Authority and the Fear of Death

By Jack Neison

It’s no secret that I have a healthy distaste for authority.  Rather than complain about authority, however, I find it far more productive to dissect and deconstruct authority in order to fully understand its effects on my own life.  Two questions come to mind immediately:  First, why do I dislike authority so much?  Second, what can I do about it?

The answer to the first question is simple enough.  I dislike authority because it is the imposition of another’s will upon me.  Although I do not think that there is proof either way, I do personally subscribe to the idea of metaphysical libertarian free will.  In contrast with metaphysical determinism, free will states that every individual is born free to make their own choices and determine their own ends.  This, of course, is the very basis for Sartre’s existentialism, and while I cannot prove this premise to be completely true beyond a reasonable doubt (as determinists cannot prove their ideas to be true beyond a reasonable doubt), I find it much more empowering than the opposing assertion.  What logically follows the assertion of libertarian free will is the fact that all of my choices, whether influenced by biology, environment, or any other factor outside of my control, are mine and mine alone.  In real-world application, such a foundation for thought and action is simultaneously liberating and crippling.  As Sartre pointed out, I am not only free to choose, but I am also condemned to live with whatever consequences my choices might lead to.  As I move forward here, this is a very important subjective truth to keep in mind.

The answer to the second question is both simple and complex.  What can I do about it?  Well, anything I want, of course.  The only limitations that exist in regards to my reactions to authority are self-imposed, and they are based solely upon whether or not I like the expected consequences of such a reaction.  If a cop pulls me over for a traffic violation, the only thing stopping me from physically attacking the cop is fear.  I will either willingly comply and bow down to the cop’s authority, or I will fight him to the death.  Now, there is obviously a huge grey area in between those two scenarios, and it is a grey area that I have partied in more than once.  This grey area tends to be reactions of passive resistance.  For instance, there is nothing in the law that states that I must roll my window down all the way in order to talk to the cop while he stands beside my car.  Because of this, I will crack my window just enough to where we are able to hear one another.  Not only do the arbitrary laws put into place by other people I dislike say that this is perfectly okay, but it also pisses the cop off, and if I am unwilling to fight a bully to the death for putting me into a corner, I am at least going to make sure that I annoy the shit out of him.

But this last scenario begs another question:  Why even practice passive resistance to begin with?  Fear, of course.  Passive resistance is a tactic used by people who reject authority but aren’t quite ready to die because of it.  If, as libertarians, we are to accept the idea that authority only exists based upon the threat of violence, then it must follow that the elimination of such a threat will essentially (if not actually) abolish authority.  If I were to hold a pistol to your head, would you be afraid of the pistol itself, or would you be afraid of the possibility that I might decide to pull the trigger?  If you are reasonable, it is likely the latter, as the gun is only a threat to you so long as it is in my hand and pointed at your head.  If the gun is no longer in my hand, then it no longer poses any threat to you, even if I still want to cause you harm.  In this scenario, I am the threat, not the gun; the gun is merely a symbol—a representation—of the threat that I pose.  The same can be said for the cop’s badge and gun.  The badge represents the threat of imprisonment, and the gun represents the threat of being killed.  It is, in many cases, these “threat-symbols” which cause people to comply with authority.

This is where political libertarian slogans break down—in the metaphysical and ontological realm.  “Taxation is theft” is a good one to begin with.  “Taxation is theft,” when translated into terms of phenomenological ontology, simply means “I fear death and/or imprisonment.”  Now, before I get accused of “victim blaming,” allow me to provide another scenario.  A mugger is holding me at gunpoint and telling me “Your wallet or your life.”  In this situation, if we are to assume that I do not have a gun, the mugger, being the one holding the gun, is the authority.  He has provided me with two choices, neither of which I like a whole lot.  I would prefer to not give him my wallet, but I would also prefer that he not shoot me.  Are these my only two choices?  Of course not, and if I accept these as my only two possible choices, that is a submission to his authority over me.  For me to accept these as my only two choices in this situation is for me to deny my own metaphysical libertarian free will in this circumstance, and it also means that I am ignoring the broad spectrum of choices that I actually have.  I could call his bluff and turn around and walk away, thinking that he’d have to be an idiot to shoot me in the back of the head in a public place.  I could lie to him and tell him that I left my wallet at home on the night stand, which would be assuming that he’s reasonable enough to refrain from killing a man over pocket change.  Or, better yet, I could use the little bit of martial arts training that I have to break his fucking arm and turn the gun on him.  Any of these “grey area” choices certainly come with the threat of death, but they also represent a refusal to submit to the choices that the authority provided.  Why should I submit to “your money or your life” if I don’t want to?

When I covered the APD protest in Albuquerque in March of 2014, which was before I even considered myself an anarchist, I asserted that if fewer people willingly funded this protection racket, then this protection racket would have fewer resources by which they harass, abuse, and kill people.  Such an idea is, to this day, rejected as “too radical” by anarchist political libertarians because an individual who refuses to pay the protection racket will be threatened by the protection racket, and then those threats will be acted out.  It is the same mugger-muggee lifeboat scenario that I just described, only it is then asserted that the fact that the mugger only gave you two choices means that only two choices exist.  If political libertarians feel this way, then we can create an argumentum ad absurdum in that the existing political paradigm really only gives you two choices.  Actually, if we are to examine the existing political paradigm, we will find that it actually offers a number of choices, but most people, including political libertarians, disregard them.

There is a great spectrum of ways in which to avoid taxation, but political libertarians will call them “unrealistic” simply because they do not want to deal with the chaos that would ensue were they to knock the mugger’s gun out of his hand and break his arm.  “Your money or your life” is an easy dichotomy for black and white, binary thinkers to digest.  This is not about blaming the victim, but empowering him against his aggressor.  This is not about denying the fact that the state treads upon people, but about giving people the fangs and snake-venom, by way of ontological understanding, to bite through the state’s boots.

So, what is the greatest threat that authority brings with it?  Is there any threat greater than the threat of death?  I think most would agree that the threat of death is the biggest threat authority has to its name, and so if this threat can be undermined, then authority suddenly has no authority.  If we, as humans, were to rid ourselves of our own fear of death, would we not also knock loose the peg-leg on which authority stands, wobbly?

I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone martyr themselves, particularly not for any ideology or dogmatic view of the way the world ought to be.  I’m merely suggesting that it is our own fear that makes this authoritarian world in which we live possible, and that by eliminating such a fear, we can eliminate all authority.  If you are unafraid of death, then you will be unafraid of any cop.  This does not mean that you ought to be willing to jump in front of any cop’s bullets in order to prove a point; it simply means that, should you be pushed to such a point, you are ready to fight to the death, and you, therefore, no longer see yourself as a victim.

It is not the state that enslaves you, but your own fear of death and/or imprisonment.  Although these threats are certainly real, it is only your fear of them that controls your actions and choices.  When that fear is eliminated, you become free, but only you can eliminate that fear.  The state is a monopoly on the use of violence, and the fear of violence by the people is what empowers the state.  Violence, of course, is part of human existence, and so if we were to abolish the monopoly on violence tomorrow, violence would continue to exist in smaller, less organized forms.  The anarchist platform ought to be that violence should exist in these smaller forms as opposed to the monopoly that currently exists.  An anarchist, then, should not fear violence at all, and if he does not fear violence at all, then he does not fear the monopoly.

“Passive resistance,” as I mentioned earlier, is the tactic of someone who wants to annoy the authority without provoking the authority into committing homicide.  If you are not ready to die today, this is still a fine tactic, and one that I embrace in my everyday life.  But abolishing the fear of death to begin with is the first step towards abolishing any authority in your own life.  Even if you don’t want to die today, you can embrace the fact that you will die one day, and you can use that to your own advantage against authority.  Authority, quite frankly, wants you to fear death, and that is why that is the fear that they play on more than any other.  Meanwhile, the man who resists the fear of death is the man who cannot possibly be controlled.

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