A Brief Reflection on the “Consent of the Governed”

We are far more protected by good will and human decency than by governments or police. This is an aspect of human nature that is vastly under-appreciated. When government collapses temporarily — such as in a time of disasters, what generally happens is that people help each other and are basically decent.*

This isn’t quite enough to hold civilization together (which is where I disagree with anarchists) — at least not in the long run (perhaps this is related to the transition from “System 2” to “System 1” thinking as described by Daniel Kahneman) , but it proves the absurdity of statists who are convinced that “more police” and “more surveillance” are the answer to all “crime”.

We also need to draw a line between “crime” and “dissent”. When 1% of the population is willing to shoplift to cheat the economic system to their own advantage, that’s “crime”. Police and the justice system are likely to help with that.

When 50% of the population decides that it’s not a fair deal to block copying of files, and therefore make and share personal copies of media with each other — that’s “dissent”. Policing is very inefficient at stopping this — it takes a ridiculous amount of enforcement, and the solution quickly becomes worse than the problem.

Other examples include: keeping illegal organisms (from marijuana plants to pit bulls), recreational drug use (the most powerful example being alcohol, as demonstrated by Prohibition), and the possession of small firearms.** Yes, you will find populations of people who either agree with or accept these limitations, but they are completely unacceptable rules to a large population of people, and they simply won’t cooperate.

Continuing to press on these points really doesn’t have any impact on the incidence of these  “crimes”, it simply oppresses the dissenters, and they respond by becoming ever more resolute in their reaction. Indeed, if you want a revolution, this is all you need to do — just keep it up, and eventually, a revolution is what you will get. What happens is that the perceived moral authority of the government gets more and more tarnished until finally, the people (or a large fraction of them, anyway), no longer accept the legitimacy of the government.

In an ideal democracy, of course, there would be no dissent, because the government would always follow the collective decisions of the people. But that is of course, not much like any real government on Earth. But our response to massive dissent needs to be to improve the government, not to oppress the people.

* Minor point: this is frequently misrepresented in fiction, whether by intentional agenda or just through the ignorance of writers too sheltered to have direct experience of it. But there have been enough real-life examples of this phenomenon in recent years. We have to remember that governments basically only exist because humans are basically inclined to self-organize.

** In the USA, at least, there is a very broad consensus that citizens have a right to some kind of small firearms, although the debate rages on about just how large and what type. Intriguingly, this is one of the few issues that people do not line-up along the left/right or Democrat/Republican party lines in the USA.


About Terry Hancock

Terry Hancock is the producer and director of "Lunatics" ( http://lunatics.tv ). He is also a regular columnist for Free Software Magazine ( http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/articles_by/5 ), and a lifelong advocate for space, science, and technology. More at http://terryhancock.narya.net
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