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On Civil Disobedience

    I'm dumbfounded by the gap between some people's theoretical knowledge of freedom and their practical understanding of it.

    Freedom isn't just an abstract ideal that needs to be recognized by elected officials. It doesn't work like some magical orb of light, that need only be place in the proper box to illuminate the world. It is a way of living, that requires constant maintenance, through everyday actions. Those actions, more often than not, include acts of civil disobedience, and come with risk. To think of freedom as something dissociated from that process is to drop its context.

    Civil disobedience, i.e. the act of deliberately disobeying the orders of a government official, seems to be a taboo in Objectivist circles. Even Yaron Brook - arguably the sharpest mind in Objectivism today - has denied the validity of physical resistance. In a recent podcast, Mr. Brook framed the issue in terms of "can we overthrow the government?". Since the obvious answer is "no", he concluded by saying there is no sense in physically opposing law enforcement.

    This reasoning is based on the false dichotomy of "overthrowing the government" and "meekly complying with orders". Civil disobedience, even when it includes physical violence, is not some idealistic way of irrationally lashing out, neither does it require thwarting the entire government. A great example of its practical value and feasibility is the Bundy standoff of 2014 - an event in which armed protesters successfully forced the Bureau of Land Management to release cattle illegally seized in Nevada.

    Leaving aside the specific question of whether or not Cliven Bundy was morally right, the fact is that his physical resistance against the Bureau of Land Management worked. The rancher did not need to "face the entire might" of the American government, because a modern government is not a kingdom, and is not ruled by a single individual with the power to muster all of its strength at will.

    He faced specific bureaucrats and their thugs on the local level, which essentially changed the nature of his relationship with the government - from someone pleading to his superiors to an equal to be dealt with. That is true of every single act of civil disobedience. There is a fundamental difference between a public servant who knows that he can do as he pleases, bound by the remote possibility that he might be prosecuted later, and a public servant who knows he might get shot, and therefore must be very careful with the way he applies the law.

    Sitting at home posting videos and articles online will not accomplish much in a time of crisis. Organize yourselves in groups of 10 to 20 people, get some guns, and ensure that your government officials stay in line. You'd be surprised at how effective this is, and how little the cost is. Most likely, you'll be prosecuted, and will win - in the worst case scenario, you'll spend a few nights in jail.

    Freedom is a political principle that guides the social life of men. To be free in a social setting, we need to think and act like men.

  -  March 29th, 2020

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