I have noticed that people often attempt to justify the existence
of the State by bringing up some place or some activity where
there was little or no government at work and pointing out that,
at some point, something bad happened. For example, in
Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche, in Sunday's (5/16/2004)
NY Times, Nathaniel
Philbrick offers a couple of examples of such "reasoning."
He describes the sea as a zone of "anarchy" with "almost
no regulation" by governments. Then he describes two severe
mishaps suffered by ocean-going vessels, one of which "released
26,000 tons of molasses into the Bay of Biscay." (Can you
imagine how much trouble those fish had getting their mouths
unstuck?) "There you are," the reader is clearly supposed
to conclude, "not enough government involvement, and next
thing you know, something bad happened."
One of the incidents cited by Philbrick occurred in 1994, the
other in 2001. I suppose the reader should be imagining that
they were two of the, oh, ten or twenty ships to venture out
to sea during that period. And surely, while absorbing Philbrick's
sage lesson, he is not supposed to think of transportation by
motor vehicle, an arena where the government builds and maintains
the roads, regulates the construction of the vehicles, licenses
the operators, creates tomes of laws as to how the activity
is to be conducted, and sends out swarms of its agents to ensure
its dictates are followed, but that is characterized by daily
carnage, horrible traffic snarls, terrible road conditions,
and frequent, unanticipated delays costing travelers many hours.
Philbrick also warns of "the notion that terrorists are
learning to exploit the opportunities offered by the sea."
In 2001, he mentions, it was suspected "that a ship containing
a large chemical bomb was on its way to London." Nothing
happened and no such ship was tracked down, so here we have
a case where there was not enough government involvement, and
something bad might have happened. Again, I assume we
aren't supposed to recall that when something really, really
bad did happen, it involved the extensively regulated
But Philbrick is hardly alone in forwarding such arguments.
When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I am an anarchist,
he brought up the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911,
which killed 146 women: not enough government, and something
bad happened. Certainly it was a horrible event, making
any of the tragedies caused by governments, such as the Armenian
genocide, the Ukrainian famine, the rape of Nanking, the Bataan
death march, the Holocaust, the fire-bombing of Dresden, the
atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Vietnam War,
and the killing fields of Cambodia, pale in comparison. The
logic is flawless: when a private business accidentally
kills 146 people, we need to increase the power of the government,
an entity that deliberately kills millions.
I have sometimes encountered a variation on the "something
bad might happen" argument that is even more puzzling than
the standard form: the government was involved in some events,
and something bad happened, so we need the government or
else that bad thing might happen. You might think that no
one could even formulate such an obvious absurdity, so I will
give you two real examples.
The first one came up when a friend of mine mentioned that
he was skeptical that the American entry into World War II was
justified. The person to whom he said that sputtered in response:
"And what? We were supposed to just let six million Jews
die?" My friend was stopped dead in his tracks, utterly
unable to grapple with a line of reasoning that seemed to run:
"The US government entered World War II, and six million
Jews died, so the US government had to enter the war,
or else six million Jews would have died, who did die anyway."
Similarly, when I told a person with whom I was conversing
that I believe government is unnecessary, he asked me, "Well,
would you rather have governments or terrorists?" He really
seemed to believe he had presented me with a stark alternative:
do away with government, as I was suggesting, and we'll have
a world where people fly airplanes into skyscrapers, bring down
large buildings with car bombs, and strap explosives to their
bodies, then blow themselves up on a bus, killing scores of
innocent passengers. Jeez, when you put it that way, I guess
we'd really better keep government around, so we can live in
a nice, safe world where none of those things ever happen.
The fact that otherwise intelligent people put forward such
nonsense demonstrates just how thoroughly the State has done
its job of brainwashing oops, I mean educating its subjects
as to the dire consequences they will face should they try getting
along without it.