The Gun in the Room Part 2 (Part 1 below)

Compliance is not Freedom

First of all, thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts with me about my last article – “The Gun in the Room.” In general, responses tended to fall into two rough categories:

  • Great article!
    - and
  • You’re insane!

Naturally, I do not wish to take issue with the first assessment, so let's have a look at the general objections contained within the second.

Overall, my sanity was questioned because many people thought I believe that the moment a man breaks the law, the government shoots him. In my world, apparently, the moment your speedometer creeps over the speed limit, state snipers blow your head off.

This, of course, would result in a largely unpopulated planet, and therefore I would like to clarify my position on the correlation between breaking the law and being aggressed against by the state.

If you fail to file a tax return, you are not immediately dragged before a kangaroo court, and shot after a speedy and Stalin-esque trial. That takes time. ; ) Rather, you will get a letter – often a rather polite one – asking if there may be some kind of problem. If you do not respond to this letter, very little will happen.

For a while, anyway.

If you fail to file a tax return again, you may get another letter. Or, you may not. Tax authorities will sometimes leave you alone for several years, to bolster their eventual prosecution by showing a pattern of intentional tax evasion.

However, the day will come when you receive a letter that is not quite as polite. In this letter, you will be told to file your tax returns, or face the consequences, which will decidedly not involve just another letter. If you still do not file your tax return(s), you will get another letter detailing the actions will be taken against you if you do not file your tax return(s) immediately. If you continue in your course, you will receive another letter – decidedly un-polite at this point – with a court date, and a list of penalties that will be assessed against you when you are found guilty of tax evasion. Initially, these penalties will be largely financial – back taxes, fines etc. If you show up at the court, you will be found guilty, and large fines will be imposed upon you. If you do not pay the fines – or do not show up in court to begin with – sooner or later, the police will come to arrest you.

When the police come to arrest you, you will be severely discouraged from acting in self-defense, despite the fact that their actions are identical to a “home invasion.” When the policemen break your door down, if you pull out a gun to protect yourself, you will very likely get shot. Even if you do not get shot, your prison stay will be greatly extended because you have now threatened the police in addition to not paying your taxes.

If you attempt to escape from the custody of police – or, later, the prison guards – you also will very likely get shot, and will certainly receive harsh punishment. If, after you are released from prison, you still refrain from paying your taxes, you will very likely spend the rest of your life in prison. (We need not go into the horrible details of what happens in prison – let’s just say that, after your first night, you may have a new appreciation for the legal victims of the “war on terror.”)

The fact that months or years can pass between breaking the law and being violently punished – combined with the reality that most people do obey the state, and thus do not incur such punishments – often confuses people as to the true nature of the society they live in.

To take a parallel example, let’s look at the institution of slavery. Most slaves did not try to run away, and neither did they aggress against their masters. If they worked hard, and obeyed the rules, they were even unlikely to be beaten or deprived of food (though rape was another matter). In other words, a slave could live most of his life without being directly aggressed against. Does that mean that slavery was not enforced through violence? Of course not! Compliance to violence only obscures it, it does not eliminate it.

Let’s take another example. Most people will give up their wallets at gunpoint rather than risk of getting shot. In most robberies, then, no actual violence occurs – only the threat of violence. Do we then believe that no violence occurs unless someone actually gets shot? If a man approaches you and hints that if you do not pay him protection money, your house just might get burned down at some point in the future, is that immoral intimidation?

Mentioning public schools also confused some people. They understood my point about the Iraq war – that you cannot be said to have any right to oppose it if you are forced to fund it – but they could not make the leap to public schools. Let me clarify. If you do not pay the taxes that pay for public schools, the sequence of events that starts with a letter and ends with you getting shot or thrown into the rape room of a government prison also occurs. Not one single aspect of state finance or activity occurs outside the realm of violence. Even the Federal Reserve is based on violence, because if you attempt to duplicate its capacity to counterfeit, or set up your own currency… Well, you know what happens.

I certainly understand that the simple reality of universal state violence makes many people very uncomfortable – and they are quite right to feel uncomfortable! Once you really get this idea under your skin, your life will change irrevocably. You will no longer be tempted to base your arguments on tedious and complicated abstractions. When talking to people about freedom, you will cut to the core of the issues very rapidly. This will have enormous effects on every single relationship in your life. You will very quickly discover the true moral natures of those around you – and this can be quite shocking. So I certainly understand why people are hesitant to accept this idea, and why they prefer to label me as an “extremist” rather than to begin exploring the reality of state violence in their own hearts and with the people around them.

Of course, there is also an empirical method by which the existence of “the gun on the room” can be tested. It’s really quite simple, although I certainly don’t recommend it.

Stop obeying the law.

If you are right, you have just saved yourself enormous amounts of time and money. If I am right, though, we may never see you again – which would be a real tragedy, because libertarianism needs all the supporters it can get!

If, however, you hesitate to flout the rules of the state, then it is important to examine why. If you’re honest with yourself, you will find, as I did, that you tremble in fear before the guns of the state, and that the humiliation of being ordered around for your entire life is almost unbearable.

The solution to the humiliation of forced compliance is, however, to reject the force, not to imagine that compliance makes it vanish. Such magic is beyond us. We must face the reality of the violence we live under. The fact that you have not been arrested does not mean that you are free.

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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April 2024

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