The Devil’s Advocate

“We need to recognize that our words might be misunderstood, and that we are to some degree just as responsible for likely misunderstandings of what we say as we are for the “proper” effects of our words… Saying the truth as best we can muster is our first responsibility, but truth is not enough. The truth can hurt, especially if people misunderstand it, and any academic who thinks that truth is a sufficient defense for any assertion has probably not thought very hard about the possibilities. Sometimes the likelihood of misunderstanding (or other misuse) of one’s true statements, and the anticipated harm such misunderstandings could propagate, will be so great that one had better shut up.” –Freedom Evolves, Daniel C. Dennett pg.17 par.1

As I was reading this fascinating book about determinism and free will, I was struck by this paragraph. It reminds me of some of the arguments I see online from some of my Libertarian/Anarchist friends who, in an honest attempt to propagate the truth, create an avoidable backlash from those they call murderers and thieves. While these identifiers may be true, it may also be true that these same individuals who are supporting bullies, murderers and thieves are also victims of indoctrination, threats of violence, abuse and tyranny- just as much or more than those who are carrying the torch for freedom. As such, perhaps they’re in need of rescue.

Surely, heaping on verbal abuse and antagonism will do little to convince them of their errors, let alone set them free from their abusers. In fact, the truth as set forth in this manner, may do more harm than good, causing retaliation and indignation, defence and vitriol. We may be unwittingly perpetuating the very behavior we admonish them for.


It may be true that the cop that pulls you over for speeding is a tax collector with a quota to fill. But might it also be just as true, that this person has experienced pulling the bloody body of an infant from the car seat of a wreck caused by a speeding driver? Could it also be true that his motivation for pulling you over is a sincere belief that he is protecting innocent people?

It may be true that a cop that busts down your door in a no-knock-raid simply because you’re suspected of having weed, is initiating  violence on a peaceful person. Could it also be true that he sincerely believes that the use of marijuana perpetuates a culture for the use of other drugs that lead to violence and attacks on innocent people?

I’m not saying they’re right.

I’m not justifying these acts of violence.

I’m NOT saying that these people aren’t accountable for their actions.

But perhaps we should be attempting to open doors to truth rather than a violent shoving match between wholsale groups of people and their ideas. We need to remember that not everyone who disagrees with you is your enemy. Ideas are what we are fighting for. Logic and reason is in a struggle against unreasonable ideas, not the people who hold them.

Ayn Rand made the mistake of caricaturing  her opponents. She thought people were the sum of their thoughts and therefore if their thoughts and ideas were contrary to hers, that they were her enemy. In fact, we are not stationary beings. Thoughts change, therefore people change. People are not the enemy of reason. Bad ideas are the enemy of reason.

If we are to advocate for reason, then let us also be reasonable. It is a small fraction of individuals who are evil and beyond hope.

Let’s not continue to make the same mistake of characterizing every state advocate as our enemy. If we trust in the reality that every person is in fact an individual, let’s not fall into the trap of collectivist thinking. Waiving an accusatory finger at all police and military members en masse,  is committing the same collectivist fallacy that we are attempting to dismantle. If putting on a uniform should not grant one special rights and privileges, then we cannot assume that wearing that same uniform creates a mantle of evil.

Remember this guy?…

Being German doesn’t make you a Nazi. Being a cop doesn’t make you evil.

In my article on How To Talk To Statists, I made the point that those caught in the Matrix are not our enemy, that we should try to find some common ground upon which we can build some level of trust and expose fundamental truths. From that foundation, we can lead people to more consistent thinking, and they’ll see the contradictions in their own lives and actions for themselves. Rather than point out their mistakes, we have an opportunity to point them to greater self-knowledge through consistent philosophy.

Consider the violence of an angry mob, as we have witnessed after several sporting events. The culpability of the individuals involved is obvious. Flipping a car over or smashing a storefront window, destruction of property that is owned by other individuals who are likely not associated in any significant way to the “cause” of the rioters, is surely as reprehensible as the equal portion of violence put forth at the hands of the state official who believes they have a moral imperative. Yet we don’t often hear the voices for freedom admonishing such unprovoked violence. All focus is on the State and those who represent or even defend the State are held in the highest contempt and responsibility for their actions. If we believe that the state does not have any such moral imperative, how can we hold those agents to a higher standard than any other violent aggressor?

Let me be clear: I don’t advocate the State or any aggression put forth by it’s agents. But if we’re to advocate for – let alone achieve- a free society, then we must assume that most people are decent and held to a standard of some version of a personal code of ethics- their internal philosophy, if you will. It is this battle of individuals’ ideas that we must fight, not a battle of any collective.

It only takes one cop acting as an individual to prove my point. Here are several:

Of course I’m not agreeing with everything these people say or represent.
Of course I’m not advocating for the monopolistic system of State coersion.
Of course I’m not defending the initiation of force.

I am asking you to consider the actions of each person as an individual, regardess of their uniform- lest we fall into the collectivist trap.

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