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The Gordian Knot

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The question of just and equitable governance may in some ways be simple and straightforward, but in many ways it is a Gordian Knot of conflicting entanglements.

The following exchange occurred in this thread. I thought perhaps it worthy of reposting here, as it touches upon some of the difficulties associated with the practical aspects of governing.

It just occurs to me that there are two fundamental aspects of "government" function, whether it be public or private (a possibly false distinction, IMO): investigation and governance. Investigation is the activity whereby the truth of a charge is determined. Governing is everything that happens after truth is established. Free men (i.e. non-criminals) are immune from all governance, but are they immune from investigation? The answer is sufficiently clear at the extremes, but what of that broad middle area of profound gray? Another question for the philosophers, I suppose.

The exchange in question:

Quote Originally Posted by Arion45 View Post
I think you missed the part that if a government is only there to protect life, liberty, and property and will not aggress against others that try to fill it's role then you have a voluntary society. In addition, this is not really a government anymore because it does not have the monopoly of force in a given geographical area. But if the government uses force to limit others from competing with it then, it is not longer only protecting life, liberty, and property but itself. The individuals who run the government are now protecting their own power and legitimacy. Here lies the slippery slope of the leviathan.
"Voluntary society" is somewhat irrelevant in the sense that the term does not convey nature, i.e. the character and quality relevant to our discussion. Even a "voluntary" nation has governing going on. This is so because you will likely always have those who steal, assault, and murder. Such cases must either be dealt with or we choose the law of the jungle, which to some may hold a romantic appeal, but in reality would be a nightmare in just about every way imaginable. Regulation of morally unacceptable behavior is absolutely essential if we are not to live under circumstances of perpetual, rank savagery. One of the keys here is holding proper definitions of "morally unacceptable", and this is one of the areas where governance has run wildly astray, both in the USA and indeed across the face of the planet. This alone is sufficient reason to replace rule of law with rule of principle. Base governance on the most fundamental, obvious, and apodictic principles of humanity, e.g. the Canon of Individual Sovereignty, and most of your problems vanish as if by magic - but not all as we will see.

If the day comes that someone contrives technology that would enable each individual to absolutely guarantee their own safety - something like the "corbomite" device of the original Star Trek series, then governance as we have known it in terms of regulating individual behavior might be able to come to an end, but even that is not certain. Some aspects of governing could certainly go the way of the dodo, but I am not sure about all. Imagine, for instance, that Johnny Rocketsurgeon decides to poison a local river with 5 tons of uranium hexafluoride - he is not attacking anyone in a direct manner, but he is threatening them in any event (UHex is fantastically dangerous, esp. when it meets water).

In any event, such technology does not really remove governance, it only shifts the responsibility for, and the instrumentality of it away from a mob and onto the shoulders of the individual and the providers of the technology. This may or may not be prefereable, depending on one's point of view. Government functions are, nevertheless, still needed because of human nature, which is the nature of life. It is in our fabric to interfere - the robber interferes with his victim, government interferes with the robber. We have yet to step away from this completely on the robber's end of things, which necessitates we choose either to apply counter force (governance) or live in chaos, the latter pretty much being a universal non-starter. It is therefore incumbent upon us to choose a system of governance that serves us justly and in welcomed fashion. Such a system serves a single purpose: to remove all unwanted and harmful interference from our lives, which is another way of saying "to guarantee and protect" our individual rights and to adjudicate conflicts that cannot be otherwise resolved by the parties in question. That last bit is the real kicker - the lynch pin upon which the whole ball of wax turns.

Guaranty and protection of rights where non-interference is concerned is a relatively simple and easy matter from the standpoint of governance. If the person is not stealing, assaulting, or murdering, leave him alone. Almost.

If he is dumping the UHex into the river, his violation of others through the violation of the integrity of the commons that is the river is clear, and governance may be applied with little cause for hesitation IMO. But what if he is peeing in the river, or just on its banks and someone complains. claiming he is polluting the commons and therefore impacting (interfering) with their rights? Those whose task it is to peel away the layers of such a claim now find themselves sitting atop an onion of epic proportions. Peeing in the river is not the best example, but consider perhaps that Johnny dumps a container of used motor oil or gasoline on his lawn or into the river and a neighbor complains. What then? Investigation should be carried out, should it not? What if the water table is very high, the soil sandy and Johnny's neighbor has a very shallow well not ten feet from where the oil spilled? Is Johnny restricted from spilling oil on his own property because it might contaminate his neighbor's water? If not, this suggests that his neighbor is obliged to suffer contamination of his well before injunctive (preemptive) remedies would be available. Once contaminated, what does the neighbor do? Go on city water? What if he likes his well water? Have not his rights been clearly violated? And what if the nature of the violation is such that no acceptable remedy is available? What if, once contaminated, there were no technological means of decontamination? What if Johnny were constructing a fuel-air bomb (a small one as experiment) and it went off, killing his neighbors? What remedy is there then? Are these not bases for preemptive relief? I am not saying they are, but am asking the questions only, so do not mistake my tone.

Consider yourself alone on the street at night. A stranger makes a threatening gesture toward you - perhaps says he's going "get you". You draw you pistol and fire, killing him. By all logic you have acted within your rights, even if the stranger was just joking. You reasonably believed that your life was in imminent danger and acted. Is this not the same when the neighbor sees Johnny about to spill the oil not ten feet from his well? Is he not entitled to defend his property by some means, and in this case himself by extension, from possibly irreparable damage at Johnny's hands? How is the situation to be resolved such that justice and equity are best served?

These are the gray areas that make governance terribly difficult to carry forward in a way that protects everybody's rights. I am all for minarchy - absolute minimum "government". I have yet to be convinced that anarchy (no government) is workable. Most of what I have seen described as "anarchy" is not an absence of governance, but rather the presence of minimal governance that is presumably based in principle such that just and equitable solutions are attained where crime and conflicting interests arise. Once again, calling a German Shepherd a "gold fish" does not make it one. Labels are really devilish and if we are to get our thinking straightened out on these issues we will have to get beyond the veil of labels and focus on PRINCIPLES.

Updated 01-19-2011 at 09:31 AM by osan