Consider a lady called Phoebe.
Notwithstanding a few flaws and foibles, Phoebe is basically a decent person. She leads a contented and well-adjusted life, working hard, but equally enjoying the fruits of her labour. Happily, the work she does benefits others: we know this because they keep paying her to do it. That work, moreover, involves nothing immoral. Thus, Phoebe makes an honest living. And it’s a good living. Each year, she earns a handsome income, testifying to how much she has benefited others.
Every year, too, an institution called government—democratically elected by a majority of voting citizens—commands her to contribute to its coffers some portion of her honestly earned income, specifically, whatever it unilaterally determines to be the appropriate price for the services it renders onto Phoebe and her fellow citizens. This portion typically amounts to about 30% of Phoebe’s income. Every year to date, Phoebe has dutifully complied with this command.
This year, however, Phoebe has chosen to defy the command.
Phoebe has her reasons. Many of them eminently defensible. Some are even widely endorsed. For example, she holds that the government misspends much or most of the money that it manages, carelessly casting it hither and thither, using it principally to bribe the electorate, and only secondarily to aid the deserving. She also holds that the government, through its reckless policies of progressive monetary debasement and sovereign debt accumulation, may well be setting the stage for an eventual and catastrophic economic collapse. She furthermore holds that people in government generally consist of a motley crew of box-ticking bureaucrats, insufferable narcissists, and power-hungry opportunists—none of whom deserve her fiscal tribute.
So this year, Phoebe has alternative plans for the 30% of her income that she has heretofore relinquished. Some of these plans are selfish—like going on holiday to the destination of her dreams. Others are selfless—like paying for a poor friend to have a much needed operation. At all events, she has made up her mind: she is not, under any circumstances, going to comply with government’s command that she give up 30% of her earnings.
At some deep level, she regards her earnings as entirely hers—not anybody else’s—which means nothing more or nothing less than that she, and not anyone else, gets to decide what should done with those earnings. What else could the “her” in “her earnings” mean? Has she really been earning other people’s money, and not her own, for 30% of the time she has been working, every year? Try as she might, Phoebe just cannot get her head around this strange idea, any more than she can get her head around the strange idea (which she read on a bizarre blog one day) that her 30% of her sexual life might belong to someone else, rather than entirely to herself.
Phoebe duly informs the relevant governmental authorities, by formal letter, that she is refusing to pay the taxes they demand of her. As a courtesy, she gives her main reasons, and outlines her alternative financial plans.
Some weeks later, Phoebe receives a formal reply in writing. In that reply, she is warned of the severe consequences that would attend going ahead with her proposed illegal course of action. Unless she pays the amount specified, and by the date specified, she will have to pay yet more. Moreover, if she still refuses to pay the principal and the penalties, a band of men in suits will come, with an authorising document, and attempt to confiscate some of her property. Furthermore, if she gets in the way of these men taking her valuable property, another band of men will come—this time with uniforms, badges, and guns—and attempt to subdue her by force. In the event of her continuing to resist physically—say by parrying the aggressive force used to subdue her with a matching defensive force of her own—the level of force used to subdue her may be progressively escalated, such that the risk of her being injured or killed comes to markedly exceed zero. One way or another, sufficient force will be applied such that she will be rendered harmless. If she is still alive, she will then be conveyed to a cage for a lengthy spell. Many of her neighbours in nearby cages will be sociopaths, some of whom will have been convicted of stealing from and/or physically assaulting other innocent human beings—sometimes as part of an organised gang of thugs engaging in extortion.
Phoebe ignores the formal reply.
One month later, a band of men in suits duly come by her house, and demand entry. Phoebe doesn’t let them in: she keeps the front door shut and locked. Their verbal demands going unheeded, the men in suits instruct one of their burly assistants to break down the front door with a battering ram. But Phoebe anticipates them by opening the door and brandishing a large club a menacing manner. (Not for nothing is she nicknamed “Feisty Phoebe”!) Unaccustomed to dealing with such self-possessed and indomitable ladies, the men in suits scarper, shouting back indignantly that they will report this outrage to the police, and that there will be a heavy price to pay.
Early the next morning, as promised, another band of men appear outside Phoebe’s house. Their metallic badges glint ominously in the crepuscular light. They have come for her and her property. Phoebe, however, does not intend to let them take either. For her, it’s just the principle of the thing. This time round, the men readily breach her front door, and flood ferociously into her house. They have guns in their hands—portable machines designed to propel bits of metal at great speed into human flesh. They point their guns at her, and tell her she has to come with them—or else. Phoebe knows going with them means going to the cage, and leaving her property behind for the taking. But there are too many men, carrying too powerful weapons, to repel. So she tries to flee. At the backdoor of the house, however,she encounters a large man already waiting for her, blocking her exit. The man lunges at her, toppling her over, and pinning her to the floor. Another man arrives, and attempts to put handcuffs on Phoebe, so as to render her defenceless. But Phoebe still has a free hand. She reaches for a knife in her pocket, and strives desperately to stab the man on top of her, to get him off her. She succeeds: he screams, bleeds, lets her go. The other man, seeing his colleague stabbed, takes no chances: he draws his gun and fires at Phoebe. The bullet strikes her head, enters her brain, and kills her.
Question: In this scenario, whose side are you on?
Did Phoebe, by shirking her obligations to a preposterously unreasonable degree, have it coming? Did she, by her perverse intransigence, culpably predetermine her own demise? Are people like Phoebe—who do not give when the government says that they must, preferring to satisfy private desires rather than public ones—so unforgivably selfish, or so socially pernicious, that they must, if push comes to shove, be liquidated?
Alternatively, do you suspect that there might be something amiss with Phoebe’s largely sealed fate at the hands of the state, should she have the audacity to act as if her earnings were entirely her own? Would you be personally prepared, as a human being, to hurt Phoebe, and if necessary to kill her, if she adamantly refused to materially support some society-wide endeavour to the degree that some of her fellow citizens said she should? Or would you only be prepared to countenance such violence if an organisation called democratic government—which supposedly gains its legitimacy from the Divine Right of the Masses—does your dirty work for you? In other words, are you guilty of a form of indirect and cowardly psychopathy towards your fellow human beings, unless they do the bidding of the sovereign power you happen to identify with? Are you essentially prepared to condemn your fellow human beings to extortion, incarceration, or even execution by proxy, just because you lack either the imagination or courage to conceive of an alternative to the status quo? Are you as morally blinkered today as supporters of slavery were in their time—blithely but falsely taking yourself to be a decent human being—when you are in fact fatally morally compromised?
Is Phoebe completely right and you completely wrong?
Nah. Just shoot the b*tch.