.

Comparing the State to criminals is about the most appropriate comparison one can make. Government demands things of me and threatens to harm me if I fail to obey. Most the time it is demanding that I harm myself, but often it is asking that I inflict harm on others. The first I will obey simple because they are violent and have the inclination and means to carry out their threat. They have NO moral authority whatsoever, they just have force to back up their demands.

Sometimes they ask me to obey laws they pass which require I not harm others. I don't obey those laws because they demand it, I obey those laws because I respect the rights of others and would not violate their life, liberty or property even in the absence of a State law. I would engage in neither force nor fraud against others. My obedience to the law is not related to the threats that politicians make, but to my own moral sense which requires me to respect the rights of others. This sort of morality baffles the politician considerably.

Not all government laws are wrong, of course. As I stated, laws that correspond with the rights of individuals are not wrong. But the bulk of legislation is no longer about respecting the rights of others. Those issues were dealt with long ago. Law today is about the selective imposition of harm on third parties. Various lobbying groups work with the political elites to secure legislation that will harm someone for the benefit of the lobby in question and the political elites who help them.

In its simplest form a group lobbies politicians in order to get them to take away the rights or wealth of another group, or people as a whole, and transfer it to the group that is lobbying. That is what the mugged did to me. The difference here is that the special interest group doesn't have the moral character of the mugger to do the dirty work themselves and merely hire a mugger, the State, to act on their behalf.

I've been mugged, and I've been taxed. I prefer the mugger, thank you. And I have several good reasons to prefer muggers to the State. First, the mugger doesn't take as much as the State. Second, the mugger doesn't come around as often. Third, when the mugger has taken what he wants, he usually leaves you alone while the State never does. And finally, the mugger doesn't lecture you on how he's doing this to you, for your own good.

So far I've looked at laws that ask me to respect the rights of others. These laws are irrelevant to me in that I would respect the rights of others regardless of what the law said. Then they are laws that harm me, where my obedience inflicts some harm on myself. Those I obey for the same reason I obeyed the mugger; he had violent tendencies and was willing to inflict pain and suffering on me to get what he wanted. But the third kind of legislation is similar to when the mugger asked for the keys to my brother's car—it requires me to cooperate in order to inflict pain or suffering on another person. And that is precisely where I draw the line.I refuse obey laws if my obedience will inflict harm on others.

If my obedience harms myself, I will obey as long as I feel the threat is worse than the harm my obedience inflicts. But, if my obedience necessarily means that I will inflict harm on others I reserve the option to disobey and suffer the consequences. I will not be made a party, albeit an unwilling one, to actions which harm others.

Under the current system the State demands the right to "protect" people, in that they run the police, courts, etc. If I saw an innocent person being attacked by a yob I would intervene either personally, if I could, or by calling the police. I have done this several times, always with caution in that I know it is a dangerous thing to request help from the police.

But there are criminal actions, that is criminal in the sense that they violate the law, which I will not act to prevent or hinder. This is certainly the case with what are often called victimless crimes. If you buy drugs, or sell them, I won't report you. Neither would I cooperate with the police in your apprehension. Ditto for the crimes of "obscenity" or even illegal immigration. Not only would I refuse to cooperate with the police in those cases but I would actively do what I felt I could get away in order to protect such individuals from the State.

I would not protect a thief, a killer, a rapist or any other person who took it upon themselves to violate the rights of others—this would include most politicians. But if I knew someone who was being sought for violating a victimless crime:say tax protesters, prostitutes, pornographers, illegal immigrants or the like, then I would actively give them support. I would not only refuse to cooperate with the authorities but I would actively act in a way that would hinder their activities. I would do so willing to take the risk of what it would mean for myself.So not only would I refuse to act in a way that would inflict harm on others, but I would also actively engage in ways meant to reduce the harm inflicted on others by the State.

Some libertarians seem to confuse criminals who break the law but harm no one and criminals who break laws and violate rights. Consider a con man who uses deception and fraud to bilk vulnerable people out of their money. He may not engage in violence, just fraud. He lies to people and gets them to exchange their money in anticipation of something they will never receive, and which he knows they will not receive. He doesn't put a gun to the heads of these people, nor does he engage in threats of violence. He acts fraudulently. He is still a thief in my books. He does not deserve my respect, nor my support and I need to treat him the same way I would treat any real criminal.Yet there are airhead libertarians who seem to think that violating the law, any law, is noble.

That is not the case. Violating a vicious law is noble but violating laws on stock fraud are like violating laws forbidding rape. Fraud violates the rights of others, it induces people into making exchanges they would otherwise not make.It seeks to obtain the wealth of others through immoral means. Instead of exchanging value for value, making everyone better off, it resorts to trading a false value for a real one.This doesn't make everyone wealthier, which is what happens in free exchanges. This makes one party worse off while benefiting the other party. In that sense it is very similar to the political process.

My moral compass does not allow me to violate the rights of others. Similarly it does not allow me to cooperate with others when they are violating rights. I choose to cooperate when I alone am the victim, if I feel it is in my best interest to do so. I refuse to cooperate when asked to help harm others. I also will actively work to prevent any other person from violating the rights of other: be they State employees, or even libertarian activists.