22 March 2007

A concerned Picket Line reader writes:

I’ve been reading your posts now for a while and the last one really got to me. The Annual Report.

What I find terribly hard to comprehend is the apparent acceptance that you display as regards the fact that you are totally a slave and completely subject to the instructions of others. This just baffles me. You accept all of these rules and regulations, or seem to, with nary a flutter of indignation at the very least that your entire life is subject to someone else’s scriblings. You seem to define your life by them.

How is it that you are so comfortable with others defining how much of your life force you are allowed to keep and yet you seem offended that these same people are making the same choices about others? Is it really that much of a difference between taking the life force of a person living in Iraq and taking most of the life force of another living in San Francisco…? Where do you draw the line on naked aggression? And how do you define that location?

Some of this I think hinges on what you mean by “acceptance.” I “accept” that if I see someone else playing with a toy I would like to play with I can’t just go over and grab it out of their hands. I also “accept” that there are people in the world who will take advantage of the opportunity to rob my home if I leave the door unlocked.

In the first case, I’m agreeing to a code of conduct or a social norm; in the second case, I’m just acknowledging a fact about the world around me, without agreeing to it.

I accept that some people, operating with the impunity they believe a government can bestow, may kill me, imprison me, torture me, or steal from me, and that they have also set down conditions that I must follow to avoid these fates — for instance, to pay tribute and to conform to their more-or-less arbitrary whims. This you characterize as “acceptance that” I am “totally a slave and completely subject to the instructions of others.”

I’d drop the “totally” and “completely” and I think I’d use another word than “slave” too — but I think I get what you’re driving at.

But note that I mean this “acceptance” in the “acknowledge” sense, not the “agree” sense. I acknowledge that this is the case and that I can’t just wish it away.

Step two is to figure out what to do about it.

I would like to be free to be an honorable person without being slave or master, victim or executioner. There’s no magic spell that will make this happen. Every path I take has trade-offs.

If I decide to maximize my freedom by living my life my way without regard for what the government commands, I risk the retribution of the government which is powerful enough to, and is inclined to, take away the freedom and “life force” of people who try that path. If, on the other hand, I try to minimize that risk by paying the government what it demands and by obeying its commands, I’ve stunted my freedom in the cause of preserving it. The middle ground between these extremes, where we all live, is occupied by uncomfortable compromises that keep freedom-loving people as close to freedom as we think we can get under the circumstances.

So much for the trade-offs we make to maximize our freedom. There’s also a second dimension on which these trade-offs can be judged. Our choices also may feed and strengthen (or starve and sap) the apparatus that is determined to make us a slave or a master, a victim or an executioner.

It costs the government to rule over people. It is only able to rule because it is profitable to rule — in other words, subjects produce more for the State than it costs the State to enforce their subjection.

I intend to be one of the many counter-examples to this general rule.

If I weren’t paying as much attention to the law and to keeping my income low and qualifying for legal deductions and credits, but I were paying more money to the Treasury, I might feel freer, but I’d be making government that much more profitable and thereby contributing to the evil I was trying to avoid. I’d be less victim, but more executioner, and not really any freer, at least not in the way I consider to be important.

So that’s one explanation for why I’m doing things the red-tape way.

There may be better methods to meet my goals than the ones I’m using. I don’t claim to have found the one ideal spot in that “middle ground.” For instance, I might find that moving into the underground economy makes more sense, and I’m willing to entertain the argument that I’d be more of a drain on the State if I were to go on public assistance or even if I were to go to “prison.… the only house in a slave-state in which a free man can abide with honor.”

I haven’t made my particular choice because I’m “comfortable” with the demands of a parasitical State but because it’s the best solution I’ve come up with so far for keeping as much freedom as I can while contributing little to support the State.

Also, I do think there’s a significant quantitative difference between being under the thumb of Uncle Sam here in San Francisco — which, unjust though it is, is a relatively comfortable species of that ubiquitous variety of injustice — and being under the thumb of military occupation in Iraq. If it weren’t for the fact that the injustices are conjoined (that is, it is the U.S. government’s parasitizing of Americans that enables it to bomb Iraqis) I would postpone trying to get the government off our backs here to try to stop its savagery there.

I hope that answers your question or at least gets us a little closer to an answer.

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