Among the purposes of this site is to show how to convey political views to those who not already inclined to agree with you. Sometimes I suggest quick little tricks, other times I delve more deeply into Principle. I’m currently delving into Principle, for I’m being respectfully confronted by somebody with whom there are fundamental disagreements. The tricks I teach are useless at best and destructive at worst if they’re not being used to convey Truth.
At the same time, I recognize that some of this may seem obvious my readers who are political allies. What we need to recognize is that what’s obvious to us is not necessarily obvious to others. In fact, much of our problem stems from our inability to recognize that what strikes us as painfully self-evident is anything but self-evident to others.
There are times to make your opponent look like a moron. This is not one of those times. It’s more fun to lash out, and for the time being you’ll have to take my word for it, but I’m really damn good at it. But as exhilarating as it can be to make somebody squirm, sometimes it’s counterproductive. I support productivity.
I’m participating in this debate because it’s largely substantive. Lotus (LarryE) brings up points that need to be addressed by libertarians and conservatives. When we make our points, others hear implications we don’t intend. Discussion and disagreement are about far more than the actual words expressed, they’re about the beliefs behind those words. Furthermore, they’re about what others perceive you believe. At no point can every hint and assumption be addressed, although they can be addressed more rapidly in person.
Hence, this discussion, which probably strikes many of you as a painfuly belaboring yet more of the obvious. Virtually all of my libertarian readers and most of my conservative ones have already, with little effort, understood what I mean by have to and force. Lotus and Daisy haven’t. This speaks to the fundamental difference in visions that separates us, how we think differently, why we find it so hard to communicate.
Of course, sometimes we simply misunderstand our opponents. Lotus did NOT suggest that I am a member of the 1%, but he DID suggest a superficial materialism often attributed to that 1% through statements like “cut the crap: We know what you’re actually about.” I am also entirely familiar with the concept of empathy, than you very much. There’s also plenty of reason to support strong property rights beyond simple greed and materialism (but I can’t hit on everything in one post).
So, straight to Larry’s Point 5:
The “‘have to’ thing” is an “effective” device only because, as I said, it’s easy to win an argument when you get to define the meaning of all the terms. Of course I didn’t deny that “If I want to do something, and you’ll shoot me if I do it, you’re using force to stop me,” because the statement is trival, the observation banal. You don’t respond to my argument, you merely cite it, then ignore it and just repeat your previous claim at greater length. The point, again, is that you allow for no meaning of “have to” other than force.
In the context of what I was explaining, the have to‘s to which I was referring were those of external obligation. Compunction. Force.
Is this the only sort of obligation that exists? No, and I never claimed it was. My point is that there are different forms of obligation and that it’s imperative for us to distinguish between them.
First, there’s the type to which Daisy alludes (“we HAVE TO live, we HAVE TO die, hello?”), simple physical law. If you jump off a building without a parachute, you have to fall to the ground. Someday, you’ll indeed “HAVE TO die”). Technology can restrict some of these (we no longer “have to wait around on a boat for months if we want to go to Spain), but the degree to which government affects these realities is of peripheral importance to the topic at hand. Congress could pass a law that we all MUST live to be 100 years old, but it wouldn’t change our life expectancies in the slightest.
Second, there is external compunction. Do this or I shoot. Fill out this form or I take your home. Install another sink or I close down your soup kitchen. Unlike the first type of have to, this depends on a person making you do something. Force.
Third, we have moral obligation, the have to you’ve got in your gut, the inability to steal the wallet even though you know you wouldn’t get caught, your drive to play the violin every night even when you haven’t slept in a week.
There are no moral “have to”s, no ethical “have to”s, no “I have to do this even though I don’t want to because it’s just the right thing to do, dammit”s, no social obligations (a word with which, as I said, libertarians seem singularly unfamilar) of any sort, no demands of conscience to restrict or direct behavior.
I’ve never said this, nor implied it. I’ve used have to in the force sense of the word in reference to government, but at no time have I suggested that that’s the only type of obligation that exists. In fact, to the strongly convicted, moral compunction can be even more forceful than physical compunction. The hearts of the civil rights protesters were stronger than the physical force of the dogs and fire hoses.
To use one of my favorite logical formations: All forms of force are obligations, but not all forms of obligation are force.
The obligations to which I have been referring are those of force implemented by the government, the “legitimate” use of force of man against man. Government does three things:
1. Stops people from doing something (force).
2. Makes people do something (force).
3. Other stuff that it could only in conjunction with, or resulting from, 1. or 2. (ostensibly nice things that it could only do if force weren’t somehow applied elsewhere).
Man obligating man is fundamentally different than man following his own conviction (even if that conviction is immeasurably strong). I’ve never argued against the existence of the latter, I’ve only drawn a distinction between it and the former and called attention to the FACT that government is a manifestation of the former. As I argue that government is a forceful actor, and in describing that force I sometimes use have to instead of repeating the word force force force force, in no way do I suggest or imply that there is neither physical law nor an individual conscience.
I guarantee that any libertarian or conservative reading this debate has readily grasped this and that virtually everyone who inclines towards Daisy and Larry’s views has not. (I don’t mean this to be an insult, it’s only a reflection of my own experience. Even though we differ substantially on other issues, Ron Paul would get what I’m saying immediately, John Bolton in five to ten minutes, Rick Santorum in fifteen to twenty. Dennis Kucinch would get it eventually. Nancy Pelosi, never.)
So for my initial question of “Why should I have to help the poor?”, for the purpose of clarification I’ll rephrase (although in person you don’t usually need to):
Why should I be forced to help the poor?
This question in no way precludes the existence of any sense of moral obligation I may or may not have, nor does it preclude the possibility that his moral sense may differ from mine. It claims neither that I am morally inferior nor superior. It makes no reference to God and what He may do to me if I fail to follow His commandments, nor what those commandments might be. It only calls attention to the FACT that income redistribution IS the act of one group of people REQUIRING other people to do what it thinks best.
Whether or not such requirements are a good idea is a valid topic for discussion, but it’s a different discussion. We all agree that sometimes force is justified (locking up axe murderers). But justified force is still force, and it’s important we recognize it as such.
As you can see, it’s extremely difficult to make this point in writing (I have no idea if I’ve succeed or not, and I may never know), but it’s substantially easier in person. Yes, you’ll have to go back and forth a lot, you’ll have to avoid forty-five attempts at subject changes and redirections, but you can generally get people to accept that government is force because it is. It’s not just some trick, it’s reality. Furthermore, it’s reality that sheds important light on nearly every political issue. It’s one of your fundamental Reality Frames.
Once the debate has been correctly framed as government=force, you can address the more pertinent question: what is the appropriate way for us to exercise that force. For example, Larry:
As a sort of PS, here is a question I hope you will address as part of that upcoming post: I think we agree that society as a whole, acting through government, has a responsibility to protect the “stuff” of the members of that society, that is, to protect them against crime (avoiding for the moment the philosophical argument about how what constitutes “crime” is a creation of that society). Can that same society, as a condition of providing that protection, require anything of those same members? Can it legitimately say they “have to” do something or not do something? (Note that “Yes, it can require them not to commit crimes” is not an answer because that is included in the universal protection already agreed and so is merely a restatement of the original premise.)
To put it differently, I assume you believe in contracts and that it’s proper and reasonable for each party to “have to” live up to their part of the bargain. Can society as a whole, as part of the social contract, legitimately tell an individual member that “in exchange for the protections you are given, you must do such-and-so even if you don’t want to?” If yes, what is the objection to “have to?” If no, why not? Why can people make demands on society while denying any necessity of offering anything in return?
These are perfectly valid, fundament, essential questions, and I will address them. In the meantime there are three basic debates, all of which can be put into sharper perspective from the understanding that government is force.
First, if we accept that government is the “legitimate” use of force, to what ends is the use of such force justified? To what extent do we have the collective right to regulate individual behavior, and if so, under what circumstances? After all, “no man is an island.” Our actions have economic, cultural, environmental, and moral consequences. Where do my rights begin and yours end? When does my business become our business, and what can or should we do about it?
Second, there are agents of force ranging from individuals with guns, local governments, state governments, the internal apparatus of national governments, to relations between those governments. Each has a claim to use force within a certain jurisdiction. Which unit of force has the right to supersede the others, and when? Which achieves what ends most efficiently?
Third, what is the purpose of government? To foster a moral society? To ensure economic equality? Or something else. I’ve addressed this to an extent already here: the purpose of government is to preserve individual liberty. Force must be utilized only insofar as it is required to ensure that force interferes with our lives as little as possible. I know that’s an assertion, and I know I’ll have to back it up. I will.
(Yes, force is required to combat force. The best way to ensure the liberty of the women who lived in the vicinity of Ted Bundy was to deprive him of his. If somebody wants to give me the “That’s like saying you have to fuck to preserve virginity” line, I reply only “Without fucking, how the hell are we ever going to make new virgins?”)
HOWEVER, although I believe that the purpose of government is to preserve individual liberty, there’s purpose that transcends mere politics. There’s more to life than being left alone. That’s just a starting point.
Liberty is just a starting point. There’s infinitely more at stake.