"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." ~ Blaise Pascal
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
Recently there was an unusually perceptive comment posted on these pages, that noted the folly of supposing that believers in government can be expected to leave us infidels in peace.
There are only two ways of getting what one wants: earning it, or stealing it. Persuade, or compel. This is the great divide, the feature that separates believers from non-believers. If one believes in government, one has declared one's readiness to use force – because, as even Washington admitted, force is what government is; not reason, not eloquence, but force.
In principle, therefore, it's impossible for government to leave people alone. That would be for it to go against its very nature. It's true that occasionally it does so – but only because in some time and place force may not be feasible, not because government people have given up their core principle. For example, the IRS has been known to stop trying to extract blood from some particular stone, not because of kindness or repentance or any change of purpose or method, but because there are 1,000 other stones out there (per employee) who are less stony or who contain more blood. It's just a matter of efficient resource allocation.
Anarchists foreswear the initiation of force, because to force someone to act in a certain way is to rule or govern him, contrary to the axiom that each person has a basic right to rule and govern himself. Therefore, in this temporary period of history in which society consists of both forcers and persuaders, there exists the problem of how (to borrow the profound words of the late Rodney King) to get along. We're willing to leave them alone, but their religion (for such it is, at root) forbids them to leave us alone. It follows that the tempting idea of co-existing peacefully is a fool's paradise; it can never happen, and to imagine otherwise may be fatal. So, when they don't leave us alone, what are we supposed to do; shoot them?
Nothing wrong with defensive force, so that option is not off the table. It brings a very acute problem with it, though, because believers (in government and force) are cunning; they seldom begin an interaction by pointing a gun in their target's face, but rather play nice. Won't you pay your tax or get your permit, like a good citizen? And won't you obey our laws, in the interest of public harmony? To shoot someone doing that seems highly disproportionate; one is morally entitled to use defensive force, but only as much as seems needed to deter or deflect the imminent threat. To use more than that is to reverse the encounter and impose force on the intruder – to violate his rights. They inflict their force in small increments, so as to leave us with exactly that dilemma; they boil their frogs gradually.
In the fictional story by John Ross, Unintended Consequences, some of the characters face dilemmas of just that kind and resolve them by submitting many times over long periods, but then “snap” and kill the offending bureau-rat in utter frustration and fury. This reflects reality. During the 1990s in the small state of New Hampshire, two separate men who had been taunted and persecuted by government employees for many years, took it – until they could take it no longer, and then they turned and shot their tormentors dead. One was Carl Drega, up near the Canadian border, and the other was John Albro in the town of Newbury – whose tin gods had repeatedly denied his requests for zoning variances needed for him to earn a living. Worse: Albro killed not the tin gods themselves, but the clerks who had merely given him the news of their refusals. Today there is a memorial stone outside the Town Hall, to the clerks who died. But not to Albro, who also died.
That exemplified the other problem associated with the use (or over-use) of defensive force; not only is there a serious moral dilemma, there is the near-certainty that the defender will lose his own life. Albro shot himself before the police could kill him, as they killed Drega. Once a worm turns, the force-believers concentrate their force on the resister and take him out.
Anarchists don't have a lot in common with Christians, but there is this: the early Church was, like us, opposed to and persecuted by the State. The Roman one accommodated a large variety of religions, but did demand subservience to Caesar; and that's one thing Christians would not give, hence the conflict. Their problem then was like ours now: how far to resist. Paul's advice was “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18) and in verse 14, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” But then in 2 Corinthians 6:14 he warns, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” A yoke is a harness, usually of wood, that links two laboring oxen together to harmonize their work of pulling a cart or plow. The animals are to cooperate – but here, Paul says that can't and shouldn't happen.
Is any of that – to submit, but not to work together – useful to anarchists?
Yes, I think so. The second bit – not working with or for government – fits us well. It is in fact the way, and the only way, that government will be terminated, and then only when we have persuaded everyone else not to work for it. A wholly achievable objective, in a surprisingly short time frame, as shown here; so there's a practical reason, as well as the moral one, to adopt Paul's advice. He did not, I presume, have any plans to dismantle the Roman Empire, for his flock was anticipating a Second Coming, and/or Heaven after death, so that didn't matter much. We don't, so it does. We do have an empire to end, a free society to create, because only by creating one can we maximize our own happiness--the purpose of life.
The first bit – submission – is much harder to digest, so I suggest a little harmless deception. It seems to me a good idea to pretend to submit to government. Less stressful. Cheerfully say Yes, Massa whenever appropriate. Fill out their loathsome forms, pay their iniquitous demands, and generally give the impression of being a good little citizen. That way, there is unlikely to be any confrontation to which they will bring irresistible force. While doing so, however, there will be no question of “blessing” them, nor of avoiding “cursing” them--except that the cursing will be sotto voce.
Why the deception, the pantomime? Because provided we are also taking action to end their miserable existence as government agents, we know that after a short while, the curtain will fall on the performance. I can put up with a few more years of doffing my cap. Can't you? Yes, there are limits to it, of course; nobody, I hope, will submit to a draft to go kill strangers, for example. But generally, keep the profile low. Then, when all their employees have left, the residual top brass will hardly know what hit them.
What would make no sense at all to me would be to follow Paul's counsel in any degree – or, for that matter, to sacrifice one's own life while ending one or two of theirs – without taking that action to terminate the state. That would perpetuate subservience, turn a pretense into a reality, and miss humanity's best chance in ten millennia to discard the yoke of government.