The Hardest Sell

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The yearning for freedom often has voluntaryists, self-governors, and other small 'l' libertarians waxing poetic of the great sweeping improvements that would overtake society should our philosophy become a widespread reality. I'm guilty too. We proclaim that without a coercive income tax, people would have more money to spend; that without political busybodies hell-bent on creating laws that are 'good for us,' we would have more privacy. We drone on about the horrid abuses of citizens by coercively empowered cops. We complain about the waste of monies on silly projects and bad art and how the starving artistes (pronounced with requisite French 'i') really should starve if they can't produce what someone will buy. We prophesize great behavioral freedoms and the death of injustice. But all of this is sophistic bullshit. It's the fruit we dangle to the unenlightened to get them to taste of our philosophy, the candy bar of the stranger in the street with the nearby car. It's bait, nothing more, and everyone suspects it and often calls us on it.

The more likely and truthful situation is that the overall balance of happiness in the political world would remain just about the same. A non-coercive society doesn't grant more money simply because it doesn't collect taxes. It simply doesn't use force to part you from it. A non-coercive society would not have police, but people will still buy police services to lull their fears, devoting the same amount of money to property security as they do today; maybe more. Most people will buy the bottom-barrel security, and get bottom-barrel service. Both coercive and non-coercive societies grant minimum security and retribution services to masses of people. Sure, there will be a few security companies that bind their services in high standards of integrity and loyalty. They exist already, and the people who value them already employ them. Removing coercion from the equation doesn't change the final result.

A non-coercive society won't grant more privacy. (Society can't grant anything, of course.) All it can do is let you choose how and when to trade your privacy away. Knowing that, it is very conceivable that a free-market society will not enjoy very much privacy at all. The simple annoyance of protecting your property could run a family through an entire gamut of privacy-shredding tests and reports. The security firm might want a complete inventory of your home updated monthly so they are not held liable for missing items not on the inventory list. Your fire response company might require cameras in your home to prove no one smokes or has a proclivity for candles by the bathtub in order to give you a discounted premium. Your health provider might demand itemized shopping receipts to prove that you're only buying the ratio of junk food covered by your fee level. So there is great opportunity for a dramatic loss of privacy in a non-coercive society.

Another sweet-sounding but hollow fallacy is the idea that without coercive government, people will be free to behave in public however they want so long as no one's life or property are directly affected. But this fails to recognize that in a non-coercive society, there is no public property. All spaces will be owned by individuals, and as the property owners, they could set whatever rules they desire, enforced however they want. You could find yourself on a freeway that does not allow cell phone calls from within your own car, forcibly dampening the signals with jamming towers provided by an emergency road-phone provider partnered with the road owner. Or you might find yourself in a non-smoking outdoor parking lot, or a creek-side picnic area with a 'no-crackers' policy. A free society, oddly enough, does not guarantee behavioral freedom, one of the juiciest temptations we like to offer up in debate.

So there's no more privacy than we have today, no more money, and no more casual freedom. What the hell are we fighting for? The use of coercion seems to have provided for many of the dangling fruit we hold out to our detractors. Of course they aren't biting; they already have a plate full of the stuff! We're offering bread, and they've already got bread and circuses.

The masses of people are happy with the way things are because the things they value are easily accomplished through coercive force: wealth, luxury, privacy, and chillingly, freedom of behavior. Coercion gives an easy way to persuade or dissuade another's behavior, including guaranteeing personal freedom. No question about it; simply pointing a gun at someone and making a demand is far easier than the compromising, haggling, and sheer doggedness required to get things done peacefully.

So what the hell are we fighting for?

We're fighting for the principle. Not the results. They already have results that are acceptable. We like the principle; the idea that the results are achieved in a more respectable way. One of the great cornerstones of liberty is that the ends do not justify the means. It may be easier to make a thousand dollars by sticking a gun in someone's face, but that doesn't make it right. It is the principle of coercion that we abhor and wish to see chopped down at the root. It is easier to rally the police and demand they allow smoking or speeding or whatever the freedom du jour is rather than deal with the individuals seeking to limit our behavior. But the use of coercion sours that freedom. The results of a non-coercive principle are harder to achieve. The principle, the method of achieving the ends, is the core focus.

So when we're debating liberty and fighting for minds to embrace it, offering the fruits of non-coercion is useless. They are shallow and hollow gifts, flashy and quickly ignored in favor of the bread already on the plate. The sell is the principle itself; the higher standard of non-coercive cooperation and interaction. It is idealistic to live for a principle. So let them call us idealists! Excellence is not achieved by having mediocre goals. Those who feast on the easy pickings of a coercive government laugh in the face of principle and idealism. What do they care? They have full bellies and red-stained lips! The ones who laugh at us, who say that the ends justify the means as long as they don't have to watch are incorrigible. They are interested in nothing but the bread and circuses. But there are those out there, not the ones laughing, but the quiet ones who use the coercive system because they can't see any other way to sustain themselves. Like each of us at one time, they sense something wrong about the means to the end. The principle is the sell. Not the results. Sell the principle, and the principled will follow.

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Scarmig has been questioning the role and necessity of politicians since 1999.  He is married with children living somewhere in the Texas.