18 May, 2010

The Role of Government

Years ago, I overheard a friendly musician acquaintance speaking about labels. He said that he didn't like to be labeled because it limited him. It was like putting him in a box, defining who he is and who he can be. At the time, I could only think to myself of the benefits that labels have. I was just getting into the nudist lifestyle around then, and fresh on my mind was the feeling of acceptance and belonging I felt when I discovered that there were other people out there who derived pleasure from disrobing (that wasn't intrinsically related to sex) - and that they were called nudists, and that by calling (labeling) myself a nudist, I could gain an identity.

Well, these days, I'm more inclined to agree with what that musician said. Labels can certainly be useful, but they do have their limits. A label invites a stereotype, and no member of a group is perfectly represented by that group's stereotype, or collective image. In the case of nudists, they have a tendency to err on the side of caution regarding the topic of sexuality - for a number of good reasons, chief among them the fact that nudism is not a sexual practice despite common misconception, and that the best way of gaining acceptance in a sex-negative society is by distancing themselves from sexuality. I support that, but I don't take the ultra-conservative view that nudism and sexuality are incompatible. And because, as an erotic photographer and model, sexuality is an important part of my life, I've been hesitant to over-identify with the nudist label, as much to protect the nudists' clean image as to protect my own freedom to indulge in the pleasures of sexuality. There's no difference in my behavior, just in the way I choose to label myself.

I go back and forth on the issue of feminism as well. The bottom line on that is, that feminism has pretty much become a meaningless term. I have a number of beliefs that I would call feminist, because they have to do with girl power and the empowerment of women, but I also have views that contradict certain feminist doctrines - views that could be described as being masculinist. I see a lot of criticism leveled at male sexuality, and it's very much an anti-sexuality stance that I just can't accept. As a guy with a feminine mind and a male libido, it's not about which gender deserves more equality than the other, it's about accepting the natural course of sexuality, for all people, without concern for PC modes of behavior. But this is getting difficult to discuss without specifics, and this isn't the point of my essay today.

The point is, I don't like to identify with labels, because it limits me. It reduces me to a stereotype and dictates the beliefs I can be expected to have - based on whatever the "party line" is. I'm an individual, and I think for myself. No group is more important to me than the individuals that make it up. Nudism is not more important than the nudists. Feminism is not more important than the feminists. America is not more important than the Americans. I've never even really considered myself to be an American, except in a strictly technical/legal sense, because I don't see myself as a member of a country. I see myself as an individual who happens to live in a country. Sure, I have to follow the country's laws, but it's not out of any sense of duty, it's only because there are penalties for my refusal. I never signed the agreement to be part of society - I'm just being coerced to participate.

Anyhow, I consider myself an individualist above all else. Or at least, I did until very recently. That is, when I started thinking about the true role of government. And when I say that, I'm talking about government in a very broad, philosophical sense, as the intangible body that "governs" a society. To an individualist, the individual is sovereign, right? The individual rules his own life. The individual is God of his own world.

But what do you do with a colony of Gods? Just let them each do whatever they want? How then do you stop war? And if the Gods do not all have equal strength, as would inevitably be the case in a human society, how do you stop the stronger ones from oppressing the weaker ones, thereby denying the weaker ones of their divine liberty and autonomy, which is so important to the individuocracy?

There has to be rules. This is something I've always known intrinsically, but I haven't put a whole lot of thought into, because I'm used to rules being the tool of oppression. Rules as restriction. You can't do this, you can't do that. If I catch you doing it, you will be punished. Why? Because I say so. But that's not what rules are meant to be. Rules should not restrict and punish, they should PROTECT people. And most of all, they should protect LIBERTY.

I happened upon a lengthy speech by politician Ron Paul regarding the difference between a Republic and a Democracy, and it really opened my eyes on this issue - the fact that laws can (and should) be used to protect freedom rather than limit it. In a democracy, people rule, and when given equal power, the majority oppresses the minority(ies). This is a flaw in democracy I've been aware of for a long time - the tyranny of the majority, which I've discussed in the past. But what I learned is the role of a constitutional republic - a government in which it is not the people who rule, but a constitution.

Granted, such a system is only as strong as the constitution it's built upon, and can only work so long as that constitution maintains its power (the US Constitution, for example, though a well-written document, is absolutely powerless in the modern United States). But the idea of a good constitution is that it protects people's individual liberties. I see this as a manifestation of the ancient concept of philosopher-kings. On the one hand, it's dangerous to let one or a group of people decide what's best for society on the whole - because what if their decisions are not truly in your best interest? But, in the perfect conception, you would find truly wise and intelligent individuals, truly interested in justice and freedom, whom you could trust to lay down a fair and just system for governing society.

This is how I view the US Constitution and the debates that factored into its formation. A group of political philosophers discussing the true role and perfect form of government, and working out, to the best of their abilities, the best approximation they could come up with. The fact that we've lost the true spirit of liberty in this country today is depressing - and also scary. But let's get back on topic.

In my opinion, the best ethical code I've come across is the Wiccan Rede - an it harm none, do what you will. I think this should be the basis of all law. There are two elements of ultimate importance here. One, is the liberty to do what you will. The other, is the responsibility not to harm others. There is naturally a balance at work between these forces, because ultimate liberty would lead to people being harmed, but ultimate protection would lead to an unacceptable compromise of freedom. This concept can be summed up in the phrase, "my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins". One's liberties extend only insofar as they are not violating the rights of others - this is something of a cosmic balance of the liberty of individuals. An individual's liberty is infinite, so long as it does not impede the liberty of another individual.

I think I've got the point across. The important idea is that, to empower the individual, certain reasonable limits must be set, so long as there are other individuals whose liberty must be protected as well. Individualism is not about making one individual all-powerful - except in a world where only that individual existed. Otherwise, you'd simply have a tyrant - one all-powerful individual ruling all the others. Or, you'd have anarchy in the bad sense of the term - everyone doing their own thing, likely to resort to a primitive strength power-based system. (I'll point out that real anarchy is, not unsurprisingly, unlike it's negative stereotype, and actually pretty cool). So what becomes all-important is not the sovereignty of the individual itself, but the guiding principle - the governing law - that protects the individual's sovereignty (otherwise, it would not be stable, and could be stolen away). So it becomes not an individuocracy, run by individuals, but a libertocracy, run by a guiding code.

Of course, we must be careful that that guiding code is noble and true. Or else we get what we've got today - moronic laws that restrict individual liberty rather than protecting it. Take police powers, for example. Where else but in an authoritarian system do we give police so much power? They are above the law. And noone is above suspicion. Police should not be enforcers of the law, but protectors of the peace. They should not have the power of independent action. Any action they take should have to be commissioned by a citizen's complaint, and even then, they should not have the power to act above the law in any capacity. The police should be mediators, they should be friends of liberty and the individual. They should be our protectors, not our oppressors and our enforcers. Ask yourself this question, when was the last time a police officer served you?

And by god, in a free country, there should be no such thing as consensual crimes! And in a country that (supposedly) prides itself on religious freedom, there should be no such thing as a moral infraction (a.k.a. crime of offense)!

America, I'm disappointed in you.

(It's late and I should have been in bed an hour ago, so instead of polishing this rant and removing its teeth, I'm just gonna hit "publish", and then go right to sleep.)


  1. When I talk about individualism, I'm not talking about government systems (even in the expanded sense), I'm just talking about solidarity of mind. My ultimate truth is that *I* will do as I please. As far as systems go, I take the stance of Benjamin from Animal Farm. The system will never be perfect, better and worse are more difficult to track than most people attest to.

    Other than that, I agree completely. Consensual crimes are a scourge and a grave injustice. But there's nothing we can do about it. People will never be that open-minded. They insist on championing whichever activities they personally enjoy and condeming those they do not. In a certain sense ...and this is my newly heightened misanthropy talking... I feel like they deserve what they get. 'Course if people were at the level where they deserved a perfect government, we mightn't need any government at all.

    Me? I don't commit any crimes which I wuold not be willing to accept consequences for. At least we live in a system where we have some recourse instead of none. You know, a lawyer is nothing but a mercenary. He can just as easily come to your defense as he can attack you.

  2. "You're not the hero this city deserves, but you're the hero this city needs."

    I'm about as cynical as anyone. But I'm not always rational. As unlikely as it seems that a race of stupid apes could ever come upon a stable government fit for intelligent humans to live under, I'll still work towards that ultimate goal. I think machines will be the turning point. Everybody fears the machine takeover, but I have faith in the machines. I think it'll be the best thing to ever happen to humanity.

  3. I think virtual reality will be the best (and the last) thing to ever happen to humanity...

    As for machines, have you ever seen the movie Idiocracy? It makes a pretty convincing point if you ask me... Unintelligent people breed at far greater rates than that of the wise. And there could come a turning point when machines take care of the hard parts for us. Combine those two things and the human race may go the way of the boars in Princess Mononoke... reduced to animalistic stupidity.