Keynote Speech To The Interstate Conference On Race Relations II
by William Stone, III
Delivered 22 January 2003, Sioux Falls, SD, USA
The Pythagorean theorem has 24 words. The Lord’s prayer has 66 words. The 10 Commandments has 179 words.
The Federal Government regulations on the sale of cabbage has 26,911 words.
This should explain immediately why government can’t be counted on to solve even simple problems, much less anything as complicated as race relations.
First, let me thank the organizers of this conference for allowing me the opportunity to speak today. It’s not often that libertarians get the chance to speak at a public forum, and I’d like to thank you very much for the invitation.
This is even more a personal occasion for me, because it marks my first foray into what I consider “playing with the big boys.” Let me explain what I mean by that:
Ever since I first embraced the libertarian philosophy of the Zero Aggression Principle (which I’ll go into in more detail in a moment), I’ve been a libertarian activist and commentator. To be honest, until very recently, I was mostly a loudmouth: I never really gave any thought to the idea that someone might actually be listening to what I had to say, much less acting on anything that might come out of my mouth.
That abruptly changed last year, shortly after President Bush signed that horrible, immoral, Unconstitutional “Homeland Security Act.” By the way, I prefer to refer to this as the “American KGB Act” after the Russian translation for “Homeland Security.” I kid you not: the Russian translation of “Homeland Security Department” is “KGB”, and the Russian KGB originally had the same function as its new American counterpart.
Anyway, last year, after the creation of the American KGB, I was extremely despondent about the state of affairs in the US. I said so, rather loudly, to anyone who happened to listen to me or read what I wrote. And to my utter shock, I got into an e-mail conversation with someone that my words had really impacted. It was the first time I’d really come to terms with the idea that my words were even being listened-to.
This had a profound impact on both my worldview and sense of responsibility, and my being here in front of you today is a direct result of that.
So again, I thank you for the opportunity to stand here today.
WHO I AM, AND HOW I CAME TO BE
That said, I’m sure all of you are wondering just who I am, and why I was asked to speak today. Well, my name is Bill Stone, and I’m a South Dakotan, first by birth and later by deliberate choice. I was born in Yankton, raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, and from the time I was five until I was fifteen, I spent anywhere from a week to two months every summer on my grandparents’ ranch north of Wall. I then went on to try my hand as professional actor, which ultimately led me to Chicago. I spent the entire decade of the 1990s there, where I eventually transitioned from acting to (of all things) computer science. In 1999, I was very specifically sick of the big city and was lucky enough to find a position in Dakota Dunes that brought me back to my home state of South Dakota. Even during the time I lived in Chicago, I always thought of myself as a transplanted South Dakotan: my wife can tell you of the family visits to South Dakota, when I’d become much more relaxed and visibly happier than when I was in Chicago.
So I’ve led a very circuitous path to finally return home, where I live with my wife and two daughters.
Last year, I ran a very paper campaign for Commissioner of School and Public Lands, and to my astonishment became the number two Libertarian vote-getter in South Dakota. This pretty much sealed my fate, and I’m now definitely considering a run for Tom Daschle’s seat in the Senate in 2004.
But beyond that, I’m a libertarian philosopher, and it’s in that capacity that I’ve been invited to speak.
WHAT IS A LIBERTARIAN
Indeed, it is philosophy — and more specifically ethics — in which libertarians excel. It is our personal and political philosophy that distinguishes us from Republicans, Democrats, and every other political party on earth.
Many people think of libertarians as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” Others think of us as “the party that wants to legalize guns and drugs.” This isn’t really the case at all: libertarians believe in a single principle when it comes to governing our interaction with other human beings, and that principle guides our approach to politics.
THE ZERO AGGRESSION PRINCIPLE
Ultimately, the question becomes: what is a libertarian? The answer is simpler than one might think. The basis of all libertarian thought is the Zero Aggression Principle, or ZAP, which states:
“No human being has the right — under any circumstances — to initiate force against another human being, nor to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they know it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.”
On hearing this, many people mistake or misunderstand this philosophy, lumping us in with pacifists. Believe me, libertarians are not pacifists.
We do not believe that force is immoral: rather, we believe initiation of force is immoral. Let me give you an example:
THE MELANIN EXAMPLE
Suppose a person with a lot of eumelanin in his skin is walking down the sidewalk. A person with more phenomelanin in his skin approaches, and as he passes, shoves the individual with eumelanin off of the sidewalk and into the gutter. He tells the person, “How dare you walk on the same sidewalk as me! You eumelanin in your skin, so you’re filthy! People like you aren’t fit to walk on the same sidewalk as those of us with phenomelanin!”
Well, the person with eumelanin is going to be understandably upset. He steps back on the sidewalk, gives the guy with phenomelanin a pop in the jaw for good measure, and says, “I don’t care what you happen to think about eumelanin, but you better not go shoving people around!”
So here’s an example of two uses of force, one an initiation and one a response to that initiation. The initiation of force occurred when the guy with phenomelanin shoved the guy with eumelanin. As it was an initiation of force, it was immoral. The retaliation — popping the guy in the jaw — was not immoral since it was force used in response to initiated force.
In examples like this, the distinction between a moral and an immoral use of force isn’t difficult to see. It’s not always that simple, obviously.
However, it is a perfect example of what the ZAP as a personal philosophy and libertarianism as a political philosophy has to offer. It marks a clear delineation between actions that are prohibited and actions that are not.
Anything that initiates force is prohibited; anything that does not initiate force is not.
Or maybe in plainer language: libertarians don’t believe in starting a fight, but we have absolutely nothing against finishing it.
HOW THE ZAP MAKES LIBERTARIANS DIFFERENT POLITICALLY
At this point, most people say, “Ok, I can see how that makes sense as a personal philosophy. But how do you translate this into political policy?”
The answer, again, is very simple — though most people find it hard to believe.
The difference between libertarians and every other political philosophy on Earth is that we believe that the Zero Aggression Principle applies equally to every human being. There are no exceptions, not even for Presidents, Congressmen, Senators, Governors, State Legislators, Mayors, or City Councilmen. When we say “No human being has the right to initiate force,” we mean no human being. Under any circumstances.
FACTIONS OF LIBERTARIANS
There are a couple of different factions of libertarians. Chiefly, they are grouped into large-L Libertarians, or members of the Libertarian Party. The others — myself among them — are in the small-l group of libertarians and are more concerned with the ethics of the ZAP than getting people elected to office. Allow me to explain the difference between the two factions: what we have in common, and how we work together to achieve our goals.
The big-L Libertarians believe — correctly — that the American Constitution is a literal document. This stands in stark contrast to both the Democratic and Republican parties, who believe that the Constitution has a “spirit” beyond the letter of the words in it, and that this spirit can somehow be adhered-to while the letter of the Constitution may be violated at any time.
Even small-l libertarians like me know that this is nonsense. The purpose of the Constitution is simply to spell out how the Federal Government is to function, what specific powers it has, and what is clearly left as the rights of the individual or to the State Governments to regulate.
When you understand that the Constitution is in fact a literal document, it becomes immediately clear that virtually all of the activities it presently undertakes are well beyond the scope of the powers granted to it. For the Constitutionalist Libertarian, the sole goal of libertarianism is to return the Federal Government to only those activities that are specifically mandated by the Constitution. The Constitutionalist Libertarian believes — correctly — that this would result in a Federal Government that is a tiny fraction of its present size. As such, it would have a number of obvious benefits:
- Centralization of power in the Federal Government attracts both the corrupt and the corruptable. The halls of the Federal Government are now filled to overflowing with individuals who have only one goal: the attainment and perpetuation of personal power. Occasionally, this goal intersects the goals of one constituent group or another; more often, it does not.
- Centralization of power in the Federal Government has a detrimental effect on every program it touches. The perfect example is Welfare. Prior to the institution of this program, local and national private charities collected money from private individuals via voluntary donation. This money uniformly found its way to the hands of the needy and not those simply looking for a handout. Further, the costs associated with administering the program were negligible. Welfare, as a centralized governmental beaurocracy, only delivers one dime out of every dollar forcibly collected, the remaining ninety cents going just to feed the infrastructure itself.
- Centralization of power in the Federal Government encourages tyranny. As noted previously, the halls of government are now filled to overflowing with individual concerned solely with the attainment and perpetuation of power. Nowhere is this more evident than in the days since September 11, during which time we have seen an expansion of Federal power that would have made Adolph Hitler green with envy.
- Centralization of power in the Federal Government is hideously expensive. As mentioned above, Welfare along eats ninety cents of every dollar just to feed the program. The Federal Government also steals from every individual at least thirty percent of their income. Indeed, government at all levels steals fifty percent of every individual’s income via sales tax, property tax, income tax, welfare tax, social security tax, sin, tax … the list is literally endless.
- Centralization of power in the Federal Government adds taxation at every possible point of production of every consumer good on every shelf in America. Some libertarian thinkers have attempted to calculate the additional cost that this taxation adds to consumer prices, and the general figure seems to be something like 800% inflation. Think of it: government at all levels steals half your money while simultaneously increasing your expenses by eight hundred percent.
- Finally, Centralization of power in the Federal Government actually solves no one’s problems. Because solving problems at the Federal level requires the Federal government to initiate force against those that it governs, for every problem that is attempted to be solved, fifty are created.
What Constitutionalist Libertarians want is a government that obeys its own laws, a government that is a tiny fraction of its current size — with a corresponding reduction in costs and taxation.
Imagine this for a moment: in a Constitutional America, you will have double your current spending power with only one-eighth your current expense. Right now, if you earn $10,000.00 a year, you only get to spend $5,000.00 of it: the rest is stolen via some form of taxation, regardless of your tax bracket. And the gas that you put into your car costs $1.45 — mine cost me $1.33 this morning, but then I go out of my way to visit a discount station in Sioux City. It’s just off of Exit 149-A, and you can’t miss it if you just look toward the city as you’re driving past.
In any event, in a Constitutional America, the $10,000 you earn is yours to do with as you see fit. And the gas only costs you eighteen cents a gallon.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, take the cost of any item on the shelf and divide by eight. That’s what you’ll be paying in a Constitutional America.
Who would be poor in Constitutional America? We’ll have to completely redefine “poor!” People like me, who are lucky enough to be in a lucrative field, will be veritable millionnaires. Instead of needing a second income to make sure we barely pay our expenses, we can make all the expenses plus donate some of the extra cash to local charities that — unlike Welfare — will make sure that needy individuals get as much of it as humanly possible. With double the income and one-eighth the expenses, no one will be poor for very long.
THE SMALL-L LIBERTARIANS
In contrast to the big-L Libertarians, small-l libertarians like myself see the re-institution of Constitutional America as only a step. We believe that once people have experienced the benefits of having government out of their lives for a while, it will become readily apparent that they don’t actually need what few services are remaining. We then have a long-term goal of removing from government any authority that allows it to initiate force. In some of these goals, we are joined by our Constitutionalist faction. For example:
The repeal of the 16th Amendment. The 16th Amendment to the Constitution authorized the direct taxation of individual incomes by the Federal Government. This is an initiation of force, since taxation is simply theft that happens to be sponsored by government as opposed to a thug on the street. Indeed, the only real difference between a thief and a tax collector is that the thief doesn’t audit you after he robs you.
We seek the repeal of any part of the Constitution that gives government the power to initiate force. We believe that no human being — even those in governmental employ — has the right to initiate force.
As you can imagine, goals like these are extremely long-term. Many small-l libertarians — myself included — might well be happy to stop at the re-instutition of Constitutional America. When we get to that point, I’ll reassess the situation and decide if I want to keep fighting.
But since our common goal is at minimum the reduction of the Federal Government to Constitutional levels, both big-L and small-l libertarians have our work jointly cut out for us, for a very long time.
GOVERNMENT DOESN’T WORK
The one thing that libertarians believe above all else is this: government doesn’t work. It doesn’t educate our children, it doesn’t feed the poor, it doesn’t make us safe. It never has, it never will, and no amount of tinkering with it will change this fact.
Government doesn’t work.
What works is individuals interacting with each other peacefully, governing their own behavior as guided by the Zero Aggression Principle.
If government has a place at all — and it is here that some of the most spirited debates between Constitutionalists and philosophers occur — it is solely to ensure that any initiations of force are prosecuted. Though as I say, there is much philosophical debate about whether even that is too much power for government. Again, as one of those small-l libertarians, I’ll let you know what my position is as soon as we have a Constitutional America again.
LIBERTARIANS AND RACISM
At this point, you’re probably saying, “Ok, I can agree that government is bloated, and maybe even tyrannical. But what to libertarians think about race relations?”
This is as simple as our approach to every other political and social problem: we evaluate it in the context of the Zero Aggression Principle.
If you look at the history of any country or government in human history (including the United States), what you discover is that there is no example of large-scale racism that isn’t institutionalized by government. Slavery, for example, was supported by governments. The attempted genocide of native North Americans was supported by governments. In fact, let’s focus on that.
As is pretty obvious, my ancestors were not native to North America. I’m rather proud of my heritage, inasmuch as on both my mother’s and father’s sides, my family has been in North America since before the founding of the United States. Thomas Stone — an ancestor of mine — was a signator to the Declaration of Independence. I don’t really know much about my ancestors back farther than a couple of generations, but I certainly don’t see any reason to feel guilty about being a descendant of white settlers.
Nevertheless, those white settlers came to this country assuming that since any native peoples they found were in many ways technologically inferior and since their cultures were completely different from the European cultures they’d left behind, that these natives were savages, little more than animals. They reported this back to their governments in Europe, who then proceeded to institutionalize the practice of racism, exterminating any native people who didn’t get out of the way of white settlers.
This government institutionalization of racism continued pretty much until the native people were exterminated altogether.
WHAT IF THINGS HAD BEEN DIFFERENT FOR THE INDIANS?
Let’s go back a few years and imagine for a moment that the American Constitution had been a little different right from the start. Let’s imagine that instead of explicitly excluding natives, slaves, and for that matter women from the rights guaranteed to free men, that those rights had been applied equally to everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or sexual preference.
If that had been the case, assuming that it was even still possible to make the Louisiana Purchase (parenthetically, I would have to judge “buying” land from someone other than the existing residents amounts to an initiation of force), government would not have been able to simply tell white settlers that there was now untold acres of empty land awaiting them. Rather, any settlers who came to this area would have been forced to recognize native people as the rightful owners of any land on which they were living. If white settlers wanted to live there, they’d have had to trade with the native people to do so. Anything else would have been an initiation of force against the native people, and a violation of Constitutional rights, to boot.
That is, assuming that any native people wanted to participate in the United States. It would also be an initiation of force to require natives to associate with any government that they didn’t want to associate with.
But as we know, that’s not what happened at all. The government simply told white settlers that they were free to move in. When the existing residents got understandably upset about the interlopers on their land and reacted as any human being would have would have, the government called out troops and killed the natives.
So as you see, the reason the genocide of native people was possible was due not to the feelings of superiority exhibited by whites, but because those feelings were backed by enough initiated force to turn them into a hideous, murderous political policy.
One can make similar arguments regarding slavery and the segregation that followed. If governments had not institutionalized slavery, whatever racist impulses a would-be slave-owner had would not have reached fruition. If governments had not made laws requiring people with eumelanin to use different drinking fountains, to not walk on the pavement, or to sit in the back of the bus, the racist impulses of those who’d like to see them do so could not have been fulfilled.
What the ZAP as a personal philosophy and libertarianism as a political philosophy offers is something no Statist politician can.
A “Statist,” by the way, is the libertarian name for any political or personal philosophy that believes that the answers to life’s problems lie with government. We don’t really distinguish between Republicans and Democrats in this regard. Both philosophies are ultimately Statist: there’s simply a dividing line between the two groups as to where government force should be employed. They never argue that it’s probably best not to employ that force at all — or if it must be employed, it should only be done in defense of an individual’s rights.
Or (from the ethical perspective): if government has a place at all, it is to respond to initiated force.
So where libertarians differ from Statists is that we believe that racism cannot exist on a large scale without government to institutionalize it. Further, we believe that in any case except where it is responding to initiated force, government only makes racism worse.
WHAT ABOUT THE INDIVIDUAL RACIST?
So at this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “But Bill, regardless of what government does, there are people who hate others based on their skin color, their religion, their sexual preference, or ever their gender.” And you’re absolutely right: there will always be those who come from the shallow end of the gene pool. However, an unfortunate fact of life is that government cannot legislate away stupidity. The best that government can do is react when stupid people initiate force against others.
So let’s imagine for a moment that there’s a stupid guy in town, and he hates people who have eumelanin in their skins. He also owns a grocery store, and he makes it a policy in his store to not do business with people who have eumelanin in his skin.
Now, contrary to what most people might think, in the libertarian view, this kind of private discrimination is not cause for government action. We believe that no human being should be forced to associate with someone they don’t wish to be associated with. To require otherwise leads to all kind of problems, of the kind with which we’re all intimately familiar.
What will happen to this racist grocery store owner? Well, the customers he’s turned away will go to some other grocery store on the other side of town. If he’s excluding a market of any size, he’s also depriving himself of income. The store across town will get all the customers who have eumelanin in their skins, not to mention any other people who happen to think that the racist store owner is a pig and doesn’t deserve their money.
In short order, the racist will have problems making ends meet. At worst, he’ll always be the number two grocer in town. At best, he’ll go out of business completely, providing a concrete example of why racism is a really poor business practice.
This is how the free market usually handles racism — that is, when government hasn’t spent the better part of a century attempting to obliterate the free market as has the US Federal Government.
WHAT ABOUT THE VIOLENT RACIST?
There are people — from the really murky parts of the gene pool — who will hate and detest someone badly enough to want to do them harm. There is the Ku Klux Klan, after all, and the case of Matthew Shepard who a few years ago was brutally beaten and left to die tied to a barbed-wire fence in Wyoming.
Again, we resort to the Zero Aggression Principle: no human being has the right to initiate force, for any reason. Therefore, a KKK member who lynches a black person or burns a cross on his front lawn in order to intimidate him has initiated force. An individual who beats someone and leaves them to die has initiated force.
It doesn’t matter why they initiated force: what matters is that force was initiated. Again, if government has a place at all, it is to intervene at this point and assure that such individuals are prosecuted.
What the Zero Aggression Principle as a personal philsophy and libertarianism as a political philosophy offers is a way out of the quagmire of politics. By defining the morality of the interactions between individuals as actions that initiate force and those that do not, libertarianism correctly identifies what activities are prohibited. This stands in stark contrast to the Republican and Democratic Parties, which seek only to carve groups up into voting blocs, for the purpose of attaining personal power.
This also makes the evaluation of any situation — political or otherwise — incredibly easy. The libertarian need only ask one question: does this action initiate force? Once that’s known, everything else falls into place.
To reiterate: no human being has the right — under any circumstances — to initiate force against another human being, nor to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they know it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.
William Stone, III is a computer nerd (RHCE, CCNP, CISSP) and philosopher of the Zero Aggression Principle from McCook Lake, South Dakota. He seeks the Libertarian Party’s nomination for the 2004 Senate race in South Dakota.
Copyright © 2003 William Stone, III. All rights reserved.