Larken Rose

More About: Philosophy: Anarchism

Stating the Bleeding Obvious (Part 1)

Sometimes it can be difficult deciding how to state the bleeding obvious, when your target audience has been carefully trained to miss the bleeding obvious. To wit, it's possible to demolish the fundamental assumptions underlying statism using very simple lines of reasoning. And for the ex-statist, the logic is undeniable, and the rational conclusion self-evident. But for the thoroughly indoctrinated (and that included me not many years ago), sometimes the most simple explanation causes the most drastic cognitive dissonance.

Here is an example:

The concept of "authority" is a moral concept. "Government," by definition, is the group of people who have the supposed moral right to enact and enforce "laws." (Whether there are "limits" on what those "laws" require doesn't matter for this particular point.) And a moral right of the "law-makers" to rule (even if only in a "limited" way) implies a moral obligation to obey on the part of their subjects. That is the essence of the concept of "authority" and "government."

Now here is one painfully simple proof of why that concept is self-contradictory bunk:

From the perspective of any given subject, each "law" either coincides with his own conscience, or conflicts with it. For example, a "law" may declare that murder is "illegal," and an individual may think that murder is inherently immoral anyway--so the two match. On the other hand, a "law" may require an individual to fund a war that the subject believes to be immoral, in which case there is a conflict between his own conscience and "the law."

Okay, here comes the question. (Statists, brace yourself, because this might be both painfully obvious and existentially disturbing.) Ready?

Question: Can an individual ever have a moral obligation to disregard his own moral conscience, in favor of obeying an "authority" instead?

Here are the two possible answers, along with their logical ramifications:

1) YES, a person CAN have an obligation to go against his own moral conscience. In other words, a person can have a moral obligation to do something which he believes to be immoral. I hope I don't need to explain in too much detail why that answer is insane. In short, it can't be good to be bad; it can't be moral to be immoral; committing evil cannot be virtuous. Even if a person's own judgment is flawed and twisted, he still cannot rationally imagine himself to have an obligation to do what, from his perspective, is the wrong thing to do.

Okay, so that answer stinks. Here's the other possibility:

2) NO, a person CANNOT have an obligation to go against his own moral conscience. Therefore, he has no obligation to comply with any "law" that conflicts with his own personal judgment of what is right.

Most people can handle that much (even if they start getting nervous at this point). But here is what directly and logically follows from that:

If a "law" conflicts with one's conscience, he has no obligation to obey it. Such a "law" should have no "authority" in his eyes. If, on the other hand, the "law" coincides with his one's conscience, such a "law" is, at best, unnecessary. It is his own conscience, not any "legislation," which obligates him to act properly. Which means that such a "law" still should have no "authority" in his eyes.

In other words, in no situation should any "law" have any "authority" in anyone's eyes, whether it coincides with or conflicts with one's own moral conscience. Every "law" either matches one's own judgment, and is therefore unnecessary and irrelevant, or it contradicts one's own judgment, and should be ignored. Which means that no man-made "law" ever has any "authority" (i.e., it never carries an inherent obligation to obey). And without any "authority" to its "laws," "government" loses all legitimacy, ceases to be "government," and becomes nothing but a bunch of bossy control-freaks and their mercenary thugs.

So those are your choices: "anarchy," or being morally obligated to be immoral. I would be happy to see any attempt by a statist to offer some other rational answer to the question, but I won't hold my breath.

"Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." - Henry David Thoreau

6 Comments in Response to

Comment by Die Daily
Entered on:

Larken, thanks for your response. We're mainly in agreement, I think. In the abstract, if you assume that there will always be a clearly delineated choice between common law vs. personal morality, then I guess you can say "there is no grey area" and paint out a black-and-white abstract world. I tried to concede that by saying that what you said is "true". But is it "real"? You point out that grey areas and grey solutions exist in the real-world decision one is faced with. Every possible application of your reasoning will be real-world. Ergo...see what I mean? You have not resolved this.

I'm with you on the non-initiation of violence ideal. I'm with you 100% in the abstract. But again, back in messy reality, there will always be a wide spectrum of individuals initiating violence within and without the state, from tyrants to drunken idiots, and even and especially within organized, centralized religions, which might be the ultimate uber-Statists, owing to their black-and-white treatment issues in an abstract.

I hope you would agree that the actual, real-world problem devolves down to a MINIMIZATION of the initiation of violence. My hinge-pin question was very clear: if you remove the entire organizational infrastructure of a Nation-State, then what prevents a real-world increase in violence? What prevents the local bikers from taking over the whole works pronto? This was incredibly commonplace in the uber-libertarian Wild West. Worse, what prevents a neighboring state that stayed organized from taking over the whole works? Such as Mexico did to us for a while, or we did to the Indians to this day?

In the question of freedom, we see the same. If I am absolutely free, then I can punch your nose freely and you would be in clear moral violation of the abstract ideal of absolute freedom (which you treat as notionally black and white, having stated there is NO GREY AREA in your arguments) if you dared to interfere with my fist breaking your nose. I mean, in the ideal, my utterly free fist must not be impeded by any noses. On the other hand, we could get all Statist and say my fist has no business even existing without a license, let along going around anywhere. That also, would be a bad, simplistic, black-and-white error. Neither case MAXIMIZES the level of freedom we all enjoy, both "black and white" solutions are epic fails. The practicable solutions are maximizations and minimization problems. The optimal solutions are NEARLY ALL GREY NEARLY ALL OF THE TIME, but only if you want to move them from the abstract world of "true" into the useful world of "real". See what I mean? Black and white thinking is irresistibly beautiful in it's simplicity, and historically this has made "idealists" the most insidiously dangerous of critters. Typically, the young see in black and white, and age renders everything grey.

Comment by Larken Rose
Entered on:

A few quick responses:

MC, "American Civics 101" is self-contradictory, insane propaganda designed to indoctrinate people into the cult of state-worship, so they will stop behaving like human beings (with free will, responsibility, etc.), and instead behave like easily-managed cattle. The fact that we were all taught the same lie does not make it true.

TC, If someone actually thinks murder is moral then, from his perspective, that's what he should do. And my conscience would tell me to try to stop him. I'm not saying that everyone's judgment is perfect (far from it), or that we'll all agree on everything (far from it). But no one can ever have a moral obligation to ignore his own conscience. And it is the belief in "government" that leads otherwise good people to advocate, or even commit, theft, assault, and murder, because they believe that obedience is a virtue. Compare the rates of theft and murder committed by individuals on their own, to those committed by people in the name of "authority." It's not even close. Dealing with the occasional nasty guy or looney would be a piece of cake compared to dealing with the "legal" acts of aggression committed by the indoctrinated statists.

DD, Actually, there is NO gray area in the point of this article. There can be a lot of factors and gray areas that go into trying to figure out what is the right thing to do in any given situation. But no one EVER has a moral obligation to do what he thinks is WRONG. No one EVER can be obligated to obey "the law" over his own conscience.

And no, there can't be a compromise. If my conscience and "the law" conflict, I can follow one or the other. I can't follow both. I can't be obligated to "kind of" follow "the law," or "kind of" do what I think is right. One must outrank the other.

As for the threat of other control freaks taking over, the VAST majority of "government" power comes, NOT from its ability to use brute force, but from its perceived LEGITIMACY in the eyes of its victims. Frankly, I would LOVE for the U.S. to be taken over by "foreign" tyrants, because then the American people would be able to SEE the tyranny for what it is, and would feel no qualms about resisting it. Right now, they're so indoctrinated into the belief that obedience to their "representatives" that they can be stomped into the dirt, and all they will do is say, "Please, massah, stop ... if you want to."

Comment by Larken Rose
Entered on:

The "great American experiment" (which failed utterly) was an attempt to legitimize the initiation of violence, based on the same insane premise of "government" that EVERY tyrannical empire has been based upon: the notion that some people can have the right to rule, and that others have a moral obligation to obey. The list of types of aggression the Constitution sought to legitimize was a lot shorter than most attempts to create a ruling class, but it was NOT about "self government." Giving the crooks called "Congress" "the power to tax," and the power to "regulate," was not about PROTECTING rights; it was about VIOLATING them.

Comment by Mike Chavez
Entered on:

Larkin: The choice isn't just between Statism and Anarchy, there is also a third choice... the great American Experiment: Self Government.

Chili: What you say to a person who thinks murder isn't immoral is convince 1 out of 12 of your peers of your opinion and you walk.

In America you are free to do as you please up to the point you damage another person.  There need not be ANY regulations placed on the People because the People are responsible to eachother for damage (and success) they cause one another; damages are regulated by both Grand and Petit Juries on a case by case basis. 

I can't beleive Larkin would even write something like this.  Although if he had a public school education like mine, I guess I can.  This is America Civics 101.

Comment by Die Daily
Entered on:

Interesting logic, and an interesting question you raise, Chili. On the whole, Larken's logic is fairly sound, if simplistic (there are far more than just TWO solutions to the dilemma he puts forward...there are in my opinion myriad grey solutions. So while the logic is a little swiss-cheesy, I find myself more or less in accord with Larken's conclusions, up to a certain point.

He essentially hits us with the Nuremberg question. Should the rank and file have disobeyed certain immoral orders? Unequivocally, we answered YES and formalized it into a revised international legal system. I think that when you extrapolate the Nuremberg result to it's logical extreme, the abolition of Statism does really follow, just as Larken says it does. It's funny that everyone knows about this, but they self-censor due to habit and, more or less, fear or insecurity. But there is more complexity that needs to be incorporated before this abstract tidbit can manifest in the real world.

One riddle I've yet to see anyone on the anarchist side adequately deal with is: if the State is utterly removed, what mechanism will prevent an almost immediate insurgency by neighboring States and/or the local Biker Gang instantly creating an even worse form of Statism...a rogue, lawless Statism that doesn't even provide the modest checks and balances of our current system, flawed though it is. I've never had anyone explain how a railroad can be built without a central just seems silly. (Sure, my bank would have interest-free constitutional money, a bank would be formed to do a project and then dissolved when its term expired. It would NEVER have personhood. Does this make me a Statist? Or just a freedom loving realist who like trains?)

Is there a happy middle ground? The founders speak of a well-regulated militia. Ponder the "well-regulated" part. Is that a compromise between Statism and Anarchism? Why is it that throughout history organized groups with leaders have annihilated their unorganized neighbors time and time again. Is it good to be without some organizational structure when the neighboring State comes for you and yours?

Lest you think I'm a Statist, know that I do not see an irreconcilable gap between voluntarism and regulation (law). I do see one between idealism and realism. I can offer thousands of situations in which ideas that are logically/abstractly sound, fail epically because while "true" they just aren't "real".

Comment by Trouser Chili
Entered on:

I have a question on your analysis.

What do you say to the individual who does not see murder as immoral?  I think we have plenty of them in government.  Is it their moral obligation to ignore laws against murder, (which is what they are doing)?  What

I think one of the problems with morality is that it is relative.  Abortion, taxes, homosexuality, war... almost any topic has players on both sides.

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