The Bikecast Episode #35: The Immoral Basis of all Law
All law, commonly understood, relies on the fact that the state has the “right” to kill you. Law in the modern nation state is based on violence, and that violence, if resisted, will continue to escalate until the law-breaker submits or is dead. The key difference between a state law enforcement official and a citizen/subject is that the official can kill the citizen and it will be widely (and legally) seen as legitimate. Even if the citizen has hurt no one and is not even breaking a state statute, any excuse will be taken as a just cause for the official to have murdered the subject/citizen.
Here are a couple exercises that attempts to create a pinprick in the mind to open it to the idea that the law of the modern nation state is based on violence.
Imagine that I have nothing to lose and am opposed to the US war machine, so I decide I’m not going to fund it anymore. I figure out how much of my taxes are going to the murder and oppression of foreigners (about 40%) and deduct that from the amount I send to the IRS. I also send a note letting them know what I’m doing–I’m polite like that.
There’s a very good chance that I will receive a letter in return. The letter will request that I pay the remaining 40% of my taxes, plus interest, plus fees. If I ignore the letter, I’ll get another, possibly a third increasingly insistent letters, and maybe a visit from an agent or a phone call. At some point, if I continue to refuse to pay, I will be seized by armed people. If I continue to resist, the violence will escalate until I am dead or unconscious. If I’ve been killed in the exchange, it will be “legal,” meaning that no one will be held accountable for my murder.
No matter the outcome, I will be made to pay. If I’m killed while resisting in the process, that is not a problem for the state. They will take my possessions after I am dead.
Here’s another one, from a conversation with a friend. He brought up the seat belt law as the best example of a harmless and probably beneficial law. I ran through an exercise parallel to the one above: I’m driving without a seat belt and and somebody flashes lights at me and orders me to pull over. If I refuse to do so, I will be stopped by any means necessary. If I’m murdered in the attempt to stop my car, the killer will go free because I resisted his attempt to ticket me for my seat belt.
Again, I will be stopped and ticketed, no matter the cost to me–even for something as silly as not wearing a seat belt. This law, like all others, rests on the immoral use of aggressive violence against me–even if I’m harming no one.
Of course, very few of us, especially after a childhood chock full of obedience training, will resist authority figures in this way.
Alisa came up with a more realistic seat belt example. Imagine I am flat broke and have just landed a job 20 miles from my residence. I’m not on a bus route, but I manage to get ahold of a car. Now say that the car doesn’t have seatbelts or that they’re broken or even that I forget to buckle up by accident one day. If I’m pulled over and get a ticket, it sets off a long series of life altering events. If I can’t pay the ticket, my license will be suspended. Without a license, I’ll eventually be ticketed again. Unless, at some point, I can pay the tickets, a warrant will be sworn out for me and I will have to go to prison (or die resisting).
This leads to another pernicious result of the immoral basis of law: most people are caught up and exposed to state violence as a result of their poverty. The rest of us are able, at least under certain circumstances, to submit and then spend our way out of trouble. We will expand on this point in the next bikecast.
We are repeatedly educated about the framework that allows these unfortunate circumstances to be avoided. The mind, when going through such a story, fictional or otherwise, leaps at every opportunity to highlight a path to a safe, submissive resolution. If we obey commands from public officials, pay what we’re told to pay, are quiet when we’re told to be quiet, follow the law, cooperate, and are courteous, then we’re fairly likely, assuming we’re not poor or ethnic, to get through life without encountering the business end of a police weapon.
That this is possible doesn’t have any bearing on the claim that the law is based solely on violence–it’s simply an indication of how desperate both rulers and subjects are to avoid a general awareness of that reality.
-  Assuming the guy with the flashing lights has a shield shaped chunk of metal and is on a list of authorized killers. ↩