Forbidding Badness = Coercing Goodness

October 25, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 4:48 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices

In a recent post I pointed out that our scriptures unequivocally command us to “spread the wealth”. That commandment is an undeniable fact when it comes to us as individuals. The question is whether government programs designed to spread the wealth are a good idea or not. I don’t claim to have the definitive answer to that question but the argument many participants in that discussion gave against such government programs is clearly bogus. Here it is:

Argument: “Any law that compels or coerces people to do good acts is Satanic”

The second half of this argument is that laws that forbid or prevent or punish doing morally bad acts are hunky dory.

The reason this argument is bogus is that refraining from morally bad acts is a moral good so laws that forbid bad acts also compel good acts. Here is the formulation:

Coercing (A) requires forbidding (Not A)
Forbidding (A) requires coercing (Not A)

Here are some examples using existing or potential laws:

(1)
Compelling (minimal honesty) requires forbidding (dishonesty, including theft, larceny, etc.)
Forbidding (dishonesty, including theft, larceny, etc.) requires compelling (minimal honesty)

(2)
Compelling (pregnant women to carry babies to full term if possible) requires forbidding (abortions)
Forbidding (abortions) requires compelling (pregnant women to carry babies to full term if possible)

(3)
Compelling (sharing money with the poor) requires forbidding (not helping the poor)
Forbidding (not helping the poor) requires compelling (sharing money with the poor)

Now of course (1) is currently a law in the U.S., (2) is not, and (3) is probably partially in place based on our current tax codes. The point is that none if these are “Satan’s plan”. In a democracy like ours these three could all be voted into laws or all be voted out as laws. I don’t think anyone argues against (1) but I do notice that most politically conservative people who might call (3) Satan’s plan don’t think that (2) is Satan’s plan even though the compel/forbid formulation matches.

There are surely good arguments against taxpayer funded social programs but this “Any law that compels or coerces people to do morally good acts is Satanic” is not one of them.

66 Comments »

  1. Thanks for this explanation, Geoff. Good food for though since I read this after walking for Yes on Prop 8 for the last 8 hours.

    Comment by DCL — October 25, 2008 @ 5:56 pm

  2. Geoff J,

    Example (1) doesn’t work because honesty is a character trait that doesn’t generally require any actual activity. A potted plant is honest, as far as the law is concerned.

    Example (2) doesn’t work well either because the government does not compel women to get pregnant. The requirement to actually care for an unborn child is easily avoided by not bearing one in the first place. Daily breath does not require pregnancy.

    Finally, example (3) is dubious due to the use of the word “not”. Suppose the government said “Citizens shall not not help the poor”. That is ridiculous. The law would say “Citizens shall help the poor (by doing the following…)”.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 25, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

  3. Mark,

    That was a remarkably weak response for you mate. You not liking the logic does not mean the logic isn’t sound.

    A potted plant is honest, as far as the law is concerned.

    Great. Then the potted plant won’t break any larceny laws. What’s your point?

    the government does not compel women to get pregnant

    This is entirely beside the point so why bring it up? I added the word “pregnant” to the post if that makes you feel better.

    (3) is dubious due to the use of the word “not”

    Was your response to this one even English? I can’t figure what it has to do with what I wrote.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

  4. Laws that forbid bad acts do not compel good acts.

    Forbidding stealing does not increase giving. Further, forbidding stealing doesn’t even stop stealing. It may deter it, but mostly it just establishes a negative consequence, so people who would steal are not abstaining from stealing out of any sort of moral good, but out of fear of being caught. Thus in such a moral play, the ultimate crime becomes being caught red handed, rather than having done something wrong.

    In any case asking for more tax money isn’t compelling people to good acts. It’s just taking money.

    Comment by Matt W. — October 25, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  5. Geoff J.
    I’m not following this: “…laws that forbid bad acts also compel good acts.

    For example, 1) I think we agree that “Thou shalt not steal” forbids a bad act? 2) I think what you’re saying is that “not stealing is a moral good,” with which, BTW, I agree. But is a moral good the same thing as a “morally good act?” 3) If so, what “good acts” are compeled by a law forbidding stealing?

    Comment by mondo cool — October 25, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  6. And again: “Forbidding (not helping the poor) requires compelling (sharing money with the poor).”

    Well, I’m poor. And, since in your world it is forbidden for me to not help the poor, them I’m compelled to share my money with them. Except that I cannot (because I am poor). Which makes me guilty of breaking the law where you live. Which means I gotta move because I don’t think it is criminal to be poor.

    Comment by mondo cool — October 25, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

  7. Unless, of course, where you live, you want the law to apply not to every one but only to those you decide they apply to. Then, I think I’ll still move because that is inequality – something I know you hate.

    Comment by mondo cool — October 25, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

  8. Matt — Your comment is almost indecipherable. Plus it addressed issues I never brought up. I never said forbidding stealing increases giving. Did you read the post? I also brought up punishment in the post. Obviously people are free to break any law; they just aren’t free to choose the consequences. Further, good acts need not be motivated by good intentions. We are not discussing intentions in this post at all. For instance, laws forbidding rape surely reduce the number of rapes in the U.S. That is a good. It doesn’t change the thoughts or desires of potential rapists but is might affect their acts. All we are talking about here are acts.

    As they said in Star Wars “stay on target… Stay On Target!”

    Mondo (#5) — Good questions.

    But is a moral good the same thing as a “morally good act?”

    Not necessarily. The point is that all laws in one way or another compel either (A) or (Not A).

    If so, what “good acts” are compeled by a law forbidding stealing?

    The good act is not stealing. We agree refraining from stealing is a good act right?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

  9. Mondo (#6): in your world it is forbidden for me to not help the poor

    And you started off so well with your first comment. In this comment… not so much… Did you bother to read my post? If so try reading it again. I specifically said that in both of our worlds:

    (3) is probably partially in place based on our current tax codes.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  10. I see a lot of holes in your 3 examples I can forbid my kids to do something but to coerce I need to do a lot more.

    Your idea that passing laws to create a better society is not satanic is very valid. BofM, the Bible, and our FP have all instructed us to be active in government and if every law the government passes is Satanic then….

    I think you can see where that goes. The BofM is vague on how the poor were taken care of but I’ll bet it was a government program of some sort.

    Comment by Harold — October 25, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

  11. Harold,

    I am only using the word “coercion” in the way the critics I am responding to have used it. For instance they describe tax laws as coercive because one is punished by law for not following such laws. I know — it is a liberal use of the word, but I wanted to stay on the same page with them for this response.

    I agree with your overall comment though.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2008 @ 10:05 pm

  12. Geoff in #8: The “act” is not stealing?

    I always understood “act” as anything done, being done, or to be done (from the dictionary). You and I obviously have a different cosmological outlook if something not done is an “act.”

    Or maybe, you think that we humans are sorely tempted to steal and by not giving in to that temptation we are “acting?”

    When I see my neighbor’s football out in the street, I am not tempted to steal it. So, I have done some good “act” because I didn’t steal it?

    My other neighbor’s wife is a nice person, but unfortunately very ugly. Because I don’t lust after her, I’ve done some good “act?”

    I gotta say, I like your accounting system!

    Comment by mondo cool — October 25, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  13. Mondo: The “act” is not stealing?

    Yup. It’s an act you hopefully repeat from moment to moment. You have free will so you could always act otherwise of course.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2008 @ 10:34 pm

  14. Sorry, I have to go to sleep. If I may, I’ll leave you with Frederic Bastiat. (Long, but worth it.)

    [Edited. It was not worth it and not on topic. Sorry Mondo — No threadjacks.]

    Comment by mondo cool — October 25, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

  15. “Compelling (A) requires forbidding (Not A)”

    True. However such a law would always be written in the form of “You must A”. “Forbidding (Not A)” is a double negative. As I said, a formulation such as “You are forbidden to not pay your taxes” is ridiculous. A law in this form is a compulsory law.

    “Forbidding (A) requires compelling (Not A)”

    True. However, such a law would always be written in the form of “You must not A”. This is a prohibitive law.

    The reason why the distinction is unavoidable is because given any action A, “not A” is not an action. Compelling a non-action is not a compulsory law, it is a prohibitive law. Likewise forbidding a non-action is not a prohibitive law, it is a compulsory law.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 12:03 am

  16. in re #14.
    Yeah. My bad. It was too late for me. I meant that to go on “The commandment to spread…” mea culpa. mea culpa.

    Comment by mondo cool — October 26, 2008 @ 5:30 am

  17. OK, let’s look at the real distinctions and get beyond Geoff’s false dichotomies. First, the question is not whether laws can coerce — they can. However, laws can also make matters permissive, such as laws that provide for free speech. The law provides that I must be left alone to speak my mind in the proper circumstances.

    Second, the real issue is whether the scriptures that United Order is a basis for laws that coerce folks to give their money to others. Note first that the United Order isn’t a law. That is a huge difference. It is an agreement — a covenant. Contract law works very differently than civil laws passed to enforce or permit certain types of actions. Contracts are left to the freedom of two parties to agree upon and the government will enforce contracts as agreed. However, one of the greatest aspects of the Enlgish-American system is that contracts will not be specifically enforced unless the subject of the contract deals with a unique item like land. If I breach the contract, I can either pay damages or perform the contract — my choice.

    More importantly there is always a third option — I can choose not to enter into the agreement. None of these options are available with respect to taxes and “spreading the wealth” as Geoff insists these scriptures support. I have a choice to be in covenant relationship with you or not. I have no such choice without leaving hearth and home for another country if the government levies taxes.

    Further, in the United Order the poor pay just as much, the same percentage, as the rich: everything they have to be redistributed according to both need and ability to produce. In taxation, the poor get money paid to them and the productive (not the rich since what is taxed isn’t wealthy but production of wealth) pay the money to be redistributed to them.

    The old political gimmick of class warfare where the poor decide that they take from the rich because they outnumber them is not what the scriptures are talking about in the least.

    So Geoff just has the wrong set of laws in mind regarding comparing the United Order to the Obama-nation. The United Order is governed by the voluntary nature of contract law. Tax laws are governed by the coercive nature of criminal laws. Comparing them is like suggesting that the Saints freely chose to get mobbed because that came with being Mormon and if they just could have gotten more Mormons than mob members then the Mormons could have mobbed the mobbers instead.

    To truly be like the United Order, to really mirror in government what the revelations about the United Order say, we should have the poor pay just as much percentage in taxes as the rich because they have just as sacred a duty to give of their wealth as the rich. That certainly isn’t the class warfare suggested for the Obama-nation.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  18. …the Enlgish-American system…. The United Order is governed by the voluntary nature of contract law. Tax laws are governed by the coercive nature of criminal laws.

    So God’s preferred system on earth is like Anglo-American common law where power is concentrated in the hands of small, unelected panels of judges rather than statutory or regulatory law that enjoys the blessing of the people’s representatives? I can get behind this, but I can also see where it might lead to problems in, say, certain jurisdictions in the Western United States.

    Comment by Peter LLC — October 26, 2008 @ 9:21 am

  19. Peter LLC,

    The way judges enforce contracts is based on long standing common law and is further subject to legislative regulation. Significant problems with the way they enforce them (or refuse to enforce them) are relatively rare. When was the last time you saw the Supreme Court refuse to enforce a contract on the basis of some principle it devised on the spot?

    The problem with the federal courts lies in the way they read unwritten preferences into the Constitution. The only reason why that is a serious problem is because the text of the Constitution is so hard to amend, so the common law interpretation devised by the courts tends to overwhelm the literal construction of the text itself.

    This is not nearly as serious a problem with the constitution of California and several other Western states, because in those states the constitutions are relatively easy to amend by initiative or legislative/initiative processes. If Prop 8 does not pass, the people of California will effectively give ex post facto legitimacy to the actions of the California Supreme Court.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 10:17 am

  20. Blake: Second, the real issue is whether the scriptures that United Order is a basis for laws that coerce folks to give their money to others.

    No, that is not the issue in this specific post at all. As I asked others earlier — did you even bother to read my post? Here let me help you our with a few highlights from the post itself:

    The question is whether government programs designed to spread the wealth are a good idea or not. I don’t claim to have the definitive answer to that question

    Here is what this post is about:

    There are surely good arguments against taxpayer funded social programs but this “Any law that compels or coerces people to do morally good acts is Satanic” is not one of them.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 11:53 am

  21. Blake: To truly be like the United Order, to really mirror in government what the revelations about the United Order say, we should have the poor pay just as much percentage in taxes as the rich because they have just as sacred a duty to give of their wealth as the rich.

    Hehe. I never thought I’d see you push for a 100% taxation policy in our government… (That is the “tax” rate in the United Order after all)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 11:55 am

  22. Matt, For what it’s worth, I followed your #4 just fine and agree with your point.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 26, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  23. I basically agreed with his points too Jacob. But they were sort of non sequiturs. He was responding to points I never made. Or he was defining words like “compel” differently than had been established in this discussion (see #11). Unfortunately he was not the last person in this thread to do that.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  24. Geoff,

    First, I read your post, just to get that out of the way. If I understand your point, it is that there really is no difference between compulsion and prohibition, as evidenced by the fact that you can represent any prohibition as a compulsion to not do the prohibited thing.

    I don’t think that argument holds up. On one level, I just want to counter your argument by pointing out that the difference is obvious and you know it, so stop being obtuse, but I’ll try to refrain. Let’s consider a few laws we could pass relative to your money. We could pass:

    a. A law that you cannot spend your money on bribes.

    b. A law that you cannot spend your money on nuclear arms.

    c. A law that you cannot spend your money on a giant disk to block out the sun.

    d. A law that you must spend your money on a hybrid car.

    e. A law that you must spend your money on twinkies.

    f. A law that you must spend your money on a nuclear power plant.

    Obviously, the first three (a.b.c.) tell you things that you are not allowed to spend money on, and the last three (d.e.f.) tell you things that you must spend money on. I realize that linguistically, I can replace “must” with “cannot not,” but I don’t agree with you that this proves there is no meaningful distinction between a.b.c. and d.e.f. Rather, the distinction seems quite clear and obvious. Keep in mind that we pass both kinds of laws and I am not saying one is “good” while the other is “bad.” I am simply saying that they are clearly different, contra the thrust of your post.

    Firstly, the impact to my life of laws like a.b.c. is noticeably different than the impact of laws like d.e.f. Laws a.b.c. only affect me to if I wanted to spend my money on one of the prohibited things. As a practical matter, this means they will only affect a portion of the community. In a similar fashion, we can say that d.e.f. only affect me if I was not already going to spend money on the things mandated, but again, as a practical matter, this will turn out to have a different affect than the laws prohibiting certain kinds of spending.

    Secondly, the justifications for writing laws like a.b.c. will clearly be different than the justfications for writing laws like d.e.f. For example, we can see that good laws in the a.b.c. category will prohibit you from spending money in ways that negatively affect other people in a direct way. However, laws like d.e.f. will need to be justified by showing that the thing you are being compelled to spend money on is of overriding benefit to yourself or the community, so much so that you should not be given a choice about how to spend that portion of your money. Banning things which negatively affect other people is inherently different than forcing you to do things for other people’s benefit because these justifications rest on different intuitions which have very different levels of agreement in the population.

    Most people can agree that we are justified in prohibiting things which have direct negative impact on your neighbor. Getting the same level of consensus about our being justified to compel people to do things that are perceived to be good for the community is much harder. Once again, this shows that the distinction between prohibition and compulsion is a real one and not a false one as you are suggesting.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 26, 2008 @ 1:41 pm

  25. I was going to illustrate that last point with the Twinkie law. We can imagine a law that bans Twinkies and compare it to a law that compels the eating of Twinkies. The prohibitive law would have to be based on Twinkies being dangerous in some way while the compulsory law would have to be based on some benefit of eating Twinkies.

    Now, I expect you’ll go back to your linguistic argument that I can take a law compelling the eating of Twinkies and phrase it as a prohibition against NOT eating Twinkies. However, this is truly just a linguistic game that doesn’t change the analysis above. Justifying a prohibition against NOT eating Twinkies (i.e. a compulsory law) would still have to be justified in the same way that a law compelling Twinkie eating would be justified, which means that your linguistic sleight of hand has no cash value. The two things are different and remain so even when you make one look like the other by use of a double negative.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 26, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  26. So what is the united order compared to the Ranch in Texas? You know where polygamists live. If the united order was so perfect why did it fail so quickly. It relied too heavily on the fairness of local church leadership. Local leaders were unable to separate friendships and need They failed to treat people the way they wanted and eventually people wanted out. We are so ingrained with work hard and succeed that work hard and get by is not a functioning system that most of us would sign up for willingly.

    Today’s Church welfare is a good example of the United Order failure. I live in one ward I get help I live in a different ward I may not. I have moved around quite a bit and every Bishop handles things very differently.

    I think the United Order is very similar to government welfare in the ways it fails. If you don’t pay taxes you go to jail in the Church system if you won’t work when and where you are told you don’t eat. The only real advantage the church system does work if they do get good inspired leaders which from what I have seen is real hit and miss. Also in europe the citizen have the charity needed to make their system work. They are proud of the fact that their nieghbors aren’t going hungry and that their friends and family will not be homeless becausw of medicall bills.

    Bottom line is all systems rely on a certain amount of integrity and only fail when that isn’t there. I doubt anybody that cheats or trys to avoid taxes by finding as many loopholes as possible could live in a United Order. I doubt I could.

    Comment by Harold — October 26, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  27. I doubt anybody that cheats or trys to avoid taxes by finding as many loopholes as possible could live in a United Order.

    If tax evasion is due to a perceived legitimacy gap, and the United Order somehow fills that, I could imagine a world where someone would evade taxes but be happy to give her all to the community.

    Comment by Peter LLC — October 26, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  28. Geoff: Did you just miss the entire point of my argument or what? Yeah, I read your post. It as about false dichotomies. I showed that by suggesting that what is at issue in the scriptures is not a coercive system backed by criminal law enforcement but a system backed more by contractual agreements. Perhaps you didn’t know that the Church set up its own court system with judges in Zion (the Presiding Bishop) to resolve any disputes regarding the contracts that had been entered. In fact, when ex-members withdrew and wanted their money back (a breach of covenant) the secular courts refused to enforce covenants made by Church members (tho they had the same status secularly as contracts).

    So your entire post is based on false dichotomies because it fails to recognized a tertium quid: the possibility of laws that enforce voluntary contracts and give options about whether the contract is performed or damages are paid or whether the contract will be supported by consideration. So my post was not off-topic. In fact, it was entirely on-topic about how your entire post misses its own point — respectfully suggested of course because you are my friend even if your thinking about the proper role of government is all screwed up as I see it.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  29. Jacob,

    I think your main point is that the more specific (A) is the more broad (Not A) must necessarily be. That is obviously true. And in practice that makes a big difference in what sort of laws that would be passed in a democracy.

    But remember that the point I am arguing against was the claim that any law that compels good behavior is Satan’s plan. That claim is dramatically overstating the truth for the reasons I pointed out. Yet all kinds of people were falling back on it in that other thread as if it somehow worked like a charm.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  30. Blake: I read your post. It as about false dichotomies.

    Oh really? Here is the dichotomy I offered:

    Compelling (A) requires forbidding (Not A)
    Forbidding (A) requires compelling (Not A)

    How is that a false dichotomy?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

  31. But remember that the point I am arguing against was the claim that any law that compels good behavior is Satan’s plan.

    Yes, that argument is such a dumb one that I was surprised when you centered a whole post on it. And yet, your refutation of that argument is based almost entirely on your argument that there is no substantive distinction between compulsory and prohibitive laws. So, while I agree with your conclusion regarding the argument in the post (the bolded one), I don’t agree with how you get to your conclusion.

    I think your main point is that the more specific (A) is the more broad (Not A) must necessarily be.

    Actually, this is not quite my main point. My #25 makes it relatively succinctly. My point is that although you can say that “Compelling (A) requires forbidding (Not A),” in reality this seeming linguistic equivalence turns out to be a sleight of hand. Ultimately, forbidding and compelling really are different and require different justifications when codified in the law.

    Comment by Jacob J — October 26, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  32. Peter,

    We all look for a better world.

    For those that think it is Satanic to have the government compelling wealth redistribution. Since the church does not take care of the poor and since no other church or charity is either what is it you think should happen?

    I would also argue since we keep electing the same Republican and Democrat party members into office it is a voluntary selected system. We may not want all of the details as to how it is administered but we do re-elect or replace them with a personfrom the same two parties. The two party system requires that the members of each support the leadership of each.

    Comment by Harold — October 26, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  33. Geoff J,

    If, as you say, there is no difference between “action” and “inaction”, how is it possible that the term “action” means anything at all?

    You are basically asserting that X = not X. There are only three ways that can be true. Either X is a meaningless concept, “not” is a meaningless qualifier, or law of non-contradiction is false (in which case all communication is meaningless).

    Are there any other alternatives?

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

  34. Geoff: Just as I said, you provide a bunch of false dichotomies. If you compel A by force of law, you don’t necessarily “forbid” not-A. First of all, the law doesn’t compel me to pay taxes. It gives me the choice of either paying taxes or going to jail. There is never compulsion to do an act A, there is always the coercion of doing either A or facing consequence B. So your assessment of the coercive force of law is false.

    It isn’t even true semantically that if I compel you to A, that I forbid not-A. For instance, I can compel you to park in parking provided without forbidding you to not park in A. You could stay home.

    The formula: forbidding A requires compelling not-A is also false. If I forbid you to enter my house, it doesn’t follow that I compel you to not enter my house. All I have done is lay down a rule; it hasn’t set up any kind of compulsion. Nor does it follow that if I forbid you to leave the house that I compel you to stay home. You could always disobey.

    So Jacob is right about his semantic point.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

  35. Jacob: Yes, that argument is such a dumb one that I was surprised when you centered a whole post on it.

    Hehe. Amen bro. It is a moronic argument. I decided to post on it for two reasons:

    1. Non-morons like Mark D. and Blake seemed to be at least implicitly invoking it with the cries of “coercion=awfulness”.

    2. This ludicrous argument is a meme that has somehow gained a lot of traction in Mormon circles so I figured it would be easier and cleaner to just link to a separate post the next time I see that retarded argument than to comment 200 and something in a long thread.

    “Compelling (A) requires forbidding (Not A),” in reality this seeming linguistic equivalence turns out to be a sleight of hand

    Perhaps. But if we agree that the “coercive laws=bad; prohibitive laws=hunky dory” meme is rubbish then the possibility that my argument might be linguistic sleight of hand is moot.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  36. Mark: If, as you say, there is no difference between “action” and “inaction”

    I never said this. You did.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

  37. Blake (#34),

    I’m trying to figure out if you have flip-flopped or if you are introducing a definitional nuance that I have so far ignored.

    In this discussion I have been using the terms “coerce” and “compel” interchangeably. In #34 you imply that laws can’t compel any action (a point others have made here). Yet in #17 you said:

    First, the question is not whether laws can coerce — they can.

    So which is it? Are you treating coercion and compulsion as completely different things or have you changed your mind?

    I’m ok either way. If it is the former I’ll just reformulate the argument to say:

    Coercing (A) requires forbidding (Not A)
    Forbidding (A) requires coercing (Not A)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 5:54 pm

  38. Geoff J.

    Here you are asserting that non-stealing is an action:

    Mondo: The “act” is not stealing?

    Yup. It’s an act you hopefully repeat from moment to moment. You have free will so you could always act otherwise of course.

    If non-stealing is an action, than what pray tell is “inaction”?

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 6:35 pm

  39. Geoff,

    Isn’t it necessary to qualify terms like force and coercion in the context of comparing to Satan’s plan? Perhaps this comparison amounts to hyperbole. But with all the coercive methods I can think of, the coerced one still almost invariably still retains his agency. The coercive force consists in making other choices than the favored one unpleasant or unattractive.

    I think Satan’s plan was to eliminate our agency — not just compromise it.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — October 26, 2008 @ 6:35 pm

  40. Geoff J,

    Here is a proof by contradiction:

    Premise A: Stealing is an action
    Premise B: Non-stealing is an action

    If “non-stealing” is an “action”, then surely “non-non-stealing” must be “inaction”. That implies that “stealing” is “inaction”. However, one of the premises is that stealing is an “action”.

    Therefore “action” = “inaction”. That violates the law of non-contradiction. Therefore premises A and B cannot be jointly true. QED.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

  41. Mark: then surely “non-non-stealing” must be “inaction”

    I reject this premise. As long as we are conscious and able to freely act there is never true “inaction” in the context we are discussing. We are always doing and thinking one thing or another after all, even if it is zoning out.

    Cobabe: I think Satan’s plan was to eliminate our agency — not just compromise it.

    Exactly. That is why this too often repeated meme is so stupid.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  42. Geoff: You’re missing the point. In contract law, forbidding A does not entail coercing not-A. There are all kinds of kinds of remedies available for breach of contract and none of them entail enforcing performance of the contract. Compelling a remedy may mean paying a price, restoring an amount, forgoing payment, being estopped from making certain claims etc. Since your supposed dichotomies are non-exhaustive, they are false dichotomies.

    Comment by Blake — October 26, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  43. Geoff J,

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines “inaction” as “lack or absence of action”.

    If “action” entails anything that there can be a lack or absence of, then any law may be classified as compulsory or prohibitive by identifying the states of being it refers to and classifying the state that represents the greatest willing departure from physical equilibrium as “action”, and the other state of being as relative “inaction”.

    That is a technical definition that I claim will accurately identify the two possibilities contemplated by any law into “action” and relative “inaction”, and thus further allow the law to be classified as compulsory or prohibitive.

    In order to defeat my argument, you must demonstrate that not only is this definition specious or unreliable, but that any definition that classifies legally relevant behavior into action and relative inaction is likewise specious or unreliable.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

  44. By the way, “Any law that compels or coerces people to do good acts is Satanic” is an extreme position that few if any people hold.

    The conservative position is “limited government”, oft expressed in terms of the belief that government is a necessary evil that we shouldn’t have more of than public order and safety require. That generally means courts, police, military, and so on. No earthly government – not even an extremely limited government – has ever survived over the long haul on voluntary contributions. No civilization has long survived in the absence of government either.

    If there is anyone on this thread making the argument that all compulsory laws are evil I haven’t heard it. I don’t believe it. I am pretty sure that Blake doesn’t believe it. Anyone out there who believes that all compulsory laws are evil?

    Comment by Mark D. — October 26, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  45. Blake — Since when were we talking about contract law? My examples in the post aren’t contract law examples. You are right, I don’t get the point you are trying to make here or how it relates to this thread.

    Mark: defines “inaction” as “lack or absence of action”

    Fine. My point is that you created a false dichotomy. For conscious people who are able to freely act the alternative to any given act is not complete and total inaction. Rather the alternative is other acts.

    “Any law that compels or coerces people to do good acts is Satanic” is an extreme position that few if any people hold

    Thankfully so. Yet its little brother, the “coercive laws are wrong” argument gets trotted out whenever the subject of funding more social programs is discussed.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

  46. Geoff J,

    Virtually nobody believes that “(all) compulsory laws are wrong” either. What people do believe is the the number of laws and the burden they create should be minimized, and that compulsory laws generally have a much higher compliance burden than prohibitive laws, and are generally speaking worse by that measure.

    In addition, the contention that “inaction” is an “act” is a distraction. The dictionary defines “inaction” as the “lack or absence of action”.

    By that standard, distinguishing the two possibilities that any law contemplates into “action” and “inaction” is trivial. Stealing is “action”, not stealing is “inaction”. Paying your taxes is “action”, not paying your taxes is “inaction”.

    If the law requires an “action” by that standard, it is a compulsory law. If a law requires “inaction” by that standard it is a prohibitive law. Unless you provide an argument that it is generally impossible to classify the alternatives as “action” and “inaction” by that standard, the distinction between prohibitive and compulsory law stands.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 27, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  47. Mark: Virtually nobody believes that “(all) compulsory laws are wrong” either

    Look, in the original post I pointed to the fact that our scriptures indicate that spreading the wealth is an end desired by God. The question on the table is whether taxpayer-funded social programs are a viable means to that end. All kinds of people came rushing in screaming “absolutely not because even though a more economically egalitarian society is desirable to God using taxes to get there is coercive and therefore it is Satan’s plan”. I countered and said, “how are you people not hypocrites when all laws promoting desirable outcomes are to one degree or another coercive?” The comeback was “No No! Prohibitive laws are hunky dory, it is only the coercive laws that are evil”.

    And thus this post was born. You were among the people who were making such claims.

    the contention that “inaction” is an “act” is a distraction.

    I agree. Why do you keep harping on it?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2008 @ 10:28 am

  48. My question is why it is an either-or proposition.

    Do we in the LDS church not look at things in a “good, better, best” or “telestial, terrestrial, celestial” way?

    As Jim C noted, Satan wanted to eliminate choice/agency, not just mollify it.

    We live in a telestial world. Most telestial people are not ready, IMO, to live a celestial law, where everyone automatically lives perfectly and redistributes out of their own pocket. Last I looked, Mormons aren’t (as a people)living the law of consecration and United Order, so this extends even into our realm. Tithing is a terrestrial law. We are compelled to pay tithes, if we desire full membership in the Church (temple worthy, etc). That is, in essence, a form of coercion.

    In compelling obedience to tithes (redistribution) of wealth in order to help the poor of the Church, are we doing anything extremely different than taxation in government? What will we say when the bishop calls in all our property for redistribution?

    Are there ways to ensure that taxes go for the “better, best” stuff, rather than just throwing good money at bridges to nowhere? I would hope so. But that is another thread….

    Comment by Rameumptom — October 27, 2008 @ 11:26 am

  49. First there is the concern for tyranny. Perhaps for some sins of inaction, such as failing to provide for the poor, we could somehow justify using the government to enforce that moral obligation. But in order to do so we would risk making our government too strong to prevent the abuse of its power to our detriment. While the need to keep an ordered, safe society requires some moral regulation by government, the prudent need to prevent tyranny overrules the need to regulate certain moral issues.

    Then there is also the issue of virtue. Forcing the rich to give to the poor may help alleviate poverty, but it does not make the rich more charitable and virtuous. As the Book of Mormon says, a gift given grudgingly is not counted as righteousness to the giver. A rich man forced to give to the poor is not acting morally. It is only when he gives of his own volition that it is a righteous act.

    On the other side, President Benson taught that while the pride of looking down at others is serious a problem, a more common kind of pride, and equally bad, is that of the lower looking up and seeking to tear down. Is it righteous of the poor to pridefully seek to tear down the rich because they are above them? Is it righteous for the poor to gang up and steal a rich man’s property either literally, or by using the government as a proxy? Tyranny by the majority (pure democracy) can be just as immoral as tyranny by the few (aristocracy).

    So not only does the government forced redistribution of wealth fail to make the rich more virtuous, it also fails to make the poor more virtuous, even if it does help pay their bills. In fact, it might make the poor less virtuous because it allows them to use the force of democracy to satisfy unrighteous pride.

    Is God’s objective the alleviation of pain and suffering? Or is it to produce righteousness, godliness, and the resulting joy? The gospel teaches us the latter. So, while it may appropriate to punish wickedness for the good of society, righteousness can never be achieved by force of government.

    That is why socialism is like Satan’s plan.
    Forcing the redistribution of wealth has a form of godliness, but denies the power of true virtue. It feeds the poor but does not produce righteousness.

    Comment by J. Max Wilson — October 27, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  50. I love it. Thanks for stopping by J Max. You provide just the argument I was referring to in this post.

    Here is your problem though — based on your logic, anti-abortion laws (along with most every other law on earth) are in fact like Satan’s plan. Here is your last sentence replacing wealth redistribution with abortion:

    Forcing pregnant women to carry babies to full term has a form of godliness, but denies the power of true virtue. It gives us more living babies but does not produce righteousness.

    So how about it? Are you going to be consistent in your “we shouldn’t coerce virtue” argument and come out as a pro-choice advocate?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

  51. Geoff,

    I didn’t say “we shouldn’t coerce virtue.” I said we _cannot_ achieve virtue by force. It is an impossibility. Forced virtue ceases to be virtue.

    However, I see what you are saying and you have made a fair point.

    You think that consistency requires that if I say that the government should not force the rich to give to the poor, then I should have to also say that it should not punish women who kill their unborn children. Is that right?

    I reserve the right to be as inconsistent as those who claim that the government shouldn’t have the power to prevent women from murdering their own unborn children, but should have the power to forcibly plunder a rich woman’s wealth and distribute it to others who want it. :)

    However, I think you are manipulating the terms to your advantage. As others have pointed out, you have nonsensically made action and inaction synonymous.

    While the murderer and the otherwise-innocent by-stander who failed to intercede and try to prevent the murder are both guilty, surely there is some difference between the two.

    Surely we can distinguish the wickedness of he woman who fails to give of her wealth to the poor and the woman who actively cheats the poor out of what they do own.

    Do you deny that there is any difference?

    Punishing an actively chosen vice, that consciously does wrong, is not the same as punishing someone for failing to actively do right.

    Comment by J. Max Wilson — October 27, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

  52. Rameumpton,

    Thanks for stopping by. I agree with your point that tithing, or any of God’s laws, are analogous to government laws. To argue that a government is coercive because it enforces law that the people have voted for is akin to saying that God is coercive because He can punish or reward based on our obedience. In either case, we have a choice to keep or break the law, but not the choice of consequence. The only difference I see is that with government we can sometimes get away with breaking a law, but the unrepentant will always receive what is just.

    Comment by Darin W — October 27, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

  53. J Max,

    I agree with you that government law cannot enforce virtue. What I don’t see is how this argument proves that socialism is like Satan’s plan. Using your logic, any law enforced by any government, since it cannot compel virtue, is by definition satanic. That’s a big stretch. It’s clear in the scriptures that God endorses government and holds all of us accountable for how government works. The Mosaic law did not necessarily enforce virtue either. Did that make it Satan’s plan too?

    Comment by Darin W — October 27, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  54. J Max: I reserve the right to be as inconsistent as those who claim that the government shouldn’t have the power to

    And I don’t begrudge you that right. In fact our constitution guarantees that right. But be aware that to the extent you say others are following “Satan’s plan” for favoring laws that coerce virtue of any kind, you are also accusing yourself of following Satan’s plan when you do the same thing.

    A better approach would be to drop the whole idea that laws that coerce virtues are satanic and simply acknowledge that many laws are in place to coerce/encourage virtue among our citizens.

    As others have pointed out, you have nonsensically made action and inaction synonymous.

    This was a lame point to begin with so repeating it does not make it a good point. Plus it is incorrect. The opposite of performing Act (A) is not performing Act (A). Both are freely chosen actions for which the actor could be held morally accountable.

    surely there is some difference between the two [withholding help from the poor and abortion].

    Only in the severity, not in the form.

    Punishing an actively chosen vice, that consciously does wrong, is not the same as punishing someone for failing to actively do right.

    There is a difference in severity. Yet if you sat by and watched an adult murder a child and made no attempts to stop it you could still be tried for your gross negligence at the very least so there is no free moral pass for choosing inaction.

    Sitting idly by and allowing poverty among our people when we can help alleviate is a morally wrong too according scriptures. Claiming “I can give to the poor myself but I would never vote for laws that make others give to the poor” is the equivalent argument to “I won’t have an abortion myself but I would never vote for laws that make it illegal for others to have them”. I think the most coherent position for Mormons to take is to be socially conservative and economically liberal. As I said in the post, if a social conservative wants to argue that economically liberal policies are a less effective way to care for the poor than economically conservative policies I think that could make sense. But this coercion argument is ludicrous and hypocritical.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2008 @ 4:59 pm

  55. Darin: Using your logic, any law enforced by any government, since it cannot compel virtue, is by definition satanic.

    Exactly right. J-Max and all sorts of other people are a breath away from claiming all earthly laws are satanic and that God insists on anarchy. It is ridiculous yet this meme has a life of its own.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  56. Geoff,

    So your position is that there is no fundamental difference between actively stealing from the poor and refraining from giving to the poor? You believe the difference is one of degree, not of kind? Is that right?

    The view that socialism is like Satan’s plan, but that punishing abortion is not, depends to a great degree on allowing for a difference in kind between action and inaction and not just a difference in degree. That is the reason why you keep minimizing that difference and why those who disagree with you keep emphasizing it.

    I could be wrong, but I think that common sense and the history of law uphold the view that there is a fundamental difference between stealing and not giving of your own property to the poor. Your semantic game not withstanding.

    Stealing is wicked. The analogue of stealing is abortion. Both are actively wicked and should be punished.

    Giving to the poor is righteous. The analogue of giving to the poor is choosing to have and properly care for children within a traditional marriage. Both are actively righteous and should be encouraged, but those who choose to not give, and those who choose to not become parents by refraining from sexual activity, should be left to their own choice and the judgment of God.

    The reason many of us associate socialism with Satan’s plan is that it doesn’t just punish wickedness, it attempts to to force active righteous.

    Just as I oppose government action that tries to force giving to the poor, I would oppose government action to force parents to procreate. Abortion is a different thing altogether. The procreation has already happened and the parents are trying to avoid the consequences of their choice by an act of wickedness when there are alternatives that are actively righteous, like abortion. So I feel that my position is neither hypocritical or inconsistent.

    As long as you insist that the difference is one of degree and not kind, and I continue to disagree, there is no chance we will convince one another. So unless you are willing to show some willingness in that direction, I don’t plan on trying any longer.

    At least I hope that you will concede that my position is neither inconsistent or hypocritical if the difference between action and inaction, between active wickedness and the lack of active righteousness is taken as an axiom, whether you agree with that axiom or not.

    The fact that you continue to call my views ridiculous and mischaracterize them as implying that all earthy laws are satanic does not speak well of you or the sincerity of your argument.

    Comment by J. Max Wilson — October 27, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

  57. J. Max,

    At what point are government laws considered socialist? Is any redistribution of wealth considered socialist in your view?

    For example, what about Pell Grants and guaranteed student loans? These clearly redistribute wealth from those who pay taxes to those unable to pay for a college education. Would you consider that socialist?

    What about WIC, the government program to provide food to poor women, infants, and children? Is that socialist?

    What about government aid to those suffering from major catastrophes, such as Katrina? Because that redistributes tax dollars to those who have lost homes, loved ones, and need shelter, food, and water. Is that socialist?

    Comment by Darin W — October 27, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

  58. J Max: So your position is that there is no fundamental difference between actively stealing from the poor and refraining from giving to the poor?

    No, that is not my position.

    (That sort of undermines all the spinning you tried to do in the rest of your comment, eh?)

    The reason many of us associate socialism with Satan’s plan is that it doesn’t just punish wickedness, it attempts to to force active righteous.

    And the reason one could just as well associate forcing pregnant women to carry the pregnancy to full term with Satan’s plan is that it doesn’t just punish wickedness, it attempts to to force active righteousness.

    So I feel that my position is neither hypocritical or inconsistent.

    You are free to feel as you wish. Your position is at best inconsistent. It may be hypocritical too but you seem to believe your own BS so I don’t know if it really counts as hypocrisy in that case.

    And as Darin noted, if you think that any wealth spreading methods like the ones he mentioned are ok doesn’t that make you a satanist who supports some form of satanic socialism too?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2008 @ 7:13 pm

  59. Geoff J,

    The “action”/”inaction” thing is all about being able to make a distinction between prohibitive and compulsory laws. But we are probably beating a dead horse on that issue by now.

    I would like to say, however, that the idea that Satan could “eliminate” agency is without foundation. If one defines agency as free will, (as most do, but which I believe is wrong) where does Satan get this magical power to take away one’s will? Maybe God should take away Satan’s will.

    If one defines agency as “effective moral stewardship”, then it is pretty easy to see how the bondage of sin could reduce agency, but it is hard to see how such agency could be eliminated even by throwing everyone in prison.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 27, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

  60. I agree with you that the notion that any being could completely eliminate our will is untenable Mark.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2008 @ 11:01 pm

  61. Geoff,

    I think you have done something really important in your post. You have used valid logic to show that the coercion of good and the coercion of not doing evil are identical. That is very insightful. You are therefore 100 percent right in your rejection of the assertion that “Any law that compels or coerces people to do good acts is Satanic.”

    But of course rejecting that assertion does not solve the deeper problem that you have identified. We still have to answer another question, and that is: How do we know when we are using coercion correctly? And that is an extremely important and salvation-impacting concern.

    Although the complexity with determining whether a given law is moral or not is often decried as impossible, unknowable, or relative, it is actually very easy to judge correctly. Here is the divine smack-down that proves it:

    Moroni 7: 15
    For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

    The grand secret to righteous judging is found within the Golden Rule that our Savior gave us in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. Christ made the stunning and all-encompassing assertion that His short, one sentence rule was in fact the entire and complete guide to good and evil. He said that it was THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. That is a massive bombshell. The Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have done unto you”) is easily one of the most audacious statements about good and evil ever made. Only a God could say something that provocative and that absolute, and still have it be true and valid.

    And His word is vindicated. No matter how complex a moral issue seems to be on the surface, the Golden Rule is the key for how to brush away the tangles and judge righteously. It works every single time. Here are a few examples:

    ASSERTION 1: A law that forces me to give any of my property to the poor is evil. (i.e., compulsory charity is evil)

    The way to prove that the above assertion is valid is to generate a hypothetical that takes the Golden Rule to the logical end of the road with respect to private property ownership:

    If I was starving to death during a famine and I had a choice between armed robbery and dying of starvation, (suppose I’ve already pleaded and begged for food from those around me) the correct choice would be to die rather than rob someone. We are not supposed to violate the agency of “innocent” others in order to live. God has clearly commanded us to die (if necessary), rather than engage in that kind of coercion. (See Matthew 10:28. In a limited, context-sensitive way Alma 27:29 also applies).

    The Golden Rule demands that you put yourself in the shoes of the person or group who you are about to rob. That individual or group are human beings with God-given rights of agency and private property ownership. It doesn’t matter if the person you are about to rob is an honest man who is taking his last bit of food to his starving children, or instead, if the target is a vicious, selfish group of people who are hoarding huge amounts of food and knowingly letting others die. The crucial thing is to realize that he/they are “innocent” because they have inalienable rights, and they have done nothing to forfeit those rights.

    In particular, if you put yourself in the shoes of the vicious/selfish group of people, you can assume that they are thinking self-justifying thoughts such as “It’s not my job to take care of others. If I give food away now and things don’t get better, then that act of giving would be suicide. That is not fair to me or my family. I feel bad for the starving people around me, but come tomorrow I could be in the same boat.” And they are right. They have valid logic, and they know that they have the God-given right to do as they please with their private property. They may be selfish cowards, but they are not “wrong.”

    That is how cutting the Golden Rule really is. It evaporates one-way circumstantial justifications and forces people to be honest about what their neighbors really must be thinking. Even people who are evil and vicious have entirely valid logic, and they are often completely within their legal rights even when they are committing great spiritual evil. We have to respect and honor their agency. If we attempt to use force to “correct” their spiritual evil, then we become more evil than them. We become tyrants and criminals who will stoop to destroy the agency of our fellow beings in order to achieve our desires.

    Prophets of God have compared unjust tax laws to armed robbery and “legalized plunder”. When tax laws are enforced, the government uses police force (armed seizure of property, jail time, etc) in order to take your money and give it to the poor.

    ASSERTION 2: A law that coerces me to not steal from my neighbor is righteous.

    Again, the way to prove that the above assertion is valid is to generate a hypothetical that takes the Golden Rule into account. And this time it is much more “intuitive”, because no rational person wants to be robbed. A rational person would always prefer to be asked for something, and be able to make a voluntary choice about whether or not to give or retain property.

    Now at this point some people may “cry foul” by bringing up the following dilemma: “What if during a war there are lots of abandoned houses, and I am a starving and/or wounded civilian, and there is food and/or medicine in those houses. Does the Golden Rule forbid me from taking what I need? If I were the owner, wouldn’t I be glad if someone broke in and was able to use the food to survive and help others?” (And then they extrapolate that poverty is a very real kind of “war”, hence the necessity for laws that redistribute property).

    The surprising answer to the above dilemma is that the Golden Rule does forbid stealing from an abandoned house, even during a war. All you have to do this is place yourself in the shoes of the absent owner and analyze their position in a very honest and dispassionate manner.

    If I am the absent owner of one of those “abandoned” houses, and I come back after a long absence, and my kids and I are starving and wounded, and I find that my house has been violated and emptied, I will be righteously indignant. I may now have to watch my children die of starvation because a stranger violated my property and stole my goods. And even if I came back in perfectly good health, and the war was over, and I brought with me a big load of food storage and other supplies, and the stuff I left was all spoiled and would have to be thrown away if it were still there (“wasted”, instead of going to those who needed it), I would still be justified in being indignant that my house had been robbed and that my private property was gone. I would still be justified in pressing charges and having the thief prosecuted for grand larceny if he were found. The Golden rule demands that you give maximum benefit of the doubt to your neighbor, and bare minimum, “legal” allowance to yourself.

    When our lives and our property are involved, we can rightly demand the uttermost legal farthing from those whose decisions impact us. And when the roles reverse, when it is our decisions that are influencing the lives and property of others, they can rightly demand the uttermost legal farthing from us. If it requires our death to choose the right, than that is the necessary cost. It is a simple equation that allows no compromises.

    It doesn’t matter if someone is a “good” person or a “bad” person, the Golden Rule demands that they be given the same allowances by their neighbors, and that they be treated equally. [By “bad” I don’t mean criminal, I mean carnal, devilish, or unholy. A person can be carnal, devilish, and unholy without breaking any secular laws.]

    One of the difficulties that people run into when discussing moral law theory is that they mistakenly think that spiritual evil and secular evil cleanly overlap in a lot of cases where they don’t overlap.

    For example, they know that choosing to not give some of your bounteous substance to a starving beggar is spiritually immoral. But then they want to conclude that such spiritually bankrupt behavior also violates secular morality, which it doesn’t.

    Within the bounds of the US Constitution, a citizen who withholds privately owned property from those who desperately need has made a “righteous” choice: it is right in the eyes of the law, or in other words it is legal in the eyes of the law.

    END NOTE 1:

    I noticed a lot of back and forth in previous posts about the difference between “prohibitive” and “compulsory” laws. Most of the dialogue really missed the mark because most of you don’t seem to understand the basic elements of a law.

    Every law has two elements: the Substantive element and the Procedural element.

    Substantive element = the proscriptive (prohibitive) or prescriptive (compulsory) rule

    Procedural element = enforcement method given to authorities and the punishment details that violators will experience if they are convicted of acting or failing to act according to the substantive element of a given law

    Example One: POLLUTION

    Substantive element = NO SMOKING [this is a prOscriptive law, or “prohibitive”]
    Procedural element = VIOLATORS WILL BE FINED, ARRESTED, AND/OR IMPRISONED

    Example Two: TAXES

    Substantive = PAY INCOME TAX [this is a prEscriptive law, or “compulsory”]
    Procedural = VIOLATORS WILL BE FINED, ARRESTED, AND/OR IMPRISONED

    The point here is that all laws, every single one of them, by their very definition, employ real, actual coercion (force) as part of the Procedural element. Sometimes the coercion is applied to physically stop us mid-stream from something we are already doing. In other situations the force is applied to violate our physical stasis, and make us physically get up and do something we don’t want to do. Either way, we are dealing with forced change of behavior. When the “rubber meets the road”, proscriptive laws and prescriptive laws are exactly the same thing. They are the same because they both have physical (procedural) consequences attached to them: and those consequences always involve coercive, uninvited, unwanted force.

    Mondo Cool in #12: I like your spunk and wit, but your arguments about the football and the ugly wife don’t actually work.

    Note again that Geoff’s argument is a really simple and elegant equation:

    Forbidding Badness = Coercing Goodness

    In order to forbid badness in a legal sense, you have to physically stop someone from doing something, or physically punish them after they have already been proven to have acted or failed to act in a way that was required by law.

    What you are talking about is spiritual enticements, not the physical realities that take place at the point of violations of the law. Geoff is clearly talking about the full, physical reality of what a law is, which includes not only the Substantive element, but also the Procedural element.

    You do however, in a sideways kind of manner, bring up the important concept of deterrence. Substantive elements of the law have little or no bite, little or no deterrence. For example, we all know the Speed Limit is 65, but many people violate that limit every day, and most of them get away with it for years on end, and the authorities know they are violating the law. The deterrence power of a law is only present when the Procedural part of the law is really iron-fisted and beefy, and people start to see what the authorities are doing to citizens who either violate the proscriptive rule or ignore the prescriptive rule, as the case may be.

    END NOTE 2:

    Regarding the original post, the following statement is made with respect to larceny laws, abortion laws, and tax laws:

    “In a democracy like ours these three could all be voted into laws or all be voted out as laws.”

    Technically, we don’t live in a democracy. We live in a Constitutional Republic. Right and wrong are not supposed to be subject to mob rule or whims of the leaders. Our founding fathers tried to create a situation where it was extremely difficult to change existing laws or create new ones.

    Most tragically, some of the laws mentioned above “can” and have been voted in and out, but in many cases this has involved hundreds of Congressmen and the President all violating their oaths of office and grievously violating the Constitution.

    Violations of private property ownership are never, ever, supposed to be passed by Congress, or signed by the Executive Branch (the Pres.), or upheld by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it has happened. All three branches have become corrupt and they are not checking or balancing each other (mostly because the people are blind and lazy and have elected evil men). Our Republic is in decay, and the Constitution has been shredded down to the last thread. Tyranny and mob rule (democracy) is now “essentially” what we are living under.

    Probably over half of all laws that are in place right now are unconstitutional abominations. Not only do they violate our rights, but they are insanely difficult and expensive to enforce, and that breeds corruption, and organized crime, and crooked cops, and causes lives and agency to be destroyed and wasted.

    RESOURCES:

    The prophetically recommended book By Jerome Horowitz, The Elders of Israel and the Constitution. (Ezra Taft Benson, 1972)
    The prophetically recommended essay by Mark Skousen “Persuasion versus Force” (President Hinckley, 1991)
    And the prophetically recommended book by Hans Verlan Andersen “Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen.” (Ezra Taft Benson, 1972)

    Comment by JM — November 5, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

  62. JM,

    Humdinger of a comment.

    Your logic in Assertion 1 is flawed because of some faulty assumptions. The notion of ownership in the case of taxation policies is not nearly as clean as your analogy implies. A better analogy would be a parent finding that one child had stockpiled all kinds of food in his room and was hording it while the rest of the family starved. It is the parent’s home and therefore even though the parent might allow the child some autonomy by having a bedroom the parent can do what it wants with the food in the end — it certainly isn’t robbery for a parent to take excess from one child and give to another in need. If the child doesn’t like the rules of the home the child can choose to leave the home. (And in the analogy the parent is voice of the collective peoples of the USA –as in government “of the people, for the people, and by the people”).

    As for you Assertion 2 it has problems too. The main problem is that your scenario has the starving stealing from the starving. I don’t think that has anything to do with this conversation at all so it is a bit of a non sequitur.

    When our lives and our property are involved, we can rightly demand the uttermost legal farthing from those whose decisions impact us.

    The key word being “legal”. We are collectively deciding what is legal when we vote.

    Violations of private property ownership are never, ever, supposed to be passed by Congress

    Again, back to your faulty assumptions about ownership. How can we even gain wealth in this country? Because we are educated on the public dime, because we travel to work on roads and bridges paid for on the public dime, because we are protected by a military paid for on the public dime, because we count on infrastructure of every kind paid for on the public dime. See my previous analogy.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

  63. Geoff,

    Your lack of understanding with regard to a Free Market system is stunning and saddening. Take a step back and realize that our Constitution does not allow the kind of Nanny-State taxation that you apparently believe in. Observe:

    Free Market roads and bridges: built and managed by private tolls and private investors

    Free Market light and power: built and managed by private subscription and private investors

    Free Market telecons: built and managed by private subscription and private investors

    Free Market education: built and managed by private subscription and private investors

    Free Market banking: built and managed by private investors (like the one Joseph Smith set up in Kirkland)

    Military: standing army not authorized by the Constitution. Government can levy a special emergency tax for two years in the event of an invasion. Day-to-day border protection are the responsibility of state and local militias.

    Fire, Police, etc: managed by state and local governments, not federal.

    Unfortunately, for over one hundred years now, we have violated the divinely inspired Constitution on all of the above issues. We are essentially a Socialist country at present. And it’s largely due to otherwise good people like you, who have allowed yourselves to become seduced by Gadianton philosophy, and you have voted for wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    If that sounds harsh, don’t lay it at my door. That is what President Grant, President JFS, President David O. McKay and President Ezra Taft Benson said in their General Conference addresses. They said that most of the Church members were “sleeping giants” who had been deceived by Satan with regard to their civic duty, and that we were ignorantly helping to destroy the Constitution, and have been since the 1930’s when we helped usher in FDR and the New Communist Deal. (The majority of Latter-day Saints voted for FDR four times in a row).

    The principles of self-governance and self-preservation given to us by the US Constitution are extremely broad and immersive. As a result, the government is very limited in what it can rightly do, especially in terms of what it can take our money for. It is “shackled down” by the Constitution. The Constitution liberates us and enslaves the government. That is exactly what it was supposed to do: not the opposite, which is what you are advocating.

    Let’s get a few things straight here. The liberty given to us by the Constitution is of a very radical and frightening nature. It is a hard-core libertarian document. It is one tiny step away from total anarchy. That is what liberty actually is: barely mitigated anarchy. That is why, in a free society, you have to TRUST IN GOD, because everyone has so much freedom and the government has so little power that free citizens can blindside you with a first offense at any time they please, and you can be killed, maimed, robbed, raped, or kidnapped at any moment. It is only after a person has been conclusively proved to be a criminal that their liberty is taken away. Before that is proved, they are essentially “walking time bombs.”

    Additionally, you can starve to death, lose everything you own in a natural disaster, become gravely ill or injured and need medical attention, etc., and the government has no power to help you in any of those situtations. This is a debate that is as old as the Constitutuion. Our Founding Fathers specifically struggled with and debated these issues. During a flood early in US history, there was a bill that was submitted to the Congress floor that was meant to alleviate the suffering and devestation of the flood. Orphans were starving to death. No homes, no parents, no food. The debate was heated and emotional. The most passionate and correct argument, at the end of the day, was from a man whose name you would recognize. I will share with you his argument. He said that he personally was willing to give of his own substance to those in need, and he strongly encouraged others to do the same, but he could not in good conscience use the power of his position to forcibly take property from his fellow citizens (via taxes) in order to help the tragic victims of the flood. He would not “make slaves in order to save orphans”. He voted against the bill and decried it as unconstitutional, which it was.

    The willingness to live in a truly free society is a huge departure from monarchy systems, peasant class, slavery class, feudalism, communism, socialism, etc., wherein all people are automatically classed as de facto criminals and helpless babies who cannot be trusted with weapons, property ownership, privacy, the responsibility to overcome hardship, etc. The people in those societies TRUST IN MAN and TRUST IN THE KING and TRUST IN THE GOVERNMENT.

    But we don’t trust in any of those worthless, pagan idols in this country. We believe that God is the source of law and that he is the source of our rights. We trust (or least we used to before we started shredding the Constitution) that he would protect us, and that if he didn’t, it’s his will that we were harmed or became ill, or lost everything. That is what America is about. That is what made us so special and so wealthy for so long. We functioned on the assumption that God gave us our liberty, we were born with it, and that man has no authority to destroy the agency of other men until criminal behavior occurs. We have gone away from that now, and we are mostly socialist. We are starting to treat each other more and more like slaves and criminals.

    What our Founding Fathers gave us is a document that is so white-hot, so searing, so horrifying, and so mind-blowing that only God could have inspired it. And according to the Doctrine and Covenants, God did in fact inspire the Constitution. Although it is radical and frightening, the Constitution is also god-like, ennobling, and empowering if we embrace it and treat it correctly.

    The government is not our “parent”. We are the masters, the government is our servant. Your paternalistic analogy has it 100 percent backwards. With such a horrible analogy, you sound like you are ready for the arm and head holes, so that you can be plugged in and fed and taught directly, intravenously by zBig Brother. You are looking for an umbilical cord.

    Most men want to be slaves. They crave a master. They crave direction, they crave a lessening of accountability. “Liberty means responsibility, that is why most men dread it” (GB Shaw). We want coattails to ride on, we want to be told what to do, and even how to do it. That is human nature. But our natures are lazy and carnal and devilish, and we shouldn’t give in to that enticement. God told us that if we have to have a nanny hold our hand our whole life, and be taken care of, and told what to do and how to behave, that is slothful and unrighteous and ungodly. You’ve got to stand up and be a man and take care of yourself.

    As for you argument that we are not talking about “starving people stealing from starving people” that is completely dismissive of reality. What do you think the Great Depression was? It was starving people committing crimes against other starving people in order to survive. Almost 10 million people died of disease related to malnutrition during that time. In other words, they died of starvation. And the crime wave was hellacious. That is the basis for why FDR anointed himself and Congress with the bogus, unconstitutional power to swoop in and “save us all”. His motivations, however pure they may or may not have been, were absolutely misguided and mis-founded.

    In a technical sense, all of us are all “starving”, all of the time. There are limited services and resources, and we are, all of us, always starving for education, for real estate, for vehicles, for weapons, for security, for food, for medical attention, for luxury items, etc., etc. We are in harsh competition with each other for all of these things. That is the nature of freedom.

    Before you respond I invite you to first read “Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints” (Benson 1972 General conference) and then I’d like you to read the 5 books that were prophetically recommended in that address. You can read 4 of them online for free:

    Three of them here:
    http://www.inspiredconstitution.org/books.html

    and one here:
    http://www.modernhistoryproject.org/mhp/ArticleDisplay.php?Article=NoneDare

    If you read these inspired works with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, they will smash your socialist justifications, destroy your current worldview, and motivate you to repent and become a defender of liberty.

    You of course are free to reject those books and hold to the worldly and false doctrines of socialism that you currently espouse. That is what makes this country great. You are free to teach slavery and you are even free to attempt to enforce it by legislation if others agree with you and vote for your ideas. But destroying the Constitution and helping others to do it has consequences.

    Right now you are in a Matrix of sorts. You are enslaved, and essentially bowing down and worshipping your “parent”, the government. You are in a collectivist mindset or groupthink, just like the unconstitutional and parasitic public school system has taught you to be.

    According to the Constitution, I don’t owe you or your kids an education, and you don’t owe me or my kids an education. If we want to learn, that is up to us, on “our own dime.” The government has zero business taking my property to educate “me” or anyone else. The concept of public schools is based on tyranny, slavery, mass brain-washing, communism, socialism, collectivism, statism, fascism, take your pick. For crying out loud, a federal socialized school system like the one we have is one of the central planks of the Communist Manifesto. It “takes a village” to raise a socialist slave child. And my-oh-my does it work. You and many others are living proof. Publicly tax-funded schools didn’t exist in this country until what year? I would hazard the guess that can’t answer that simple question. You apparently think the country was born with a communist school system already in place.

    Again, before you respond, please read those books, and then let me know whether you accept or reject what is in them.

    Here is a passage from one of them:

    Those Circumstances Under Which God Has Authorized Use of the Force of Government Against The Individual

    The Lord justifies the use of the police power against the individual for the purpose of executing the divine law of retribution. The specific circumstances under which He has given His approval for this use of force may be classified under the following four headings:

    (1) To punish criminals,

    (2) To wage defensive war and provide for the nation’s defense,

    (3) To enforce the right and control of private property,

    (4) To compel the citizen to bear his fair share of the burden of supporting the government in performing the above three functions.”

    [end quote]

    Consider how extremely limited is the righteous use of coercion. I don’t see anything in that list above that gives the government the power to take my property for your luxuries or even for your survival, except in very limited and specific circumstances.

    NOTE 1: “zBig Brother” wasn’t a typo. Look it up. Your New President is actually the “advisor” Zbigniew Brzezinski, not the mindless puppet “Barry” (Barrak). zBig was also an advisor to McCain. Both candidates are his socialist string puppets. They are both ready and willing to implement his policies. Read Brezezinski’s books and you will get a taste of what the future will be.

    NOTE 2: You state: “The key word being “legal”. We are collectively deciding what is legal when we vote.”

    Yeah, I agree, we do decide what is “legal”. But there is a huge difference between something that is legal and something that is Constitutional. We can certainly choose to violate the highest law of the land and pass bad legislation. We can and have legalized immoral behaviors. The Patriot Act says that the government can detain you indefinitely without trial. That doesn’t mean it’s constitutional or moral.

    I will restate my position as follows, to make sure you are perfectly clear about what I’m saying:

    “When our lives and our property are involved, we can rightly demand the uttermost constitutional farthing (highest law of the land) from those whose decisions impact us.”

    You are aware that juries can provide an innocent verdict even when they know the law has been broken? This because it is a jury’s responsibility to interpret the Constitution. If I am being tried for not paying Social Security tax, and it is conclusively proved that I have not paid it and have thereby broken the law, the jury can (and arguably should) still acquit me. It is their civic duty to uphold the Constitution, and not punish people for breaking bogus laws. Look up Joe Bannister. He was acquitted of tax evasion because the jury understood the Constitution and disregarded a bogus and evil law.

    I personally do not advocate that you should not pay taxes. I pay mine. What I am saying is that your understanding of what is legal and what is constitutional is grievously mistaken and not according to reality.

    Please don’t take offense at this post or engage in an emotional response. Be dispassionate and cool and collected. Inform yourself before re-entering the conversation. Read the prophetically recommended books from General Conference, and see if they change your heart.

    You are a good person, an elect person. I can tell that from your many posts, and the many righteous things you have to say on so many topics. But in this matter you are deceived. Please allow your heart to be open and be willing to countenance that possibility.

    Your brother in Christ,

    JM

    Comment by JM — December 2, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  64. Hehe.

    Wow.

    Well my main advice to you JM is: Please show restraint and don’t just open fire when the feds come out to investigate you at your compound. We wouldn’t want another Ruby Ridge scenario.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 2, 2008 @ 10:38 pm

  65. Geoff,

    It saddens me to see you treat such tragic events with derision. Apparently you are in the first stage of denial, the “ridicule” stage:

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” [Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher 1788 – 1860]

    The fact that you can use the death of misguided people to poke fun at ideals of liberty is truly bottom of the barrel.

    We are told in the scriptures that we will be held accountable for “every idle word” that we utter. I entreat you to speak with more honor in the future.

    Randy was apparently a misguided soul, but his wife was unarmed and holding their 10-month-old infant when she took a fatal bullet through the spine from a trigger-happy yes-man FBI sniper. He either acted on an illegal order to fire, or fired on his own after violating the most basic rule of sniping during a civilian encounter, which is to know your backstop. Later, no FBI officer would admit who gave the order, and the sniper would not “rat out” his commander. There is “honor” for you. The sniper was indicted for manslaughter, although not convicted.

    Besides Vicki (the unarmed wife) being killed, Randy’s 14 year old son was also shot (in the back) and killed. In all twelve FBI officers were brought up on disciplinary charges, and the director of the FBI admitted that the incident was a misapplication of force, and a miscarriage of justice.

    You seem to believe that Weaver just randomly opened fire without any provocation. I am no fan of Randy’s, but technically it was the FBI marshals who drew first blood. They threw rocks at the dogs. This is not disputed. It is also not disputed that they did not call for a surrender. Under sworn oath during court testimony, they admitted that they were the ones who initiated the use of violence, and that no call for surrender had been issued. The rock throwing put the dogs into a mad rage, and then the Weavers felt they were under attack and began to defend their property with force.

    Throwing a rock can be just as deadly as firing a gun. If armed men with drawn guns came onto your property and started throwing rocks, you might just get a little bit agitated. You might think the rocks were grenades or tear gas or whatever, things that could harm or kill you, your wife, and your young children. Consider how you would react in that situation.

    The charges against Randy were lame: bail issues and failure to appear in court. The other issues were dropped because they could not be proven. The use of a large and heavily armed federal assault team to “bring him in” was massive overkill. Two local deputies walking up to the door without weapons drawn and calmly serving the papers, requesting compliance for an arrest, would have been entirely adequate and would have met with success. There was no past history of violence or resisting arrest. It was not a high risk situation by default. The marshals created a high risk situation by coming out in military-style force, large numbers, paramilitary dress-down, raw aggression, and a trigger-happy mindset. They acted like Weaver was a hardened, cold-blooded psychopath who was itching to murder anyone who simply stepped onto his property. And then they drew first blood.

    Perhaps you have forgotten that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men to abuse power, to overreact, to take offense, to throw tantrums like petty monarchs. Those in the government wield a very concentrated and seductive form of power. Washington said that the government “was like fire: a dangerous servant and fearful master.”

    I’m not defending Randy Weaver. He definitely made some mistakes. But the mistakes he made were not equal to the amount of force used against him and against his innocent loved ones.

    It would be like getting pulled over for a reckless driving, and then having 18 troopers crowd around your car, who then proceed to break your windows without requesting your surrender, and then they start punching and attacking your “best friend” who is in the car with you (your dog) in order to subdue the animal and eliminate it from being a potential threat against their issuing you a bench warrant. That is how out-of-control the FBI was acting in the Ruby Ridge incident.

    Again I invite you to read the prophetically recommended books listed in General Conference, April 1972.

    Those books will change your heart, if only you would allow the possibility that you have something to learn in this matter.

    True Regards,

    JM

    Comment by JM — December 5, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  66. JM,

    It saddens me that you are such a nutjob. And it saddens me that you don’t seem capable of writing a regular short comment.

    But it fills my heart with delight that I get to ban long-comment-writing nutjobs from my blog any time I feel like it.

    Buh-bye.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 5, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

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