A Thought Experiment


Oct 14, 2004 (Updated Oct 16, 2004)


The Bottom Line The unique thing about Gummint is that it has an exclusive monopoly on the use of physical force!

Imagine that you are a very moral person with a deep-seated conviction that initiating violence is ALWAYS wrong and that killing another human being for ANY reason is evil. To be consistent with your moral convictions you are utterly opposed to the idea of war, and the associated killing of people. You cannot abide the thought of your tax money being used by your Gummint to initiate violence against anyone, much less to build equipment with no other purpose than to kill other human beings.

So---being a person of strong convictions---you make a calculation that of Gummint revenue is being use to build killing machines, to train people to kill, and to actually conduct warfare and killing of other human beings. Your convictions tell you that you cannot in good conscience support these activities, so you begin a practice of completing your tax return, then dividing the tax due by half, and paying only that amount.

Needless to say, this soon attracts the attention of the IRS, and you receive a letter notifying you that you owe the Gummint a considerable sum of money. But you stick to your convictions and refuse to pay any more, explaining in detail in several letters to the IRS your convictions about violence. The IRS sends a representative to your home to “reason” with you, but you adamantly follow your principles and refuse to pay anything more.

Of course the story reaches the media, and soon you are being interviewed on the Today Show, with an ACLU lawyer at your side. You become something of a folk hero, with part of the political spectrum giving you accolades for consistently sticking to your convictions, Another part condemns you for being “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” a traitor.

Now---the thought experiment, Part 1: How long would this continue before someone from the Gummint would be threatening you with a firearm, taking you into custody, and throwing you in jail to await trial, where you will CERTAINLY be convicted of a serious crime and thrown in prison! And all for being consistent about your deep-seated moral convictions about human life!

And now---the thought experiment, Part 2: Same scenario as before, except now your deep-seated conviction applies to what YOU regard as the wanton “murder” of unborn children. You are appalled by the widespread and growing use of abortion, apparently often a result of careless, casual, recreational sex between uncommitted people, who resort to abortion as a means of “birth control.” You cannot abide the idea that your tax payments are being used to “murder” unborn children, so you refuse to pay part of your taxes, leading to the same scenario as above.

Before you leap to conclusions, let me say that I am pro-choice---but also pro-life. I strongly believe every woman should have the right to choose. But I also think every woman OUGHT to choose life---except in the most exceptional circumstances. But the Gummint should stay out of it---neither outlawing nor encouraging either view, and certainly not using public funds to support abortion in any way. I also think there should be NO Gummint restrictions on embryonic stem cell research---but no Gummint subsidies for it either. The Bush compromise strikes me as a very reasonable policy in another area where there is no broad moral consensus. But I digress---

My general point is this: Gummint initiatives ought to be SEVERELY limited in areas where there is no real moral consensus---and that especially applies to activities that involve ending the lives of other human beings. The fact that Gummint is characterized (in my mind, at least) as the only organizational entity that has a monopoly on the LEGAL use, or threat of, physical force means that use of that monopoly ought to be very severely circumscribed. Seems to me to be a significant component of the idea of limited Gummint, embodied in our Constitution---at least as it was conceived and originally interpreted!

It seems to me that the same considerations apply to many other Gummint initiatives where there really is no broad moral concurrence; yet the coercion of Gummint is used routinely, supposedly to achieve what SOME see as some worthwhile “social purpose.”

If there are some things we need to do TOGETHER---and there clearly are---it would be far better to do them voluntarily, NOT through Gummint coercion. In my mind, that’s what distinguishes today’s political activists---a great over-eagerness to resort to Gummint coercion or the threat of lethal violence to solve what THEY perceive to be serious social problems. Of course, when our national security is seriously threatened it's a whole different ball game---maybe calling for a different thought experiment.

It wasn’t my initial intention---but maybe I’ve explained why I tend to be a political conservative. And why I get very annoyed with Liberal claims to moral and intellectual superiority! Same for extremists of the Right!

Hope I haven’t said anything controversial!

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