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)


Brodie Mower said...

The question I have is what do you think a Voluntaryist is? Is a Voluntaryist simply a person that thinks all interactions should be voluntary and that government employees do not conduct themselves in a voluntary fashion? Or does a Voluntaryist not only believe those things but also act a certain way? Meaning is a Voluntaryist also one that does not file income taxes, does not register their car, does not take SS, blah, blah, blah? If the later definition, then what do you call someone that thinks all actions should be voluntary, yet takes SS, files taxes, and registers their car?

Kent McManigal said...

There is the IDEAL, then there is the fact that we have to live in the world as it exists right now. I cause myself a lot of problems by staying closer to the ideal than I probably should. It isn't my place to judge the decisions of others.

Yes, all interactions should be voluntary, and taxation is theft. However, you can't know that every cent you get was obtained through voluntary means by the person who is paying you. And you'd waste most of your life trying to make that determination. Somewhere you have to have a line. You will not use theft or deception to obtain anything, but you are not responsible for everyone else's actions.

The SS... I don't know on that one. I don't believe I would accept it at this time. But, I'm not starving. Plus, remember that very little of the SS money is collected by theft from individuals; most is paid by the theft of "inflation"- the feds just print up the money they pay out. No "taxation" is ever needed to pay for things the government does since they run the printing presses. The "taxation" is not to get the money; it is to manipulate behavior.

This falls under "choose your battles". Do what you think you must. If it bothers you enough, you will reject the SS payments, since the money wouldn't be worth the guilt. If not, you will use that money to be able to continue the fight on another front.

rexxhead said...

There is also the aspect that we should be actively pursuing methods to destroy immoral systems lest we fall foul of Burke's Law: that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph...

When it comes to SS, we have few options for activism. One of these is to 'destroy the system from within'.

Take the money and run, Debbie.

Debbie H. said...

Very interesting comments all, thank you. I think it's pretty obvious this is one of those issues that ends up in shades of gray rather than black and white.

Brody, that is an excellent question and I don't have the answer. I would say though that to just say you hold to certain principles really doesn't mean much if you don't behave in such a manner. But again, what exactly that behavior is can get gray and confusing (at least to me) pretty darn quick.

Joe said...

I have to agree with Brodie and Kent. Would you not walk on the sidewalk or drive on the road because they were built, maintained and lighted by local taxation? Or would you not drink tap water because it is subsidized by those means?

Debbie H. said...

I understand your point Joe, but do you think it's possible that SS could be put in a different category than roads and water because it is possible to more clearly delineate and refuse it since it's an actual check you receive?

Pete Eyre said...

Thanks as always for the insightful and thought-provoking write-up Debbie.

You noted "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."

Why let unknown, potential future actions of another individual impact your actions? If you truly do own yourself then you should act as you best see fit, irregardless of what others may do.

For me, the crux of your moral quandary is expressed best here:

"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?"

Substantially, it's not. Suppose you made widgets. Would you trade a widget to Person X if you knew the money used to pay was stolen from Person Y? I doubt it. So why differentiate between thieves simply because one claims the "legitimate" right to steal?

Also, if one were to abstain from transactions with those utilizing stolen funds, could that not also incentivize them to think about their own actions? Perhaps loosing access to such goods and services (or to maintain the relationship) would outweigh their willingness to take stolen money.

Perpetuating SS only delays the implementation of a more peaceful, accountable and efficient alternative: civil society. Just imagine if no one cashed a check on principle.

As Watner says, if one takes care of the means the end will take care of itself.

Joe said...

Debbie, yes, SS is more distinct than those other services so one could opt to decline the check, just as one could decline to enroll in Medicare. As Kent said, it's a question of choosing your battles and I think a lot would depend on individual circumstances.

If you pay RE taxes and homeschool your children, you're in effect declining the "free public school" benefit. Presumably it's because you can afford it, moneywise and timewise. If a renter (who doesn't pay those taxes directly), has several school-age children and not much in the way of income, sends them to public school, is she not a voluntaryist, if she acts like one otherwise?

Stateknowsbest said...

A habitual theif that, you know for a fact, steals from everyone in your neighborhood, steals $200 dollars from you. Six months later the thief knocks on your door. He wants to give you $150. You can be almost positive that this is not part of the $200 he stole from you six months ago because the theif has been robbing people daily since that event. Would you be violating your principles if you accepted the money? Definitely not. If you took more than was initially stolen, then I think you would be violating your principles.

Debbie H. said...

More good responses, thanks!

Pete, good point about trying to figure out what I'm going to do based on unknown future actions of other individuals. One question: if I'm understanding you right, you are saying that yes, people should take time and effort to figure out where funds are coming from when trading with others?

Joe, to the homeschooling example: for us it wasn't about affording it, we were going to do what was necessary to do it because it was that important, it was difficult financially at least at first. It's hard to figure out whether someone actually "needs" a government service because there are lots of choices and decisions one could make that can get them to the point of "needing" it.

Stateknowsbest, so you are saying that people who paid into SS could accept it up to the point that equals what they personally paid in? (with I suppose some interest calculation as well?)

Lloyd Licher said...

Just want to let you know that here is one person who refuses to have anything to do with Social Security and Medicare, even though I'm 84 and retired, on principle. I fondly remember the day way back about 1960 or so when I ceremoniously burned my Social Security card over the kitchen stove, after being convinced by Robert LeFevre that Voluntaryism was the only moral way to live. Then I convinced my employer, the nonprofit Soaring Society of America, to opt out of the system, which they did until I left their employ. Any monies a SS recipient receives has been forcibly taken from others. All money they took from you has long ago been paid out to others. Fortunately, my last employer, another nonprofit, the YMCA, had a very good retirement plan that I invested most of my surplus earnings into, such that I now draw a comfortable annuity payment each month, until I die, which is more than I was making at retirement. We are responsible for ourselves, but even so, I've told myself that I would rather go homeless than take SS money. But then, that's what family is all about, too, helping those in need who are deserving. By Lloyd Licher

Jim Wetzel said...

Debbie, your link led me only to a table of contents, rather than the piece you describe. Was it by any chance the one published here?

If so, I'm Spartacus. My property, which was stolen from me, is gone now. My status as a victim of theft does not justify my receiving anyone else's stolen property.

Debbie H. said...

Jim, just for everyone's fyi, the actual link to the issue that has the article Carl wrote is this:

I usually just link to the table of contents because it loads faster and from there people can go download the actual pdf.

But anyway, your link is excellent as well. I don't know, by the time I am faced with the situation maybe I can say "I'm Spartacus" too.

Anonymous said...

My take on it is a little bit different: The only likely way the current system is going to be changed is through collapse. Taking payments hastens that collapse.