Category Archives: Coercion

State Sanctioned Make-Believe

Children love to play ‘make-believe’.  Younger children are often enamored with inanimate but active objects like bulldozers and tractors.  We’ve probably all seen toddlers zoom around the room with their arms straight out to the side pretending to be an airplane.  As they get older, make-believe becomes more complex and social.  Children join together in groups of two or more and pretend to be cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians or mommy or daddy.

Though not perfectly accurate, ‘make-believe’ is very descriptive of the cognitive process involved.  Children use their imaginations to ‘make’ (as in, to create or fabricate) a ‘belief’ for their purpose of play and entertainment.  What they create isn’t really a belief so much as a fiction which they will themselves to accept on a temporary basis as a predicate to their preconceived plan to have fun.  Adults naturally understand what they’re doing and often play along to be helpful and encouraging.  Importantly, neither the children nor the adults have any misconception about what is real during any part of this process.  The children always remain aware that they aren’t actually airplanes, cowboys or parents and the adults understand that the children are not deluding themselves or anyone else.

The ‘make-believe’ associated with the gender identity issue is quite different.  The belief created isn’t a temporary acceptance of an acknowledged fiction.  Rather, it is the embracing of one’s personal feeling or desire as a proxy for objective reality. The ‘belief’ created is long term and adopted as an individual’s chosen ‘reality’ rather than momentary and adopted only to serve a passing purpose.  Regardless of what one might think of an individual’s decision to delude himself in such a manner, those who value liberty and individualism have little problem leaving him to his decision so long as it isn’t being imposed on anyone else.  But the calculus changes when he or his agents take action to impose his chosen false sense of reality upon others.

California recently enacted the “Gender Recognition Act” which will allow citizens of that state to change the gender on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses without having undergone any treatment or surgery.  Further, those who do not identify as either male or female will now be able to choose a third option – “nonbinary” – essentially declaring themselves to be genderless or gender ‘neutral’.

Some may suggest that California is doing no more than the adults in the childhood make-believe scenarios – trying to be helpful or encouraging to those who’ve chosen to delude themselves as to the biological reality of their gender.  But the State of California is not an individual adult acting only for himself in the context of an isolated event of childhood play.  It is the state and experience well demonstrates that the actions of the state often have much wider implications than might first appear.  The state’s willingness to give its imprimatur to that which is objectively untrue rightfully gives rise to questions about what might follow with respect to policy initiatives, funding, or even the potential of protected class status for those who ‘believe’ themselves to be that which they are not.  Should such wider implications materialize, the liberties of citizens who choose not to affirm such objective falsehoods may be jeopardized or disadvantaged.

Winston Smith, the lead character in George Orwell’s “1984”, got into trouble with the government because he wrote that “freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four.”  His antagonist and representative of the state was a party official named O’Brien.  O’Brien showed Winston four fingers and tortured Winston until he finally acknowledged an objective falsehood – that O’Brien was holding up five fingers.  It’ difficult to imagine that California will resort to torture to force it’s citizens to acknowledge the objective falsehoods it has chosen to countenance as reality.  The potential coercions we could more realistically envision are gentler but no less an affront to individual liberty.  Torture isn’t necessary for tyranny to exist.  Torture is only one means of denying a person his individual rights.  It would be tyrannical for California to take any action to affect an individual citizen’s willingness or ability to affirm objective reality.  Just as “freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four”, freedom is the freedom to say that a boy is a boy or that a girl is a girl.

California’s residents should be on guard.  Now that it has officially sanctioned make-believe on official documents, its citizens should be alert for any indication this official position may spill over into other government actions which aren’t as benign as gender designations on driver’s licenses and birth certificates.

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Restraint & Occupational Protectionism

This bill pending in the Maine Legislature would prompt a review and recommendations regarding the removal of licensing, permitting and certification requirements for various occupations.  It’s a good development.  According to the Institute for Justice, “Maine licenses 39 of the 102 low- and middle-income occupations studied.  Residents seeking to enter these occupations can anticipate, on average, paying $206 in fees, losing 226 days to training requirements and taking one exam, making Maine’s the 30th most burdensome licensing laws.”  Paring the list of occupations requiring licensure thus stands to remove barriers currently restraining residents from entering the job market in Maine.  Occupations which currently require residents to be licensed and slated for review include animal breeders, debt collectors, veterinary technologists, security guards and massage therapists.

According to this article“members of the public who came to testify on the bill were all either neutral or in total opposition to the bill.  It is not unusual for licensing reform bills to be met with strong opposition by bottleneckers. The book Bottleneckers: Gaming the Government for Power and Private Profit defines a bottlenecker as a person who advocates for the creation or perpetuation of government regulation—particularly through occupational licensing—to restrict entry into his or her occupation.”

The lack of any public testimony in favor of this bill illustrates an important point about liberty – liberty requires vigilance.  If there does not exist a sufficient number of people to guard against it, coercion and restraint will inevitably seep into the legislative process.  Coercion and restraint go by many names and forms.  Whether patronage, favoritism, cronyism, or outright graft, they are an ever present danger waiting for any opportunity to affect the legislative process.  Human nature being what it is, they will inevitably prevail unless liberty’s guardians are sufficiently vigilant.

Though there are certainly legislators and other government officials who are committed to the cause of liberty and understand its societal benefits, we see that their efforts too often fall flat for lack of support from the populace.  The public response to the Maine law is illustrative of the point.  Because its benefits are immediate and focused, there is no lack of support for the licensing law which restrains others from entering protected occupations.  Those who benefit from the restraint see that those benefits are tangible and immediate and are thus willing to spend time and resources advocating it.  Accordingly, “members of the public who came to testify on the bill were all either neutral or in total opposition to the bill.”

Because liberty’s benefits are often indirect and dispersed, good public policy based in individual freedom too often finds itself without a champion to argue on its behalf.  An individual who might consider seeking employment as a security guard if he became aware of the opportunity might not even know that a law exists requiring security guards to be licensed.  That individual would also not likely be aware of legislation pending which might relieve him of the obligation to become licensed in order to qualify for a position as a security guard.  And even if he had all the knowledge of the underlying circumstances, as a single individual he’d be less likely to make the necessary effort in order to speak out regarding the bill than would existing security guards who may well be organized and represented by formal organizations or unions.

So it is that bad public policy based in coercion or restraint often succeeds where good public policy based in individual liberty flounders.  This paradigm can change only when a sufficient percentage of the populace is both persuaded to the societal benefits of individual liberty and committed to outspoken and active citizenship.  Legislators who espouse constitutionalism and first principles require the outspoken support of the citizenry in order to combat coercion and restraint in the legislative process.  Likewise, candidates who demonstrate a commitment to those principles require the active and financial support of the citizenry in conducting their election campaigns.




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