Freedom's Imperative

Exclusive to STR

October 30, 2006

Here's why every human being, who is able and willing to engage his brain, mustbecome an anarchist.

The process of reasoning below is not hard. It may be true that at any one time the great majority of our fellow humans will not consider it--but that is a matter of will, not of ability. Anyone who does give this his or her attention will find that he has no choice. The logic is tight.

Let's first dispose of the obvious problem that the very phrase "freedom's imperative" is an oxymoron; in a very important sense, indeed it is. Freedom involves zero compulsion, while "imperative" involves nothing except compulsion; the two words cannot normally be married. I join them in my title only because of that fact, that the logic is tight. So the qualifier, the escape from the oxymoron, is the word "willing" in my opening sentence; thus anyone who defies the imperative is refusing to be true to his own human nature. Sure, it is possible to close the mind to reason. A human can choose to live like a worm. However, if a human does refuse to engage his brain in this matter, that is precisely what he is doing--and it's a matter of will. With patience on our part as his friend, there'll come a day when he wills to be more than a worm.

All reasoning starts with a foundation or premise, so here's our first: that every person can truly say "I exist." I doubt if I can prove that I exist; I might be imaginary. That's why I have to start with it as a premise, an assumption; for I can do nothing and say nothing if I don't exist. And that is the key to its solid establishment, for as well as being impossible to prove, this particular premise is also impossible to rebut explicitly without being assumed implicitly, and that makes it an axiom--that is, a premise that cannot be denied. Test it: suppose it were not true (i.e., that I did not exist)--what then? You'd not be reading this, for one who does not exist can neither reason nor compose English, nor work a keyboard nor click a mouse to "send to STR ." Famously, Descartes held that Je pense, donc je suis--"I think, therefore I am." The ability to consider the question of existence (to think) demonstrates that one exists.

Therefore I do exist; the premise is sound, it's an axiom.

Second premise: "I can observe" reliably. Not infallibly, of course--it's well known that witnesses, especially to a fleeting event, are less than trustworthy; but if we observe something unrushed and with adequate tools, what we see is real--it too does exist. That's our second premise and again, because life (existence) would be impossible without reliable observation (one cannot survive by eating the fork instead of the spaghetti) the premise is undeniable and hence is an axiom. It is sometimes expressed as "A is A"; that is, not only is A not non-A but also that A is only A; thus, a thug with a gun is a thug with a gun, and the nature of his badge or uniform or paperwork matters nothing. Carefully observed, things are what they seem.

Third premise: "I can reason" (and my use of the word "I" here is meant to apply of course to everyone; the reader can use it of himself). Here is the distinguishing characteristic of the human species. Some "higher" animals exhibit a very primitive ability to reason, but the borderline between instinctive action and figuring things out is thin; recall Pavlov's dogs. He trained them to expect food when a certain sound was heard; sure enough, after a while they salivated at the sound even though no food was prepared. Were they reasoning, or had he just modified their neurons a little? Humans, in contrast, can apply the reasoning process to virtually everything--including the task of experimenting with the brains of dogs. Again, the ability to reason is the distinguishing characteristic of our species and therefore a refusal to reason is to refuse to behave as a human being, to be true to our nature.

"Reason" is, notice, the process of logic that starts with a premise and proceeds from one step to the next, proving each; "if A, then B" and "if B, then C." That's what the term means, and if the process is correctly done, the conclusion (the final step) will be as correct as the premise, and if the premise is an axiom (undeniably true), the conclusion too will be undeniably true.

Those three axioms are often skipped, for they are "obvious"--but they do underlie all rational behavior, and since our subject here is contentious, it's worth reminding ourselves that they are there, as the bedrock of all thought.

My fourth premise here, also an axiom as I'll show, is "I own myself," and it's true of each of us.

I don't think one can deduce self-ownership from the preceding three premises; the facts that I exist and can reliably observe my environment and can reason about it do not prove that I own everything inside my skin--so that will be a new premise for further reasoning, not a conclusion. Is it correct? By now we know that the question is better expressed as "Can it be denied explicitly, without having to assume it implicitly?"

Consider, then, the converse: "I do not own myself" and we are using the word "own" to mean to control, to make decisions regarding the object owned, i.e., oneself. The question here is "Whose life is it, anyway?" and we're considering the possibility that the answer is other than "mine, dummy!"

If my life were not mine, then it would have to be someone else's (for A is not non-A, and by reason). If I don't have an absolute right to direct my own life, somebody else must--in full or in part.

Then we must explain how that person acquired such ownership, and of course the task is impossible (in parenthesis: some might say "I belong to God, by right of creation"--but that answer is not valid because as all agree, the very existence of God is a matter of faith and not of reason). On the premise that no human being owns himself, nobody would have the self-directed power to take whatever action might be needed to secure the ownership of someone else. Notice, this inability to acquire does not depend upon the conclusion (that the person being acquired is a self-owner and hence unavailable for acquisition) but relates to the acquirer being incapable of acquiring; if he, the acquirer, does not own himself then he cannot validly execute any instrument of acquisition of another, such as an order to purchase or kidnap. Nor, for that matter, can he validly make any contract of any other kind, including one of marriage or an order for food (incidentally a further proof that non-self-owning humans cannot survive.) Thus, for a person to acquire ownership of another, he musthimself be a self-owner; the self-ownership premise must be implicitly assumed even while its refutation is explicitly attempted. And of course, if he, being human, is a self-owner then so is his intended slave.

To put the whole question more simply: If you don't own yourself, then who does? No possible answer exists, so it is impossible for one human to own another and accordingly the premise "I own myself" is impossible to deny and therefore it's an axiom.

So it remains just to reason from that self-ownership axiom to the conclusion that every human must, being also extant, observant and rational, be an anarchist--or else be untrue to his nature.

It's very easy--and by this point if not earlier, the reader is probably ahead of me. Directly from this axiom, self-ownership means that all decisions affecting one's own life must be taken by oneself, none by somebody else. Incidentally, my fellow Root Striker Per Bylund has done some fine original work to explore the nature of "self-ownership"; he found that the "self" being owned is not really separate from the "self" doing the owning, in the sense that an owned car is separate from the car owner. Rather, he reasoned, the "selfowner" is an integral whole, a person whose very nature is to direct his or her own actions. That insight helps us further understand why the axiom is indeed undeniable; if the selfowner is prised apart somehow, the organism is damaged and becomes less than fully human.

Now consider the nature of government: it is an organization that governs. To "govern" is to take certain decisions affecting and controlling the lives of other people; that is its meaning and nature--and not, as Marc Stevens has astutely observed, in any degree to "protect" or "serve" them--except in the sense that a bull serves a cow.

Accordingly, government is incompatible with human nature; A is not non-A. A human being is governed (ruled, owned) either by himself as is his rightful nature, or else by someone else contrary to that nature; and partial ruling by government--what we see today--is still ruling by government. Partial slavery is still slavery; such autonomy as we retain, we retain by permission of our owner. We are damaged goods, less than fully human.

My case is therefore proven; for humans to be human, we must be 100% free, self-governing. Freedom is imperative, every human being must become an anarchist, or else live as less than a human being, untrue to his own nature--as a worm.

The foregoing is, surely, not hard to follow. Every person of even less than ordinary intelligence can understand and embrace it; the reasoning is quite elementary (though very unfamiliar, to us victims of seven generations of government schooling). Therefore, all that's needed to bring it to pass in practice is a process of re-education--of everyone, in society. Perhaps someone knows a better way to do the job, but the replicative method outlined in my Power of One and elsewhere appears simple, sufficient and fast.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"