In August I did a comic called Passing the Buck. It showed how our Democratic Republic form of government absolves everyone involved of any sense of responsibility for the evil our governments do.
Nearly everyone I talk to about government has a sense that something has gone badly wrong. Most will blame some false dichotomy. “If we just get our guys in there and kick out the ‘bad guys’, government will finally be fixed.” Everyone seems to have the parts they are fine with and parts that are appallingly unacceptable. We’re floundering to find the fix but no one seems able to put his finger on it. We keep doing the same political games over and over, almost ritualistically, hoping to finally see real progress. Some will say that the elections are rigged or the process of campaign finance needs to be reformed. Some will go so far as to say certain people who held high office in our government have engaged in criminal acts worthy of prosecution. Those who disagree in one case usually have the same ill will toward past leaders. So are all these people admitting there are criminals in government? Is the government really this fallible? Is it not this paragon of moral authority as it’s depicted to be?
Occasionally some new policy will be put into place or some law will be passed that raises the ire of one special interest group or another insisting that the government has no right to do it no matter what consensus they managed to achieve. The expressions “He’s not my president!” and so-and-so elected official “doesn’t represent me!” are tossed around frequently, but somehow it doesn’t lead many to question the actual system that installed these leaders or implemented these unacceptable policies. Whenever I hear such protests, I would love to back that person up and say you’re correct. “That person does’nt represent you. The government has no right to say what you can or can’t put in your body, or to tax your income, or to tell you who you can marry,” whichever particular issue pushed your button. But do you have faith in the system that selects our leaders? Do you vote hoping you can gather enough on your side to overpower your opponent? Do you start playing that violent game, knowing all the rules in advance, and then complain when you lose?
People break laws all the time. We break them without even knowing because there are millions of words of laws on the books and we can’t possibly know them all. Have you ever secretly broken a law because you knew you weren’t harming anyone? Do you then publicly proclaim that we must comply with the law until we work through the system to have it changed? We all have our varying ideas of acceptable boundaries for the roles of governments. Some are guided by ancient documents; others by heart-felt principles of individual sovereignty. There is the appearance of lines in the sand and yet we remain complicit when our lines are repeatedly crossed. How serious of a transgression would it take before people insist that a certain law should be disobeyed immediately?
I like to think most of us today would resist or lie when told to turn Jews over to the government agents of Nazi Germany. I like to think we would proudly show support for the Underground Railroad if we were suddenly living back in the time of government-sanctioned slavery. I like to think we would all speak out against laws that sanctioned wife-beating or banned interracial marriage. Would you go ahead and hand over innocent victims while at the same time saying we should work through the system to change such laws? Ask yourself what it will take for you. What will it take to cause that little anarchist within to stir, the little voice that constantly but timidly whispers the truth that you know deep down in contradiction to what we’re being told by our glorious leaders?
I obey the laws most of the time too. Sometimes I comply because I agree. I agree we shouldn’t hurt people or steal or defraud. Mostly I comply because I have a healthy fear of the retribution, the threat of violence if I dare disobey. I aim to misbehave, but when it comes to openly disobeying I pick my battles carefully. I refuse to sublimate my own good judgment and common sense to some consensus notion of right and wrong. We all go along to get along to some extent, but presumably there is some small part of all of us that remains secretly defiant of that which we know in our hearts to be wrong.
In this sense, we are all closet anarchists to some degree. The fundamental difference for those who actually call themselves anarchists is honesty and consistency.