Annoying Guy

Column by tzo.


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A play in one act. SCENE: Two people chatting in a coffee shop.
A: Let me ask you something. Are you an ethical person?
B: I would like to think so, yes.
A: Do you use violence to get what you want?
B: No! What do you mean?
A: If you want a new shirt, do you steal it from someone?
B: Of course not.
A: If someone has a table you like in a restaurant, do you threaten him with a gun to get him to move?
B: I would never do something like that!
A: Why not?
B: Well, like I said, I like to think of myself as an ethical person, and so I try to live as ethically as I can. I'm not perfect, but I try my best.
A: So is there absolutely no way you would ever use violence in your life?
B: Hmm. Well, I suppose if someone attacked me, I would use force in order to defend myself.
A: Well, that makes sense. One could hardly accuse you of being unethical for defending yourself, could they?
B: No, I don't think so.
A: Nor do I. I mean, it's really common sense, isn't it? If people couldn't use force to defend themselves then there would be nothing to stop the people who wished to act unethically.
B: Yes, and unfortunately, there will always be such people.
A: Agreed. So, can you think of any other time you might decide to use force against someone, other than in self-defense?
B: Umm, not really, no.
A: How about me? Other than defending myself, can I ethically use force against someone to get what I want?
B: Well, no. The same rules apply to you as to me.
A: Can you think of a person who is exempt from these rules? Someone who is ethically allowed to use force to get what he wants?
B: No, not really. It seems to be a pretty universal rule.
A: Well, what if I give permission to someone to be able to take something from someone by force? Would this be an ethical use of force on his part? He has my permission, after all.
B: No, you can't do that!
A: Why not?
B: If something is wrong if you were to do it, it remains wrong if someone else does it for you.
A: But what if I get a big bunch of people together who say it's OK for that person to take property by force? Wouldn't that make it OK? I mean, who could stop us?
B: Whoa, there. Now you are confusing might with right. It doesn't matter how many people say that something is right—if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, and that's all. Just because you have a gang strong enough to get away with it doesn't make it right.
A: So some things are just plain right and others are wrong, and it doesn't matter how you try to fancy them up, you can't change wrong things into right things?
B: Yes, that's exactly right.
A: Well, then. It seems we have come to the conclusion that violence is only ethical in the context of self-defense.
B: Yep. That's what I think.
(They both pause for a sip of coffee.)
A: So, did you hear? They're probably going to try and take my house away from me.
B: What?
A: Yeah, I stopped paying the property taxes and the government is threatening to take it.
B: Oh, no! What can I do? Do you need a loan? Let me help, please!
A: No, I have the money. I just don't want to pay.
B: Well, that's just being silly! Is it worth losing your entire house because you don't want to pay a little property tax? I'm sorry, but I just lost all my sympathy for you.
A: But I don't think that schools should be funded through property taxes.
B: But they are, and so you have to pay!
A: Well, whatever. When they come to take my house, I'm going to lock myself inside and not come out.
B: Are you crazy? What are you thinking? That won't stop them!
A: Well, if they break in, I have a gun to defend myself. I mean, it is my house, and I have the right to defend my property with force, right?
B: But you're breaking the law by not paying your taxes! They have the right to take your house if you don't pay! And if you use a gun against them, you're only going to get yourself killed!
A: Am I violently attacking the people who are going to come and take my house away from me?
B: No, of course you aren't.
A: Are they defending their very lives in using force against me?
B: If you point a gun at them, yes.
A: But they are pointing a gun at me first. I am just defending myself.
B: Oh, come on! No one is pointing a gun at you! You have to pay your property taxes or you lose your house. You knew that going in. Now you're going to pull out a gun and attack people who are doing their job in conjunction with the agreement you made when you bought the house? You've really lost it!
A: So they can take my house because the law says so?
B: Well, duh.
A: But isn't the law really just a use of force?
B: Of course it is, but the law is here to protect us. Like you said before, we need to be able to use force to defend ourselves against people who want to act unethically. The law provides that collective self-defense. The gun only comes out when someone breaks the law.
A: But if I own a house, how can self-defense be invoked to justify the use of force against me in taking my house from me?
B: It's not self-defense per se, it's the law.
A: So if you were to tell me that I have to pay you a certain amount every month or you were going to take my house, would that be lawful and ethical behavior on your part?
B: No, because what I say isn't law. That would just be me extorting money from you. That's illegal and unethical.
A: So how did the government get to be able to tell me that I have to pay them monthly or I will lose my house? How can they do what you and everyone else cannot do individually?
B: Look, it's what society has agreed upon. You can't very well have a society without laws, can you? You have to play by the rules. Why do you think you should get special treatment?
A: But I thought you said that what's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. You said I couldn't get a gang of people together to give permission to someone else to take the property of another. But that's what you are doing to me, isn't it?
B: No that's completely different, and what do you mean by saying that I am doing something to you? I don’t have anything to do with you and your house, so don’t go blaming me for your problems.
A: But you are part of society.
B: And so are you!
A: So, I am threatening to take my house away from myself?
B: I’m pretty much speechless over here.
A: OK, let’s get back to something else you said. You told me that the only conceivable reason for ethically using violence was in self-defense, and that this rule is universal. Again, I am not attacking anyone, so why am I being threatened with force? How can that possibly be ethical?
(Somewhere, deep down in B's brain, an uncomfortable feeling about realizing that perhaps there is something inconsistent in his claim to being an ethical person begins to stir. An annoying mosquito of a thought, quickly brushed away, vaguely suggests that if he were to seriously pursue this logical train of thought, he may come to an unwanted destination. Of course, if he derails the train here, he won't have to make the trip. And hell, he knows he is ethical, so why waste time proving to himself what he already knows? Who cares if this other bozo doesn’t believe him? That’s his problem. But still, this whole exercise has left him feeling annoyed and affronted, and he doesn't really appreciate the spoiling of his previously good mood. Who is this high and mighty guy, anyway, to try and judge me? What an asshole.)
B: You know what? I got a thing I gotta get to. I'll talk to you later.
(B gets up and leaves.)


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tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


Jim Davies's picture

Another great article, Tzo. I feel sure I've met this guy's brother.

One of his answers said "Now you're going to pull out a gun and attack people who are doing their job in conjunction with the agreement you made when you bought the house?"

It's a long while since I bought or sold a house but I recall that indeed there was some clause the lawyer had slipped in the contract to the effect that the buyer promises to pay taxes on the property. So "B" might be right.

Is there a lawyer reading this who could suggest a clause to offer in substitution, which would relieve the seller of responsibility to pay?

BrianDrake's picture

That's a good point Jim. But who is the contract between? The buyer and the seller or the buyer and the lawyer? Obviously, if the lawyer is the agent of the seller, then his action would count as the seller's will (to the degree he is operating within the power contractually assigned him). So when the seller instructs the lawyer, "draw up a contract that will comply with the law" (or rather, the lawyer will probably promise to do this when hired for the task), the "comply with the law" part is ultimately a concession to the threat of force (the law) by the seller. Thus, is it not an invalid part of the contract? Have we not established in law and reason that agreements made under coercion are not enforceable agreements?

For what is a contract but an agreement between the parties transferring title? If the seller is acting under coercion, is it really his will that the buyer is agreeing to? Imagine the buyer and seller standing in the same room, but the seller has a man standing behind him with a gun pressed to the his spine. The gun man commands the seller "in the contract, require the buyer to pay me money". When the buyer signs the contract, he now has an agreement with the seller (not the gunman) to comply with its conditions in exchange for the house. Yet the part about paying the gunman was an addendum that was not truly the seller's will (otherwise, no threat of force was needed). So if the buyer refuses the gunman payoff, has he defrauded the seller?

If the gunman kept the seller hostage, then I would think yes. For the seller parted with the house and included the gunman payoff as a measure to relieve himself of the threat of force. If the gunman stays, and the buyer refuses the payoff, then the threat of force against the seller may be realized when the gunman fails to receive his payoff. So to the seller, the buyer has not fulfilled the contract (i.e., attained the house by fraud) because it was the seller's expectation in trade that the threat be satisfied. This illustration is the case with sales taxes, as I understand them. If you pay only the listed price of an item, then refuse to pay the sales tax and maintain possession of the item, it is the store owner who will be penalized and thus you have stolen from him (as relieving the threats of the tax collector was part of the expectation of the seller in concluding the sale).

But with property taxes, it is as though the gunman walks over to the buyer when the contract is signed and persists to stick his gun into the buyer's back, leaving the seller free of that specific threat. It is now the buyer who will be shot if he refuses the payoff and thus, the seller is no longer in danger of the consequences of this refusal. Correct me if I'm wrong, but refusing to pay your property taxes does not result in the previous owner being fined.

I'm not a morning person, so I've probably been a bit sloppy in my thinking in this post, but just brainstorming a bit. It would seem to me that even if a home sale included a promise to pay property taxes, there is no ethical obligation to pay them since their inclusion as a condition of sale was made under threat of force. This is different than a condo arrangement where sales are dependent on promise to conduct future sales with the perpetual condition of abiding by condo association rules. It was a legitimate property right being exercised by the initial condo developer, it is not a legitimate property right being exercised by the state.

Jim Davies's picture

As I recall it, the example in my mind was rather simple. The seller had (when he bought the house he was selling) contracted to pay prop-tax, or thought he had. Now he was selling it, he wanted contractual assurance that the buyer would relieve him of that obligation. In other words, yes: he feared the possibility that if I didn't pay prop-taxes, the Town gunmen might come after him, unless he had a contract that said I would pay them in his stead.

One can understand the seller's concern. If the anarchist buyer is unwilling to make a promise to pay prop-taxes, such deals might well collapse. Then all AnCaps would have to live in tents. So again, is there legal wording that would assure the seller without committing the buyer?

golefevre's picture

As B gets up to leave, the camera pans over to Rod Serling and we find out B has just entered "The Twilight Zone."

"Enter the world of 'B'. Logic is the enemy and truth is a menace. His allegiance to the state is about to be tested as he enters into The Twilight Zone."

BrianDrake's picture

Great article TZO, and while I find such sample conversations useful, I'm discouraged that I've yet to see one like that in real life. Most "B"s start throwing up chaff (red herrings) much earlier in the conversation as though they realize, even subconsciously, where this is all going. Perhaps it's a failure of me as an "A", but I also wonder how many suitable "B"s really exist. Most appear to be too dishonest, or too dumbed down to respond in the manner you present.

Suverans2's picture

G'day tzo,

I'm afraid, my friend, I must once again take exception to way you've used the word "society".

It is not "society" that is taking A's home, it is the "government". "Society" can't agree to anything, it is the particular individual men and women of a society who agree to this, because they want the "carrot at the end of the stick", the benefits and privileges of membership, i.e. "citizenship". In your little play, you never informed us, has A voluntarily "submitted himself to the dominion of the government", has he consented to be a "citizen" so he can partake of the slop in the trough?

"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat."

And, if indeed there was a clause in that paperwork that obliged the buyer to pay a PROPERTY TAX, why on earth did A enter into that agreement; in your play A never had "a man standing behind him with a gun pressed to his spine", he was free to withhold his consent.

tzo's picture

B conflates government with society, a common enough occurrence that it is almost universal. A goes along with the inaccuracy, and I don't think it makes his point any less valid. These is just two guys talkin' here.

Whether A has been feedin' at the trough or not does not matter too much. If he decides to not submit to force, he is justified. I think Brian makes good observations in his post above, in that a contract signed under threat of force is not really a contract. Is it legally binding within government gunshot? Oh, yeah. Would it stand up in a natural law court? Nope.

Why would someone sign such a document? Well, perhaps he wants a house, but the government has a monopoly on land titles. He has no choice but to sign if he wants a house. Is he ethically bound to honor such a contract? I say no.

If I want to buy food, I have to pay sales tax. If I go into a store and pay for just the food and not the tax, I have not done anything unethical. I am declining to give money to the government. I break no agreement with the store owner. I am not taking anything from him, unless you consider that he will incur a real loss because the government is going to extract tax by force whether I pay or not, and so the store owner will, with the same government's help, use force to extract the tax from me. He will screw me because he does not want to be screwed, which is reasonable behavior under the circumstances.

If you work and fill out 1040s, you are signing a contract to pay taxes. There is nothing unethical about breaking that invalid contract whenever you want. Lying on your tax form, even after you swear in writing that all information is true to the best of your knowledge, is not unethical.

No government interaction is ever binding in any way. They are coercive thugs playing at being honest human beings. None of it is voluntary, even if you "voluntarily" sign on the dotted line. Fark 'em.

No one can behave rationally when he is constantly surrounded by threats.

Suverans2's picture

"No one can behave rationally when he is constantly surrounded by threats." ~ tzo [I agree, true threats do make rational behavior very difficult...if not nigh onto impossible, which is why it legally negates voluntary consent.]

A threat has been defined to be any menace of such a nature and extent as to unsettle the mind of the person on whom it operates, and to take away from his acts that free, voluntary action which alone constitutes consent. Abbot. [Benjamin Vaughan Abbott. Dictionary of Terms and Phrases used in American or English Jurisprudence, 1879] ~ A Dictionary of Law [Black's 1st c.1891], page 1171

Suverans2's picture

Thank you for your reply, tzo.