Frequently discussion/arguments between theist and atheists begin with the theist counting off all the things that science doesn’t have a explanation for (What came before the big bang? What causes gravity? How did life begin?). After much circling and probably a fair amount of misdirection, one of two outcomes are reached, a) the theist concludes by saying that both he and the atheist have equally indefensible positions or b) he will simply demand the acceptance of his belief system regardless of its absurdity. God does exist because he has to exist–it’s so obvious only a crazy person could argue against it.
Arguing with a statist, someone who believes that violence is the only possible answer to all manner of social conflict, has much the same feel. The opening position is a list of all the problems that they can’t imagine being solved without a violent hierarchy (road construction, education of children, national defense, more road construction) and the conclusion is either a) “generously” that the arguments are symmetrical and that nobody can be demonstrably correct or b) the statist shouldn’t even have to make the case for government, because it’s so obviously good and necessary!
A case in point, That we need government is just fact, by Amanda Marcotte .
It [an article praising the state for not stealing and reselling all of North America to developers] also caused me to want to ball up on the floor and cry. Not because it’s bad; it’s great. But because it had to be written in the first place. That’s how stupid our political discourse has gotten, that people are actually defending the existence of the government. It’s like having a debate about whether or not water is good for you.
It would be like arguing whether or not water is good for you if water had bombed, shot, tortured and imprisoned some millions of people in the last year–and every year since the beginning of time. Generally water doesn’t do that. It’s really only dangerous in huge quantities–especially when driven by wind.
In a sense, I feel like defending the existence of government is wasting your breath. If people who are just generally “against” government can’t see how their day to day life is affected by—usually for the better—the existence of government, I don’t know that rational arguments pointing it out are going to make much difference. They clearly live in a fantasy world. Rationality has no influence on them.
Of course, the principled anarchist makes the same argument in return. These may be seen as symmetrical positions, much as the theist’s and atheist’s above. In a context free from reason and evidence, and with a healthy dose of cultural indoctrination, one may be able to squint and say, “yep, there’s no way to decide whether or not God exists.” Of course, if you just fucking look around, maybe read a book or two, and think about it for a bit, it’s pretty evident that there’s no supernatural power that exists outside of material reality and is intervening in earthly events.
It’s equally evident that government is a construct dedicated to the preservation of existing power and privilege, that it is the last remaining “acceptable” perpetrator of violence, and that it always and everywhere grows, heaping increasing misery on the poor until it collapses in ruin; leaving the powerful and privileged to start a new government. Sure, this is a simplified description of a very complex process. The theory of evolution is a simplification of a complex process. You can pick nits around the boundaries of either, but if you don’t accept the reality of the processes described, you’re missing the forest for the trees.
Next comes a challenge from Amanda to the reader:
Seriously, just grab a notebook and put in a hashmark for every time you do something that you couldn’t do if it weren’t for government regulation, funding, and organizing. You’ll find you fill a page up before lunch with hashmarks. I’ve been up for an hour now, and I’ve made coffee(1,2,3), eaten breakfast (4,5), had a glass of water (6), used the toilet (7,8) . . . [the numbers relate to a list included below]
That’s nothing. If you’re one of the 2.5+ million prisoners in the country, you’ll have that notebook filled up by 9am. Oh, except you might not have anything to write with–hey, that’s a hashmark too: seizure of contraband! Let’s say you just counted off in your head. Government provides your wake up call. Government opens the door for you. Government provided you with the door, the bed, the floor. Government arranged for your roommate. Government day planning–what a full calendar! Amanda’s premise is that none of these things would happen, or not nearly as well, if the government didn’t exist. Her evidence is that it just wouldn’t and only a moron can’t understand that.
We all understand, though, that even without a government provided loudspeaker outside you cell, somebody has managed to provide you a means of getting up in the morning; even without a government provided yard to walk around in circles, somebody has figured out a way (probably lots of ways) to help you get your exercise and social interaction. The fact that the government has a monopoly on these services in prison doesn’t mean that a free human being is deprived of them.
The same is true for the items on Amanda’s list. Even without marines enforcing U.S. corporation’s claims on vast swaths of S. America and even without death squads preventing peasant labor from leaving, somebody would grow and sell coffee beans to American consumers. Even without eminent domain being used to throw people from their homes so giant asphalt monstrosities can be built and the surrounding land sold off to politically connected developers, somebody would provide means (again, probably lots of them) for moving goods and people between places.
The same goes for all the items on her list (1-8 corresponding to the above quotation, see her article if you care for more).
1. Clean water.
2. International trade agreements getting the coffee to the U.S.
3. Roads to ship it to the store.
4. Clean water.
7. Seriously, water.
8. Regulations governing size and other aspects of the toilet.
The idea that toilets wouldn’t exist except that someone will fine you for toilets of the wrong size is kind of weird. The idea that a trade agreement (i.e., not arresting people and stealing their good for crossing a border) is somehow fostering trade as opposed to simply ceasing to stop it is also pretty inexplicable.
The roads are another issue that I’ve touched on here and way back here. But the drum beat for infrastructure from the left has become pretty monotonous lately–I guess due to the “Rebuilding ‘merica” bill. Ivan Illich and I might have to drop another post or two about it.
Anyhoo, to sum up, the existence of god and the need for government are not “just facts” because somebody really, really, REALLY believes they are and wants them to be. God and government are both frauds intended to bully the weak and indoctrinated for the benefit of folks who a) would rather get paid for pretending to solve problems with imaginary solutions than exchange value for value in the real world (or would rather receive huge amounts of money from those people in exchange for patronage) and b) don’t give a shit about shafting other human beings (I’d put this group around 80%), or are honestly so broken that they really think the fantasy to be real (probably mostly on the religious side, but that’s just a guess).