"The greater the power the more dangerous the abuse." ~ Edmund Burke
Recently, I spent one class period discussing current events with my public high school students. This wasn't planned, but the scheduled event was rained out so I substituted an impromptu review of the news. We bounced around the world with me asking them questions, hoping that someone would know something about world events. As usual, most of them were clueless.
After teaching for almost nine years, I have concluded that a large majority of my high school students live in their own little world, oblivious to all but the bell and earthquakes over 5.0 on the Richter scale. This is California .
Eventually, one student asked a question about gay marriages in San Francisco , and we were off and running. A wide variety of viewpoints instantly surfaced. It is very easy to tell when you finally have their interest and attention because they immediately attempt to drown out their vociferous classmates by loudly interjecting their own opinion. This controversial issue was no exception, so we explored it further.
We talked about marriage licenses, who issues them, what they are used for, why they exist, and what, if anything, is gained by possessing one. I also pointed out that unless the marriage is officially recorded, it does not exist legally, even if a ceremony was conducted. That precipitated several questions about why the State regulates marriage.
I explained to them that historically, marriages were religious ceremonies conducted by holy men of various faiths, not by civil servants of the State. Several students were surprised to learn that the Roman Catholic Church functioned as a de facto State for many years before being replaced by its more modern and ubiquitous secular cousin.
Finally, one young lady who was obviously upset remarked, 'Who are these people to tell others that they can't get married? There ought to be a law against it!' Playing the devil's advocate, I took the opposite position saying, 'I disagree. I would say that another law is not the solution; more laws are the problem.' The silence was total, but brief.
The questions came very quickly. It was difficult to keep order in the classroom since they all wanted to speak immediately. After answering many questions, I explained my position by telling them that 99% of all laws are negative; they take something away from you, in many different ways ' including registration, certification, licensing, fees, regulation, limitation, and outright prohibition ' with the kicker of hefty fines thrown in for failure to abide by the new rules. All are simply politically correct euphemisms for taxes. They all take away your freedom, under color of law. Thank you, State agents.
After answering all of their questions, I asked one of my own saying, 'You have all learned in school that we live in a free country; that everyone is free to come and go as they please, seeking life, liberty, and happiness. If such is the case, each of you should easily be able to give me the name of one person who lives their life free from interference by other people, organizations, laws, and the State.' Once again, you could hear a pin drop. No hands were raised. Sheepish looks were everywhere. I could hear the gears grinding, but no names were offered. The telling and awkward silence continued until finally a young lady raised her hand and exclaimed, 'My uncle Mike!'
All heads turned toward her as the incredulous class enquired about this oddity. She explained that her uncle Mike used to be a bounty hunter. They voiced their approval. Uncle Mike also used to work for the mafia. They roared even louder. Uncle Mike didn't pay attention to any laws, he simply ignored them all and went about his business as he saw fit. Now the class was standing and cheering. They all wanted to meet uncle Mike.
I asked her if her uncle paid income taxes. She said no. The class went wild. I asked her if her uncle drove a car. She said no. The class could not believe their ears. I asked her what her uncle did for a living. She said that he was an independent contractor engaged in various activities that he knew well and for which he was paid in cash. The class was thunderstruck, but very interested.
I explained to the class that her uncle Mike was truly a free man, but he was paying a price for it since freedom is never free. He was an outlaw. He had surrendered his driver license in order to become a free man. He worked for cash in order to avoid paying income taxes. He also surrendered any handouts from the State by being invisible to it, in return for his freedom. They all thought that was way cool.
I offered one of my own quotes, 'Freedom is where you find it, but it won't come looking for you.' They pondered that for several moments before one young man asked, 'Does that mean that we should all stop paying income taxes?' I quickly responded with, 'That's not what I said.' These are personal decisions that can only be made by individuals. Being an outlaw has both risks and rewards.
Then I dropped the bomb, the question that I had been dying to ask. 'Why didn't each of you respond with your own name when I asked you for the name of a free person?' They instantly shouted in unison, 'Because we are not free!'
I asked them how it could possibly be that only one student could name a free person even though they are all 15-18 years old and must know many people. Why did they have to struggle to think of one free person? Why was the only free man an outlaw, by choice? What did that make them?
The bell rang and they departed.
The next day I repeated this brief exercise in three other class periods. None of them could name even one free person. None of my public high school students know any free men ' except for uncle Mike ' whom they, save one, have never even met.
What's wrong with this picture?