Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Gun In The Room

At least partially dedicated to [info]softside who cringes at the mention of one of the these guys.

These guys being L. Neil Smith and Stefan Molyneux. To Smith I owe an underlying principle, not for originating it--he didn't--but for distilling it, thusly...

The Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP)

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.

I don't claim to live up to it, but it that to which I aspire in my relationships with others and with the world in general. The idea is living your life without leaving a trail of damage and suffering in your wake.

Some people may reject the notion, but other than dismissing it as idealism, what is the objection? Where is the wrongness of it? I'll entertain any suggestions. But I digress.

L. Neil Smith is also responsible for a beautiful metaphor. In a discussion on gun rights--it always comes down to guns and money with you people--he describes a politician's position on gun control as... X-ray machine. It's a Vulcan mind-meld. It's the ultimate test to which any politician -- or political philosophy -- can be put.

What his attitude -- toward your ownership and use of weapons -- conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn't trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him?

If he doesn't want you to have the means of defending your life, do you want him in a position to control it?

As far as I can tell from his writing Smith and I part company on one point. He seem to still be entertaining the notion that a magic piece of paper will ward of the depredations of thugs. For Smith, the X-ray machine, the Vulcan mind-meld, is a tool for making voting simpler. If I thought voting mattered I'd agree.

But, you might ask, what has this to do with Stefan Molyneux? Well, to him I owe the title of this essay and my X-ray machine, my Vulcan mind-meld--perhaps even my Gold Kryptonite--to cut right to the core of what I consider arguments against freedom and in defense of government in the form of a coercive monopoly on violence.

Molyneux also has also identified one the main arguments against a voluntarist, stateless society. He calls it the Argument from Apocalypse...

Basically, the argument goes something like this:

“We’re all gonna DIEEEEEEE!”

It would actually be nice if it were slightly more sophisticated than that, but the reality is that it is not.

The basic argument is that if we accept proposition “X,” civilized society will collapse, children will die in the streets, the old will end up eating each other, and the world will dissolve into an endless and apocalyptic war of all against all.

He points the same argument was used against abolitionists in the past and atheists today.

The futility comes in arguing the details. If I suggest that private roads would be a better way to manage the movement of automobiles than a public monopoly backed up by force the AFA gets trotted out. "Well, what's to stop some rich guy from buying up all the roads in an region and then charging $100 per mile to drive on them?"

The first response is often to dive into the details, especially since you've read all of Walter Block's outstanding work on private roads, but you've already lost the argument because every point you make will be countered with collapsed civilization and dead children. Who could possibly be in favor of that?

Point out that free market medicine would both reduce costs and increase innovation, you can point to Dr. James Brook or Dr. Mary Ruwart, but for God sakes, man, with out the FDA and the AMA old people will be lying dead in the street. Why do you hate my grandma?

The same response will arise at the suggestion that all drugs should be legal, there should be no public schools, that property rights are absolute, any suggestion that absent the threat of prison or death for noncompliance people are perfectly capable of devising their own methods of social organization based on free choice, mutual exchange and individual sovereignty.

What to do? Well, pull out the kryptonite. Point out the gun in the room. As Stephan Molyneux pointed out in the video that crystallized the concept in my mind...

Statist violence always escalates until the violence is visible. Slavery continues until the humanity of the slaves becomes visible. Aggression against women and children will continue until the humanity of women and children becomes visible.

Statist violence always escalates until the violence is visible. If you keep pointing out the gun, it will be lowered.

The argument is not how would we do roads in a free society, but how do we eliminate the violence inherent in a road system based on eminent domain and taxes, on theft? It's not the details of how advertising prices by physicians or allowing pharmacists and nurse practitioners to compete in areas that are now the purview of licensed physician, but in the violence inherent in allowing a government-backed cartel to control the the distribution of a vital social good. First deal with the violence, then we can find solutions to the problems.

The gun is there every time. When you discuss methods of social organization and governance always look for and point out the gun.

Someone may make the assertion that we must have tax funded public schools or the poor will not be educated. A person who truly believed in freedom, as we libertarians claim, could really have no other response than "I agree completely that you believe that, and I applaud your compassion for the poor. You have my full consent to pursuing your goal. You may promote it however you wish and give as much or you time, money and effort as you feel the issue deserves. Perhaps if you are persuasive enough you might get some of my money as well, but in the same way I offer you full latitude to pursue your goals in the way you deem best I ask the same from you. The same freedom to pursue my goals with my time, money and effort."

"But, no," comes the retort, "everyone has to contribute."

"And if they don't?"

"They will be forced."

"By who?"

"The government."

"And you consent to that? You agree that the government should have the ability to force compliance with your ideas of how society should be run? If you consent to it you are just as responsible as the people you empower to be your agents. What you are saying is when push comes to shove, if we disagree, if we arrive at an intractable impasse, you will reach for a gun."

People usually respond with anger if you keep coming back to it. It make a person uncomfortable to recognize their own complicity in the violence. That's OK. That anger will give way to recognition on the part of some, for others it will be that X-ray machine, that Vulcan mind-meld, the Gold Kryptonite.

You will reach a point where you can honestly say there is no point in debating, if I am unconvinced by your arguments you will reach for a gun. That's not a debate, it is not an intellectual exchange, we are not on even ground. You would kill rather than give me the freedom I offer you.

Put down the gun. Then we can talk.


Kent McManigal said...

Very good and true, and timely. I have had a statist on my Examiner column using these same misguided delusions for a few days now. He ever dared to say "I like government"! Horrors! I felt a cold shiver running down my back as I read that.

Puck T. Smith said...

Heh, Rachel's comment is pure AFA:

"You're right. I don't need public schools, or roads or stoplights or police departments. I can teach myself, drive just fine over the rocky ground, and fight crime with my machete. I prefer to play my soccer games without a ref, and eat food from places that don't believe in inspections. Hey, I trust the banks and the insurance companies. They'll do what's right--they'll play fair if government would just leave them alone. I would love to live on the island with Piggy in The Lord of the Flies--what fun--or perhaps move to the Sudan where anarchy rule--no taxes! AND I'll get to put out my own fires and start my own heart beating again."


Kent McManigal said...

Yep. But she may have been a post and run. DLH is the one who has been hanging around and refusing to understand.

Ken said...

Sorry I'm late...

"Well, what's to stop some rich guy from buying up all the roads in an region and then charging $100 per mile to drive on them?"

I'll take "...the fact that no one would pay $100 per mile, and rich guys generally don't get rich by being stoopid" for $200, Alex.

Not to slight in the least Walter Block's work, to which you rightly point, but all too few people understand just who the hell it is that decides the price of a thing.

Puck T. Smith said...

I came across this on of all places. Pure labor theory of value. I'm surprised there weren't about a bazillion angry responses this week.

When you and I agree on what we are willing to exchange the price has been set. It's not magic. I'm relatively new at this stuff. It's not that hard.

Puck T. Smith said...

Let's try that again (