Is it Moral to Use Assets Brought into Existence by Aggression?


Is it morally acceptable to use assets that result from aggression? I’m talking about things paid for by taxes or caused to come into existence by government regulations. That’s the question I debated with Ian of Free Keene yesterday (starting at comment #81912). Ian argued that things like cable-access channels and public squares exist and we didn’t cause them to exist, so there is no moral objection to using them. I argued that to use such products of aggression, when there is a choice, is to validate the aggression and is therefore immoral. I wasn’t happy with Ian’s answer and I know mine needs improvement.

It’s There So … Why Not? Also, as Compensation

Now I may not be understanding Ian’s perspective completely, so any distortions are my responsibility, but as I understand it, he is saying that (1) aggression-produced assets/services like Cheshire TV (CTV, a cable-access channel created due to government demand) weren’t created by people like him, so they aren’t culpable for its existence, yet it would be a real shame not to use it; and (2) that money taken from him and his comrades helped fund the process that created CTV, so they might as well get their money back any way they can. See these quotes from Ian:

I have reinforced nothing through my actions. Whether I participate or not that channel will exist. If no one submitted programming, they would populate it likely with pro-state trash.

You assert that … by taking CTV’s airtime, I’m implicitly validating the coercive process that made it available. This is an intellectual point that is completely lost on most people. Even I who understand your point, do not agree with it. The violence is done, the entity exists, and is the best cable TV video delivery venue in the Keene area. My actions don’t imply anything of the sort – not in most peoples’ minds.

I’m having over $5,000 stolen from me each year. In return, the criminal gang allows me access to some tools helpful to seed the ideas necessary to achieve a free society.

Not using CTV would mean no Marc Stevens, Stefan Molyneux, and other great thinkers reaching new eyes and ears. You are cutting off your nose to spite your face. I suggest reconsidering your position.

I just walked by Cheshire TV and saw several voluntaryists who help out behind the scenes. They are no less voluntaryists despite your personal beliefs about their actions. These are people working with the tools they have available to make a better world.

If criminals have stolen money from you, you are within your rights to get it back – so I support people who have decided to do things like collect unemployment. It may be a distasteful action to the supplicant, but it’s not immoral to recoup or minimize your losses.

Don’t Reinforce or Validate the Aggression

I argued that to use assets that result from aggression is to validate and reinforce the aggressive process (i.e., government). I feel that by extension of Ian’s logic, if someone robbed me and handed the loot over to Ian, he would be content to keep it, since he had nothing to do with the aggressive act. This strikes me as being willfully blind. Trying to get back in services what was stolen from you looks too much like acceptance that the process of taking from some to give to others is legitimate.

What About When You Have No Choice

When you have no choice, though, morality goes out the window. Take this example: if tomorrow the government nationalizes the food industry – everything from farms to restaurants – and I eat, am I doing something immoral? Of course not. Their aggression has left you no choice. It is the same thing with the roads. It is not immoral to use the roads because the state nationalized them or stole to build them, and thus left you no choice.

If all television stations and cable channels were claimed by the government, I would be able to agree with Ian that using CTV is entirely moral. He would have no choice but to use a government asset. Morality does not apply when you have only one choice.

Is the Reasonable Existence Rule a Third Way?

Is there another way to slice this issue? How about this: would the government asset or service you want to use likely exist even if the government didn’t use aggression to cause it to come into existence? Would there be a commons in your town – a public square open to reasonable use by all – even if it wasn’t owned by the government? I think that’s reasonable. Would there be roads, sewers, water service … a community cable TV channel? I think so. This is a very moderate approach as even parking tickets and speed limits might exist in a voluntary society.

Does this Hypothesis Make Sense to You?

What do you think? Is a reasonable existence rule compatible with the Zero-Aggression Principle? Please evaluate this hypothesis and let me know what you think: Is it morally acceptable / reasonable to use services and/or assets currently controlled by government that would probably exist anyway if there was no, or a radically minimalist, government?

Photo credit: Henry M. Diaz. Photo license.

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