Wednesday, April 20, 2005


On January 18, 1979 John Singer was shot and killed by law enforcement officers for, essentially, not sending his children to school. Singer was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1931. However, his parents were German and took him back to their native country shortly after. Here he experienced the full horrors of the Nazi regime, the Second World War, and its aftermath until, drawing on his US citizenship, Singer decided to immigrate back to the US.

Living with his Mother’s sister, Singer learned English, studied TV repair and learned carpentry from his uncle. He and his family found faith in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, becoming strict Mormons, and when his mother, brother, and two sisters joined him in New York, they worked had enough for a year to mover to Utah, “the promised land of their faith.”

By the time Singer married his beloved wife Vickie, in 1963, he had built himself a log cabin in the Kamas Valley and was making a living for himself and his family through farming and plying his trade as a TV repairman. However, described as a “strong, independent, industrious man with an unwavering faith in his God,” shock came seven years after his marriage to his wife, when they were excommunicated from the Mormon Church. This came because the Singers insisted on believing a literal interpretation of the Mormon scriptures, including its doctrine on polygamy, and for taking the side of fundamentalists against the modern church.

Then, two years later, in 1973, the singers withdrew their children from South Summit Elementary School. Their complaints were with the “immoral secular influences” found in the State schools, and the “school’s ‘permissive attitude’ toward such immoral behaviour as sexual promiscuity, drugs, crude language and gestures, rock music, and lack of respect for adults.” They felt that the State had no constitutional right to interfere with their religious beliefs by forcing them to send their children to a public school.

After a meeting with the School superintendent, the Singers were sent a letter informing them that they were in breach of the state’s compulsory attendance laws, which required attendance at a public or “regularly established” private school, or home schooling subject to the approval of their local school district’s board of education. So, on December 6th, 1973, the School board filed a complaint against Singer in a juvenile court for “the crime of contributing to delinquency and neglect of” his three oldest children, aged six, seven and eight. When Singer failed to turn up at court, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. It took a month for them to find Singer since he refused to surrender voluntarily, but eventually he was court and spent a night in jail. The next day he worked with the School Board to come up with a home schooling plan, and two months later the family was issued with a certificate of exemption from the school board, on the condition that they submit their children to a twice annual Basic Skills Achievement Test, administered by the school board. Three months later the complaint against Singer was dismissed on the evidence of his compliance.

However, Vicky and John Singer did not take to regimentation, and complained that “they must get out from under the thumb of the local school district” because they resented its intrusions into their home and family life. They informed the school board that there would be no further testing, and that they would be educating their children in accordance with their own beliefs. As they explained, “We are responsible for our children, not the school board. They don’t support or raise them, we do. We are true Americans, and the Lord has let us know that he will protect our constitutional freedoms. It is a corrupt government that passes a law that takes children away from their parents, and those who try to enforce that law are tyrants.”

The school board responded by withdrawing the certificate of exemption and initiated a new criminal complaint against the Singer family. Again, after several meetings with the Board, the Singers were hauled into juvenile court and again accused of neglect. Singer explained that all his children were well cared for and not neglected, but he readily admitted that they did not attend public school. Singer said “that the only thing I have to prove to this court is that my children are not being trained for delinquency actions or any criminal actions, and this is the only thing I have to prove and nothing else.” Judge Bachman responded that the only issue was whether the Singers “complied with the policies of standards set out for the education of your children” by the school board. Singer responded, “But it seems like the standards which have been set out here are not the same standards I believe in. … Have you got even the right to force my children under any form of education?”

The judge found them in violation of the compulsory attendance laws. John and Vickie were fined $290 each, and both parents and children were ordered to be evaluated by a court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Victor Cline. However, whilst the Singers allowed their children to be tested, they refused. Meanwhile, their case had aroused publicity and attracted support for private and home schoolers, who urged the Singers to incorporate their own school. So by the time they were summoned to court to explain while they had failed to comply with the judge’s orders, they had incorporated their own private school, the High Untas Academy, Inc. The Judge granted a stay, and announced that if they failed to comply within a month, “there will be incarceration for both of you.”

On November 3, 1977, Dr. Cline interviewed John and Vickie. He found that the children were 34 lower in IQ than their parents due to not having “adequate educational experiences.” In the meantime Judge Bachman set a date of December the 16th for a trial. However, he wanted to be amenable, and invited the Singers to a pre-trial conference to try to work out a peaceful compromise. He suggested that he would vacate his order that they be jailed and fined if they submitted an acceptable plan for the education of their children. The Singers, though, refused, on the belief that the judge had improperly ignored their plans to set up a private school. Worried that if they attended the trial their children would be taken from them, they refused to turn up. On December the 16th Bachman issued a warrant for their arrest, setting bail at $300 each.

For the next year, John Singer was at war with the authorities, and did not set foot outside his farm. When the sheriff contacted him, Singer informed him that he “intended to resist arrest.” On January the 3rd Judge Bachman found John and Vickie Singer guilty of neglect of their children. By this time the family had five school age children, who were told to submit to tutoring by the School District. If the parents failed to comply they would be held in contempt of court. Although the children were placed in the custody of the Utah Division of Family services, they were allowed to stay with John and Vickie. John told the press that he would refuse to allow a tutor in his house, saying that “we’re not trying to tell other people what to believe or how to live, we just want to be left alone and mind our own business.”

The case was reassigned to a new Judge, judge Farr Larson, who issued an order that the Singers attend court on January the 6th to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court and why their children should not be taken from them. The parents failed to attend the hearing on March the 14th, 1978, and Larson found them in contempt, and issued warrants for their arrest. His order was stayed for seven days in order to allow the singers time to appeal. On March the 21st the sheriff was ordered to commit both parents to jail for 30 days, and they were ordered to pay a fine of $200. Because it went against their religious beliefs, the Singers refused to appeal their convictions.

When Judge Larson dissolved his stay of execution, the newspapers quoted him as saying,

By law, children in this state have a right to an education, and a duty to attend school. Children are no longer regarded as chattels of their parents. They are persons with legal rights and obligations. The rights of the parents do not transcend the right of a child to an education nor the child’s duty to attend school. Parents who fear the negative influence of public education should also examine the damaging effects of teaching a child disobedience to law and defiance to authority.

The judge, advising that the sheriff “employ such means and to take such time as are reasonably calculated to avoid the infliction of bodily harm on any person,” ordered John Singer’s arrest. After six months of inaction Larson removed this restriction about the use of violence from the arrest order, but set no time limit for Singer’s arrest. After consulting with the State law enforcement officials, a trap was set for Singer in which three law officers posing, as newsmen whilst giving an interview would arrest him. This attempt at arrest was foiled, as Singer proved too strong to hold, his family through themselves on his would be arresters, and he drove the lawmen off with a pistol in his belt. On October 20, 1978, the Summit County attorney filed a new criminal complaint against John of three counts of aggravated assault for resisting arrest with a gun. A felony warrant permitting deadly force was issued so that he could be taken into custody. Judge Larson was nearing the end of his patience waiting for the sheriff to act, and said that he would issue the sheriff with a citation of contempt of court is he did not carry out the order to arrest Singer.

By early November 1978, John Singer had been at a standoff with the authorities for the better part of a year. The authorities were getting embarrassed: One lone man was holding them at bay! John Singer claimed that the Mormon Church was as much to blame for his predicament as the local and state officials. “According to the state’s system, my home is just a feeding place. All they want me to do is feed my children and they want to take them from me and brainwash them to put them in a Sodom and Gomorrah society.” The authorities decided to make one final, dramatic move. The leadership of the Utah Department of Public safety, the Division of Narcotics and Liquor Law Enforcement, and Highway Patrol all became involved in a surveillance and apprehension plan. The plot was to “surprise Singer with such a show of force that he would realise the futility of resisting arrest and would submit peacefully.” Ten men, in five groups of two watched Singer, learned his daily routines and, finally, were to confront him in such a fashion that resistance was futile. On January the 18th, 1979 they made their move whilst John was clearing his driveway of snow. To use his petrol driven snow blower, John had put down his rifle. But he still had his .38 Colt automatic. When he saw the lawmen coming, John turned and started running, drawing his pistol. Fearing for his safety, one of the lawmen fired his shotgun once, killing John instantly. Shortly afterwards the Singer children were taken into custody for nine days, and Vickie was unable to get them back unless she agreed to a court approved plan whereby she taught her children under the supervision of a court approved private school.

A while back I took a course in teaching, hoping, I thought, to learn skills to set me on the road for a career in education (I eventually dropped the course – I wanted a career in University teaching, and this was a vocational college and so unsuited to my needs). My interest in how learning theory relates to the institution of compulsory national education grew when I was considering some of the things Frank told us a while back about learning theory. Specifically, it was in the difference of attitude that teaches have towards students, when they plan and conduct their lessons, and the attitude that other authorities have.

I was looking at a copy of Herbert Spencer's book Essays on Education (Spencer was a critic of compulsory state education), and I noticed that the editor of the essays, writing in 1910, said

Many schools, both public and private, have now adopted - in most cases unconsciously - many of Spencer's more detailed suggestions. The laboratory method of instruction, for example, now common for scientific subjects in good schools, is an application of his doctrines of concrete illustration, training in the accurate use of the senses, and subordination of book-work. Many schools realise, too, that learning by heart and, in general, memorising from books are not the only means of storing the mind of a child. They should make parts of a sound education, but should not be used to the exclusion of learning through eye, ear, and hand.

Although Charles W. Elliot, a former president of Harvard University, wrote this introduction in 1910 I think it actually rings true today in our society. After all, why do science labs in secondary schools have gas taps and Bunsen burners, if not so that the children can use them to conduct experiments. We teach chemistry, now, not by standing at the front of a class and getting the students to learn the chemical properties by rote, chanting them over and over. No, we teach them by letting them, to a limited extent, experiment for themselves. We ensure that they are literally engaged in their subject: They are not simply learning, they are doing chemistry. Or, to put it differently, they are learning by doing. The same goes with English - we teach children on the use of the language, not but drawing grammar tables and getting them to chant words, and subjunctives, and things like that: We get them to use the language; we encourage story writing, reading, writing poetry. They learn by doing. This reflects a specific teaching philosophy… but it is not the same philosophy reflected in the practices of education authorities. It is not a behaviourist philosophy that says “if we stand here and telling children x, y and z, then they will learn it, and we can prove that they have learned it by testing them on it. But this is precisely the philosophy educational authorities have. Just think about things like assessment by national examining boards, or think about the National Curriculum; these things do reflect behaviourist theories. The National Curriculum tells teachers what they should teach, how they should teach it, and when. It says, "By such-and-such time students should know such and such," and national examining boards, presuming that the National Curriculum has been followed, assume that since students should have been told certain things they should know them, and so tests them on that knowledge. The whole attitude of education authorities is that if someone is told something then they should know it, that given the correct stimulus, a student should respond a certain way.

So what we have here is an education system that operates according to one philosophy, and yet is managed and controlled according to another.

The critics of compulsory state education generally believed that the institution of compulsory education was at odds with how children learn. So obviously they had education theories of their own. There is the belief that that she who learns well is she who desires to learn, that the key to a good education is a desire to learn. From this there is a belief in intrinsic rewards. There is the belief that education doesn't simply happen in schools. There is a stress on diversity of stimuli. There is a stress on the need for students to actively engage in their subjects. But what are the problems with compulsory state education?

The first is the most obvious: That government cannot be trusted with the shaping of people's minds; that, in the hands of the state, education will become a tool to create either obedient servants to the ruling classes, or members of those ruling classes. It is absolutely true that many of the original arguments for state control of education were seeking to strengthen the position of rulers over the ruled. The great Protestant leader, Martin Luther, said that his German rulers should force people to go to school, for

"If the government can compel such citizens as are fit for military service to bear spear and rifle, to mount ramparts, and perform other martial duties in time of war, how much more has it a right to send their children to school, because in this case we are warring with the devil, whose object is to secretly exhaust our cities and principalities…"

In other words, the government should provide compulsory education to teach the students good Lutherite morals, for all else is "the devil." The other great Protestant leader, Calvin, also zealously argued for compulsory education, and so did his followers as they set off to Massachusetts Bay to set up their religious colonies. The first system of compulsory education in the English-speaking world was constructed in 1642 in Massachusetts Bay. The attendance law said,

"For as much as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any commonwealth, and whereas many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty of that kind, it is ordered that the selectmen of every town… shall have a vigilant eye over their neighbours, to see first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavour to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices."

In Colonial days in the US, compulsory, and public, education was used to suppress religious dissent and freedom of conscience. So, for instance, in order to suppress Quakers, Massachusetts and Connecticut forbade Quakers from setting up their own schools. In an attempt to suppress the “New Light” movement in Connecticut, Connecticut passed laws in 1742 forbidding the sect from starting its own schools.

Its also a fact that the British government, in the times of the Empire, used public schooling to separate children of colonies from their own nationality in order to make them subservient to the Empire. This was done principally through the learning of languages. The rebirth of Gaelic Welsh, for instance, was actually an act of civil disobedience: The British government had made speaking Welsh illegal, and by controlling education, was able to enforce this law by preventing people from speaking it.

Even after the war of Independence, primarily those intending to use the power of the state to indoctrinate and instil obedience took up the cause of public education. For instance, in North Carolina, “the father of the public school system,” Archibald D. Murphey, called for state run schools such as follows,

…all the children will be taught in them…. In these schools the precepts of morality and religion should be inculcated, and habits of subordination and obedience be formed…. Their parents know not how to instruct them….The state, in the warmth of her affection and solicitude for their welfare, must take charge of those children, and place them in school where their minds can be enlightened and their hearts can be trained to virtue.

One of contemporary history's greatest critics of the whole system of formal education was Paul Goodman (1911-1971). Paul Goodman picked up on a major theme in critiques of compulsory state education: That education is something more than going to school, that in fact we learn throughout our whole lives. Indeed, the fastest period of learning we actually do is before we are even sent to school! Thus there is a distinction between schooling and education. One study of criticisms of compulsory education said:

"Goodman claims that one's most valuable educational experiences occur outside the school. Participation in the activities of society should be the chief means of learning. Instead of requiring students to succumb to the theoretical drudgery of textbook learning, Goodman recommends that education be transferred into factories, department stores, etc, where the students can actively participate in their education. With an emphasis on voluntary education and intrinsic motivation, it is essential that there be a large variety of educational opportunities."

Goodman, in his book Compulsory Miseducation, begins with an anecdote about a teacher's conference discussing the problem of high school dropouts. The conference discusses poverty and external pressures on children. It talks about propaganda to get the child into school again, such as "no school, no job." However, after a year it became necessary to call another conference, due to the fact that 75% of the dropouts who were cajoled into returning to school dropped out again! They persisted in failing, so the conference discussed changes in curriculum, and learning the life-style of the underprivileged. What was not discussed, however, was the same issue from the other direction: What were the dropouts dropping out from and what were they dropping into? Was the schooling really good for them? Is schooling really the only means to an education? Isn't it unlikely that any single institution can serve the varied needs of every youngster?

In Compulsory Miseducation, Goodman wrote that,

"Education is a natural community function and occurs inevitably, since the young grow up on the old, towards their activities, and into (or against) their institutions; and the old foster, teach, train, exploit and abuse the young. Even neglect, except physical neglect, has an educational effect - not the worst possible."

Goodman relates a story of how a great neurologist told him that the great puzzle isn't how to teach children to read, but why some fail to learn to read. After all, given the exposure to words that the average suburban child gets, Goodman says, "any normal animal should spontaneously catch onto that code." Goodman felt that it was almost demonstrable that this was actually prevented by going to school, because of "the school's alien style, banning of spontaneous interest, extrinsic rewards or punishments." The successful teaching of reading, Goodman says, lies in viewing reading like speaking, with the first words learned being useful, on demand, and practical.

Murray Rothbard echoed Goodman’s points that education is a “community activity” when he wrote,

A crucial fallacy of the middle-class school worshippers is confusion between formal schooling and education in general. Education is a lifelong process of learning, and learning takes place not only in school, but in all areas of life. When the child plays, or listens to parents or friends, or reads a newspaper, or works at a job, he or she is becoming educated. Formal schooling is only a small part of the educational process, and is really only suitable for formal subjects of instruction, particularly in the more advanced and systematic subjects. The elementary subjects, reading, writing, arithmetic and their corollaries, can easily be learned at home and outside the school.

After all, the period of time in which a child learns the fastest is the time before the go to school, when they learn to talk, walk, and all sorts of other things. And this is not simply because of an issue of genetics, of instinctively learning faster at this age. Scandinavian children learn to read much faster than English ones, even though they start school much later.

Also consider learning foreign languages, and how similar it is to learning one’s native language. We spend anything from three to five years in school learning French, and come away with a basic grasp of the rudiments, which are then quickly forgotten. On the other hand, people who go to live, work, or study in France will pick up the language enough to hold a normal conversation easily in a few months to a year – exactly as a child picks up a similar amount of their own language when they are at home faster than a child learning French at school will. Rothbard writes,

Paul Goodman has raised the cry that most children would be far better off if they were allowed to work at an early age, learn a trade, and begin to do that which they are most suited for. America was built by citizens and leaders, many of whom received little or no formal schooling, and the idea that one must have a high-school diploma—or nowadays, an A.B. degree—before he can begin to work and to live in the world is an absurdity of the current age. Abolish compulsory attendance laws and give children their head, and we will return to a nation of people far more productive, interested, creative, and happy. Many thoughtful opponents of the New Left and the youth rebellion have pointed out that much of the discontent of youth and their divorce from reality is due to the ever-longer period in which youth must remain at school, wrapped in a cocoon of dependence and irresponsibility. Well and good, but what is the main reason for this ever-lengthening cocoon? Clearly the whole system, and in particular the compulsory attendance laws, which preach that everyone must go perpetually to school—first to high school, now to college, and soon perhaps for a Ph.D. degree. It is the compulsion toward mass schooling that creates both the discontent and the ever-continuing shelter from the "real world." In no other nation and in no other age has this mania for mass schooling so taken hold…
The relative uselessness of the public school system for training manual labor is demonstrated by the fascinating work of MIND, a private educational service now operated by the Corn Products Refining Company of Greenwich, Connecticut. MIND deliberately chose high-school dropouts who were unskilled for manual jobs, and in a few short weeks, using intensive training and teaching machines, was able to teach these dropouts basic skills and typing, and place them in corporate jobs. Ten years of public schooling had taught these youngsters less than a few weeks of private, job-oriented training! Allowing youngsters to drop out from enforced dependency into becoming independent and self-supporting could only have immeasurable benefits for the youngsters themselves and for the rest of society.

Arthur L. Stinchcombe reiterates this claim:

Is there anything that a high school can teach which employers of manual labor would be willing to pay for, if it were learned well? In general, the answer is no. Neither physical abilities nor reliability, the two main variables of interest in employers of manual labor, are much influenced by schooling. Employers concerned with securing reliable workers may require high school diplomas as evidence of good discipline. Otherwise they can train workers better and cheaper than a high school can, on the job.

Related to this is national education’s lack of diversity. Why assume all children are suited to the same sort of education? State education, however, forces everybody to consume the same type of education. We can relate this to the cognitive learning theory. The cognitive learning theory has to do with how learners gain and organise and retain knowledge, by actively seeking a pattern or structure best suited to them. This is the type of theory I see verified when a student complains that she hadn't understood a teacher's original explanation, so he says "well, look at it like this…" upon which she understands. It is that different people have different ways of organising knowledge and gaining understanding. Why assume only the micro circumstances between individuals in the classroom, though? What about the macro elements? Perhaps whole methods of educating, whole systems might be unsuited to providing the knowledge in the manner that some students are best able to understand it. This is part of what I was talking about earlier, when I spoke about how examination boards and the National Curriculum expect every body to be just as capable of grasping the same information in the same way when its quite possible that they aren't.

One of the earliest critics of compulsory national education was William Godwin (1756-1836). Godwin thought that the teacher's task was to give students the ability to learn. In fact this is a common theme running throughout all the theories of the critics of compulsory education. As he said, "The true object of juvenile education is to provide against the age of five and twenty a mind well regulated, active and prepared to learn." Godwin wrote that

"Nothing can be more happily adapted to remove the difficulties of instruction, than that the pupil should first be excited to desire knowledge, and next that his difficulties should be solved for him, and his path cleared, as often and as soon as he thinks it proper to desire it."

In short, the easiest way to teach someone, and hence the best way of ensure that they learn what is being taught, is that first the student should be interested in the subject - he or she should desire the knowledge, see its value. However, he believed that teachers should try to impress upon their students the desire to learn, and the value of the knowledge that could be obtained. Learning should be done by "intrinsic motivation," by acknowledging the value of the learning. Thus Godwin wrote

"…The idea of national education is founded in an inattention to the nature of mind. Whatever each man does for himself is done well; whatever his neighbours or his country undertake to do for him is done ill. It is our wisdom to incite men to act for themselves, not to retain them in a state of perpetual pupillage. He that learns because he desires to learn will listen to the instructions he receives, and apprehend their meaning. He that teaches because he desires to teach will discharge his occupation with enthusiasm and energy. But the moment political institution undertakes to assign to every man his place, the functions of all will be discharged with supineness and indifference… What I earn, what I acquire only because I desire to acquire it, I estimate at its true value; but what is thrust upon me may make me indolent, but cannot make respectable."

Thus an important condemnation of compulsory national education is that it forces people to learn before they even desire to learn. Another problem with compulsory national education is that which Godwin pointed out: It doesn't ensure intrinsic motivation to learn, but only extrinsic ones - the threat of the policeman to apprehend the truant and the fine on her parents, rather than the love of the subject or the observation of its usefulness.

This naturally means that the subject is not valued: it is not respected. Perhaps connected with this is an observation that Goodman made: Is schooling good for a child, or all children. Isn't it possible that in fact we don't all miraculously become suited to schooling of a certain type, or, indeed, any type at the same age, by some strange coincidence? Some may not even be suited to it at all, whilst others might become better suited to it at a later age.

The result of compulsory education, therefore, may well be to force children into a situation they don't want to be in and see no value in being in. Thus the child will be hostile to experience. Learning will become a chore, something to be hated and avoided, with work disposed of in the quickest manner if it can't be avoided. At the same time the child may well become antagonistic to the teacher, who he blames for forcing him to be there. The end result is obvious: Disruptive children and delinquency. Those that are suited to learning and are eager to learn will be prevented from doing so by the delinquent, who is only there because he is forced to be, and would be better off elsewhere.

As Murray Rothbard wrote,

There is considerable evidence linking compulsory attendance laws with the growing problem of juvenile delinquency, particularly in frustrated older children. Thus, Stinchcombe found that rebellious and delinquent behavior is "largely a reaction to the school itself"; and the British Crowther Committee found that when in 1947 the minimum school-leaving age was raised by the government from fourteen to fifteen, there was an immediate and sharp increase in the delinquencies committed by the newly incarcerated fourteen-year-olds.

This quote is borne out by another from someone definitely of a different ideologically position from Rothbard’s, Colin Ward. Ward wrote,

The most devastating criticism we can make of the organised system is that its effects are profoundly anti-educational. In Britain, at five years old, most children cannot wait to get into school. At fifteen, most cannot wait to get out. On the day I am writing, our biggest-selling newspaper devotes its front page to a photograph of a thirteen-year-old truant, with his comment, “The worse part is I thought I only had another two years to sweat out, then they put the leaving age up to sixteen. That’s when I thought, sod it.”…There has always been a proportion of pupils who attend unwillingly, who resent the authority of the school and its arbitrary regulations, and who put a low value on the processes of education because their own experience tells them that it is an it is an obstacle race in which they are so often the losers that they would be mugs to enter the competition.

This process will clearly also make the teacher's job harder - and that’s even if the children don't become fully-fledged delinquents. This child who is unwilling to learn and hence uninterested in the subject won't want to take any active role in it. At the start of each lesson a teacher would normally introduce the subject and do something to get the students motivated and interested. How much easier would that be if the students were already interested? Students already hostile to the idea of being in the lesson, who may well be determined not to get interested just to spite the authorities that force them to be there - these are the students that will sit silently and not contribute anything, that give you the wall of silence when you ask "any questions" or "what does anybody think about…" it requires so much more effort to teach students in compulsory education than in college or university because the latter chose their subject, they opted to be there and were interested and engaged from the start. Compulsory education simply breeds hostile children, unreceptive to prompts, who have no interest in learning, potentially disruptive. It creates so much more work for the teacher. Indeed, I can illustrate this point with a quote from Albert Einstein:

"One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion has such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year… It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry - especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly."

Einstein, fortunately for us, did return to science. But how many other geniuses have we lost because the state forced them to learn in an environment of coercion and oppression?

Sunday, April 17, 2005


OK, sorry people. I promised to be more diligent about maintaining the blog, and I haven't been here for weeks! Well, first I spent about a week with the folks, then when I got back to Nottingham, I both irreperably damaged my computer (I was trying to make space, deleted files, and, gee, musta needed them, cos it wouldn't come back on!), and lost my central heating as my pilot light went out, and I still haven't been able to relight it. Anyway, I replaced the computer, and spent hundreds of pounds getting reconnected - but then the new coldness in the house contributed to a bout of flu!

But now... IIII'm baaaaack!!!

And right in the middle of a general election! So, what to do? Who to vote for? Well, I can honestly say I don't know. Certainly not Labour. They are disgusting to the extreme! There "Private Finance Initiative" plot to get business to underwrite government failures, with no intention of maintining any long-term provision, has given big business and financiers a vested interest in maintaining big government.

On foreign policy, they first of all got us into a war without any truthful basis. Whatever you feel about how evil Saddam Husein was, and how the Iraqi regime needed to end, that was not the reason we went to war, why people were killed - the reason was the threat of attack on British interests with, and the very existence of "weapons of mass disfunction." These turned out to be weapons of mass deception, as they didn't exist and there was little legal basis for the war at all. On top of this, though, the war, and its context have been used by the labour government to justify the biggest clamp down on civil liberties for ages, with house arrests, trials without juries, imprisonment without trial, withholding evidence from suspects or not telling them the charges.

And then the return of the nanny state - it is a nanny state and a police state in one! Libertarians used to say to drug prohibitionists, "you wanna ban drugs 'cause they are bad for people? Well so are burgers... you wanna ban them?" Well, the Labour party turned round and said "yes"! My god, Macdonalds sell salads and bagels now! Burgers make you fat. They kill you. I know. But you know what? I don't care - Just because it is dangerous doesn't mean I don't get the right to do it! Pay attention: IT'S MY LIFE!!! Like Americans used to say Don't tread on me!

But the tories are no better. How hard is it to keep a hospital clean? Well, actually I imagine it is quite hard. I would be interested to see the comparison between NHS hospitals and private ones for rates of occurenceof MRSA. However, I doubt that Michael Howard could do anything about it. Give Matrons more power, yeah - same as giving head teachers more power to run their schools. Right, decentralise... but in the end, the only way to co-ordinate the actions of thousands of decentralised groupings without recentralising them is through the market mechanism... but no party is going to deliver that kind of reform for the NHS!!!

And then they want to clamp down on Gypsies who have bought their own land, but can't build on it because the council decides what you can do with your property and takes years to decide what it will let you do. Tories championing the cause of councils controling people's property against those who break the state's laws to control what is there own is great! It really lets people know the difference between libertarians and tories.

And then they want to close the borders! "We have too many immigrants!" Yeah? How do you know? Did you go, "three more, two more, one more... right! That's it, we don't need any more"?! Public services can't cope with the numbers? Yeah, that's because they are public services! I don't see Richard Branson saying "Oh, life is terrible - I have too many customers!" On the market, when demand rises, it itself causes an increase in supply because the new demand causes prices to rise or sales to increase, which encourages suppliers. They cheer when they get new business. The state growns! Public resources can't cope with immigrants because they are public! Sure, strict moslems represent a threat to our freedom - but part of what a free society means is that people in it don't have to support a free society. "We want a free society, so you we get to drive you out if you don't think right"? Nonsense! What is needed to protect liberty against the political influences of moslems is a proper constitutional order. And then the tories supported the war, too - seeming to oppose it now to get votes. They ooze creepy opportunism.

And Lib Dem? If Lib Dem were an effective opposition, then we would have the Labour party of both benches! The only good position they have is to oppose the war. They are an old fashioned tax and spend party. That means they think the best way to fight poverty and give people what they want is by reducing the production of things that people want to spend their money on, choosing to spend it on things that people don't want to spend it on, diverting millions of it to various bureacrats, civil servants, lobbyists and special interests on the way, and reducing production of everything over all. They want to change council tax, but do so under the pretense that making it more expensive to earn a high income than a low one is more fair! And they said that the government wasn't doing enough to deal with the obesity crisis. And 14 of their MPs couldn't be bothered to turn up and vote against the Government's bill to put people under house arrest!

UKIP? Well, I spose that withdrawal from the EU would scrap about half the regulations and crap that the British people now work under. But, again, I am suspiscious of their policy on immigration.

Respect? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Commies!

So. Nobody to vote for. Again. All these people earnestly trying to get me interested and excited about who is going to be doin this job that I don't think there is any need for anybody to be doing. I am fairly convinced that all government is unnecessary, so seeing these people bickering and trying to get excited about who gets to be government is just kind of ridiculous to me.

That is not to say that I would definitely not ever vote. I have read manifestos that I would vote for, and know of people I would vote for. If I was an American, I might have voited for Harry Browne. I like his radio shows. On the issues of the morality of voting, I am aware of the argument that it legitimises government, but I don't buy it. Sure, I agree that by virtue of vicarious liability (the same principle upon which we blame Hitler for the extermination of six million Jews, or getaway drivers for robbing a bank, or Charles Manson for murder) voters can be blamed for the actions of the people they voted for. But I don't see entirely why, if I vote for someone to reduce government, I can therefore be said to be endorsing government.

Like Lysander Spooner wrote,

In truth, in the case of individuals their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent. . . . On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he uses the ballot, he may become a master, if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man attempts to take the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot—which is a mere substitute for a bullet—because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. . . .

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot would use it, if they could see any chance of meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented.

I think this is fairly convincing - voting is not necessarily a sign of endorsing the state, it does not legitimate state actions, especially when voters try to do it to reduce state power. As Murray Rothbard concluded, based on Spooner's quote,

Many anarchist libertarians claim it immoral to vote or to engage in political action–the argument being that by participating in this way in State activity, the libertarian places his moral imprimatur upon the State apparatus itself. But a moral decision must be a free decision, and the State has placed individuals in society in an unfree environment, in a general matrix of coercion. The State—unfortunately—exists, and people must necessarily begin with this matrix to try to remedy their condition. As Lysander Spooner pointed out, in an environment of State coercion, voting does not imply voluntary consent.3 Indeed, if the State allows us a periodic choice of rulers, limited though that choice may be, it surely cannot be considered immoral to make use of that limited choice to try to reduce or get rid of State power.

So, I disagree that voting is immoral - though going around saying "politicians can't be trusted to protect our freedom, so vote for us and we'll give your liberty back" is kind of a contradiction to.

Here's my plan: I built a questionaire against which I can test politicians. It is based on the famous test from the Advocates for Self-Government, but fleshed out, and given more range for agreement or disagreement with the issues. As with their test, it is divided into "social issues" and "economic issues". When politicians or their representatives come canvasing, dig it out and test them on it. Go for the party that scores closest to the libertarian corner on the chart at the bootom:

Personal Issues

Score your response to each statement according to how much you agree with it – e.g. 5 for strongly agree, 0 for strongly disagree.

1) People should be allowed to follow their own religions in peace and privacy

2) Contraception and fertility are entirely a matter for the individual. Women should be allowed contraception and abortions

3) Voluntary euthanasia should be legal

4) Government should not censor speech, press, media or Internet

5) People should be able to discriminate on whatever basis they like, so long as they don’t harm person or property

6) Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft or conscription of people or their resources

7) There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults

8) Drugs should be legal. Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs

9) People should be allowed to eat junk food, even if it makes them unhealthily fat, or obese.

10) Government shouldn’t stop people choosing to smoke, eat, drink, or inject whatever they like on the property of someone willing to allow them to do so

11) Crimes should be seen only as offences against individuals, and not against “society” or any social institution

12) There should be no restriction on people’s ability to purchase and own any kind of weapon.

13) The government should only wage war or intervene overseas in order to protect the British people from invasion by a more despotic or tyrannical regime

14) There should be no National ID card

15) All immigration controls should be abolished and replaced with private property controls on entry.

Find your average score for personal issues by adding each of your scores together and then dividing the total by the number of question, i.e. 15. You may need a calculator. Then multiply the total by twenty.

Economic Issues

Score your response to each statement according to how much you agree with it – e.g. 5 for strongly agree, 0 for strongly disagree.

1) The state should stop using taxes to fund sports, arts and culture

2) The state should not restrict people’s ability to sell or buy drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or fattening foods

3) The state should stop using taxes to subsidise industry. End "corporate welfare." No government handouts to business

4) There should be no prohibition on the sale of sexual services by adults

5) End government barriers to international free trade

6) There should be no state ownership or direction of general commercial activity

7) There should be no state ownership or direction of utilities or transport

8) There should be no state ownership or direction of the media

9) There should be no state ownership or direction of the production of money, finance, banking etc.

10) There should be no state-mandated wage or price levels.

11) There should be no state funded foreign aid

12) People should acquire education on the market or through private charity or mutual aid associations and co-operatives

13) Let people control their own retirement; scrap the state pension

14) Replace government welfare with private insurance, private charity and mutual aid associations or co-operatives.

15) Roads and streets should be privately owned and regulated

16) Environmental problems should be dealt with by allowing and enforcing private property
17) Taxation is theft: Abolish it. Anybody who thinks that the government should have greater revenue should be free to donate as much as they want to it.

18) The governments monopoly on the law, its enforcement and adjudication should be ended and opened up to competition.

Find your average score for Economic issues by adding each of your scores together and then dividing the total by the number of question, i.e. 18. You may need a calculator. Then multiply the total by twenty.

Cross reference your economic score and your personal score on the chart below to find your political position.

Since in reality issues cannot be cut between social and economic issues so clearly (is prostitution an issue of economic liberty or of personal liberty? Is immigration or emigration ton find work a personal or economic issue?), try simply asking whether your position is more or less authoritarian, or more or less libertarian. To do this, add your average scores together. The higher the total, the more libertarian you are. The lower it is, the more authoritarian.

So try this test with your candidates for government.

... Or on the other hand, just vote for your best friend!