The Factory Upstream
"Environmental" issues make great examples of how things will change when people finally let go of the mental crutch of "government," and start acting like responsible adults. Even if there are still honest disagreements about the details, the fundamental approach will change from "What should the state force on everyone?" to "What should normal people do about things?"
Consider the simple example of a factory that pours pollutants into a creek, which then flows across the property of others. The water becomes undrinkable, and fish start to die off. The standard response to such a situation now is to run to the politicians and beg them to "legislate" a solution. (Since this situation involves quantifiable property damage, even self-described "libertarians" might approve of a state-enforced solution.)
But introducing the "government" creature into any situation will always replace reason and responsibility with unaccountable thuggery. The reason for this is simple: when actions are taken in the name of "government," no one involved--not the "law-makers," not the inspectors or regulators, not the "law enforcers"--accepts personal responsibility for what is done. Each cog in the wheel of "government" cooperates in forcibly controlling others, but none of them accept any blame for what happens after that.
In the case of the factory, for example, various committees and legislatures may eventually come up with some formula, saying that the factory may not introduce certain levels of certain pollutants into the creek. And they may decide that if the factory does, it must pay a hefty fine to the state. If the restrictions imposed by "government" don't do enough, or do too much, all those involved will fall back on saying, "Well, this is what the law is." The politicians may impose unnecessary restrictions, forcing the factory out of business, when there was a better solution. Or they may impose no restrictions, because the factory owner paid them off. Or they may impose restrictions that reduce, but do not actually fix the property damage inflicted by the factory. Or the factory owner may decide that it's worth paying the fine to be able to dump pollutants into the creek. In most of those scenarios, the property damage continues and the politicians get some money, while the victims of the damage get nothing, and get no relief from the problem.
Now compare that to what would likely happen if no one--neither the factory owner nor the people downstream--had "government" to run to or hide behind. No one could use "the law" as an excuse to duck personal responsibility for his actions. The factory owner could not fall back on the excuse that what he was doing was "within legal limits," or was otherwise approved by the politicians, nor could the landowners use "the law" to force something unreasonable or unjustified upon the factory owner. In short, whatever anyone involved chose to do, he and he alone would be responsible for his actions, and everyone else would know it. That naturally makes people more cautious, and makes people try (though not always successfully) to find non-violent ways to compromise or otherwise settle disputes. Whether it comes down to boycotts, petitions, PR campaigns, or even outright threats of force (i.e., "If you don't stop killing our fish, we'll come kill your factory"), there is no "authority" for either side to hide behind. The matter won't be settled by lawyers, campaign contributions, legislation, regulation, or any other pseudo-religious statist ritual. It will be settled, one way or another, by people being people, and no one pretending to be "authority."
Understanding the concept of self-ownership brings with it the power of freedom, along with the inconvenience of responsibility. One reason people cling to the myth of "authority" is to try to relieve themselves of having to figure anything out or do anything for themselves. In an authoritarian society, whenever there is some problem or disagreement, competing gangs of people will quickly form, each trying to get "authority" to issue and enforce a decree in their favor. Any attempt at reason, compromise, or peaceful problem-solving, is replaced by a perpetual fight over who can wield the club of "government" to force his preferences on others. Rather than trying to figure out what is actually right, what is effective, what is rationale, what would best serve humanity, the game of "politics" leads to perpetual violent conflict, hidden under euphemisms like "law enforcement" and "the will of the people." In truth, playing the games of "government" is never rational nor civilized; it is nothing more than people behaving as stupid, violent animals, guided by the principle of might makes right--i.e., to hell with reason and morality; if I can get the giant gang with machine guns, tanks and bombers to support my side, then I win.
For example, I personally love the wilderness and animals. If I were a state-worshiper, it would be so easy and convenient for me to beg the state to use its violence to stop other people from logging, hunting, developing, or anything else that might interfere with what I want. If my own personal preferences, forcibly imposed by the gang called "government," put people out of work, make lumber prices soar, and deprive people of food or a place to live, hey, what do I care? If I were a good statist, I wouldn't view myself as bearing any responsibility for having forced those consequences on others. All I did was "vote," and ask the beast called "government" to violently dominate others on my behalf. But since I didn't directly do it myself, I don't have to take any responsibility for the thuggery I advocated.
However, since I've outgrown the "government" myth, things aren't so convenient. If it ever comes to the point where I think it's necessary to exert force upon someone else, I'd have to do it myself, and incur the risks and responsibility of doing so. Where's the fun in that? Ironically, many people think that "working within the system" is the respectable, proper thing to do, while "taking the law into your own hands"--i.e., taking it upon yourself to figure out what must be done, and to do it yourself--makes one an uncivilized beast. Such thinking is completely backwards. "Authority" is the opposite of civilization, as it seeks to settle every disagreement and dispute, not through reason, discussion, compromise and arbitration, but through the brute force of the state. It doesn't use violence as a last resort; it starts and ends with violence and the threat of violence, euphemistically referred to as "law." The belief in "government" is used, by everyone who believes it, as an attempt to coercively subjugate others, while completely avoiding any feelings of guilt or personal responsibility for having acted like stupid, vicious pack animals.
The problem is not one of details or a particular "policy." The problem has to do with the fundamental mindset of most people. When people stuck in the authoritarian paradigm ask, "What will the solution be?" they are seeking an external, final decision--one that they are not responsible for making or carrying out--to be forcibly imposed via the overwhelming physical power of the state. The assumption behind every statist question of, "How will this be handled?" shows that most people are not yet willing or able to accept the reality that in a free society, there won't be any centralized, monopolized, forcibly-imposed authoritarian solution to anything. What solutions we find must come from normal people, using their own judgment and taking action themselves, instead of whining for a super-nanny to do it for them.
In short, being free requires people to grow up. It requires a basic change in how people view the world. When faced with the problem of the factory polluting the stream--or just about any other problem or conflict--instead of falling for the temptation to ask the beast called "government" to do your bidding, hoping for some centrally prescribed and enforced authoritarian "solution," you must face the uncomfortable question, "What should I do about this?" In fact, I will end this article, not even suggesting what I might personally do about the polluting factory, precisely because you shouldn't be looking for anyone else--including me--to hand you a pre-packaged solution to anything. Instead, you should face the possibly unpleasant fact that figuring out what to do, resolving conflicts, and making society work, is YOUR job, as much as anyone else's. So... what would YOU do?