Lateral Paranoia

Last Saturday night (March 12, 2005, if it’s of interest), I had one of the most predictable arguments in the history of political thought.

I was arguing against the welfare state, and I was told – perhaps for the millionth time – that we have to have coercive taxation because there are mean, stingy people in the world who wouldn’t help the poor.

I responded, as I always do, that I had been arguing against the welfare state for over twenty years, and in all that time, I had never once run across a person who rubbed his hands and said: ‘Oh, man – I’d love to get rid of taxation, because I hate helping the poor!’. Every single person I have ever talked to immediately expressed deep concern about the fate of the poor. Or the sick. Or the homeless. Take your pick.

This is fascinating. Obviously everyone I have ever argued with believed in the existence of this vast majority of mean people, but had never in fact ever met any of these ‘mean people’. In other words, they are not in favour of taxation because they have met so many mean people. They believe in the prevalence of ‘mean people’ because taxation exists – a complete reversal of cause and effect. This is the similar to the 1930s belief of many Germans that ‘the Jews must be being persecuted because there are so many bad Jews.’ The laws create the facts.

What I want to know is this: what on earth made us so hostile and suspicious of each other? Doesn’t that seem strange? At a personal level, almost everyone I meet is kind, considerate, generous – altruistic to a fault. (Politically, they are all totalitarians, but that is another matter!) Stop your car and ask for directions. People quiver to help. Struggle with a large package. People will open doors for you. People hold elevators. Let you ahead in line if you’re desperately late. Give you shelter in emergencies. Give billions to the victims of natural disasters. On a personal level, people are, by and large, lovely.

Sure, there are bad people. So what? Have you ever spent any real time with them? Can you confirm their prevalence? Of course not! They’re just theoretical entities.

Also – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in my essays – no system of taxation ever catches the money of these mean people. They are criminals anyway. They don’t give to charities, and they don’t pay taxes. Crime is a cash economy. Taxes only hit the honest and conscientious – who would help the poor anyway.

So if there aren’t very many bad people – and taxation doesn’t get their money – then why are ‘bad people’ such popular justifications for State power?

First of all, very, very few people can actually think for themselves. In fact, they think so badly that they actually think they can think! Because they can’t think, they attempt to construct theories from immediate evidence, like primitive physicists who imagine that the world is flat because it looks flat. They sneer at any contrary evidence because they do not understand the limitations of their immediate senses. But economics and morality are logical disciplines because reality is not obvious – if it were, we wouldn’t need logic; we could get by on instinct and adrenaline, like dogs. But we are not dogs, and we are not gods, so we need to think.

So – how are we turned against each other? The ‘why’ is simple, and it is a useful maxim to understand that anyone who says you have any enemy – without empirical proof – is the enemy.

To turn us all from allies to enemies, human nature must be deemed foul and self-serving – and so must be commanded into virtue by wise and violent masters.

This, of course, is the portrait of a certain type of parenting (i.e. almost all) – children do not understand what is good for them, and so must be bullied and coerced into doing good. In other words, virtue is a square hole, and the soul is a round peg, which must be forever pounded into shape.

‘Politeness’ is a good example of this. ‘Be nice!’ parents growl – and so of course children are confused and bewildered – and ultimately resentful of the hypocrisy. This style of contradictory parenting translates well into the language of the State: ‘help others’, say the politicians, while holding a gun to your head.

Of course, the politicians do not want to reveal this gun to you – no more than parents want you to figure out that they are bullies concerned with their own vanity and power, not your moral development. Politicians have to hide the gun so we can fantasize that we are participating in the process. The politicians use three layers of deception here:
1. there is no gun
2. there is a gun, but it’s a last resort
3. there is a gun, and it’s not a last resort – but we only use it against bad people

In this way, they strive to reassure us that the guns are not pointed at us. But of course the gun is only pointed at the moral, conscientious people, because the people don’t pay taxes, or are above the law. Bad people are either criminals (local theft) or politicians (global theft). Criminals don’t pay taxes, and politicians are above the law. (If you don’t believe the latter, then recognize that business people go to jail for false accounting and advertising practices, but no politician has ever been even charged for lying about a deficit or breaking a promise.)

The guns are pointed at people who have regular jobs. The guns are pointed at the good people, not the bad people. They are pointed at those with something to lose – with spouses and children. They are pointed at those who value liberty, and have done something productive with their lives. They are not pointed at bad people by good people. They are pointed at good people by bad people. Targeting good people is not a regrettable side-effect of targeting bad people. The bad people are invented so that the good people can be targeted.

As it is with the State, so it is with parents. Parents do not bully their children to be good – they create a contradictory standard of ‘good’ in order to bully their children. For instance: parents say: ‘be considerate of others’ feelings, or I will lose my temper.’ Very well. So when a boy meets a girl who is not considerate of his feelings, he loses his temper. Surely that is logical! But of course he is not praised for his moral behaviour – he is further condemned.

So he struggles to understand the rule. He is told: You have to be nice to people, even if those people aren’t being nice to you! Very well. Then he does not have to be nice to his parents, since they have to be nice to him no matter how he acts. Oh, but that is not allowed either!

The real ‘rule’ is: Don’t cause me trouble. Don’t embarrass me. Don’t interrupt me. Don’t disturb me. Obey my whims!

Of course – that is not a rule at all. That is rank subjectivity. It’s like me ordering you: don’t like music I don’t like. That’s not a rule. That’s just subjugating your individuality to my whims. It cannot be a universal rule, since it only applies to one side of the equation of interaction: you do what I please! That is just bullying.

So of course both parents and politicians resist rules and definitions of any kind. They create dictatorships of whim, wherein the child can never predict the right course of behaviour. This is about the worst form of abuse, since it causes the child to spend his entire existence in fear, trying to read the whim-indicators of his rulers – both his parents and, sadly, his political masters.

So the next time someone tells you that you have to subject yourself to the power of the State because there are so many ‘bad’ people out there, simply ask:

• How many bad people are there?
• Am I one of those bad people?
• Are you?
• Is anyone in this room a bad person?
• How many have you met in your life?
• How did you know the bad people you met were bad?
• Have you ever seen any studies establishing the prevalence of these bad people?
• And, even if they are as prevalent as you think, how does taxation help? Surely bad people don’t pay taxes

And, finally:

• If there are a lot of bad people, then there must be a lot of bad people in the government, right? So how does giving the power of violence to bad people make the world a better place?

Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a "Top 10" Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

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