When I was a young child, my father gave me a bit of advice that I remember very well. We were driving down the road, and I saw an animal that had been struck by a car and was dead. I asked my father how anybody could do that to an animal. His response was that he would never swerve to avoid an animal. When you're driving, it's dangerous to swerve to avoid something. A person was worth enough for my father to swerve and risk himself, and an animal was not. But the truly important thing, my father told me, was to decide before the decision had to be made. When you're driving down the road at 45 M.P.H. you don't want a dog to run in front of your vehicle and try to make the decision then. No, it's much better if you make the decision a year earlier. It's much safer. More importantly, when you take some time to decide ahead of time, it is much more likely that you will make a good decision. You have time to weigh the pros and cons of the decision and avoid a gut decision that might end up being very, very, wrong.
I've taken this advice to heart. I hit an animal once because I braked, but didn't swerve. Luckily, I had slowed down enough that it was not seriously hurt. The deer just jumped up and ran away. There was no damage to the car, and no apparent damage to the animal. However, it was a winter day, and the roads were icy. If I had swerved, I could have been seriously injured. There were other cars in the road I could have hit, and there was a steep hill to one side. I am much better off for having thought about the situation beforehand. There are other areas where I've made the decision, but haven't had to act upon it. If a thief ever pulls a weapon on me and demands my wallet/watch/keys, I'll give them to the thief. I value my life, and even the thief's life, much more than I value those material possessions. The chance of one of us getting hurt or killed just isn't worth it to me. However, if a man threatened to hurt or rape my wife or child, then I would risk myself. I would fight to defend them, because they are worth the risk. Another decision I've made is that if a draft was called, and if the government drafted me, I wouldn't serve. I'm not a consciousness objector: I don't believe that all wars are inherently wrong (though I believe many are wrong, including most if not all of the ones that have occurred during my lifetime). I would refuse because I refuse to be a slave, fighting and possibly dying for another person against my will. A few years ago I began to think about what I would do if child protective services ever showed up at my house, saying that I was not a good father and that they were taking my children. My initial reaction was something like "I'd kill them." That's a bad decision. If I fought CPS, they'd call the police, who would either shoot me or arrest me. They'd throw me in the ground or in jail, and I'd lose my kids either way. At least if I act prudently, I have a chance at getting my kids back. It might be very difficult, but I believe it to be the best decision.
There is another thing I've decided. I've drawn a line for when I stop trying to work within the system to promote my libertarian ideals. Most of us would agree that the Germans should have fought their government in the 1930's, and the Russians should have begun to fight their government in the 20's. Most Germans and Russians didn't. Some people think that it's because they were cowards, or too stupid to see what was going on, or lazy, or evil. I don't think that was the case. They just hadn't realized how far things had gone because there was no objective method for them to measure the change. A line drawn in you mind can be invaluable to detect such changes.
For in America, many people have not noticed the changes. The first federal law concerning gun control was not passed till 1934. It was objective and clear. It covered a very specific set of guns where there were objective measurements. Even then, many objected to it when they learned of it. Now there are so many Federal gun laws that almost nobody can tell if a gun is legal or not, and more regulations are passed all the time, and very few people complain about these infringements. When the federal government banned alcohol, it took a constitutional amendment. When they banned narcotics, it did not; Congress just decided that they had that power after all. More and more substances have been banned over the years, and not just drugs. Freon, pharmaceuticals that the FDA has decided are "unsafe," and some pesticides are among those substances banned by the federal government. Last year the feds even passed a bill that will phase out older TV's for HDTV. All broadcast networks will be required to broadcast only in HD. This is particularly surprising, since no laws requiring radios was ever needed, nor was a law required to cause people to buy FM radios, nor did a law have to be passed to cause people to buy televisions. Yet more and more, such laws are being passed, so many that we can't even keep track of them. And that's why a line is so important. It will help to assure you don't cross a line that you don't want to.
I won't tell you where I've drawn the line in my life. That's not any of your business. Decide what matters for your family and your life. Decide what matters so much, when the government crosses that line you will shout "Enough!" instead of meekly surrendering something too important to give up. Draw the line for yourself, because you don't want to get to that line and cross it without realizing what you've done.
April 13, 2007