Could You Pull the Trigger for Justice?
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. ~George Washington
…we should be clear that the institutions of democracy – free markets, a free press, a strong civil society – cannot be built overnight, and they cannot be built at the end of a barrel of a gun. And so we must realize that the freedoms FDR once spoke of – especially freedom from want and freedom from fear – do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots; they are only realized once the personal and material security of a people is ensured as well. ~Barack Obama, speech, Nov. 20, 2006
In a previous blog post I mentioned an academic couple I visited in Philadelphia. They were typical academics, with the standard obligatory disparagements of the former President and so forth. One conversation that stuck with me was the husband’s view of taxation. He said advocates for low taxation believe they will be rich some day, and that’s why they don’t believe in high taxes for the affluent. It was at this point things “got busy” and I was released to ponder his statement on my own. My reaction was that this was an awfully complex line of thought, and seemingly improbable that the majority of poor or middle class people would have such forethought and hope. Assuming he was right, however, I wonder if that’s a bad thing. Is wanting low taxes because a person thinks their industriousness could lead to a prosperous lifestyle a bad trend? Is it perhaps better than the alternative, believing one will never be rich, so let’s take what they can from those that are?
if you want to take shots at people
target Phil Knight and Bill Gates
how they own the products
and they got the goods
how they act like they care
but they’re just Robbin’ Hoods. ~Steve Coleman, "I Wanna Hear a Poem"
Recently I’ve become a follower of Penn Jillette's vlog. Penn Jillette is the larger, louder half of Penn and Teller’s magic and comedy show in Las Vegas; they are also the stars of a Showtime television debunking show called Bullshit! It took me some time to come around on Mr. Jillette because he struck me as an off-putting atheist (which is true) with intolerance for religious thinking and worldviews that don’t fall in line with his own paradigms (which is not.) He is a blocky, libertarian, free-market capitalist, an opponent of the War on Drugs, scientifically-inclined bull-in-a-china-closet showman that plays the double bass in a jazz band. Basically, he’s an older version of me with big hair. Penn, in a vlog asking his audience to help pen a message to Glenn Beck (pun intended) on libertarianism, he raised an issue I ask myself; I would greatly appreciate feedback on this.
In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery? ~Saint Augustine
In the aforementioned vlog Penn addresses the issue of justice. The magician begins by equating the government to a gun, that is to say the government operates functionally by threat of force. As he puts it, “government is force.” If government is an extension of the will of the people, in theory this must mean that the government ought to use force only when we would as individuals. Penn goes on to say that if he had the fortitude, he would be willing to kill a man to stop -- and I think by extension this would include killing as punishment -- rape, murder, and to protect private property.
Afterwhich is the crux of Penn’s pondering:
I don’t think I would use a gun to take money from somebody to start a library. I don’t think I’d hold a gun to someone and say, “You need to go to school.” I don’t think I’d hold a gun on someone and say, “We have to get some money for art.” I don’t think I’d hold a gun on someone and say, “We gotta put a man on the moon.”
This leads to a central argument of mine that I’ve never heard anyone give a good response to. What I want to make people wrestle with is the notion that the government we endorse will use violence against its citizens to acquire their property. So, I put it to others, and I want to put it in as demanding a light as I can. If you came across a beggar and Bill Gates at the same time, had a gun, and knew there would be no consequences for your actions, would you rob Bill Gates and give that money to the beggar? Would extenuating circumstances change your mind? For instance, what if the man was homeless because he lost his house to pay for his young daughter’s cancer treatment? Could you pull the trigger to rob Bill Gates to give to another person, even in genuine need?
Could you pull the trigger for justice? If not, what does it say about us that we are willing to let the government do our dirty work? If so, what does that say about you? What does that say about us?