Personal Accountability and the Granting of Legitimacy
This article was written by guest-author Joseph Moutard.
In the course of my relatively brief time as an individual who understands and advocates true freedom, I have encountered many very diverse individuals with each having their own unique opinions, philosophical views, tactics, and strategies for achieving a human society that embraces complete liberty, with the non-aggression principle and self-ownership as central axioms of its morality. Debates on the merits of their various theories are many and the sharing of ideas falls nothing short of rampant.
In our efforts to help humanity grow beyond the societal cancer that is statism, however, nearly all of us (including yours truly) frequently find ourselves falling into the same two major traps that cause us to grant our implicit approval or support to those who claim compulsory authority over their peers.
While the concept is hardly new for most that have spent any significant time studying the philosophy of liberty or critically examining the state and arbitrary authority, I offer the following premise: The external government of the state is simply a construct of the mind…an abstraction. The state exists not in the material world, but rather exclusively in the world of conceptual belief. The actions of individuals who claim to work on behalf of the government, the buildings dedicated to housing such people in their functions, the leviathan of destruction that is the military-industrial complex – these are all merely manifestations of this belief in the minds of individuals. The following quotation summarizes this idea quite nicely:
“Government” itself does no harm, because it is a fictional entity. But the belief in “government” – the notion that some people actually have the moral right to rule over others – has caused immeasurable pain and suffering, injustice and oppression, enslavement and death. The fundamental problem does not reside in any set of buildings, or any group of politicians, or any gang of soldiers or enforcers. The fundamental problem is not an organization that can be voted out, or overthrown, or “reformed.” The fundamental problem is the belief itself – the delusion, superstition and myth of “authority” – which resides in the minds of several billion human beings, including those who have suffered the most because of that belief. Ironically, the belief in “authority” dramatically affects the perception and actions even of those who are actively fighting against a particular regime. The superstition drastically alters and limits the ways in which dissenters “fight” oppression, and renders nearly all of their efforts impotent. Furthermore, on the rare occasion that a particular tyrant is toppled, one form of oppression is almost always replaced by another – often one that is even worse than the prior one. ~Larken Rose
In the interest of properly framing the content to follow, I make this assertion: Compulsory external government, like all other arbitrarily imposed authority, is nothing more than a mechanism by which people acting in an aggressive and/or immoral fashion against other persons or their property are able to obtain a grant of legitimacy from their victims and alleviate their own personal accountability for such actions. In other words, it is a process of laundering immorality.
Now, you may be wondering how on earth you grant legitimacy to the authoritarian concept of statism. After all, you are an avowed anarchist/libertarian/voluntar(y)ist/ anarcho-whateverist who works with feverish passion to bring awareness to the perils of authority worship and its manifestation as the modern nation-state. You study the subject endlessly (perhaps borderline obsessively), both in the areas of current events and in the history leading up to them. You’ve pondered the philosophical arguments on all sides ad nauseam, reaching the only rational conclusion that the initiation of force is always wrong and any interactions predicated on the initiation of force or threat thereof always result in a net loss when considering all involved parties. You use every known form of social media to openly oppose the state, screaming from the rooftops to all that will hear.
You’ve endured scorn, threats, and ostracism from friends, family members, and even random strangers who are unable to cope with the emotional discomfort caused by your professed disbelief in external government and your rejection of their blind devotion to the preferred nation-state arbitrarily defined by their geographic location more times than you can ever recall. You dedicate yourself to thinking critically and modifying all of your beliefs to eliminate logical contradictions. How is it even remotely possible that you, of all people, have been unwittingly duped into supporting the continuance of authoritarian oppression!?
The answers to this question are astoundingly simple. Yet, one can hardly believe how incredibly difficult it can be to alter the deeply ingrained patterns of thinking that lie at the root of the issue. For most of us, the blame can be placed squarely on a childhood filled with relentless indoctrination of authoritarian memes. This is especially true for those of us who had the all too common misfortune of being locked in a government-run Skinner box for 15,000+ hours of our formative years. However, once you have identified these thought patterns, you can also quickly identify the resulting behaviors and begin to consciously address the operant conditioning responsible for them. And here they are:
- We alleviate or overlook personal accountability for the actions of individuals acting at the behest of those who claim to wield authority in the name of the state…the “just following orders”, “just doing my job”, and “just following the rules” foot soldiers.
- We assign personal accountability for the actions of others to those who claim to wield authority in the name of the state…the supposed “rulers” who typically do little more than make speeches, give interviews, write words on paper, and hand down “orders” to others.
Addressing number one, I am reminded of the film, A Few Good Men. As this film is now more than 20 years old, I’m not entirely concerned about spoilers. The plot centers around the military court martial of two US Marines (Dawson & Downey) accused of murdering a fellow enlisted man (Santiago) who died as a result of the harsh disciplinary measures they administered under direct orders from superior officers (Kendrick & Jessup). The primary debate is whether the accused soldiers should be held personally accountable for their actions, or if the responsibility lies with the superior officers who gave the orders. If the authority of the superior officers was truly legitimate, then the soldiers cannot rightfully be held accountable for compliance with their orders.
Likewise, if the soldiers are personally accountable for their actions, then the authority of the superior officers must be illegitimate. Certainly, it is objectionable to demand that others perform immoral acts. Those who make such demands can be regarded with the same moral status as those who actually perform them. However, the act of giving orders does not produce any measurable damage to other persons or their property. If the orders are accompanied by coercive force or credible threats, then the person being coerced is a victim of aggression and entitled to restitution accordingly. If the coercive orders are obeyed, then an additional victim of aggression is created and this victim is likewise entitled to restitution. The nature and severity of the coercion can be used to gauge the accountability of the victim following the orders toward the victim of the orders.
- If I order you to stab your neighbor in the neck and threaten to withhold the whipped cream on your cherry pie should you not obey, then it seems all but certain that you are almost entirely accountable for the act of stabbing your neighbor.
- If I give that same order and threaten to shoot you for disobedience while pointing a loaded firearm at your head, then it is I who am directly accountable for your neighbor’s stab wound.
- If I have a long, very well-known, and well-documented history of giving such orders while claiming no personal accountability and offering no restitution to those who are victimized when the orders are obeyed, but you willfully choose to enter into a long-term contract of employment with me and subject yourself to rigorous psychologically destructive training to ensure your unquestioning obedience, then you are still personally accountable for your own actions carried out under my orders.
This last bullet point leads us into number two…in more ways than one. Most of us need look no further than the main feed of our own social media accounts to find an endless stream of examples of authority figures being both blamed and credited for the actions of others. Just think of the countless headlines and references to “Clinton’s booming economy” and “Bush’s illegal wars”. How many times have you heard people talk about all of the children “killed by Obama’s drones”? These examples may be a bit simplistic and cliché, but this line of thinking is pervasive. Clinton knows jack shit about economics and has never personally done anything significant to aid or hinder any economy. Bush did not participate in any wars, drop any bombs, fire any weapons at complete strangers, or force any other person to do so. Obama has never controlled a drone or killed a child. In the grand scheme of things, these people are actually quite irrelevant by nearly every measure of objective reality. In fact, the only tie between these rulers and the acts supposedly carried out in their names is the belief in the minds of the individuals who actually carry them out. When we credit these acts to the ruler, we are effectively supporting that very belief by transferring personal accountability. This constitutes a de facto granting of legitimacy to their claims of authority.
In truth, personal accountability cannot legitimately be transferred. As moral actors, every individual is responsible for their own actions and they will always choose to do what they feel is best for them under a given set of circumstances. Let us no longer participate in the laundering of immorality. Let us no longer dismiss individuals from their own personal accountability. Let us no longer be complicit in the charade that hides the irrelevance of those who claim to rule. Let us no longer grant legitimacy to authoritarian sociopaths. Let us no longer fall victim to the greatest deception that has ever been perpetrated upon human society. Instead, let us accurately identify and hold accountable those who produce nothing while taking from others by force and distinguish them from those who add value to the lives of others through voluntary interaction as the means to meeting their own needs. Let us provide this clarity of vision to our children. Once the veil is lifted, those who call themselves “the state” are only able to impose their will through direct violence. They wish to avoid this at all costs because it places them in the spotlight and exposes them for what they truly are, while exacting a heavy spiritual price on those who have been duped into serving them.
Predators cannot continue to survive and feed on their prey when they have been stripped of their camouflage.
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