Ain't Nobody's Business What They Do

Aargh. Just when I thought that the year was going to end on something of a high note: John McCain persuading George WMD Bush that torture ought to be illegal, Russ Feingold leading a filibuster against renewal of the awful PATRIOT Act, backlash against Bush’s spying on the American people. But then the rug gets pulled out from under my guarded optimism. The enemies of liberty strike again. It doesn’t seem all that serious, but this is emblematic of all that is wrong with the American Empire: a federal judge has ruled that “Intelligent Design” can not be taught in a public school. Particularly galling is that, for the anti-ID crowd, democracy actually worked. As the AP reports: “the members [of the Dover PA Area school board] who backed intelligent design were ousted in November's elections and replaced with a new slate opposed to the policy.”

Who needs the local, democratic process or the Tenth Amendment when we have un-elected, life-tenured judges to write the laws for us? To hell with our “laboratories of democracy,” up with imperial governance! (And yes, this was a Republican judge, appointed three years ago. By WMD Bush. You know, the man who believes in “judicial restraint” almost as much as he believes in a “humble foreign policy.”)

The issue is not the validity of the Intelligent Design theory. I’m not sure I’m convinced about that. I’m even less convinced about the necessity of public schools themselves. Scratch that; I’m totally against public schools. The issue, however, is jurisdiction. The issue is always jurisdiction. Just about every fight in the “Culture War” was started when a branch of the federal government, usually the judiciary, usurped powers that had, since the time of the founding and before, been under the jurisdiction of the states.

In the early 1990’s Peter McWilliams wrote a book: Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do, arguing against consensual or victimless “crimes.” Ain’t nobody’s business what you do, what I do, or what he or she does, as long as no one is unwillingly harmed by force or fraud. Yes, I might care a lot about other people’s business dealings, habits, or lifestyles, but that doesn’t justify me, or the government representing me, to use force to change them. I have too many logs in my own eyes to remove the specks in others. The initiation of force is itself an evil greater than anything it is supposed to prevent.

If my political philosophy was on a coin, “Ain’t nobody’s business if you do” would be on one side. And on the other: Ain’t nobody’s business if they do. It isn’t our country’s business what the regimes in other countries are like or what they do, provided they are not attacking or invading us. Similarly, it isn’t the business of my state what the abortion laws, marriage laws, religious observances, or school curricula are in other states. Yes, I’m libertarian. I support the separations of the womb and state, marriage and state, church and state, and school and state. I hope that one day, all the states in the Union, and all the countries of the world, protected rather than constantly violated individual liberty. I hope that some day soon the State itself will wither away, and everyone will respect each other’s privacy and freedom. But in the end, how other communities, states, and countries govern themselves is none of my business.

Ain’t nobody’s business what they do. This is the summary position of non-intervention and states’ rights. For the same reason I do not want to throw drug users in jail, I do not want to “liberate” other countries by force. For the same reason it’s none of my business if somebody pays somebody else for sex, it’s also none of my business if a state courthouse displays the Ten Commandments. On one side of the coin I despise citywide smoking bans even though I don’t smoke; on the other, I would with even greater outrage oppose the Supreme Court of the United States striking down those very laws.

In the federal government, there is hostility to both states’ rights and to the sovereignty of other countries. Yes, other countries are often run by bloodthirsty dictators. Yes, our own states have in the past and still today pass stupid and tyrannical laws. But the federal government was not established to liberate foreign peoples, or to save the states from themselves. It was created in large part for mutual defense and to ensure open trade between the states. It was designed to leave individuals pretty much alone and let the states govern themselves. It sought peace and commerce with other nations, not regime changes. The more the federal government strikes down state laws to check the “tyranny of the majority,” the more it makes the states dependent on federal funding in the name of “social justice,” and the more it overthrows other governments in the name of “democracy,” the more hostile it becomes to individual liberty.

Thanks to the federal courts in recent years, the American people have been “liberated” from Intelligent Design, from saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, from state sodomy laws. And yet, the courts have also affirmed that growing marijuana plants for medicinal use constitutes “interstate commerce.” They have ruled that a federal law prohibiting criticism of incumbents within thirty days of an election does not violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech provision. They have affirmed that the President can call an American citizen a “terrorist,” lock him up, and throw away the key, all without a trial.

Intelligent Design isn’t the issue. The feds could have gone the other way and mandated the teaching of Intelligent Design, and it would have been just as bad. The issue is always jurisdiction. The message from the feds is, “The states can’t violate Constitutional protections that were never intended to apply to them in the first place, but the federal government can. And other countries can’t violate basic human rights, only the Americans can!” This is raw fascism. This is the nature of the Beast. Liberals can’t applaud this decision, and yet express “concern” for some violation of civil liberties. And conservatives can’t lash out against this and at the same time claim that critics of the War on Iraq are “un-American.” There is one unifying theme: the centralization of all power in Washington DC its Triple A farm city, New York, home of the United Nations.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t say that government must leave alone individuals who want to live their lives as they see fit, but then applaud when government goes beyond its jurisdiction to force change in other governments. “Liberty” isn’t an abstraction to impose or a religion to kill for. It is, rather, the unobstructed pursuit of happiness, to better one’s life and one’s world through personal initiative, voluntary cooperation, and persuasion.

The same people who want to force change in their neighbors through laws, are the same people who think they can save the world through war. Whatever their beliefs and ideals may be, I don’t want to be like them. Those who not only have it all figured out, but also would force their conclusions on others, are the worst people on earth. True liberty is knowing that we don’t have all the answers. Which is why it ain’t nobody’s business what you do, and it ain’t nobody’s business what they do. Even if “they” teach Intelligent Design.

December 22, 2005

James Leroy Wilson Archives