Freedom in Mind

Chapter 15
The Abolitionist's Handbook

"What makes you so sure?"

That's the desperation defense of slavery. If you vow to abolish all forms of slavery as equally immoral, you will be asked, "How can you be so sure they are equally immoral?" If you insist that forced labor to support a government's wishes is slave labor, you will be asked, "What makes you so sure?" The answer is: "Reason."

You could explain how freedom is required for man's survival as a rational being, but that would be missing the point. The attack is not on your conclusion. The attack is on your use of reason, the method of being sure.

"The only thing I know for certain is that you cannot be certain of anything."

That self-contradiction gets put forward as an argument. It is not meant to be taken literally, because "anything" does not mean anything. Your name, address and phone number are not included. Your route to work is not included. So many everyday convictions are not included that "anything" actually means a few things. By a strange coincidence, one of those few uncertainties is the immorality of slave labor.

Certainty is confidence in your method of arriving at conclusions—confidence in your use of reason. Attacking certainty is attacking reason. Since reason and freedom are intimately connected, a defense of slavery is necessarily an attack on reason.

If you are an abolitionist—one who strives to abolish all forms of slavery—your handbook of methods consists of ways to defend reason. Chapter One helps you recognize attacks on reason for what they are instead of what they pretend to be. The attack on certainty is an example. Another attack on reason pretends to be a defense of altruism. "Your duty is to your fellow man," it says. "Unless you sacrifice for others, you are violating moral law."

To sacrifice is to give up something of value. So the idea of sacrifice presumes that you have something of value to give up. In fact, since sacrifice is supposed to be continuous, it presumes you are producing values not for yourself but for others. It presumes that you are a slave laborer. If you identify this logical conclusion, then you hear the real argument: "You can't argue morals with logic! You have to accept the moral ideal on faith."

Attacks on reason are easy to recognize, because they are blemished by a fatal flaw: they avoid using reason. To give reasons against reason would be to affirm reason while trying to deny it. Those who attack reason and defend the universal slavery of altruism are stuck with nothing but slogans. "Use your heart, not your head!" "Warm feeling, not cold reason!" "Have faith! Listen to inner truth!" "The generous heart knows more than the calculating brain!"

If you point out that none of the slogans actually means anything at all, you will be assured that they have poetic meaning. If poetic meaning can replace reason, then guessing can replace knowing.

Since attacks on reason cannot use reason, your counterattack is easy: you ask for reasons. You ask that the logic of the attack be explained. As the slogans pile up, you keep asking, "But what does that mean?" When the slogans become threats, you will clearly see the only alternative to reason.

Chapter Two of the Abolitionist's Handbook helps you avoid the traps set by those who argue for slave labor. The essential of all the traps is shown by looking at the most common one: "If you don't force people to pay for the government, how do you propose to have a government?"

The purpose of that question is to divert attention from the moral issue. Since slavery is universally condemned as immoral, and forced labor is slave labor, the moral issue is settled. To argue for slave labor, you must call it something else, or you must make it a necessary compromise of morality. The paying-for-government question does both.

The trick method of the question is to substitute concretes for principles. Instead of the moral principle condemning slavery, attention is drawn to the concrete problems of paying for government. The premise is that this problem can only be solved by force. It is a silly premise.

Imagine stopping at a hotdog stand for a hotdog. Instead of exchanging the food for your money, the proprietor points a gun at you, demands your wallet, and takes some money out of it. Then he puts away the gun, returns your wallet, hands you the hotdog, and wishes you a nice day. In answer to your complaint, he says, "If I don't force people to pay for the food, how can I stay in business?"

That scenario is more plausible than the idea that people must be forced to pay for police protection, for protection from foreign despots, and for the mediation of courts. It is easy to forego a hotdog. It would be suicidal to forego protection of your rights because you didn't feel like paying.

To pay for the use of a bridge, you may have to stop at a toll booth. If you don't want to pay, you go home. To use a freeway, you may have to pay a toll—or use another road. If you want to look around in a flea market, you may have to pay an entrance fee. If you want more police protection than provided by your city, you will have to pay a monthly charge to a private policeman. There is no honest way to claim that reason finds ways to pay for those things, but could find no way to pay by choice for government.

If you fall into the trap of thinking up clever ways to fund government by choice, you may have fun, since the possibilities are endless. The defender of slave labor will raise objections, find difficulties, and in the end proclaim that you have not solved the problem, so you must agree to the necessity of slave labor. You will discuss the free-rider issue, the moocher issue, and the convenience issue. The moral issue? What moral issue?

Other trap questions follow the same pattern. You will be asked to specify how orphans will be cared for without slave labor, how fire protection will be provided without slave labor, and how the Space Station will be funded without slave labor. If things are worth paying for, you will be asked, why not pay equally, by force?

Here's the same argument in different words: if charity is worth donating to, then why not hire a mugger to take money from everybody equally and give it to charity for them? Of course, you'll have to hire another thug to make sure the first thug does not keep all the money for himself.

To avoid the traps, defend the moral principle. Since reason is an attribute of the individual, rational choice is an individual action. I am not entitled to make your choices. We must each be free to choose by reasoning. A society that votes to enslave its members is neither a free nor a moral society.

Chapter Three of the Abolitionist's Handbook shows how to answer tricky questions by reference to moral principles. For example, the democracy question: "If the majority rules, why doesn't it have the right to rule your labor?" The answer is another question: "If I am stranded on an island with two others, do they have the majority right to cook me for dinner?"

The moral principle is that society is not founded on voting, but on living. A society differs from a suicide pact in agreeing that your right to your life is absolute, so your rights to have property and pursue happiness are absolute. Since you are not an ant, but a being who survives by individual use of reason, individuals have rights and majorities do not.

Some trick questions try to put your rights into conflict with mine, to justify putting you to work for me. For example, this scenario: "You are caught in a blizzard. In order to save your children from freezing to death and starving to death, you must break into the only house around, and steal food. Aren't you violating rights in order to uphold rights?"

The trick is to set up a context, and then not take all of it into account. The point of living in a society, based on the moral principle of the right to life, is to cooperate for a better life. In this cooperation, credit transactions are common. I give you my part of a trade today; you complete your part of the trade next week. During that week, you have something of mine that you have not paid for—but no rights are violated.

Since rights exist only in the context of a society, the blizzard scenario assumes the context of a society. But it does not take the full context into account. Societal cooperation is especially valuable in an emergency situation, when the rational self-interest of everyone is to preserve social cooperation by minimizing damage. In the full context of the blizzard situation, I want to survive, and the homeowner wants me to survive. I want to save my children, and the homeowner wants me to save my children. Our emergency credit transaction cannot be agreed to in advance, but I have every reason to believe, in the full context, that it will be agreed to.

Sometimes the context is invented. A labyrinth of arbitrary complications is laid out in such a way that rights seem to come into conflict. "Even if the situation I describe cannot actually happen, that's not the point. The point is it can be conceived of. It is conceivable that rights could come into conflict." To call this bluff, identify the contradiction. Individual rights are derived from the right to life. To say that rights could conflict is to say that the moral principle on which society is based could conflict with the moral principle on which society is based.

The famous "lifeboat ethics" question is an example of invented context. "Your lifeboat is sinking, because there are too many people in it. A victim must be chosen and sacrificed to the sea so that others may live. But what about the right to life?"

The right to life is a moral principle of non-interference. It sanctions your freedom to take the actions necessary to stay alive. If you find yourself in a sinking lifeboat, the action necessary to stay alive is to get out of that lifeboat. The time is not ripe to stop for a town meeting and decide who shall live and who shall die. The time is ripe for finding yourself something that is not sinking, but floating.

A popular trick is to invent a context and then invent moral principles that seem to conflict. "If a burglar asks where your money is, isn't it immoral to lie to him?" No, because the applicable moral principle is self-defense. Lying in self-defense is not a denial of reality but a recognition of reality. "If you uphold a moral rule of never undressing in public, doesn't that mean you must let yourself burn if your clothes catch on fire?" No, because moral principles are for living, not dying.

The final chapter of the Abolitionist's Handbook discusses abolition as a developing process of change. Slavery is total coercion; freedom is no coercion. Coercion part of the time is part of the way from slavery to freedom. Most people are content to define part-time slavery as freedom, and confine their moral deliberations to two topics: apportioning the fruits of slave labor, and keeping a fair balance between free time and slave time. There is a tendency to proclaim high altruistic principles while passing out the loot and demanding fairness.

The trouble is that there is no fair balance between free time and slave time. If I think it's okay to put you to work for me, why settle for just part of your work? If a little loot is good, then a lot is better. You, on the other hand, would like to bring home more of your paycheck so the bills can get paid. Your idea of fairness is very different from my idea of fairness. In some elections, voters side with me, and raise taxes. In others, they side with you, and lower taxes. We live in a perpetual war between producing and looting.

It is an odd war, because neither side wants to win. I the looter don't want to win, because then there would be nothing to loot. You the producer don't want to win, because you believe people must be forced to do good. Still, you might grow weary of my never-ending quest to increase your slave time. You might decide to stop being a victim, and start being an abolitionist.

The process of abolition starts with reasoning practice. In whatever part of your time is free, you can increase your skill at seeing differences, and finding logical connections. You can observe and identify, and fit the observations in with others, and fit the identifications in with others. After you have enough evidence, you can draw conclusions, and feel confidence in your grasp of reality.

When you apply reason to ethics, you are forging your most powerful weapon for the war against slavery: moral certainty. You have a standard—man's life—by which to judge the moral status of everyone you deal with, as well as everything you do. You know what you are doing, and you know what others are likely to do. You know how to be clear about things.

Once you have forged your weapons, you will discover a startling fact: your opponents are unarmed. Of moral certainty they know nothing, and want to know nothing. They must avoid clarity because they have a contradiction to dodge. They think that slavery is morally forbidden, and slave labor is morally required.

Merely calling things by their right names will make your opponents cringe. For them, taxing is not stealing, because the government does it. For them, the work you must do for the government is not slave labor, because altruism requires it. For them, coercion is not a denial of reason, because they don't know what reason is.

Your first victory, no matter how small, will change everything. It might be a personal victory, like finding a way to reduce your taxes. It might be a public victory, like getting rid of some petty coercion. Any victory provides proof that it can be done, so you know for sure that your slave time can be reduced and your free time increased. That certainty will set you free.

There is slave labor and then there is slave labor. If you think of your slave time as a moral requirement which may increase, but will never end, you have one attitude. If you think of your slave time as an injustice to be fought, you have quite another attitude. In the first case, you don't really feel that you own yourself even in your free time. In the second case, you feel that you fully own yourself and control your life even during your slave time.

The feeling is valid because your slave time is now part of the battle for abolition. If a share of your pay goes to the government, then the government's share of your working time can include strategies for abolition. If you have lost a war, then obeying some silly coercion is a further surrender. If you are fighting a war, then obeying the coercion is a tactic.

The war for freedom is a unique one, because as long as you are fighting it, you have already won it. That's because you fight the war using reason. Your moral certainty energizes the struggle. Observation controls the struggle. Logical connections guide the struggle. Objective judgment keeps the struggle for freedom on track, just as it keeps your life on track.

Whenever you are using reason, you are fully in charge of your own life. You are free.

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