Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maybe I'm Not A Voluntaryist, Part 2

As I would have predicted, the responses I received on my last post varied on whether or not to take Social Security. Reviewing the feedback from a couple of people made me think more about how I was letting my decision revolve around how others might react.

I expressed that concern when I said this: “Carl says accepting such funds is not a step to a better you or a free society. I completely agree and yet I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t do it. It seems to punish others who may feel an obligation or desire to help me out if I suffer consequences by not accepting the money. Carl might say I would be teaching them the best lesson I could and maybe he’s right. But why doesn’t that feel right?”

I had been playing out various scenarios in my head when I wrote that. I already know I could change my current lifestyle to live on much less so I imagined myself doing what I need to do to not accept Social Security.

But even under that scenario of making it work, I still wondered how it would affect others, specifically my kids. Would it look like I was really “poor” or needed help? And if so, how would they feel about that? Would they feel responsible or obligated to help me out in some way?

If I did manage to actually live by my principles and refuse social security, how would my kids feel, knowing that I might live somewhat differently (i.e. “better”) if I took it? Would they want to just say, “Dammit Mom, just take the money.”

Not wanting to even put them in that position is what had me admitting I might take Social Security.

But after thinking about it more, I realized the scenario I played out in my head just wouldn’t happen within my family. They would clearly understand why I could not take it and they would know that I’d be at peace with myself in doing so. Therefore they would not feel any responsibility in regards to the consequences of my individual choices because they know I would understand and accept those consequences.

They already know that I would not expect anything from them. They know they owe me absolutely nothing. They know I am responsible for my decisions.

Duh. Of course they know all of this; it’s how we raised them. Why did I seem to forget that? They can make their own decisions and I will make mine and I know they would respect that and be comfortable in knowing that I would do it because I would need to live my principles. They know I would not feel right accepting it considering I now know the truth about Social Security and can’t go back and pretend I’m ignorant of it all.

There are also other possibilities I did not consider in regards to their reaction that makes me feel bad in a way. I never considered that they may voluntarily (not out of some irrational sense of obligation) take some action purely because they want to show support for my decision. I also didn’t consider that none of this precludes our entering into mutual voluntary trade agreements which would help me do what I needed to do to live by my principles if I did end up struggling in some way.

But regardless of all of that, no matter what I do, the manner in which it will affect them is purely up to them isn’t it? If I am free to make my own choices and accept the consequences of my actions in life then obviously so are they. I can’t control how they may feel or what choices they may make as a result. I can only make the choices that are right for me and explain to them why I make my decisions.

Maybe I’m starting to get this stuff. I don’t know.

One last point on this: it also hasn’t escaped me that I can do these blog posts until I die, telling myself that I am doing something positive to help educate myself and others on the ideas of freedom, but it would really not be nearly equal to just stopping right here, right now, vowing to never take Social Security and go out and do everything I possibly can so that I am not ever in a position where I’m even tempted to cash one of those checks.

So if I don’t come back here, I guess now you’ll know why. : )

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maybe I'm Not A Voluntaryist

This is the hardest blog post I’ve written during this project so far. I think I may not be as principled or as dedicated to my principles as I hoped. This realization has been creeping in as I’ve worked on this project but the article that prompted these current feelings is in Issue 31 titled, “I Don’t Want NOTHING from HIM!” written of course by the amazing and principled Carl Watner.

This article is about accepting benefits from the State and uses Social Security as the example. Let’s get the hard part out of the way first – I can see myself accepting Social Security when the time comes. (Of course, it’s a whole other blog post as to whether or not it will even exist when the time does come.)

Anyway, yes I find it very difficult to say I wouldn’t take it and still be honest and truthful. There are reasons, or perhaps we should call them justifications, that I use when I imagine myself accepting it. Many of them are directly addressed by Carl in this article and you will want to read how he answers them.

Social Security is one of those government programs where people have a more clear idea, or yes perhaps delusion, that they actually paid into it and therefore can justify taking some of it back - the idea that it’s perfectly moral to take back property stolen from you.

To answer this, Carl points out, rightly I’d say, that this is not the reality. If we accept that Social Security is not really an investment program, which any libertarian would have to do upon seeing the evidence, then the funds received are not recovery of your stolen property; the government has merely stolen from someone else to “pay you back.”

I must accept this as true. However, if not accepting SS is the correct moral action, then to be consistent wouldn’t we need to constantly analyze where the money from our voluntary trades come from? For example, if I sold a product or performed a service for someone who I know is living on Social Security, I am accepting stolen funds am I not? How is this different?

Am I justifying this so I can pretend I still hold to the principle of non-aggression? I suppose it’s easier to clearly delinate it when you actually get a check from the government. But still, there are times when we all know we are being paid for something with government funds and still accept it.

I also go back to what I said in this post that once the gun is pointed at you, it changes the morality of a situation.

I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to truly live by the principles I say are important to me. If I define a sacrifice as “too much,” I’m not going to do it. I know for a fact I would never go to jail on the principle that taxation is theft by refusing to pay taxes.

And yet, I think I understand the inner pull from those who do. I literally HAD to write this post. I HAD to be honest and tell the truth. I could not be comfortable in my own skin if I didn’t do that.

So what does it mean to say that on the other hand, I can justify taking SS? After all, I know it won’t feel good because I am not ignorant of the truth. But I can still see myself doing so.

Carl says accepting such funds is not a step to a better you or a free society. I completely agree and yet I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t do it. It seems to punish others who may feel an obligation or desire to help me out if I suffer consequences by not accepting the money. Carl might say I would be teaching them the best lesson I could and maybe he’s right. But why doesn’t that feel right?

And yet even that justification doesn’t quite match with some other areas of my life. For example, I’ve decided that I will not hold back when I see things going on locally through government. I’ve decided to point them out, to lay out the truth and not let people ignore those truths. Just this past weekend, I experienced some backlash from telling the truth and it was hard to get through. But after going through it, I’m almost even more dedicated to continue doing so. Even though it could even affect those I care about I know I will still do it because I have to do it.

Yes, that clearly contradicts with the justification I used about SS.

I guess in the end we all draw our lines in different places and then justify those lines. The question that needs answering then is where do those lines originate and what happens to make us move them, in either direction?

(Icon image courtesy of wikimedia)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Return to Voluntary Libraries

Issue 31 of "The Voluntaryist" contains an article by Carl Watner, “Libraries in the Voluntaryist Tradition" and as you can probably already imagine, there were many variations of voluntary libraries in the past.

Religious institutions formed private voluntary libraries. Ben Franklin started a subscription library, The Library Company of Philadelphia. There were specialized libraries formed by various tradesmen groups. Hospitals had libraries and private schools had libraries.

And let’s not forget the individual. After all, even if you own only one book, and loan it to a friend, you’ve just performed the same service that any other library does.

So how did we end up with the government-funded entities we see today?

As Carl explains the history, in part it just sounds like another example of that proverbial frog in boiling water because by the time the idea started, cities were already involved in providing many other services.

As a matter of fact, in Boston, which was the first major city to start a tax-funded library, proponents used the already-existing government schools to justify the idea. Here’s an excerpt from an 1852 report by a library Board of Trustees in Boston:

Although the school and even the college and the university are, as all thoughtful persons are well aware, but the first stages in education, the public makes no provision for carrying on the great work. It imparts with a notable equality of privilege, a knowledge of the elements of learning to all its children, but it affords them no aid in going beyond the elements. It awakens a taste for reading, but it furnishes to the public nothing to read. ...The trustees submit, that all the reasons which exist for furnishing the means of elementary education, at the public expense, apply in an equal degree to the reasonable provision to aid and encourage the acquisition of the knowledge required to complete a preparation for active life... . In this point of view we consider that a large public library is of the utmost importance as the means of completing our system of public education.

I find this ironic because I think the government schools do more to kill the enjoyment of reading than anything else out there.

When compared to government schools, libraries are a much better idea. People can come and go at will; no one is compelled to spend a certain amount of time inside a library. People can choose what they want to read. They can read at their own pace. Users can stop reading a book if they decide they don’t like it, or just read certain parts of it, or read it over and over if they wish, with no demands from any government library employee.

If it wasn’t for the government force used to fund them, libraries would be awesome.

Of course technology is changing everything. I’ve always loved libraries and have spent a lot of time in them but I almost never go anymore because so much is available on the internet. I can now access written works without the need to possess a ‘hard’ copy. The voluntaryist.com website is a perfect example.

It’s interesting that this issue of The Voluntaryist contained this article because libraries have really been on my mind the last couple of weeks. Even though I can access so much information online, I still want to read ‘real’ books, as do many others – but in order to get books I don’t think we need to fill huge buildings with them.

I ran into a really cool idea that to me seems like the wave of the future for those who want to sit down with a book in hand. It’s called the Little Free Library. People are building tiny libraries, mounting them on posts and filling them with books freely available for borrowing.

I love this idea - grass-roots, community-oriented and completely voluntary. I’m part a group of people who are working to grow the idea locally.

How about you? Maybe you want to build one of these babies and put one up in your local neighborhood. I’d love to see these Little Libraries popping up everywhere.

Just think, anyone, with a few pieces of wood and a couple of books, can own and operate his or her very own lending library, perhaps full of books like I Must Speak Out, the compilation of some of the best articles from “The Voluntaryist.” Or Carl’s newest book, Render NOT: The Case Against Taxation.

These little libraries are perfect examples of “libraries in the voluntaryist tradition.”