Thursday, April 18, 2013

A reasoned rant

Coming to terms with human rights.

This is going to get political.

Political discussions are hard which is why we hardly ever have any. There is either screaming or yelling and sloganeering or ignorant platitude that ignores the real issues. Part of the reason that they are hard is that politics stem from ideology, which the rhetorician William R. Brown described in the late 70’s as “that category of experience on which one is willing to bet the meaning of one’s life.” To lay one’s life’s meaning on the table like that and not get defensive when it is challenged is hard. To take as serious the points of view that run counter to the meaning of one’s life is hard. Instead, we get angry or we ignore others and write each other off as wackos or get in each others’ faces and “confront” each other. None of that is really productive, but it feels like our only choice.

Maybe there are other options. Maybe we can sit and explain the basic philosophy that undergirds our political beliefs and while we still might not agree with each other, maybe there is some chance that we can come to some kind of recognition that the other side is NOT a wacko. Maybe we’ll continue to see the other side as wrong, but not evil. That, to me, would be a powerful move in the correct direction.

So, I’ll begin with me. I’ll explain the basic philosophical discussions that undergird my opinions regarding the role and scope of government. Then maybe you can do the same. Maybe we can have longer, blog-length discussions about these issues instead of facebook/twitter length discussions. Oh, I am a realist. Probably we will all back into our corners, lick our wounds and think about how evil the other guy is, but at least we tried.

Rights and their sources:

First, I believe that rights exist independent of any type of state or government. I believe that they are given by God. States or governments can recognize or fail to recognize these rights, but the rights are still a person’s rights regardless of the decisions of those in power. Others may attempt to coerce one into not exercising one’s rights or punish one for doing so, but they are still, as the Declarationof Independence says, “inalienable rights.”

I think that there are a lot of rights that God has given us. Still, Locke’s trio of life, liberty and property are a good place to start because of their mutual balancing. Life is perhaps the easiest to understand. No one can take another person’s life. Liberty is the right not to be coerced. No one has the right to coerce another person into any action whatsoever. Finally property, which is the ownership of what one earns or creates when applying labor to nature’s abundance and God’s grace. No one has the right to take another person’s property or tell him or her how to dispose of it.

The right to responsive violence:

But what if someone does? Sheltering these three rights and a host of others is an assumed right that is rarely discussed: a right to responsive violence. Should a person attempt to take your life, coerce you into anything or attempt to confiscate or destroy your property, you have a right to engage in violence equal to the necessity required to halt such infringement or die trying. The right to responsive violence does not mean that you can infringe on others’ rights to life, liberty or property. Your right to responsive violence does not mean that you can take lives of those not currently attempting to take yours. It does not mean that you can legitimately use violence to coerce others. It does not mean that you can use violence in order to force others to relinquish their property. The right to responsive violence does not allow for coercive or preemptive violence. It means that one has the right to respond violently to violent intrusion.

The Nation-State is Suspect.

In order to protect these inherent rights from violence, people have traditionally banded together. One’s own inherent right to responsive violence can be shared among a group so that if a neighbor’s life, liberty or property is being violently assaulted, one can, with the neighbor’s permission, work together to violently fend off such attacks. Furthermore, we have found as a species that any number of our labors is more fruitful and enjoyable when shared. However, there are limits on the extent to which we can share. Coercing a person into sharing his or her labor is chattel slavery. This type of slavery violates notions of both liberty and property and has a huge probability of ending in a violation of one’s right to life as well. Coercing a person into sharing the fruits of his or her labor is theft and is a violation of the right to property as well.

Because no one has the right to violate life, liberty or property, the nation-state is a problematic concept. While people are able to work together to pool resources and incorporate in order to better their lives, protect their liberty and increase their property, they must be free to leave such agreements whenever it is no longer satisfactory or it is coercion. Coercion is a violation of liberty and is therefore wrong. It is such a problematic concept that God declared that the formation of a nation-state a “rejection” of Him (I Sam 8: 7). Smaller local and temporary governments were fine and necessary. Voluntary grouping of individuals is a good thing. Coercion, however, is wrong, always.

Nation-states have a tendency to use coercion not only on those outside their borders but on their own citizens. Citizens regularly have their labor confiscated in the form of taxes and while this is sometimes beneficial, it is hardly ever consensual. Often behaviors are regulated in the form of laws which if violated result in the loss of liberty, property or life. While these behaviors, if violating others’ rights, should be met with responsive violence, this is not always the case. Often laws are created with the idea of preemptively attacking the “criminal” before such violations are carried out. Such preemptive and coercive violence is always wrong. In fact, it is part of an individual’s right to violence to return violence in such instances.

There is No Legitimate Monopoly on Violence.

Many thinkers, wishing to justify the nation-state, have insisted that in the creation of the nation-state there is a simultaneous construction of an entity which has a legitimate monopoly on violence. Of course, I am thinking of Weber here, but even thinkers as recently as Presidents George H. W. Bush and Barrack H. Obama have espoused this notion that nation-states have a legitimate monopoly on violence. There are two major means by which this is understood and both are wrong.

Certainly, a person can voluntarily pool resources with others and make voluntary agreements to limit and direct his or her right to responsive violence. It is reasonable for someone who is not particularly skilled at martial affairs to engage in activities at which he or she is good and from the proceeds of those activities engage someone more skilled in combat to engage in responsive violence for him or her. In a free community, some might be employed in various roles and the free trade of their skills and some of those skills might be soldiers to whom the members of the community voluntarily contribute to their welfare in return for not needing to focus on protective violence themselves. However this does not constitute a true monopoly on violence because any member of a free community, being free, could extricate him or herself from this arrangement and take responsibility for responsive violence on his or her own. Voluntary incorporation does not imply monopoly.

Others seem to imply that the creation of a nation-state suddenly creates an entity that can legitimately engage in coercive and preemptive violence. Of course, that’s what any bully wants you to believe, that he or she has the right to be preemptively violent and coercive. This is a dangerous mindset into which many people have bought and which has allowed many people not to realize the rights that they have. These rights, however, are truly inalienable. Neither the nation-state nor anyone else has the right to engage in coercive or preemptive violence against anyone. No matter how beneficent the leadership of the state feels that the coercion is, they have no legitimate right to engage in it. Only responsive violence is ever legitimate and that is held solely by the individuals whose personal sovereignty is violated. The state cannot legitimately coerce a person.

There is No Social Contract.

Some, such as Rouseau, have argued for the legitimacy of the state as an instrument of violence by referring to a social contract. Since contracts are a means by which people can willingly incorporate, share their property and agree to means of enforcement, participation is not coercive or preemptive because it is agreed upon by all signers. If I agree that I will give you sixteen apples for sixteen oranges, get the oranges and refuse to give you the apples, any violence in which you engage with me to get your sixteen apples is not coercive violence but responsive violence because by lying, I engaged in violence to fraudulently acquire your property. It is reasonable and right that violators of contracts be violently held to the agreements by which they acquired goods and services.

However, the existence of this social contract is seriously in question and even if it does exist its validity is nullified. I never signed a “social contract” and neither have you. The reason we’ve never signed one is that one probably does not really exist. According to most people who accept the concept of the social contract, we “signed” it by accepting the goods and services of the nation-state and are therefore unable to remove ourselves from it until our obligation is paid, which it never will be, and therefore we are chattel-slaves to the state. The nation-state “signed” it by providing goods and services, such as military protection. The problem with this is that we were not aware at the time of our birth that by accepting being born into a world with roads and bridges we were going to be forced into things like military conscription. If we had been able to, we might have made another choice.

Contracts are a means by which free parties can negotiate shared terms whereby they will agree to handle their business. The terms of the social contract, however, are by no means a negotiation. Should a person wish to interact with a nation-state on terms other than those chosen by the nation-state, one is unable. Now, a take-it-or-leave-it contract does not necessarily invalidate the contract, but there still does have to be the choice to leave it. Any contract is invalid if signature on that contract is coerced. Choosing a social contract is coerced, and claiming that the coercion of the nation state is valid because of the social-contract is saying that coercion is acceptable because of coercion.

So, whether on the grounds of a legitimate monopoly on violence or on the grounds of a social contract, the nation state has questionable validity. Certainly, it does not have the right to coercive violence. No matter how much it may be in your own best interest, neither the nation-state nor anyone else has the right to coerce you into anything.

Still, the nation-state exists.

The nation-state continues to exist and continues to coerce and I don’t take up arms against it nor do I really encourage anyone else to do so. There may be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe because I am of the dominant race, gender, education level and class, a coercive nation-state is to my obvious benefit. Most of the stuff that they’d coerce me into doing are things that I’d probably do if they weren’t there anyway. They make me pay taxes, but I contribute more to charity in a given year than to taxes. They have speed limits, which I largely ignore except when I think they’re looking. Furthermore, there’s probably some serious cowardice going on too. If I rose up against the federal Government of the United States of America, I’d lose. So, I don’t. I don’t recommend anyone else do it either. “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way” as the song says and Ruby Ridge and Waco prove.

Furthermore, America is far from the worst among nation-states. I can publish this blog without fear of reprisal. You can’t do that everywhere. There are also a number of means whereby I can contribute to the conversation about coercion, property seizure and responsive violence. I can make arguments that the government must not take away my right to responsive violence, that I do not wholly abdicate that right to police or to the military because don’t trust them. I can make arguments against the preemptive and coercive use of violence. I can stand up and say that the federal government needs to relinquish control to the states, the states need to relinquish control to the counties and the counties need to allow decisions to be made at small local levels.

So, yes, I am against federal gun control.

I have to be against federal gun control. The state uses coercive means to preemptively stop crime and that is wrong. If one wants to voluntarily create a community with strict gun standards that is fine, but no one should be coerced into becoming a part of that community. I am also against federal drug prohibitions. I am against the use of eminent domain. I am against the federal recognition of marriage although I am strongly for marriage and am happy to be married. I don’t believe that any kind of preemptive or coercive law is right, no matter how much it may be “to protect” people. 

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