Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why not abolishing slavery is (not) on par with not abolishing the government

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Libertarian duality symbol
Best libertarianism symbol I could find

It’s so easy to vilify libertarians these days. After all, everyone needs a favorite punching bag. But the truth is that the majority of libertarians, as far as I have been able to tell over time, are normal people like you and I who tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative and possess (what I would call) a healthy distrust of modern government. And that’s all just fine, if not even ideal. But then, every now and then – something that’s frightfully more common in the vast, open playground that is the Web – you come across the obligatory nutjob who does things like say that the reasons for abolishing slavery are the same that should be used in support of overthrowing the government, presumably in favor of some completely unregulated, anarchic society.

And no, that’s not some random example pulled out of my rear. It’s something currently being proposed and debated on Reddit:

Ten Reasons to Not Abolish Slavery

  • 1. Some slavery is a necessary evil.[1]

  • 2. Slavery has always existed.[2]

  • 3. New slave owners would just take over.[1]

  • 4. Slaves cannot provide for themselves.[4]

  • 5. Slavery is good for the economy.[5]

  • 6. Freedom is less predictable than slavery.[6]

  • 7. Abolition would cause bloodshed.[7]

  • 8. Freed slaves would run amuck and cause great harm.[8]

  • 9. Abolition is foolish and utopian.[9]

  • 10. It is better to practice a form of limited slavery.[10]

Today, these reasons or very similar ones are used by opponents of a different form of abolitionism: that government as we know it—territorially monopolistic and individually nonconsensual rule by an armed group that demands obedience and payment of taxes—be abolished.

Individuals should decide whether the foregoing reasons are more compelling in this regard to our new abolitionism and ask on which side of history will they be?

And you thought you’d heard enough dumb arguments against the need for a government to tie you over. Not only is the proposition of abolishing the entire government stupid, short-sighted and fundamentally dangerous in itself, but it certainly doesn’t help libertarians’ (and other anti-government groups’) case when they use such cringe-inducingly bad arguments.

For one thing, the very idea of the aforementioned equivocation is a category error. Put quite simply, slavery is wrong because the very concept, in and of itself, is antithetical to freedom, fairness, well-being and human rights in general, all of which are crucial goals and values to be upheld in any society that aspires to be, not only functional, but a decent place to live in. Whereas, government in itself is merely a structure, a layout for distributing powers and authority over a large scale, something that is absolutely crucial for larger and ever-growing societies of thousands and millions of people (and more). Whether individual aspects (ie. the humans involved and the legislation they pass or strike down) are wrong or not does not change the fact that we need a government.

But, for the sake of satisfying our collective SIWOTI syndrome, let’s take these comparative arguments on individually, shall we?

1. Some slavery is a necessary evil.

SLAVERY: Inherently wrong because it directly violates human rights. The developed world has only grown stronger since the abolition of slavery, clearly indicating that it is not necessary in any way, for any reason.
GOV’T: Government is necessary as a structure for distributing authority, applying regulation and ensuring the security of itself, its constituency and its nation/state. Whether or not some people do wrongful things while in power does not change that fact.

2. Slavery has always existed.

SLAVERY: Slavery existed largely thanks to prejudice (the notion that some races and/or groups are superior to others) and because nothing better had yet been implemented.
GOV’T: Various forms of government have always been needed for growing civilizations and, given human nature, always will be.

3. New slave owners would just take over.

SLAVERY: Not if the entire system is abolished and criminalized by the government.
GOV’T: Some governing system – ie. a government – will always invariably take over. The only way a society can exist without a ruling body is in pure tribalistic anarchy. History is rather clear on this.

4. Slaves cannot provide for themselves.

SLAVERY: I doubt anyone’s used this argument since the 1800s. Slaves obviously didn’t die out when slavery was abolished in North America.
GOV’T: Humans can survive without a government, but not in any sort of advanced civilization as we have today.

5. Slavery is good for the economy.

SLAVERY: Slavery did bring income, but so did an increased workforce following its abolition.
GOV’T: The economy is inherently linked to some form of governing body; otherwise, the notion of unregulated and unmaintained markets and economy is oxymoronic.

6. Freedom is less predictable than slavery.

SLAVERY: Illogical (and immoral) argument. Freedom is inherently better than forced labor, and the outcome is inevitably more positive in general.
GOV’T: Argument would work only if the government were in any way akin to actual slavery.

7. Abolition would cause bloodshed.

SLAVERY: A small price to pay for a certainly brighter future.
GOV’T: No government is inherently linked to tribalistic anarchy, which is, itself, directly linked to violence and instability.

8. Freed slaves would run [amok] and cause great harm.

SLAVERY: Only if freed slaves are inherently bad people with dangerous intent and have no government to control them like the rest of the populace.
GOV’T: See “tribalistic anarchy”, above.

9. Abolition is foolish and utopian.

SLAVERY: Abolition directly leads to improved human rights and social improvement.
GOV’T: Abolition directly leads to reduced human rights (especially with increased threat of violence) and social degradation.

10. It is better to practice a form of limited slavery.

SLAVERY: “Limited slavery” is oxymoronic. Slavery is, by any possible definition, forced and nonconsensual labor, which is intrinsically wrong, regardless in whatever manner or quantity it is applied. Any consensual arrangements made between consenting individuals is, by definition, not slavery.
GOV’T: Government must be kept in check by the voting masses to ensure a careful and beneficial balance between regulation/authority and freedoms/rights.

So, no, the reasons for abolishing slavery are most certainly not similar or equatable reasons for abolishing any forms of government. Once again, the two are drastically different and unequivocatable concepts, as one is a system of control over other human beings while the other is an abstract construct of commonly enacted and enforced rules and systems.

So, please, wacky libertarians, do stop trying to compare the government to slavery. Until you’re being chained in Big Brother’s home and forced into labor against your will for no pay and no benefits or protections, such arguments are indicative of a petty and wrong-minded loon who urgently needs to get some perspective.

(via @todayspolitics)