Since elections — let’s be honest — do not provide a true choice, I choose not to participate. Never have. Never will. For as long as it (or I) may live.
Government needs not a speck of extra legitimacy, permission, or encouragement. It’s clearly had enough.
Even so, even as a non-voter, it’s difficult to escape the propaganda. Yes, even the most mendacious mistruths are passed around like timeless wisdom. One example, we sure you’re familiar:“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain!”
“The idea is,” Information Liberation says on its blog, “if you didn’t try to influence the machinery of the state, then you have no right to complain about what the machinery of the state does to you against your will.”
The truth, though, is quite the opposite: “By not voting, you are voicing your displeasure with the system. You are showing it has no validity in your life, you’re showing it’s irrelevant and the system is an illegitimate fraud.”
Of course, this discussion, in polite society, is immediately regarded as “impractical” or, our favorite, “defeatist.”
Yet, in our eyes, such a rapid dismissal by the statist is just another way of shouting…
“Heresy! Blasphemy! To question the moral direction of the State! Bah! Heathens have no right to an opinion!”
Besides, they sneer, freedom is illogical! Humans can’t be free to make their own choices! It could never work in the “real world”:
“How will we survive without a bunch of vampiric politicians circling us like vultures? Sure, they’re all thieves, liars and corrupt to their cores. But… the streetlights… the water… the sidewalks. The horrible schools. And the roads! Oh my! Our concrete with painted lines! Freedom would be chaos!”
But is it all true? Is freedom “impractical” to civilized society? Do we need faceless bureaucracies to make important and personal decisions on our behalf?
Also, is it possible the State uses magic concrete to build more superior roads than the normal peon ever could? And, of course, the biggest question: Without the State and its magic roads, could we even survive?
To answer these questions (and many more), here’s a brilliant chapter out of Sy Leon’s book, None of the Above, titled: “Between the Lights.”
Between the Lights
By Sy Leon
I appeared on a television program with a representative from the League of Women Voters who wished to reply to my attack on politicians. I will, for the sake of this recounting, call this lady Ms. Jones.
Ms. Jones was an attractive, businesslike woman with a firm but pleasant manner. After listening to some of my caustic remarks about politics and politicians, she leaned forward in her chair and began intense cross-examination.
“Surely you would agree, Mr. Leon, that politicians, whatever their faults, serve a vital function in our society.”
“What function do you have in mind?” I asked.
“I’ll give you one obvious example,” she replied. “Did you drive to the television studio this afternoon?”
“No,” I said. “I walked.”
“In that case, did you cross any intersections with street lights?”
“Yes, several, as a matter of fact,” I said.
Her eyes sparkled as she dangled the bait in front of me. “Am I correct,” she asked, “in assuming that you obeyed the traffic signals?”
“Yes,” I said, naively unaware that I had just taken the bait.
Ms. Jones smiled and set the hook. “So, Mr. Leon, even you admit the need for political regulations, and even you obey those regulations. The politicians made those laws and you obey them. It seems clear that, whatever you say in theory, you concede a function for politicians in practice.”
I was apparently in a bind. Was I a “traffic anarchist,” opposed to all regulations and traffic signals? Did I favor the merciless running down of pedestrians and the chaotic crashing of cars?
“It seems to me,” I said, “that by obeying the traffic signals I was simply exercising a dose of common sense. Like most people, I have no desire to get run over by a truck. Whether the government put those lights there or someone did doesn’t make me feel any different; I still don’t want to get run over by a truck. So I obeyed the traffic signals, not out of any respect for politicians, but out of respect for trucks.”
Ms. Jones looked mildly annoyed. “Mr. Leon, whatever your motives may have been for obeying the traffic signals, you are still admitting that there is an important function served by the political mechanism.”
“No, not at all,” I replied. “Let’s be realistic about this. The government is monstrously huge. Do you really think, Ms. Jones, that we need so many politicians and bureaucrats to keep the traffic signals running? Maybe the fellow who runs the corner drugstore could switch on a nearby signal when he arrives for work in the morning, and then switch it off at night when he leaves. I mean, I hate to think that we suffer for the sake of a few traffic lights. Surely, there are some alternatives.”
“Perhaps,” Ms. Jones replied. “But even if that is the case, the politicians you dislike are responsible for the traffic signals as they presently exist.”
“Really?” I asked. “I would be willing to bet that those signals were manufactured by private industry. I doubt if many politicians could construct a traffic signal.”
My adversary paused for a moment, as if waiting for me to acknowledge that I wasn’t serious. Then she patiently attempted to clarify her point. “Mr. Leon, I think you know what I mean. At the very least, politicians keep the signals running.”
“Do you mean that our elected officials go out and personally repair traffic signals?”
“No, of course not.” Mrs. Jones was losing some of her patience with me. “I think you’re being obstinate, Mr. Leon. My point is simply that politicians are ultimately responsible for traffic signals and other public services. For example, they pay for these services so that we may all benefit from them.”
“Now I’m really confused,” I said. “Again, at the risk of sounding obstinate, I think it’s quite clear that the taxpayers, not the politicians, pay for public services. So let me get this straight: politicians don’t manufacture the traffic signals, they don’t repair or maintain them, they don’t plan or coordinate their placement, nor do they pay for them. Yet we are supposed to believe that without politicians we wouldn’t have traffic signals and orderly traffic. That’s a great job. Where else can you be so important and be paid so well for not doing all these things? By the same logic, I am responsible for commercial airlines. I don’t know how to build, repair or run them, and don’t pay for their manufacture. By political standards, my credentials are impeccable. I should be elected president of all the airlines.”
Ms. Jones looked puzzled. “Do you mean to say,” she asked, “that politicians have nothing whatever to do with traffic signals and other public services?”
“Not at all,” I said. “Their primary job is to decide how much money should be forced out of the taxpayers, and then decide how they, the politicians, wish to spend that money. That’s the peculiar thing, you see. Ordinarily, if a person goes around taking money from others by force and then spending that money, we don’t say he has a ‘job’ — we say instead that he is a thief — and we don’t grant him our respect. Least of all do we say that he is an indispensable part of our welfare. Now my point is that a thief by another name is still a thief even if he goes around building traffic lights.”
“But I just don’t understand this,” Ms. Jones protested. “If the politicians didn’t do their job, we would have chaos and disorder. Everything would be a mess.”
“Let’s examine this more closely,” I suggested, “since we seem to have overlooked something. It’s true when I obeyed some traffic signals when I walked into the studio this afternoon, but let’s not forget the area between the lights.
“Most of the distance I traveled was not regulated by lights; by your standards, those vast stretches of sidewalk were in a virtual state of anarchy There were no lights or laws telling me how to get from one place to another, to avoid bumping into other people and so on, yet I managed quite while. I didn’t fall down once, or slip off any curbs, or run into any walls, and neither did any of the other people on those sidewalks.
“In short, by pursuing my own goals and acting on my own judgment without the alleged assistance of a politician, I was able to walk where I wanted to go, and to do so in harmony with my fellow human beings. Yet to hear you describe it, people are so feeble-minded they cannot get along without the meddling of politicians.
“But I disagree. People are able to plan their own lives and they don’t need a politician to plan for them.”
“But,” asked Ms. Jones, “don’t you agree that planning is necessary in at least some cases?”
“I never said I was against planning. On the contrary, planning is necessary in most areas of life. It’s not an issue of planning or not planning. The issue is: Who does the planning? My opposition to political planning in now way implies chaos or disorder.
“I am against political planning because it forces people to act against their own judgment. I think each person should plan his or her own life. But the politician, in your view, should plan for other people whether they want it or not. It is likely, Ms. Jones, that many people watching this program want less interference in their lives. They are tired of being told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, by someone who knows and cares nothing about them. People want to run their own lives. And if you and I are as aware of the problem as we like to think we are, then the best thing we can do is to leave people alone and respect their right to make their own decisions.
“So it’s not a matter of whether there should be order in society, but whether that order should be generated from within by the voluntary activity of the individuals concerned, or whether activity of the individuals concerned, or whether that order should be imposed from without by the heavy hand of a politician.
“Now, Ms. Jones, if you want to hire a politician to plan your life for you, that’s fine — I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to live. But please, I implore you, restrict his beneficent efforts to your behalf and instruct him to leave me alone.
I would consider that downright neighborly of you. When the politician offers his services to me, I just want a simple option: I want to be able to say, ‘No, thank you.’
And if, like an obnoxious salesman, he persists in annoying me, I want the right say, ‘Get lost!’ and to slam the door unceremoniously in his face.”