Why is it that most of us can come to perfectly logical conclusions about philosophy or politics — with airtight logic that nobody could possibly disagree about — but other equally intelligent people can come to radically different conclusions about the same things?
This happens to me all the time, and I’m sure it happens to you. If it happens about which car to buy or which computer is best or which smartphone to choose, it’s not that big a deal, because we can each make our own choices and let everybody else do the same — even if we argue about it along the way. (The correct choices, by the way, are Acura, Macintosh and iPhone. Just in case you were wondering.)
When we disagree about things in the market, we might sometimes assume that people who make different choices from us are wrong, but it doesn’t generally affect our own choices. As long as enough others share our choices to keep a company viable, we can all have what we want. (My condolences, though, go to those who preferred the Palm WebPad or the Amiga computer or even the Buick, because they’re all dead due to lack of market demand.)
Even with philosophical and theological issues, there’s no reason we can’t all stick to our ideas and assume that others are just blind to the obvious rightness of what we believe. But all that changes in one key area today — in our choices for how the society around us should be governed. When it comes to our “one size fits all” rules for society, if a majority accept socialist ideas, I’m stuck being forced to live a socialist life. If a majority want to strip our right to be free from warrantless searches, we’re stuck with that, too.
Does it really have to be this way?
I started thinking about this Thursday night because of a disagreement I had with a very bright and reasonable friend of mine. He took issue with the point I made Thursday about the woman at Occupy Wall Street who talked about wanting to be taxed more on her inheritance. He’s involved with the Occupy LA protests, and he thinks it’s very reasonable to require everyone to pay taxes (determined against their will, of course) in order to pay for things that “the public” somehow decides it wants.
I tried to explain my point of view, of course, that it’s a matter of coercion — that taxes are really nothing but force or threat of force for the majority to get what it wants paid for by someone else. But he honestly can’t see my point about force. My discussion of the guns held by the agents of “the majority” seemed like hyperbole to him. He said he pays his taxes voluntarily and concluded with, “I don’t see the gun behind the tax; you seem to be focused on nothing but….”
I seem to be focused on the gun held by those who coerce us because that is the whole point. Forcing people to do things against their will — and being prepared to use violence to get their compliance — is one of the ultimate evils in my book. To my friend, it was merely a small price to pay to get the society he wants.
I think I’m right on the moral issue. My friend certainly thinks he’s right. Why aren’t we each free to choose which set of rules we want to live under?
It’s because society is currently set up in such a way that almost everyone agrees that there can be only one set of rules — so we’re forced to fight over which rules those will be. With little variation, the rules of civil society are the same everywhere in this country. Even though most of us claim to believe in freedom, nobody is free to set up his own city or enclave with its own rules. (Yes, the rules can differ at the margins, but the basics have to be pretty darned similar.)
As a result, my friend and I can’t both live in the kind of society we want. If I get my more-free society, he can’t have his society that takes money from people to pay for the things he thinks are good. If he gets his more socialist or communitarian society, I can’t have the freedom from coercion that I crave.
Why can’t we agree to allow real choice? Why can’t he have his communal paradise while I have what I want? Why do 300 million people have to live with such similar rules and so little real choice — all because the majority of voters favored some particular party or candidate on election day?
There’s no moral or practical reason we shouldn’t allow competitive governance. Until we do, we’re going to have intelligent, well-meaning people being forced to fight each other for dominance — instead of allowing everyone to choose different areas with entirely different rules.