The Greater Evil


Column by Retta Fontana.

Exclusive to STR

What to do when someone you love is hopelessly embedded in the political system?

You meet someone. You’re very attracted to them. They may be intelligent, kind, good-looking, considerate, funny, generous--maybe even health conscious. They may owns firearms--a huge plus in my book and I’m guessing for a lot of STR readers as well. Like most people, they have a rather healthy disdain for taxes, tyrants, attorneys and busybodies in general. Depending upon their line of work, they likely have hostility towards particular branches of bureaucracy--police, regulators, city inspectors or zoning boards.

They probably enjoy the minimal benefits that they may realize from government; passive benefits such as having their “deposits insured,” a Social Security check at retirement (as opposed to a hand-out,) or overt government favoritism to certain forms of business which can protect them from competition. However, this last one is usually reserved for the mega-corporations that can afford lobbyists.

When you get to know this person, you joyfully realize the interests you share--movies, eating out, golfing, skiing, etc. You can probably go on enjoying these things together for a long time, but sooner or later, unless you have specifically sought out another freedom lover, at the very least you will bump up against the average person’s obeisance to some type of statism. These days, with the media hullabaloo of the over the presidential election process with hourly news updates about the most pathetic group of candidate hopeful yet, there is nearly no escape.

Americans are exposed to politicians as if they have meaning from the day they are born. If you’re exposed often enough to something horrific at a young enough age, you don’t react the way a normal person would and so most people find this circus normal. They’ve learned to pay taxes and fees without protest and they’ve learned not to mention the cages that await if you refuse or the dead bodies that always stack up when the world improvers set out to “fight evil.”

A nearly best-case scenario is that you find someone who isn’t at all interested in politics. They don’t actively fight tyranny, but they don’t promote it, either. They pay taxes because they don’t want to be threatened with violence or because their employer pays it for them from their paycheck. It’s not easy to find someone who is indifferent to the state. It’s not a best-case scenario in general, but it can make a relationship possible.

I usually encounter people who like their hand-outs. Sometimes I meet someone who hates lots of things that are going on, but still has a basic belief that it can get “back on track” if the right person is elected. Or they think that it won’t get worse if the wrong person is not elected! They almost always try to get me to join their “Church of the Lesser Evil.”

I enjoy speaking with them because they will openly condemn every action taken by the other, what they consider the “greater evil” candidate. When I agree with them, it spurs them on to greater heights. They assume that because I also hate candidate #2, that I must also be holding vigil for their “lesser evil” candidate. I say nothing when they defend their candidate with, “at least he doesn’t blah blah blah.” They take my silence as tacit agreement, or at least interest.

If I care about the person, I listen, usually saying nothing and eventually they stop when they run out of steam, appearing grateful to be heard. But this isn’t the end of it. It is “to be continued” and I won’t forget what they said they like about government. (I prefer to let the other person do the work here. As with most things, people usually don’t appreciate things unless they have to work for it.) I find that when I wait long enough, sooner or later they will open the door and invite me in. I bide my time and when that day comes (and the day always comes!) when they complain--usually about taxes, but any of its many heinous acts will do--I roll out my simplest answer--I hate government. It’s a drum I pound incessantly.

If they complain, I agree with them and explain their pain. If they gripe about wars, I say something like: “If you’re going to have a government, there will be killing.” If they complain about the IRS: “Yes, they are terrifying. But governments always grow and grow until you wind up with an IRS.” Long lines at the airport TSA? “They aren’t even protecting anything except their own pensions.” Can’t do what you want to do? “Government is a master and it treats people like slaves. It’s why I don’t vote for a new master.” Traffic tickets get: “We live in a police state now. It’s the logical end of all forms of government.”

The simple truth at the point of pain can be very effective. It’s the same logic used in treating addiction. No one pulls junkies off the street and tries to clean them up. But when someone is at rock bottom and is willing to do anything to be free, that’s the point where help is useful. You have their full attention.

So this person you met, someone you like, who you admire and enjoy, has an Achilles heel--a political affiliation. Maybe they watch it on TV, making you uncomfortable. Maybe you have to busy yourself with something or leave the room, hoping, like a dentist appointment, that it will be over soon.

I haven’t watched television in years because it’s low quality, idiotic and a lot like eating candy--engaging for a moment, but an hour later you’re not happy that you ate it. You never think, gee, I wish I’d eaten two more candy bars yesterday. I have thought, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t eaten any candy yesterday,” and “I wish I had that hour of my life back that I wasted on a TV program with mind-numbing commercials.”

Someone as unaccustomed to the circus show of media coverage of electoral politics as I am finds the whole thing tragically absurd. It’s like watching a bloody train wreck with human carnage lying about or an obscene episode of “My 600 Pound Life.” I ask myself how do these things happen?! How can anyone watch it happen? What’s more--how can anyone participate in electoral politics as if it has some kind of legitimacy? The only answer I can come up with is, “conditioning.” It’s how they’ve always done it--just sign on for the lesser of two evils. Charles Spurgeon says, “Of two evils, choose neither.”

Eventually your special someone starts to apply gentle pressure to vote for her candidate. She’s a caring, concerned person who believes the lie that her vote matters, revealing the fact that it’s all a fear-based illusion. She feels strongly that you get on board with the lesser of two evils or we are all doomed. She is completely unaware that this attitude is very typical and prevalent. In fact, it is the reason why we are still plagued with injustice, taxation, theft, police violence and war--the very things she despises.

Maybe you find the state of the world troubling and sad. Maybe you find the prevalence of this insanity equally troubling. Deep down you understand the resistance to seeing the charade for what it is. You, too, were raised in the “matrix.” It sucked the life out of you as if you were a copper-topped battery until you woke up to a reality that isn’t pretty. You’ll do what I have to do for your own survival in this world, but participate in your own enslavement you will no longer do because once you see the truth, you cannot unsee it. You can’t stomach a belly full of lies when your head is full of logic.

There are so many ways we, as liberty lovers, can unwittingly or seemingly insignificantly go along to get along. I don’t go out of my way to antagonize petty bureaucrats that I am pretty much forced to encounter from time to time. I don’t proselytize any more or try to open anyone’s eyes who wants to keep them shut. I pay taxes and fees (extortion) to avoid being abducted or having loaded weapons pointed at me.

Barring a strong reason, you’re probably not going to go around trying to stop other people from doing what they do. Voting is so trivial as to actually be a meaningless exercise and ritual, like making the sign of the cross when you enter a church. But sooner or later, it will come down to drawing a line. Maybe you get tired of her insistence that you vote. Maybe she asks you drive her to the voting booth or even to co-sign her absentee ballot.

I don’t have much, but I have my integrity, and what I endorse matters to me. I cannot in good conscience participate in the deadly game of politics --can you? It’s a theater of the absurd, except it’s not funny. I won’t co-sign the promotion of theft, murder and all brands of tyranny, whether it actually counts for anything or not. I won’t pretend that the electoral process has validity.

Politics and religion are considered the poorest topics for conversation, much less connecting with other people. Why this is so is something that I’ve thought about a lot. I think the reason that religion and politics are such hot buttons is because they stem from our core. They are usually ideas embedded since childhood--a time we didn’t understand that they were merely concepts and not a solid reality. They become the foundation upon which we build our lives. It invokes fear, one of the most powerful, primal emotions that people will do anything to avoid. But fear leads to government, and government leads inexorably to suffering. Government is intertwined with every minute detail of life and to question the existence of it is exceptional and game-changing.

“When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion--when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing--when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors--when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you--when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice--you may know that your society is doomed.” ~ Ayn Rand

A lot of people have figured out how to maintain a significant relationship with someone who is still “hopelessly inured” in the systems of oppression around us. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to learn to live around something so essential. I need people in my life who have stepped outside the system of enslavement, and not just Internet friends. The “greater evil” is not the other fellow’s candidate--it is the system itself and my “community” consists of those who accept this truth.

I can overlook a lot of things. Everyone has to ignore some things in life in order to get through. But freedom is my core foundation upon which I build my life. It’s not some mindless flight of fancy, such as a new pair of shoes or a haircut. It was something I embraced with my heart and my mind. It was the barometer I used to raise my children. It is the go-to position I use to make decisions large and small. It is the essence of integrity. Freedom is more dear to me than anything. I hope it is to you, as well, dear reader.

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 59

Retta Fontana lives in the Great Smoky Mountains. Children are her favorite people. She loves to connect with readers - please writer to her here:


Samarami's picture

Retta, you've brought up some excellent points in the realm of achieving, as our old and late friend, Harry Browne labeled it, "Freedom in an Unfree World". And also in dealing with those I love dearly, but who seem to eschew freedom with an eerie martyrdom. If I didn't know better, I'd want to grasp 'em by the seat of their britches and the scruffs of their necks and rub their noses in liberty.

Sometimes it's easy to forget that I did not arrive upon this pale blue dot with an anarchist spoon in my mouth. It was a slow process with me. And I'm at an age where I must consciously resist set-in-my-ways thinking. Just because I'm octogenarian does not mean I can't learn new stuff as I trudge along.

To repeat a story, I have 7 children (6 of 'em now over 50) and lots of grandchildren (26th due in August). Two of my boys and their families were ardent Ron Paul supporters in the last two bread-and-circus events -- heavily invested in his "run for grand wizard". I did lots of grandpa duty during those years, met Dr and Mrs Paul a number of times (and some of their children), came to respect them considerably. I would not hesitate to refer any of my friends or daughters or daughters-in-law to him (he's an OBGYN). His medical "practice" (whatever that's supposed to mean) was and is not far from my old neighborhood in South Central Texas.

But I would not vote -- for him, or for anybody else.

    "...Voting is so trivial as to actually be a meaningless exercise and ritual, like making the sign of the cross when you enter a church. But sooner or later, it will come down to drawing a line..."

The fecundity of your statement strikes the root of the dilemma. I like the way Mark, our friend and STR contributor, once phrased it:

    Working within the system means to become a part of the system.
    When you go into the voting booth, the only meaningful significance that your action will have is to show that one more person supports the state.

    ~Mark Davis

    From "Be Free", by Mark Davis July 10, 2005.

One evening the whole crew showed up at my place (the 26th above referenced grandchild will be their 10th!) laden with Ron Paul posters and signs, beseeching me to allow them to be installed on my property. I gently turned them down. I explained (non-argumentatively as possible) that displaying political signs would go against everything in which I believe and try to stand for.

    "...I don’t have much, but I have my integrity, and what I endorse matters to me. I cannot in good conscience participate in the deadly game of politics --can you? It’s a theater of the absurd, except it’s not funny. I won’t co-sign the promotion of theft, murder and all brands of tyranny, whether it actually counts for anything or not. I won’t pretend that the electoral process has validity..."

Sez it all. Good work, Retta! Sam

Paul's picture

Sam, over on the zerogov forum we had an argument about "defensive voting" (e.g., voting against ballot measures such as a tax hike). Somewhat as a devil's advocate, I took the position that it is a bit much to criticize the defensive measures an individual takes against aggression. Even if the cost is a tiny increment of "legitimacy" granted to the ruling thugs, by participating, it is justifiable for a potential victim to avoid his victimhood with even such an ineffectual tool as a vote. If voting is meaningless, it doesn't much matter if you do it or not. Of course if one does so, it should be done without any blinders on.

I'm still not sure my position is the correct one, or even if the argument matters at all (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin).

rettafontana's picture

I appreciate the quotes.

rettafontana's picture

Thank you, Samarami.

Paul's picture

Excellent article.

"Eventually your special someone starts to apply gentle pressure to vote for her candidate."

Not only with loved ones. I see it on gun forums all the time. They know their guy is scum, but they somehow imagine he is less scummy than the other, with no real evidence to support that.

Sometimes I respond: "What if the voting rate went from its current low value, up to 100%. Would anything change? No, the world would be the same as it is now. Well, what if the voting rate went from its current low value, down to 0%? Would anything change? Yes, everything would change, because even if a government managed to form, no one would pay any attention to it, and people would have to interact voluntarily. So, why are you trying to get me to vote?"

I like Mencken's take on it:
"I believe that liberty is the only genuinely valuable thing that men have invented, at least in the field of government, in a thousand years. I believe that it is better to be free than to be not free, even when the former is dangerous and the latter safe. I believe that the finest qualities of man can flourish only in free air - that progress made under the shadow of the policeman's club is false progress, and of no permanent value. I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave." ["Why Liberty?", Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1927]

On the original question, I have a similar situation. Those I love are still in the matrix, although marginally it seems. For me the answer is to be patient with them. It took me forever to figure it out, and I think my son is vastly farther along than I was at his age, so the outlook is not so bad. Another quote might help:

"My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them, nor indisposed me to serve them; nor, in spite of failures, which I lament, of errors, which I now see and acknowledge, or, of the present state of affairs, do I despair of the future. The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense, and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of humanity is so long, and that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope."
-- Robert E. Lee