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How the State is Unnatural

It breeds waste and irresponsibility.

by James Leroy Wilson
August 25, 2005

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How the State is Unnatural

In last week's article, I asked if we should subdue nature, or live in harmony with it. In the long run, we have to live in harmony with it; we can't take from the earth forever if we do not replace its resources, or make them more efficient. We must produce goods that last, so we can preserve the land and its resources. We should take only what we need from nature, and then make the most out of it. This is the foundation not only for environmentally responsible living, but for a sound economy as well.

Ayn Rand pointed to a behavior she called immoral and what I call unnatural, at least for the able bodied: consuming more than we produce. Eating when we haven't worked. In a "state of nature," it is possible for those who do not work - the very young, the infirm, the aged - to eat, through the generosity of their family and community. In a state of nature, one may pick the apples to feed his family. He may even pick the entire tree and trade the fruit of his labor for the fruits of other specialized laborers: butchers, carpenters, etc. But to consume more than what you produce in a state of nature, is to take more than what is needed from nature, and then waste it. It is to do violence to the earth.

Modern state capitalism, however, is driven by this very concept: the people have the right to consume more than they produce. The State prints up money to give to the people, directly through welfare, or indirectly through jobs created by government spending and low interest rates. And with it, they will spend. This will spur enterprise and industry. Pay the apple-picker to pick the entire orchard, and then compensate him for what he doesn't sell in the international market. Extract more oil, chop down more trees, pollute the air and rivers to manufacture goods the people wouldn't have afforded if the government didn't give money away in the first place. And then clean up the environmental mess how? Through more government spending!

It is akin to living a lie. A lie can only be covered up with more lies, but sooner or later it is found out. Yet the State keeps "managing" the economy with more artificial stimulants. Ultimately, no environmental regulation or program is going to work if we don't address the core problem: by creating a culture by which most of us consume more than we produce, we are doing violence to nature. This will lead to both economic collapse through monetary inflation, and ecological disaster. The advantage of a genuinely free market is that, unlike government, it does not create the illusion that we can consume more than we produce.

There are three ways in which we live unnaturally. Doing violence to the earth by wasting its resources as described above is one. Another is irresponsibility: engaging in what one knows to be self-destructive behavior and hoping against hope that the financial and physical bill never comes due. Many addictive behaviors are like this. The third is coercion: using force and the threat of force to make others do as one pleases.

These three - waste, irresponsibility, and coercion - are interwoven in our culture, but the foundation is coercion. It is mass organization and the monopoly of force that makes the State possible. And every single action of the State is coercive: it employs force or the threat of force. And it is through the State that phony, paper money is printed to generate the demand to consume. It is this artificially created demand that drives us to take more from the earth than what we need and can afford. It also drives us to war. War is about conquering land for greater living space and the exploitation of natural resources. Even the Revolutionary Founders of the USA had personal financial incentives to take Ohio and points west from the British Crown.

And the underlying mindset - that the State has the responsibility to take care of us - fuels self-destructive behavior. First, cradle-to-grave welfare programs destroy initiative and encourage idleness: why work if you don‘t have to; why work extra if you‘ll just get taxed more and more on every extra dollar you earn.. Second, it encourages, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains in Democracy: the God That Failed, what is called "high time preference." As the future is largely determined by the State's fiscal health rather than by individual planning, individuals are more inclined to do whatever is pleasurable in the present rather than save for the future. Third, this artificially-created society, which relies on the State rather than family and community, creates spiritual and emotional voids in individuals. Sensing the artificiality and phoniness of the culture, and helpless to change it, what is there to do except take the advice to "eat, drink, and be merry" to the extreme?

So the State fosters the rape of the earth and the destruction of the soul. Why, then, do we have the State?

Some people, called libertarians, believe in limited government: they believe "kill or be killed" would prevail in an anarchic society. The State should restrain the people from committing violence, they say, but otherwise leave them alone. But other libertarians say "live and let live" is the ethic of anarchy, which is why we don't need the State. Whichever view is correct, both recognize the essential evil of violence and coercion. And both sides recognize that, whatever its original philosophical or historical justification for existence, the State as it exists today behaves as if violence is often necessary and coercion almost always good. What is wrong for individuals is right for the State.

But most people are not libertarians. Most have inherited the cultural beliefs that make the today's State possible. As a people, we wish for the State to be the highest expression of our values, and to wipe out - or at least control and contain - everything that poses a threat to them. Some feel threatened by the sex partners of others. Some others feel threatened by the drugs other people take. Still others by the weapons others own. Or by the curriculum taught in home schools and other private schools. Or by the prices at the new discount store. Or by the skin color, language, or religious practices of immigrants. Or by how other countries choose to defend themselves. And they all feel perfectly justified in expecting - demanding - that the State do something about these things. Even though none of them are harmful to anyone.

I insist that my values and preferences become the law of the land, apparently because I'm afraid they would otherwise disappear in the normal course of peaceful human relations. That is the moral equivalent of saying, "I get to eat without working," or "I will take more than I need and waste it" or "I should be able to get high yet enjoy perfect physical health."

One can't make things so just by wishing, nor by using force to change either the earth's environment or human nature. Actions which we know can not be sustained over a long period of time are actions at war with nature, are destructive and ought to be abandoned. The State is no more acting in accordance with nature when it uses violence and coercion, than individuals are.

The State must either return to its function of punishing and deterring actual, violent crime, or it must be abolished altogether. If we don't work toward this now, peacefully, the State is going to collapse anyway, with widespread violence and poverty in its wake.

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