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Fall 2005

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The Pain of Principle
Is doing what "feels good" wrong? How would you know?
Marc Solomon

For my first appearance in the November 3rd Club, I felt it was necessary for me to let you know who your are listening to. By way of introduction, I am your humble Libertarian pundit. Over the course of time, I hope to communicate this viewpoint to an audience that I firmly believe has immense common purpose. In the interest of full disclosure, I offer my principles:

  1. Life is the most important thing there is.
  2. I am responsible for maintaining my own life.
  3. I own my body and the efforts of my labor so that I may maintain my life in the manner I choose.
  4. I am responsible for my actions.
  5. I can do whatever I like so long as I do not hinder the ability of others to do the same.
  6. I do not initiate force against another unless in self-defense.

So why did I do that? Why not just launch into a diatribe about my favorite peeve?

Because just having a peeve is not enough. The TV news is full of the peeves of the rich and/or influential. I can't base any moral action on a peeve. And yet, most of what we face or learn about are situations that call upon to make a decision. The question is: do you do just what "feels good" or "feels right" or what you can determine for yourself is right.

Which brings me to my point: Having principles hurts (sometimes). What you don't learn in our government schools is how to decide what is right or wrong, consistently.

What am I suggesting? Own a set of principles, and the skills to turn those principles into your independent decision, regardless of how many images Eyewitness News shows to sway you.

In the world of rational thought, every decision you make should be derived from your principles. The "derive" part requires logic. The rules of logic can be found anywhere, even on the Internet, next to the free mortgage analysis. Use them, know them. Too bad they aren't taught in schools-I wonder why…so to continue, if you have principles, then every situation you face, every decision you make, every time you open your mouth is a test of whether or not you have principles or are either: a) a moral slacker or b) a hypocrite. Either way, if you fail, you're "unprincipled."

It may not quite register yet, but this is where the pain starts.

If we all took the time, each one of us would painstakingly decides what we stand for (principles), and building from that foundation how we should treat our fellow humans, family, country, and world. This is how a human determines right or wrong. It is a personal thing, something you can only do for yourself. And it is hard. Doing it is hard, and abiding by the conclusions you get from it is hard. Sometimes they don't feel good.

But most of us haven't done that. Here's the rub: the world is happening RIGHT NOW. Situations, political and otherwise, demand an answer: What are you going to do? What do stand for ? Do you know why?

Let's say you're convinced. What do you do now? Here's the fast approach: break down each situation into its parts until it agrees or contradicts with your principles. Then you'll know what you truly believe.

Let's try this out.

If you use my principles as an example (and in the words of Sam Eagle " if you're like me and I'm sure that you are"), we can figure out how I might decide upon an issue of the day. CAUTION: Since I know what I believe already, I might give away the answers. If the situation is consistent with one of my principles, like #1, I'll say (#1—Yes), if not, then you'll see (#1—No).

Welfare:
Apparently, poverty has always been part of human existence. Poverty is of course relative, since in America, not having cable, or a Mac, means you might be labeled as poor. But we probably can all agree upon poverty means not having enough to eat, not having clothes to protect you from the elements, and/or having no place to live in relative safety and privacy. Sounds like poverty is bad, so doing something about it is good (#1—Yes). See how that works?

Kindness to the unfortunate is the measure of a civilization, per Goethe. But are we truly kind? Charity has in human history been the work of neighbors, churches, private organizations and local governments. But that has changed. We now have more poor people per capita now than when the "war of poverty" was declared by Johnson in the 1960's. It sure is amusing how when the federals declare a "war" on something, they always lose, but never can admit it (see: drugs, gangs, terror, poverty, illiteracy, segregation, discrimination…)

When we shy away from giving to the poor, freely and graciously, (PAIN—#1—No) is because we lazily or stupidly passed this function to someone else-they-the federales, who have seemed to botch the job.

When charity is local, you can see yourself or your community work to put someone back on their feet, then it is right (#1—Yes). You can see the results. When the needy person is back on their feet and self-supporting, the assistance logically ends. But when tax money is taken by force (#3, 6—No), faceless bureaucrats breed generations that live on government support, with no impetus to do anything else (#2—No), then we all have pain.

And your pain? You can't give anymore when someone comes to your door, because we ALL gave at the office, via those taxes taken from us, to accomplish something that caring local institutions and individuals have done better and more responsibly for hundreds of years. Charity does not require self-destruction (#1—No), and for that reason, it is self-regulating. So maybe it hurts to think that somewhere, someone will fall through the cracks. Does it happen now? Yes. Does making sure this doesn't happen (which does anyway) justify theft of my property (#3, 6—No)? Your turn to answer.

War:
Someone attacks you physically (no, not offends you), blows up a building or two in your country. You are not necessarily sure who did it. Maybe you think you are. What do you do (#4)? Invade and kill people in another country who may or may not know where to find these criminals (#7—No)?

Perhaps on a related note, there is someone we really don't like running a nearby country. Should we invade that country and kill him and his government, as awful as it is (#4, 5, 6—No)? Christian philosophy holds that we should turn the other cheek—and I'm assuming the slapping isn't life threatening. Jewish law holds that "if a man comes with a knife to kill you, kill him first." I'm fairly sure Islam would side with Jewish thought on that one. (this is all good with #6). We are compelled to trust our government to define "clear and present danger".

You do notice how after 9/11/2001 that we have been using our gut, our anger, our fear, pain, instead of our principles (#4—No)? Are we hurting yet? We've added thousands of more dead to accompany the dead in our country (#1—No). Are things better now than four years ago?

Having principles is not about what should have been done in the past, but what we are going to do RIGHT NOW, in the next moment, day, or month. They keep us on course. Without constant vigilance, we end up justifying torture of the accused for the "Higher good." (Thanks, Rupert Murdoch, who doesn't understand #4, 5, 6). Get used to that conflict in your mind. Sometimes having principles hurts. It is what separates us from animals. All of us principled folk need to help everyone else used to it too. In the well worn, but completely true, words of Franklin, "those who wish for both liberty and security shall have neither." Our principles help us make the hard calls everyday, even when the trouble is in our own backyard. Even when our buildings are blown up. That's when we need our principles the most. Anger, fear and pain is used against us by any petty power-monger or terrorist thug. Be careful of what you indulge in (#4). Protection from violent crime, fraud, and outside invasion is the essence of a government of principle (#4), and isn't it amazing—that's what our Constitution says.

Invasion, expansionism, and manipulation of other countries are the acts of a depraved society (#1, 3, 4, 5, 6). All of those societies, every one, throughout history have perished. Read about them.

And yes, torture doesn't follow from the principles of the constitution, no matter what Fox News says (#6).

Let's look at this recent decision by the Supreme Court that says: "Anyone can lose their property, their home, if someone can convince a handful of politicians that their use of your property may, someday, maybe, perhaps, give them more tax swag to control and use for their personal enjoyment and power." (#1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—No—a grand slam) To be honest, that wasn't the majority opinion that Sandra Day O'Connor voted against, but close enough. Either way, she is still tops in my book for following her principles.

So how could this august body reach such an insane conclusion? By failing to use principles (#4—No) instead of precedent-deciding based upon what someone else decided in the past. Precedent is another way of being morally cowardly and intellectually lazy. A first-grader could have figured out that this decision was wrong.

Perhaps after this decision we all will hurt enough, one way or another, and stand up. Where's the pain? The pain you'll feel from losing your house (#2, 3—No) because you didn't feel like getting involved, informed, or angry about what any government can do without restraint. You can always start.

Principles: use them, or lose them. Along with all your freedoms. No one I know would rather deal with government than live a peaceful life; but governments change all that unless you do. The work is to keep them out of your life (#2—Yes).

So now for your homework assignment, every day, for the rest of your life:

  1. State your principles. Write them down.
  2. Use your principles and decent logic to know where you stand
  3. Stick to them, even if it hurts
  4. Know it's worth it, and that the alternative is unconscionable

Extra credit: Extract the principles of the founders of this country, based on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and determine if our Government is principled.

Until next time.