Are You a Thug?

Some people are thugs.  As a practicing criminal defense attorney, I sometimes get to meet and talk with thugs.[1]  Most of the thugs I represent know they are thugs, and some of them are even proud to be thugs.  Most people don’t think of themselves as “thugs.”  This is because most thugs don’t realize they are thugs.  As with most things, the first step to change is an acknowledgment of the facts.  I encourage you to honestly consider whether you are truly a thug.

All human interactions can be boiled down and assigned to one of two possible categories, “voluntary” or “coercive.”  The “voluntary” interaction category includes things like charitable acts, all contractual relations, and most interactions among friends.  A truly “voluntary” interaction is one that is knowingly entered into by competent and consenting adults.  The “coercive” interaction category includes things like theft, assault, fraud, and other old fashioned concepts of criminal activity.  The hallmark of this category is the concept of one person forcing his or her will upon another. Battlefield America: T... John W. Whitehead Best Price: $10.95 Buy New $18.80 (as of 10:15 EST - Details)

Although the vast majority of interactions can easily be identified as either “voluntary” or “coercive[2],” there are some interactions that can be difficult to determine.  Reasonable people may judge differently some hastily occurring interactions between people in the midst of difficult or emergency circumstances.  That there exist rare and difficult interactions to judge doesn’t change the fact that all are either “voluntary” or “coercive.”

Thugs regularly engage in coercive transactions.[3]  Sometimes, thugs join with other thugs to accomplish their coercive transactions.  As an example, if one person knowingly gives a ride to another person for the purpose of burglarizing a home, both are thugs.  This is true even though the driver merely drove the car and never entered the home.  Because the driver knowingly assisted the burglar, the driver is also equally responsible for the burglary.  In criminal law, this concept is known as “accomplice liability.”

Accomplice liability is very broadly defined.  In Arizona, we define an accomplice as follows:

“accomplice” means a person, other than a peace officer acting in his official capacity within the scope of his authority and in the line of duty, who with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of an offense:

  1. Solicits or commands another person to commit the offense; or
  2. Aids, counsels, agrees to aid or attempts to aid another person in planning or committing an offense.
  3. Provides means or opportunity to another person to commit the offense.

As you can see, it doesn’t require much effort to be an accomplice.  A mere agreement to aid another to commit an offense is sufficient to be an accomplice.  To utilize my previous example, actually giving the ride to burglarize the home isn’t necessary.  Simply agreeing to give the ride, even in the planning stage, is sufficient.

That there are many accomplices to a crime doesn’t negate the guilt of any one member.  Said another way, even if most people agree to commit a theft, it is still a theft.  Sheer distance from the scene of the crime doesn’t matter either.  One can still be an accomplice from many miles away.

Thugs engage in many different coercive acts.  The crime of theft is simple and easy to understand for illustration purposes.  A theft is committed when a person, without consent of the owner, knowingly controls the property of another with intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.  This is clearly a coercive act.  As such, people who engage in such acts, or who are accomplices to such acts, are acting as thugs.

Many thugs attempt to conceal their thuggery by some or all of several different methods.  Let’s review some of the most common ways many thugs attempt to conceal their thuggery: A Government of Wolves... John W. Whitehead Best Price: $1.16 Buy New $2.99 (as of 10:15 EST - Details)

1. Democracy

This method sometimes employs a majority of thugs working together to coercively impose their will against a peaceful minority.  That the thug engages in such thuggery at the behest of a majority of other thugs arriving at their decision to engage in thuggery through some scrupulously fair democratic process is of no consequence.  Because a majority of people in a group decided to forcefully impose their will on a peaceful person or group of peaceful people doesn’t magically convert such thuggery into a voluntary act.  Democracy is routinely used as a way to appear to legitimize ordinary group thuggery.

2. The Purpose of Spending the Loot

Some thugs attempt to legitimize their thuggery by focusing attention on the ends; such as how the loot is spent or accomplishing some other perceived worthy goal.  However, what a thug does with the proceeds of the thuggery is irrelevant.  A  “humanitarian” thug who coercively extracts money or property from another person only to then donate some or all of the ill gotten gains to some worthy charitable purpose is nonetheless still a thug.  The same can be said of people who impose their views on others to force them to make some perceived improvement in their lives such as pursuing better health.  As such, well meaning but misguided people who solicit such “ends justify the means” acts of coercion are certainly accomplices to thuggery.

3. Official Titles

Generating an official title for the thug is a common way to distract attention away from the thuggery.  That the thug is referred to by another name such as “tax collector” or “building inspector” or “drug enforcement agent” or “custom’s agent” is of no consequence.  The issue is whether the act was voluntary or coercive.  A thug by any other name is still a thug.

4. Fancy Uniforms, Badges, and Clipboards

The stereotypical thug may be a poorly dressed or disheveled looking tough guy.  Dressing the thug up in a nicely pressed uniform with a shiny badge and a clipboard makes the thug erroneously appear to be a civilized man of peace.  What the thug is wearing is irrelevant.  The conduct of engaging in coercive transactions is the touchstone of thuggery even if engaged in by well-dressed thugs.

5. Well Defined Regulations

Many thugs engage in their coercive acts in random or disorganized ways.  However, some thugs act pursuant to well-defined, organized and even published rules and regulations.  That thugs carefully engage in their coercive acts pursuant to some well defined and predetermined plan does not make those acts any less coercive.  Predictable and measured coercion is still coercion. Wealth, Poverty and Po... Sowell, Thomas Best Price: $1.91 Buy New $12.34 (as of 11:50 EST - Details)

You should consider whether you are an accomplice to thuggery.  If you knowingly engage in or support coercive transactions, you are indeed acting as a thug.  I urge you to consider abandoning your intentional thuggery in favor of joining the growing numbers of civilized humans who abhor coercion and promote voluntary and peaceful transactions.  I invite you to instead become a productive member of the civilized section of the human race.  Many people simply refuse to rethink their beliefs.  I hope this does not describe you.  I urge you to think about whether you really want to continue to coerce other human beings or whether you prefer to help promote a world filled with freedom and peace.

It is also possible you have unknowingly or unwittingly been an accomplice to thuggery.  I hope you now see thuggery is still wrong even when it is cloaked in a disguise as detailed above.  I hope you are repulsed by the notion of unintentionally supporting coercion against your fellow humans.  It is not too late to change.  Supporting only voluntary interactions is simple.  You may not always achieve the ends you desire, but you will soon discover that a free society is an end unto itself.

Sometimes thugs organize themselves into political parties to coerce others to live as they see fit.  For example, most Republicans support organized theft via our tax system.  That some want to reduce the amount of theft is very nice.  I prefer the thug to steal less money too, but the thug who coerces less money from people nonetheless remains a thug.  Additionally, most Republicans are thugs in countless other areas as well because they support and encourage the coercive actions of thugs employed by the government to forcefully impose their will upon others.  Most Republicans are eager to forcefully impose their will upon gay people, immigrants, recreational drug users, atheists, prostitutes, gamblers, and people living in other countries.

Most Democrats engage in thuggery just like the Republicans.  That Democrats seek to coerce in different areas, for different goals or to a different degree is simply a different flavor of thuggery from the Republicans.  Most Democrats are eager to forcefully impose their will upon workers, employers, entrepreneurs, traders, manufacturers, corporations, and gun owners.  Both Republicans and Democrats act as thugs when they seek to impose their will on others by force notwithstanding the fact that they act through the democratic process employing people who work for the government to accomplish their goals.

The act of voting must be analyzed as any other act.  As a criminal defense attorney, I am always interested in a person’s mens rea or, said another way, what the person intends.  If a person votes with the intent to reduce coercion as a means to eventually abolish coercion, I see such an act as a laudable, but mostly ineffective way, to attempt to end thuggery.  Such person is clearly not a thug.  However, the person who votes to control others is simply an armchair thug.

Another way to think about the voting issue is to acknowledge it is simply a principal-agent relationship.  A principal can always voluntarily delegate the principal’s rights or authority to an agent.  As a principal, a voter can always Intellectuals and Race Sowell, Thomas Best Price: $13.34 Buy New $18.73 (as of 11:40 EST - Details) delegate the voter’s rights and authority to a politician or other government agent to carry out the voter’s legitimate rights and authority.  As an example, because a voter has a right to self-defense, the voter, as a principal, can legitimately delegate that right to an agent such as a politician or a police officer to properly exercise on the voter’s behalf.

However, a principal can never legitimately delegate rights or authority not possessed by the principal.  Nobody has a legitimate right to aggress against another competent adult.  Therefore, any purported delegation of a right to aggress against a peaceful competent adult is illegitimate.  A voter simply does not have a legitimate right to control the assets of another competent adult such as his or her neighbor.  As an example, when a voter votes to coercively ban smoking in a restaurant owned by the voter’s neighbor, such vote is an act of thuggery because it seeks to wrongfully control the property of another; a right not possessed by the voter and therefore beyond the legitimate scope of the delegation.  While voting against such action is not thuggery, voting for it is acting as a thug.[4]

Evaluating the mens rea is also important to determine whether a person is an accomplice to thuggery or simply being coerced by thugs.  As I have previously stated, voluntarily supporting and aiding people who work for the government to engage in acts of thuggery is also acting as a thug.  However, being coerced into aiding isn’t being a thug at all.  As an example, almost everyone who earns income in the United States is coerced into sending some of their money to people working for the government.  That people comply with the tax system to diminish the possibility of audits, penalties, seizures and possibly prosecution does not make them accomplices to thuggery.  They are simply victims of thuggery.

Not all uses of force constitute thuggery.[5]  It is important to note that employing force to defend against thuggery is not itself thuggery, but rather justified self-defense.[6]  People who encourage and support only voluntary transactions between consenting adults and abhor coercion are not necessarily pacifists and need not be resolved victim status.  As an example, shooting and killing a crazed gun toting lunatic poised to murder innocent people is certainly an act of heroism not thuggery.  Unfortunately, there will always be people who initiate violence against others.  Preventing them from acting, even by employing force, is heroic.  It is the initiation of force, coercion or fraud that qualifies as thuggery and ought to be abolished.

Those of us who support a free society believe we can live peacefully and prosperously without coercing our fellow peaceful humans in any way.  We truly are clever and sophisticated enough to devise ways to interact with each other to live successfully without imposing our will on our neighbors by force, coercion or fraud.  There is no reason to cave in to short-sighted approaches that resolve to coercive means of achieving our desired ends simply because we can’t yet envision achieving our goals through peaceful methods.

Said another way, peaceful and civilized people acknowledge and respect the rights of other competent adults to live however they wish so long as they don’t coerce others.  All peaceful and civilized people ought to aspire to eliminate all coercion from our world with the confidence we can still function effectively as humans to each enjoy and fulfill our lives.  Supporting coercion and thuggery perpetuates and encourages violence and conflict in our world.  It is long past time we loudly speak out against all forms of coercion against competent and peaceful adults.

The solution to many of our societal ills is to simply respect the rights of other peaceful and competent adults to run their lives as they see fit; even if we disagree with their peaceful and sometimes foolish choices.  The enemy of a free society is coercion against peaceful competent adults.  Just as the free market cannot be predicted, neither can the form and structure of a free society.  A free society is simply one in which peaceful and competent adults control their property and run their own lives.

victor-173The varied forms and structure such a society could take is restricted only by our own imaginations and creativity.  Imagine a world where independent communities can each freely experiment with rules, laws, structures, institutions, or the absence of these things, all with the goal of eradicating coercion against peaceful competent adults.  Only a market of free people can decide for themselves what works best for them.  If we truly cherish and desire freedom and peace, this ought to be our goal.

As a final thought, observe that “persuasion” and “coercion” are entirely different creatures.  Some of us who support only voluntary transactions feel entirely free to attempt to persuade others to adopt all varieties of views.  In fact, a free society always benefits from a vigorous and highly competitive marketplace of ideas.  Advocating only voluntary transactions doesn’t mean that speaking out loudly against or for any particular view is prohibited.  Indeed, it ought to be strongly encouraged.

The difference between the voluntary group and the coercion group is that if the idea isn’t persuasive enough to be voluntarily adopted, the voluntary group ultimately respects the sovereignty of other humans to decide for themselves what views to adopt.  In contrast, the thugs use brute force and coercion to impose their unpersuasive views on others.  A free society is only possible when we identify and convince enough thugs to abandon their uncivilized views and adopt a freedom and peace promoting voluntaryist view.  Don’t be a thug!


[1] Thanks to the idiotic drug war and ridiculous DUI laws, the vast majority of my criminal clients are nice peaceful people who do not violate the rights of others.

[2] For purposes of this article, my use of “coercion” or “coercive” is also intended to encompass all forms of violence and fraud.

[3] I’m not prepared to label you a “thug” merely because you have previously, on rare occasions, engaged in thuggery.  Similarly, that a person previously committed an immoral act doesn’t necessarily mean such person is immoral.  Nobody is perfect.  However, when conduct becomes pervasive, you have earned the title.

[4] Many people simply ignore or refuse to participate at all in the political process.  Of course, people are free to participate or refuse to participate.  Whether one participates in the political process is an act of symbolism in any event.  Real change does not come from the political process.  Real change occurs when enough people change their hearts and minds.  Although the political process can be used as a catalyst for this change, there are countless other effective ways to reach and influence hearts and minds.

[5] Parents using reasonable and necessary force to protect their children or otherwise act in their best interests are certainly not thugs.  Nor are property owners thugs because they seek to control their own property.  This article is focused on interactions between consenting adults.

[6] Justified self-defense always presupposes a proportional response to an imminent threat or use of unjustified physical force or coercion.  It is always advisable to avoid the use of all force even in self-defense if possible.  Peaceful civilized people do not relish an opportunity to use force.  It ought to be a last resort.