A friend shared this quote by Penn Jillette on Facebook, so I stole it. Er… “shared” it.
I heartily agree with the main point that charity isn’t charity if compelled and being generous with other people’s time, property, or labor isn’t anywhere close to actual generosity. But the line that started me thinking (cue scary music) is, “There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.” I think this is the point that most people miss: almost everything the government does is compulsion. In fact, the only things the government doesn’t do by compulsion are “awareness campaigns.” And when those fail, they pass a law.
That’s how government works. You know that cute little quip, “government is just a word for the things we do together?” Well, that little cliche leaves out “by force.” We do all sorts of things together voluntarily, and we’re guaranteed the right to do so in the first amendment. However, when the government steps in, you have no choice. You will be forced to participate and surrender your property so the government has the means to force you to participate, or you will be a lawbreaker and suffer the consequences. “Government is just the word for the things we are forced to do together” is more apt.
Now, this is not inherently a bad thing. This is the trade-off we make for civilization. Society requires certain things to function: nations need defense, justice systems, etc. Don’t like it? I’m sure there is an uninhabited island somewhere in the middle of the ocean on which you can live alone. But take even one person with you and pretty soon you’ll have some “governing” rules.
My point is every time we say “there ought to be a law”, we’re really saying “people ought to be forced to do this.” Which is fine and dandy when it comes to murder, or theft, or poisoning the town well, but it’s quite another matter when you say, people ought to be forced to eat the right things, among many examples. The state works by compulsion. So remember the next time you say, “there ought to be a law,” you’re really saying, “I’m okay with people with guns forcing me to do this.”
UPDATED: I changed the beginning line to note that a friend shared the quote from Penn Jillette, because apparently someone thought I took everything from someone else. I wouldn’t do that, as it’s stealing. Everything under the quote came from own pretty little head.)