Tuesday, December 30, 2008

State Religion

It’s not uncommon for anarchist/statist debates between atheists to devolve into one side calling the other’s beliefs “religion” in a classic poisoning of the well type fallacy. One such conversation recently boiled up on a sceptic forum I read, this time led off by the anarchist.

I usually try to avoid such tactics unless the statist “starts it” because I didn’t really think that anarchism or statism rise to the level of religion. But the more I’ve thought about it recently the more I’ve realised that I’m wrong, that statism does share one very important trait with religion. I’m not talking about such things as the effects of religion or the adherent’s devotion, those things are really external. I’m talking about the core component of religion, the belief in an entity that has supernatural powers.

I claim that statism does have such an entity and I will attempt to prove it logically.

First, almost everyone believes that there are certain things that people should never do. For example, very few people would claim that they have the right to imprison their neighbours for non-violent behaviour. This extends to threatening to imprison them. I’m sure plenty of people have fantasised about locking away that bozo who took the parking spot they were waiting for, but they wouldn’t claim to have the right.

So, if you’re still with me you know you can’t just take your neighbour Bob and lock him in your basement for a few days. This applies to contracts as well. I can’t contract with my other neighbour, Tim, to grab Bob and lock him up. The contract doesn’t grant any rights to Tim that neither he nor I have outside of the contract. And if Tim did imprison Bob, it couldn’t be blamed on the contract. The contract isn’t capable of locking up Bob, it is nothing more than an acknowledged agreement between me and Tim. Even if we wrote the contract down, it still doesn’t exist as anything more than a mutual understanding.

Even if Tim and I got together and called our contract a government, it still wouldn’t grant either of us the right to imprison Tim. If we did form this “government” and started imprisoning people it wouldn’t be an act of our government, since it doesn’t exist, it would be the act of two individual people. This holds true whether is 3 people or a billion that form the government. The acts of the individuals are their acts alone. The government exists only as a mutual understanding of the parties, and it doesn’t have any rights or power of its own to confer on any individuals.

You response to this will fall into one of the following categories.

  1. You agree wholeheartedly, and you think that government is just a gang of people throwing their weight around. You’re some form of anarchist.

  2. You agree with the part about individuals not having the right to hurt others, but you think that government does have the right. If so then you believe that the government has some form of existence which is separate from individuals. This government is not only a separate entity, but it has rights above and beyond the individuals, i.e. supernatural. You believe in the church.

  3. You agree about individual rights, but you think that government is “more than the sum of its parts” and people in government get extra rights because of this. This is just a rationalisation of #2.

  4. You disagree about individuals having the right to imprison people, but just think that people need to be forced to allow only a small set of them exercise this power. You aren’t in the church of the state, but you are a believer in “might makes right” and probably insult others for holding this same belief.

  5. You believe that individuals don’t have the right to hurt each other, but when working together collectively, they do. Also a rationalisation of #2.

  6. You think that as a practical matter people in government need this extra power in order to keep society working. This is just a specific case of #4.

  7. You think you do have the right to imprison people. You’re a sociopath.

  8. Other. Your specific reaction is either a special case of #2 and #4.

The conclusion from all of this is that you belong to one of the following belief systems:

  • The state doesn’t exist and is invalid.

  • Might makes right, and that’s reality, love it or leave it.

  • Government is supernatural. It’s like the “soul” in that it is an energy or force above and beyond the body. With it a group of people have more rights and powers than they would have without it. You give deference to this entity. Unlike the god in the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, it’s not perfect. It’s more like a god from Greek mythology in that you acknowledge its flaws but don’t deny its power.

  • You’re insane.

Most people, I believe, would read this and say that they do accept government but don’t believe in might makes right and are insulted by the idea of government being a supernatural entity. The only trouble is that they cannot contradict this with logic, only denial.

No comments: