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A duty to disobey?

I don’t know Larken Rose but I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a fine writer and a hardcore thinker, and he’s clearly a man who lays his own life on the line for what he believes.

I don’t agree with everything he says here. But he asks some damnfine questions.

Do good, upstanding citizens have a moral obligation to allow themselves to be oppressed, harassed, terrorized, assaulted, and wrongfully detained or imprisoned? Most people would say “no.” But would most people actually mean it?

There are many examples of “law enforcers” treating innocent people like dirt. Random stops at “sobriety checkpoints” is a favorite of mine, since the local jackboots do that in front of my house on occasion. (In fact, they’re doing it right now, as I write this.) The border Gestapo is even worse. And a YouTube search for “police abuse” will provide you with hours of infuriating examples of fascist pigs in action.

So, do we have an obligation to put up with being treated like that? Think carefully before you answer. Because an answer of “no, we don’t,” implies that we have a right to resist it, to not cooperate. And, of course, the control freaks and megalomaniacs with the badges aren’t going to react kindly to anyone disobeying their gang. They will always escalate things to violence until they get their way.

If, for example, you believe that you have a right to not be searched without cause, a right not to be interrogated for no reason, and a right not to be detained for no reason, then logically you must also believe that you have the right to drive right through a “sobriety checkpoint” without stopping. And what if they try to forcibly stop you–as they certainly would–for exercising your rights? Do you then have an obligation to be oppressed? Or do you have the right to respond with force against force, in whatever degree it takes to overcome their attempts to detain you without just cause?

This is the horrible choice tyrants force everyone to make, on a regular basis: you either submit to their will, or you react with violence. And, unlike the badge-wearing crooks who call themselves “law enforcers,” the good people don’t like to use violence.

I don’t agree that our only choice is between cowering submission and violence. There are alternatives, even when face-to-face with force. Even in these brutal days, you may be able to stand up to a cop with knowledge and dignity and assert your legal rights as the good people of the Flex Your Rights advocate. (And BTW, I’ll soon have a review of their latest production, “10 Rules for Dealing with Police”.)

Even if you get tased or beaten or arrested, you aren’t necessarily submitting to oppression. You may instead be using your own life to show others what oppression looks like — thereby turning your suffering into a form of activism (as many members of the Free State Project have done. ADDED: Not to mention members and supporters of FIJA.)

Plus there are all those wonderful things I’ve always advocated: monkeywrenching and creative disregard (as opposed to in-your-face civil disobedience). That is — living around the state and its rules — subverting “authoritah” by living as you please, out of its sight. And let’s never forget the power of ridicule. And now, the power of YouTube and the cellphone cameras in our pockets.

No, we don’t always face a yes-no, black-white, no alternatives choice between slavish submission and violence.

Still, Larken’s right in another sense. Tyrants always do succeed at one type of force: Whatever we do, however we live, whatever choices we make, whatever risks we take, we’re constantly forced to pay attention to the wishes of tyrants and their bully-boy agents. We may scorn their rules, but we can’t escape the need to be constantly aware of both the rules and the potential punishments. We may calmly assert our rights, but to do so, we’re forced to study law and work out scenarios of confrontation in our minds when we’d be happier and more productive thinking of other things. We may practice creative disregard, but even that requires using our creativity in ways we wouldn’t resort to in a truly free society. Even those who simply turn their back on their increasingly unfree country and go elsewhere are doing it because they got tired of being forced to pay attention to the constant threats of official thieves and bullies.

And sadly, sometimes we’re forced to pay attention to tyrants because their hired thugs bust right into our houses and kill the people and the creatures we love. And they do it no matter how many times people point out alternatives. Because of course, terrorizing us is the power of tyrants and the joy of thugs. Not to mention that millions of fools find official violence entertaining — and so satisfying when it happens to other people.

And there’s no getting around it. Ultimately, Larken Rose is right that we need to think about this:

With that in mind, ask yourself, what would your local “law enforcers” have to do before you would resist by force (thereby making yourself a “criminal” and/or a “terrorist”)? Try to take your guns away? Try to take your children? Try to arrest you for criticizing “government”? In other words, what level of oppression will you actually not tolerate. Because so far, you’ve tolerated pretty damn much. Yes, lots of people whine, complain, and criticize, but until you actually resist, you are, by definition, tolerating the injustice, by allowing it to happen (to you and others).

Of course, I “tolerate” it, too, as demonstrated by the fact that I’m not dead, and not a fugitive. I’m not advocating martyrdom here. But it’s about time for Americans to start thinking about things they’ve been trained to not think about. The bogus tripe about “land of the free and home of the brave” is sounding pretty lame these days, when you look at what Americans quietly submit to on a regular basis. Of course, it’s not up to me to tell you at what point you should resist. But you ought to start thinking about it. Because somewhere between where we are now, and complete totalitarianism–and that gap is shrinking all the time–you will have to decide between being a slave, and being a “terrorist.”

… Not only the point at which we’ll resist, but how we’ll resist. Because despite all our civility and restraint, “our” government has already decided we’re all criminal suspects and dangerous “extremists.” And we know that their criminal violence is getting worse every moment. A day will come when we don’t have much left to lose.


  1. Pat
    Pat May 17, 2010 6:11 am

    No, not a “duty” to either obey, or disobey.

    From a personal POV: I’ve thought about this too — “What if… Under what circumstances… How to respond?” But honestly, with all the thinking done about it, and scenarios I might set up, I’m afraid my reaction would be emotional when it came.

    I don’t like violence, and I’m not an aggressive person, but I do get very angry at bullying and injustice — and my first reaction is to fight back. If I experienced an attack, or if anyone tried to steal or vandalize my property I might well go off half-cocked in a this-is-the-last-straw moment. When angry, I can’t/won’t keep my mouth shut.

    The scenario is not pretty, but it’s what I am. At that point, we would see how rational and “civilized” — or not — I have become.

  2. Matt
    Matt May 17, 2010 7:25 am

    In regards to Mr. Rose points, the best weapon to is probably “civil” disobedience based on knowledge. Research your state and local ordinances so you know what they laws are and how best to stand up to them. Don’t take a stand and then find out your were wrong. Often LEO seem to work from the dangerous point of arrogance and ignorance. Arrogance that anything they do is correct and ignorance of the laws they are supposed to uphold.

    A simple no might be the best answer in many situations. It will drive many officers nuts, but many times what they want to do can only be legally done with the consent of the person they have detained. Never resort to violence in normal circumstances. Our LEO are trained practicioners of violence and will escalate it very fast once they decide to go violent. Investigate passive resistance techniques so they can’t justify claims of assualting an officer.

    As soon as someone violently and succesfully resists LEO that person becomes an instant pariah. They will be hunted down and killed as fast and efficiently as possible. The only side of the story that will come out will be the side supporting LEO. Our society is conditioned to view any attack on LEO to be an attack on society itself.

    Finally, resistance will have a price. Physical, mental, legal and monetary. Can you afford it?

  3. Pat
    Pat May 17, 2010 8:18 am

    “A simple no might be the best answer in many situations.”

    I agree. Or refusing to answer without a lawyer present. Does that come under the heading of “No”?

    “Finally, resistance will have a price. Physical, mental, legal and monetary. Can you afford it?”

    And that’s what Larken Rose is asking, isn’t it? Weigh the price, and act accordingly.

    But, alas, there is no PASSIVE resistance in me; it’s either
    submission or active resistance. (And that, too, tells me the limits I might be willing to endure, on either end of the spectrum.)

  4. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal May 17, 2010 11:24 am

    Life is too short, and I care too little, to research all the “laws” that may impact my liberty. Obviously I know some of the “big ones”, and act accordingly.

    The rest of the time I accept that I am living in a police state, surrounded by people who love it in their ignorance. I do what I am going to do, secretively if necessary. I’d rather exercise my freedoms in the open, but that’s not the reality we have been born in to.

    I’m not going to waste my life learning about all the things the State orders me to do. I’ll just assume the worst of it and its supporters.

  5. Ellendra
    Ellendra May 17, 2010 9:14 pm

    “This is the horrible choice tyrants force everyone to make, on a regular basis: you either submit to their will, or you react with violence.”

    Sorry, Larken, but those are the options the tyrants want you to think you’re limited to. In reality, your options are limited by your creativity, resourcefulness, and determination. For some of us, that leaves things wide open.

    It seems I have a different relationship with cops than most people here. The majority of the ones I’ve met have been nice people. I’ve never even seen a sobriety checkpoint, and I’ve looked. Maybe it’s that same invisibility thing I mentioned in a different thread? The nasty ones don’t notice I’m there, so they can’t be nasty to me, so I can’t tell they’re nasty because all they’re doing is walking or driving by on the street? Or do I just have the kind of face that makes them polite? I seem to meet more like Mas Ayoob than like the gestapo thugs. Whatever the reason, I won’t pretend it would continue if/when things got really rough. But it does seem that even thugs would be less eager if they knew you as that person who brought brownies to the potluck, instead of just a name on their list.

    As for fighting, that’s harder to answer. I’ve been in and out of a wheelchair for the last 3 years, so I don’t exactly cut a dramatic figure on the battlefield. If my life or my family are in danger, I would fight. But I would look for an escape first. If it were long-term, I do know enough about the parks and the wild places in my area that I could survive on my own, and could take a group out there as long as some were stronger than I am. They can’t oppress what they can’t find.

  6. Samuel Adams
    Samuel Adams May 17, 2010 9:36 pm

    There is a subtle point that comes in here. To obey a law because it is the law (not because it is a good idea, or for other external reason) is to let the state run your life. But to refuse to obey the law because it is the law is just as much letting them run your life.

    Do something (or not) for your own reasons. Do have a regard for the laws and the police state around you, and factor that in for your own safety. But don’t either blindly obey or blindly disobey.

  7. dwayne chandler
    dwayne chandler May 24, 2010 3:33 am

    Sorry, I don’t need to be the victim of(or witness
    to) a vicious police tasing or beating to
    know what oppression is.
    You’re right, being tased or beaten by the
    bullies who enforce “the rule of law” is not oppression,
    it is an unnecessary beating; one of the far too many
    beatings we law abiding people suffer during our lives.

    Most sincerely, not anonymously, dwayne chandler.

  8. W W Woodward
    W W Woodward May 25, 2010 7:53 pm

    I recently won a partial victory in a four way stop sign battle with my home town.

    The local police chief, who no longer works here, talked the city council into having four way stop signs installed at 8 different intersections. The idea was to slow traffic and increase revenue.

    The Texas traffic code regulates the placement and supplemental signage for all traffic control devices and includes a statute that states a motorist cannot be convicted of failure to obey any traffic control device if it is improperly installed. The stop sign were installed at improper heights, locations, and without required supplemental signage.

    I refused to obey the signs, invited the police to write me citations and encouraged others to disregard the signs. The signs were removed from all but two of the intersections. I am still disregarding the signs at the two remaining intersections and have yet to be ticketed.

    The state expects, and requires us to obey the statutes. I expect the state to obey its own regulations.


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