Telling People About the State
by Ben Stone
(link to audio version)
Some time ago a relative was telling me about his frustration with the Main Stream Media’s coverage of US foreign policy and he said something that struck me so odd I didn’t know how to answer him. He said something to the effect of, “I’m sick of the America bashing! I love America and I just can’t stand the media bashing America!”
Once those words were uttered, I went silent. The conversation was over. To continue would have required a review of his entire belief system and the fundamental basics of philosophy. I simply lack the ability to build a base of logical reasoning and develop that into an understanding of the Zero Aggression Principal followed through with an understanding of property rights all within the 15 to 20 minutes we would be together that day. All I could think of was that there are something like 537 elected individual people in Washington DC, of them there are perhaps 30 with actual decision making and policy forming power, but there are some 300 million people living in the 50 States and territories. Once a persons mind is so twisted and perverted to believe that the acts and policies of a small band of goons in DC equates the hopes, dreams, passions, and the rich culture and heritage that is America, my mere words have no chance of rescuing them.
As weeks went by and as I pondered the pathetic state of mind a person would have to be in to believe that the acts of the State are the acts of a whole country of people, I began to understand more clearly how people end up in such a position. To understand it better, let’s roll the State over on its back to see what ticks inside its belly. One of the primary aspects of the State is to relieve the individual of the burden of responsibility and place that burden on a nonexistent entity. So then, the person on welfare doesn’t consider themselves responsible for their situation; they blame it on the system. And there’s an abundance of evidence to support their belief. The cop using excessive force on a person who has never harmed anyone is justified because he’s saving America by fighting the War on Drugs. He’s believes he’s fighting for his community. The technician guiding an unmanned missile into a wedding party where one or two suspected terrorists are believed to be trusts his orders and the intelligence community he is a part of. He believes he is making the world a better place. The Pentagon intelligence officer making the decision and giving the signal to fire on that wedding party does so because his president told him that some sacrifices must be made if America is to be safe. The senator taking his family and entire entourage on an all expense paid loop of the Far East with stops in all the major resort cities, shopping included, justifies his actions by convincing himself that he needs to understand the culture of the people who are buying the massive debt his vote supports. Under the guise of the State an individual can justify their behavior. Now, in rolling the State back over on its feet we can see that the other side of this proposition means whatever the State does is a reflection of the individual people who allow the State to continue. So in this twisted escape from responsibility, the acts of the State are the acts of people. Yet the people are not responsible because they are simply responding to the State. The State has succeeded in taking the acts of theft, aggression, and lies committed by individuals and magically removed the responsibilities. The State became the people as the people became the State and in return the State took away the sins of the people.
Please don’t get me wrong. In this article I am not trying to get the reader to sympathize with those who’s actions would be reprehensible or even criminal if done in a free stateless society. But as this truth emerges in the mind, it’s critical to make a separation between the actual enemy and those who are simply making the best of the situation in which they find themselves. If we learn nothing else from Ludwig von Mises and his life’s work we must understand that each and every sane human takes action based on what they understand to be their best course. When a person takes action as a result of a specific set of circumstances and that action produces a result that we are repulsed by, it’s wise to judge the whole situation and not just the result. For example we may hear of a mother who has drown her baby in a tub. Perhaps nothing could be more repulsive. Our knee jerk reaction is to wish the most horrible punishment on the woman as can be administered. But what if we find out she was under a doctor’s order to take a dangerous drug that altered her mind and made her think the baby was on fire. If we can be convinced that she believed the baby was on fire we can have some degree of understanding as to why she acted as she did. This doesn’t relieve her of the responsibility of her actions, but at least we have some sympathy for her situation and can come to a clearer judgment.
Likewise, according to the angle that you view the State, it’s tempting to think of the welfare leach, the violent cop, the CIA technician, the Pentagon intelligence officer, or the fat cat politician as the enemy. You see the reprehensible or criminal acts of the individual and your mind rightly demands justice. And not the false justice the State tries to pass off on us, but real justice. And so we’re faced with this false dichotomy; do we blame the individual who simply acts according to the situation in which the State places him, or do we attempt to blame a faceless formless entity that only exists in the collective minds of humans?
The answer to any false dichotomy is to look for a different question. In this case I’m reminded of the question that the martyr Watchman Nee explored in his book “What Can This Man Do?” In other words, when faced with a world full of people who not only continue to support the State, but increasingly are supported by the State the question to ask yourself is, “What must I do?” And the answer is as diverse as the list of readers who will see this article. For some, the answer may be to sharpen your speaking skills and hone your understanding of the concepts of Natural Law, Right of Property, and the Zero Aggression Principle, and then go tell people. Perhaps others are uniquely suited for the challenges of activism, in which case groups like The Free State Project, The Fully Informed Jury Association, or any number of other groups are desperate for your participation. Others still may not have the speaking skills or the time to learn every nuance of libertarian philosophy. Perhaps they understand libertarianism as a moral stance but lack the opportunity or the skill set to be out there on the forefront fielding questions and challenging the State. Each of us can still contribute to the future of the liberty movement in some way, even if it’s only in sending five dollars a month to something like the Ludwig von Mises Institute. In the case of Watchman Nee, he was pushing Christians to evangelize using whatever natural skills they possessed and whatever resources that could afford. The truth is, nothing more can ever be rightfully asked of a person, but sometimes we overlook what we can do. Sometimes we need to step back and ask ourselves how important liberty is to us and what can we realistically do to help.
In my case, as with the relative mentioned in the beginning of this article, my role is not that of speaking one-on-one with people in an effort to open their eyes to the evils of the State. I present an intimidating figure with my physical size and my booming voice, and I lack the temperament to peaceably guide a convincing conversation. In addition to that, my twisted sense of humor tends to guide me into unproductive comedic nonsense more often than not. So after thirty years of struggling with the maddening desire to do something I have finally figured out that I can type words into a computer and for some strange reason there are people who willingly read what I write. I want to strongly urge the reader who feels the desire to make a difference in the world to ask yourself honestly what your strengths are and where your skills lie and what resources you can commit to the cause of liberty. You have something we all need just like I have something I need to write.