"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Is it inaccurate and overly-dramatic to proclaim that government is synonymous with aggression? Sure, government can certainly be aggressive (in the sense of violating the non-aggression principle [NAP]), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything it does is aggressive, does it? Government may be an imperfect work still in progress, but perhaps we will eventually work out the bugs. Let’s not be hasty and throw out the baby with the bath water here.
Some voluntaryists, a.k.a. anarchists, (and I assign those terms to any person who believes in 100% voluntary social interaction/organization, whether they label themselves as such or not) say they look forward to the day when society finally creates a completely “voluntary government.”
I respectfully object to the use of this particular oxymoron.
The concept of voluntary government calls to my mind a particular Monty Python sketch wherein a customer wants to purchase a cat from a pet store, and the clerk offers up a dog instead. When the customer objects, the following solution is offered:
S: Listen, tell you what. I'll file its legs down a bit, take its snout out, stick a few wires through its cheeks. There you are, a lovely pussy cat.
M: It's not a proper cat.
S: What do you mean?
M: Well it wouldn't miaow.
S: Well it would howl a bit.
The point? You cannot make a cat out of a dog. They are two distinct types of objects, and no matter how cat-like a dog could be made, it would still be a dog.
Can a government ever be a purely voluntary organization? It seems to me that it cannot, and here is my argument:
Every government organization that has ever existed has funded itself through coercive taxation. Likewise, the word "taxation" is only associated with government. Taxation is mandatory by any definition you may discover, and no non-governmental organization calls its fees, or dues, or whatever word they may choose to describe how it funds itself, taxes (although government loves to expropriate the word “fees” to describe some of its taxes).
Once you posit a society filled with purely voluntary organizations that fund themselves through voluntary contributions, you are no longer describing a society that has a government. The word "taxes" no longer corresponds to any activity taking place in the real world. Why attempt to retrofit the word to make it mean something completely different (yes, another Monty Python reference)? When government disappears, taxes disappear. When taxes disappear, government disappears. They are a set that cannot be broken up and sold separately. We already have other words that describe voluntary organizations and their voluntary funding mechanisms.
If society were to rid itself of pedophiles, would we want to keep the word and apply it to people who lovingly care for their children?
The difference here is that government bills itself to be the wise, benevolent, well-meaning, and absolutely necessary organization that holds society together. This meme penetrates into our thinking, and when we envision a completely non-violent society, we want to hold on to the comforting word "government" to describe something about that society, because that is the propaganda that has been driven into us 24/7 (Propaganda? You’re soaking in it!) Government would have us believe that it is already a voluntary organization (you are free to love it or leave it), and so even though we know it currently is not, we believe that it could be.
But that particular dog cannot ever be fashioned into a cat.
When coercive organizations disappear, just let the word "government" retire right along with them.
Right into the luminiferous aether.