Every time an election rolls around, some newspaper writer will publish some sanctimonious piece about how more people should vote and what sorts of people should be elected. These well-meaning people want change, and they prod people to “do something” to make things better.
The mainstream parties hold their primaries here in Alabama next Tuesday, and the expected article about electing better people showed up in the state’s largest newspaper today. It’s called, “We bellyache about the Legislature yet 59 percent of lawmakers have been practically re-elected and nobody’s even voted.” These articles are great for newspaper writers, because they practically write themselves and they get people riled up enough to leave comments. (There are 71 comments on this article so far.)
The writer seems to be asking why voters keep electing the incumbents and why more people don’t “do something” if they’re not happy with the Legislature. But what if he’s asking the wrong questions?
The only political questions we’re really allowed to ask in this country are which people we want to fill certain positions in governments. We get to elect “our representatives” to go to the State House and State Senate. We get to elect a governor and an attorney general and state auditor and members of a Public Service Commission. And on and on. As other people see it, we have plenty of choices, because there are many different positions and almost anybody can run for the offices. He or she just has to convince enough people to vote for him and he can hold power.
But we don’t get to ask the right questions, do we? The key question we don’t get to ask is, “Do I want other people making decisions about my life?”
— Is it moral for an elite group to call itself “the government” and impose its will on the rest of us?
— How did we come to accept that these people have the moral or legal right to decide things for everybody else?
— What can we do to peacefully escape the control of these people if we don’t agree to obey them?
These are the sorts of questions we need to be asking. But these aren’t the questions that the state or the media ask. Why? It’s not even so much that politicians and journalists are evil as much as it’s that they don’t even know it’s possible to ask these questions. They simply assume that what they’ve always known must be what’s right.
Almost everyone accepts what’s familiar as “normal.” Most in our society accept obeying a coercive state. Most people a few hundred years ago accepted that it was normal and reasonable to obey kings. Those born into slavery accepted it as normal for others to own them and control everything about them. (Even the Bible cautions slaves to accept being owned by other human beings.)
At some point, though, someone asked why it was moral or legal for one person to own another person. Slavery started fading away, although pockets of it remain even in the modern world. At some other point, someone asked why people had the moral or legal responsibility to obey a king or other supreme ruler. Over time, others asked the same question and monarchs slowly lost their ability to rule.
At some future point, most people are going to ask why it’s moral or legal for one group of people — whether “democratically selected” or otherwise — to control everyone who happens to be born in one geographic territory. And when that happens, we’re going to throw off the chains of obeying a state and its politicians and hangers-on.
When that day gets here, we’re not going to ask who should be elected to a Legislature or to various other political offices. We’re going to be asking what voluntary arrangements to agree to with other people.
It won’t be utopia, and that’s not the intention of freedom. The point of freedom is for people to be able to decide for themselves what they want and how they want to peacefully pursue it.
One day, we can ask ourselves, “What do I want to voluntarily pursue in this world?” rather than, “Which people do I want to select to help rule over me.”
But it won’t happen until we start asking ourselves different questions about why we’re where we are.