For this item in our series on logical fallacies, I want to address two that appear in tandem so often when having discussions about the philosophy of liberty that I simply cannot approach them separately.
The first is the notion that something must be good or true if enough people, or a majority of people, believe it to be good or true. This is called “appeal to majority” or argumentum ad populum. The absurdity of this fallacy, when explained this clearly, is evident to most. For example, just because the majority of some West Indies tribe believes it’s okay to kill and consume members of enemy tribes doesn’t make it okay. And yet it is very easy to enrage the average American by questioning the validity of democracy or republicanism even though these systems of government are based entirely upon this fallacy.
Democracy is nothing more than tyranny of the majority. It has been said that democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. When encountering this fallacy in the course of liberty activism, a more effective approach is a thought experiment commonly used by libertarians to demonstrate taxation as theft. It is known as the “How many men?” experiment. You begin by asking if it is okay for a man to steal your car. The answer is usually no. How about if five men steal your car? How about if they vote first? How about if they let you vote? How about if the whole neighborhood votes, and they give you a scooter? You can go on and on until you describe a democracy, and then ask which step made it okay to steal from you.
In Utah, the person you are talking with will be quick to point out that “we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a constitutional republic!” Okay, let’s go back to our “How many men?” experiment, and let’s say that this group of men stealing your car draws up a document in fancy calligraphy declaring that they have the right to steal your car, but that it’s okay because you get to vote with everyone else in the neighborhood on which of them will do the actual stealing. Does that make it all better?
This brings us to the next fallacy: argument by dismissal. It sounds something like this: “Well, if you don’t like it, you can move to Russia!” This is a fallacy because it completely dismisses an idea without explaining why. If you are unable to convince someone of the invalidity of democracy using the logic and examples above, then a dismissal such as this will almost invariably be the next thing out of the person’s mouth.
Liberty activist George Donnelly wrote an excellent article on this fallacy entitled “Why I Can Neither Love Nor Leave the USA“. He explains how the “love it or leave it” notion is a false dichotomy because there are perfectly adequate alternatives to those two choices. When I encounter this notion in my own activism, I have found it to be more effective to equate it with victim blaming. You have demonstrated that what the state is doing to you is a crime, and the person you’re talking to is suggesting that it’s your fault the crime is occurring because you choose to remain in the area over which the state claims control. This is akin to telling a woman who is afraid of being raped that if she doesn’t like it, she should just remain indoors for the rest of her life, or cover up and stop wearing sexy clothes. It is like saying, “Hey, if you don’t like being hit, you need to get out of the way of my fist.” I have found that approaching it this way is the only means by which I have been able to demonstrate the fallacy of this argument.
You can conclude by explaining that, when you are being victimized, you are justified in the use of violence as self-defense; however, this would not be a wise course of action because the state (and especially the U.S. government) is much more powerful and much better armed than you are. It follows, then, that the wise course of action would be to engage in non-violent action that reduces the power of the state. This can be done through political activism and/or agorism. Those who choose to participate in the political process can educate others and vote for candidates and measures that will reduce the state’s power. Those who choose not to participate in the system can engage in state-free transactions with others, ignoring taxes and regulations and unjust laws. We can also patronize alternatives to state monopolies (e.g. alternative currencies, militias, etc.).
What it boils down to is that the social contract–the concept of majority rule–is invalid, and that leaving your home is not the only alternative.
Leave a comment
Utah Liberty Alliance seeks to bring about a free society through journalism and activism, starting right here at home.
Recent Forum Posts
In development: Utah Copwatch (utahcopwatch.org)
posted in forum Incubator by Dallin Crump on August 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm
In development: Utahns for Privatized Education (u4pe.org)
posted in forum Incubator by Dallin Crump on April 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm
Utah juror information
posted in forum Incubator by Nicholas Hooton on April 30, 2012 at 8:56 am