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Government Explained (video)

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Graham Wright Posted: Wed, Mar 7 2012 5:25 PM

My latest video:

 

 

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Clayton replied on Wed, Mar 7 2012 7:28 PM

Graham: Astounding! Great work!

I had no idea who Larken Rose was until I looked at the video behind yours. Here's another awesome video by him (someone needs to update it):

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Graham. Your video was amazing! So many great topics were discussed, and I see room for tons more development.

Once again, this video is fantastic! Superb!

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Thanks guys.  I am thinking of doing a sequel, where the human says "But we need government to do X, Y, Z" and the alien knocks him down by explaining how X, Y, Z gets done on his planet.  If you want to put ideas forward or even draft a script, add them here or send me a private message.

Here's another great Larken Rose video:

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 8 2012 1:14 PM

Graham: Not to criticise, but I think that would be easily dismissed... so what you can imagine an alien world where roads are privately maintained?

What is definitely needed are more criticisms of democracy as a justification of government aggression.

Check this video out for the public choice/utilitarian aspect of the argument:

Plus, I'm always a big proponent of the moral argument, as well. So, you could do something like the Larken Rose anti-Constitution video above but instead of "I'm Allowed to Rob You" make it more extreme... "I'm Allowed to Kill You" and when they object rather than pointing to the Constitution, say, "let's put it to a vote." It doesn't really matter how the vote will turn out; the whole idea of even putting such a thing to vote is absurd on its face. Putting a fundamentally immoral act to vote cannot make it moral.

Or, another way to illustrate the problem is with the lone dissenter. Let's say you have a nation of religious (but democratic) fanatics. One day, someone proposes Universal Self-Flaggelation. You don't like the idea and do not want to have to whip yourself. However, everyone else is fanatical and is happy to whip themselves. When you raise an objection saying that you don't consent to having to whip yourself, the group says "let's put it to a vote!" They vote and - no surprise - the outcome is that Universal Self-Flaggelation is required for everyone, including dissenters. So, you must whip yourself whether you like it or not. But the vote doesn't really change anything... the fact that everyone else is OK with whipping themselves doesn't make it OK for them to force the same behavior onto you over your objections. The analogy to taxation should be clear.

You could combine the two above arguments by choosing an immigrant (say, a solitary black man who has immigrated to a racist white country that wants to pass a law "all blacks will be put to death") or a castaway on an island of democratic cannibals. I don't think that anyone has really captured in a YT vid the absurdity of justifying a fundamentally immoral act by putting it to vote.

What you did with xtranormal + dubbing your own narration is briliant. You got the goodness of an automated visual plus your very listener-friendly narration (immensely better than the xtranormal robot voices).

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@Clayton,

I like the idea.  I'm not too keen on those examples.  I'll have to think about this some more, but it might be better if instead of being something horrific and shocking, the example is something mundane and trivial.  Like why it is immoral to force everyone to wear a silly hat, even when the majority support the wearing of silly hats.

Like how they use egg-cracking as the example in Liliputian Liberty:

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 8 2012 4:55 PM

@Graham: Good point about the horrific/shocking thing... I think people tire quickly of Nazi-esque arguments... kind of the Godwin's Law effect.

Funny hats would be a good one - perhaps you could do it along the lines of George Ought to Help. Brainstorming:

Someone hands the main character (let's call him George) a funny hat: "You have to wear this hat." George tries it on, looks in a mirror, and doesn't like it.

Someone: "What's wrong with the hat?"

George: "I just don't like how it looks on me. Doesn't suit me."

Someone: "But you have to wear it."

George: "I won't wear it."

Someone: "OK, then" [looking to the crowd] "let's put it to a vote."

George: "But I don't want to vote about it, I just don't want to wear it."

Someone: "Yes, but if we all agree by democratic vote that the wearing of a funny hat is the law, then you must wear a funny hat on pain of a fine or even jail."

George looks puzzled

A vote is taken, funny-hat-wearing is declared to be the law by majority vote and George is forced to wear the funny-hat. Video closes with George looking forlorn with his funny hat.

</brainstorming>

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That's a good start, but even a simple scene like that could not be done in Xtranormal.  You can't have objects like hats that characters can interact with.  And you couldn't have a crowd shot because you can only have a limited number of characters.  To animate something like that, I'd have to revert to a technique I've used before (i.e. PowerPoint or Prezi or Flash), and then it wouldn't look as good, or find some new technique.

What I really need is someone who knows how to do animations as good or nearly as good as those in George Ought To Help who would be willing to help me.  It would only need a few movement shots to sell it; the rest would be dialogue.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Mar 12 2012 12:08 AM

@Graham: No doubt, the animation in George Ought To Help is very slick but must have been a lot of work. I'll brainstorm some more on an xtranormal-compatible, anti-democracy dialogue which could get the point across.

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I'm overwhelmed at the response to this video.  Over 50,000 views in just one week!

Thank you so much to everyone who liked, commented, shared, etc!

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Graham Wright:
My latest video:

This is really good, Graham.  Really good.

I would love to see the sequel.  This is getting sent right away.  (I also noticed I'm not the only one...as this has got to be the fastest growing viewcounter for any of your videos...)

 

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Graham Wright:
it might be better if instead of being something horrific and shocking, the example is something mundane and trivial.  Like why it is immoral to force everyone to wear a silly hat, even when the majority support the wearing of silly hats.

It sounds like that's a similar direction bitbutter is going with his new project.

 

As far as the funny hats go, this is kind of done here, but from a different angle:

 

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 15 2012 5:30 PM

Aha, instead of God's forgiveness predicated on Jesus's death, the good news could be that you have been given a vote.

"The government in our nation is very enlightened and does not believe in tyrannical dictates. So, you've been given a say. Along with 100 million other people, you've been given a vote! If you'd like to <insert absolutely harmless activity here>, you can vote on it and you can elect representatives to vote on it for you! Isn't that great news?!"

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John James:

Graham Wright:
it might be better if instead of being something horrific and shocking, the example is something mundane and trivial.  Like why it is immoral to force everyone to wear a silly hat, even when the majority support the wearing of silly hats.

It sounds like that's a similar direction bitbutter is going with his new project.

Yes, I thought that when I saw it.  Exciting.

That video is interesting for it's style.  Crude still images.  If Xtranormal is out, how do you think that style compares to the crude Flash animations in my LwG part 1?  Is the extra time spent trying to get smooth character movements worth it?

Also, I mentioned this quandary to a friend of mine today and he said I should look into whether I could use a computer game (e.g. Skyrim) to create animations of the quality of Xtranormal but with more flexibility in that characters can interract with objects.  It's known as machinima, apparently.  Anyone know anything about this?  I don't play those kinds of games...

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Graham Wright:
That video is interesting for it's style.  Crude still images.  If Xtranormal is out, how do you think that style compares to the crude Flash animations in my LwG part 1?  Is the extra time spent trying to get smooth character movements worth it?

Yeah, better aesthetics do quite a bit for a video.  Your Flash animations are pretty good.

 

Also, I mentioned this quandary to a friend of mine today and he said I should look into whether I could use a computer game (e.g. Skyrim) to create animations of the quality of Xtranormal but with more flexibility in that characters can interract with objects.  It's known as machinima, apparently.  Anyone know anything about this?  I don't play those kinds of games...

Yeah it sounds like just a matter of going into the game and moving the characters around the way you want them, all the while recording/capturing the screen.  This was made really popular a number of years ago when some guys created an entire series of sitcom-type "episodes" just using the multi-player function in Halo.  They actually wrote scripts and voiced dialog, and then just moved the characters around in the game for the visuals.  It turned out quite well.  (See Red vs. Blue)

One advantage they had though was that all the characters were in battle suits with helmets that covered their faces...meaning there were no mouth movements to deal with.  I'm not familiar with this practice beyond that one project, so I'm not sure how translatable it would be to something like what you'd like to do.  It's not like those characters or the storylines were something random...the whole series centered around the actual game setting, so the warriors were actually supposed to be warriors, and they were actually supposed to have all the weapons, etc.

If you could find a "canvas" so-to-speak (i.e. game) that is versitile enough for your story elements, it may very well be a good option.

 

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gotlucky replied on Thu, Mar 15 2012 6:14 PM

Another option might be Garry's mod for the source engine.  I know you can line up voice with the mouth in that, though Skyrim's probably looks a hell of a lot better.  Here is an example of a full length movie made with Garry's mod.  Skip around a bit to see what you can do with it.  I have no idea how to do any of it though.

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bitbutter replied on Sun, Mar 18 2012 3:54 PM

Great work Graham!

It reminded me of xtranormal, but didn't make that connection because of your use of original dialogue recording--i agree with clayton that this is a huge improvement over the robo-voices.

Judging by the view count this looks to have been an extremely time/energy effective way of reaching people. I'm a little jealous that I havn't been able to match this 'virality' with my take-ages-to-make vids!

On the subject of follow-ups I hope some unsolicited advise isn't out of place: What I've been finding very useful with the scripts for the George Ought to Help series is to post early drafts online, not to be precious about them (the problem of actually getting people to look at a bunch of text should be much more more of a real concern than that leaking the text will somehow adversely effect the final release of the video--videos can go viral, as far as we know, essays don't ;)).

The anacho-capitalist subreddit has been really helpful in particular in giving me feedback on early versions.

I love the machinima idea (game characters allowing for the manipulation of objects). Could be very simple to do--wouldn't even require mouth movements to be compelling i think.

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The only thing I would be worried about with machinima is (dun dun dun) copyright laws.  I know everyone would obviously prefer to have all this work put into public domain (or at least a CC license), but even more important than that, you wouldn't want it to be all for naught by having some gaming company shut it down.

Although I suppose the reason it works is because there's so much wriggle room on something like that.  It could be called a "parody", or fair use...or whatever grey area fan films exist in.

 

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Graham, after thinking about it I believe you are completely right that "if you were to replace the human statist with a human anarchist, you’d lose this sense of being able to relate to the character."

I like your idea:

"Right now, I’m inclined to make a sequel with the same two characters where the human raises various common objections to the alien’s implication that government is a rather primitive notion. The alien asks more Socratic questions to explore each objection, which soon reveals the absurdity of them. Like “if we didn’t have government, who would take care of the poor” and “who would build the roads” and “who would make sure products are safe for consumers” and “the rich will rule” etc."

Making it in XtraNormal again with just the same two character sounds like it would be easier than trying to use a video game or another form of animation. Also, viewers who also have seen the first video (or who might encounter the first video at a later date) would see the similarity if you keep it the same with XtraNormal. And I don't really see any downside to using XtraNormal again either. Nobody has to carry any props for a dialogue like the one you suggest.

One thing to consider is do you want to focus on the practical side of anarchy, i.e. explaining how various public goods and similar things can be provided without government ("But we need government to do X, Y, Z" and the alien knocks him down by explaining how X, Y, Z gets done on his planet") or would it be better to focus on the ethical side of government by having the alien explain that the human's reasons for why governments are allegedly justified are not correct.

"Government Explained" kind of already deals with this moral side, despite how the alien does not explicitly say that he thinks what the government doing is immoral. Rather, the way he talks about what the government is makes it sound like its a medieval institution that doesn't belong in a civilized society. This is similar to calling it immoral/unjust, but not quite the same.

So perhaps focusing on the practical side of how the alien gets X, Y, and Z done on his planet would be better. Or perhaps if you're feeling very ambitious you may want to consider making two sequels, one dealing with the human's arguments that government is justified and the other dealing with the human's fears that X, Y, and Z couldn't get done in anarchy. Combining them together may be tough.
 

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 7:48 AM

Clayton:
@Graham: Good point about the horrific/shocking thing... I think people tire quickly of Nazi-esque arguments... kind of the Godwin's Law effect.

Funny hats would be a good one - perhaps you could do it along the lines of George Ought to Help. Brainstorming:

Someone hands the main character (let's call him George) a funny hat: "You have to wear this hat." George tries it on, looks in a mirror, and doesn't like it.

Someone: "What's wrong with the hat?"

George: "I just don't like how it looks on me. Doesn't suit me."

Someone: "But you have to wear it."

George: "I won't wear it."

Someone: "OK, then" [looking to the crowd] "let's put it to a vote."

George: "But I don't want to vote about it, I just don't want to wear it."

Someone: "Yes, but if we all agree by democratic vote that the wearing of a funny hat is the law, then you must wear a funny hat on pain of a fine or even jail."

George looks puzzled

A vote is taken, funny-hat-wearing is declared to be the law by majority vote and George is forced to wear the funny-hat. Video closes with George looking forlorn with his funny hat.

</brainstorming>

Clayton -

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think people are shocked enough. People don't seem to understand where different kinds of thinking can really lead. "Godwin's Law" or not (I really don't care), most Jews didn't understand what the Nazis were really doing to them until they were inside the gas chambers dying from breathing Zyklon-B (they had been told they needed to undergo de-lousing).

Anyways, I like all the ideas you've presented in this thread. With this most recent one, I think the ante should be upped both with George's resistance to wearing the funny hat and with what the crowd thinks it's justified to do to George because the issue was put to a vote. For example, if George lowers the funny hat from his head only to face an enormous number of guns pointed at him.

I think the point of all this should be to show where the state wreaks havoc with people's innate sense of morality. Nearly everyone would find it egregiously immoral to kill someone for refusing to wear a funny hat. They'd consider it murder (and I'd agree with them). But by endorsing the state, they implicitly endorse the systematic undertaking of such immoral actions. And the reality of that is not going to go away just because they refuse to face it.

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Non parit potestas ipsius auctoritatem.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 10:36 AM

@Auto: I agree with you that people do not take the problems seriously enough but the problem is that the mind of the "average" person is wrapped in layers and layers of bad ideas and attitudes rationalizing and justifying the State. To deconstruct the lot of it requires more sophisticated tools. I am excited to see The Hunger Games - from all appearances, it is a not-too-subtle deconstruction of the logical consequences of our current system.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 10:44 AM

In my experiences with people, I find that it just takes a lot of perseverance (i.e. never backing down).

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John James replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 10:52 AM

Autolykos:
In my experiences with people, I find that it just takes a lot of perseverance (i.e. never backing down).

Gee.  Why does it not surprise me that you would think that

 

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:01 AM

Do you have anything substantive to offer here, John?

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I've been doing a bit of R&D over the past few days.  Those machinima movies are impressive, but it all feels a bit daunting and it may be overkill for my needs here anyway.  I also don't want to take any chances when it comes to copyright laws.  I have written and re-written a script on the subject of democracy and found a way I can make it work using Xtranormal with a few cutaways to Powerpoint slides.

@bitbutter, you've convinced me to post my script here for comments.  I'll do that shortly.  Re your script, is this the latest version?  Who are A and B in that script?

@PeaceRequiresAnarchy, welcome to the forum.  You've hit on exactly the problem I'm having with my script for the alien sequel...

PeaceRequiresAnarchy:
One thing to consider is do you want to focus on the practical side of anarchy, i.e. explaining how various public goods and similar things can be provided without government ("But we need government to do X, Y, Z" and the alien knocks him down by explaining how X, Y, Z gets done on his planet") or would it be better to focus on the ethical side of government by having the alien explain that the human's reasons for why governments are allegedly justified are not correct.

I haven't got a script I like yet because it is difficult to integrate moral and practical arguments together.  I also don't want to fall into the trap Clayton referred to where I just end up explaining how things work on the alien's planet, to which people could reply 'so what?'.  So rather than have the alien explain how things work on his planet, I want him to just ask questions about the human's justifications for government.  As you pointed out, not giving away that the alien comes from an anarchic planet was one of the strengths of the first one:

You don’t have to be an anarchist or even a libertarian to agree with or like the message in the video. Rather, “Government Explained” appeals to the most general notion that there is something flawed about the governments that rule over today’s societies. With so many people disappointed in “their” governments’ actions today, one can understand why this video spread so far.

At one point, I did have a couple of minutes of dialogue at the end where the human asked the alien how order is maintained on his planet in absence of government (similar to how Larken ends his talk).  I cut it out because it would have opened up a whole avenue of objections, by making it explicit that the alien planet is anarchic.  I think this was a good decision and the video would not have been so widely shared if I had left it in.  The message of the video is very clear: government is a gang of thieves.  I don't really mind that I've had comments saying "What's this alien got that's better than government?" and "This is true, but government is the best system we have for preventing chaos" and “But, the alien didn’t offer any reasonable alternatives to government.”  People making these comments are on the path to anarchism, and they'll find the answers in my other videos if they want to.

Having said that, for the sequel, the human's justifications for government will have to be practical rather than moral, since most people resort to practical arguments for government as soon as they realise they have no moral leg to stand on (which I think the human did by the end of the first video).  It will be hard to have the alien asking leading questions in the sequel without giving away that he is in favor of free market anarchy.  The human has to be intelligent, because if the viewer can think of a better argument that the human doesn't make, or if he doesn't explain something very well, the point of the video is lost.  But this means there is a risk of it becoming a sophisticated or in-depth argument about the economics of public goods or something, which might get a bit dull for casual viewers.  It could also feel too much like the alien is giving a lesson on Austrian economic theory, since the alien would have to ask "so how does government calculate the best use of resources?" and then he'd have to explain what he means by calculation and the prerequisites for it.

Anyway, I'm putting the alien sequel to one side for a bit while I work on this democracy critique.

@Autolykos, hopefully the script I'm about to post addresses the points you made.

Some more thoughts.  It isn't enough to merely present the idea that "majority rules" is a dangerous or immoral idea.  I think most people recognise this already.  They recognise there are flaws in democracy; after all, they know it brought Hitler to power, they know what would happen if "two wolves and a sheep vote on what's for dinner".  And people do recognise a difference between what is moral and what the majority believe is moral.  For example, no one believes (personal) slavery was justified by the observation that most people at the time believed it was justified.  If Clayton's hat script above was the whole video, I don't think it would really challenge anyone's worldview.  "Democracy isn't perfect.  Some things about democracy suck.  The majority isn't always right.  We get it.  But it's the best system we can have."  I don't feel I can make the point that majority support changes nothing from a moral point of view any more effectively than George Ought To Help and The Philosophy Of Liberty do.  The subject needs to be explored in a bit more depth.  The questions I want to put in people's minds are "Why is X something that we decide about by voting at all?" and "Why are elections about X held out at national level, rather than at a local level or global level?".  In my script, X is the all-important decision about what color hat each person has to wear.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 1:35 PM

@Graham: Ah! I recall seeing a video with Ben Powell (I'm pretty sure) where he basically contrasts the way we choose governments/policies versus the way we choose a car. What if all 300 million Americans had to drive exactly the same make/model of car and we collectively chose it once every four years by majority vote?

Everyone can understand the results would be awful. It is arithmetically inevitable that almost everyone will be unhappy with the results - no single car on the market today commands even one-percent of all cars sold. Even if we voted that we each should get a Rolls Royce (to be paid for by "the government" at no cost to the public, of course), what about people who like to drive off-road? So why do we think that this same decision procedure will work for more important things like who will hold the power to start wars, levy taxes and fines, impose capital punishments, print money, restrict commerce and trace, and administer tax-funded poverty programs?

I'll try to hunt up the video. I also remember another video that tries to make some arithmetic arguments about the problem of increasing inevitable dissatisfaction the larger the scale at which you aggregate decisions.

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Here it is.  This is only the first part, which is about 5 minutes, read quickly.  The second part is still a bit rough and will hopefully be no more than 4 minutes.  You may be able to guess where I'm going in the second part.  This is still very fluid as I have re-written it several times already.  Have at it.

 

Narrator: This is Charlie.  While out exploring, Charlie comes across a town called Demville.  Demville is populated by friendly, hard-working, ordinary people.  They welcome him to their town.  The only thing unusual about the people in this town is that they all wear red hats.  Charlie sits down with a local to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Charlie: How come everybody in this town wears a red hat?

RedHat: It’s the rules: everyone who lives in Demville must wear a red hat, whenever they are in the town.

Charlie: Who made that rule up?

RedHat: We have a vote on it every year.  Red hats won the election a few months ago.

Charlie: Did you vote for red?

RedHat: Yes.

Charlie: Because you like wearing red hats?

RedHat: Not really, but the other hats on the ballot were even worse than this one, believe me.

Charlie: Did everyone vote for red?

RedHat: No, but the majority of voters did.

Charlie: Who gets to vote?

RedHat: Everyone in the village, over the age of 18.  Children aren’t mature enough to vote on a matter like this.

Charlie: Does everyone over the age of 18 choose to vote?

RedHat: No, a lot of people don’t really care which hat wins, so they don’t bother voting.

Charlie: But the people who didn’t vote for the red hat still have to wear one?

RedHat: Sure, they have to wear a hat of whatever colour won the vote.

Charlie: What would happen to you if you take that hat off and wear a different colour hat?  Or no hat at all?

RedHat: That would depend on whether I was caught or not.

Charlie: Caught by who?

RedHat: By the police.

Charlie: What will they do to you if they catch you?

RedHat: It’s not a serious offence.  Anyone caught breaking the hat law just gets issued with a small fine. 

Charlie: What if you were to refuse to pay the fine?

RedHat: Then the town council will make the fine bigger.

Charlie: What if you still refuse to pay?

RedHat: They’d send me a summons, and I’d have to appear in court.

Charlie: What if you refuse to go to court?

RedHat: Then I might be sent to prison.

Charlie: What if you refuse to go to prison?

RedHat: Then the police will visit my house and arrest me.

Charlie: What if you were to resist arrest?

RedHat: That would be an idiotic thing to do.

Charlie: Why?

RedHat: Because the police have guns.

Charlie: So?

RedHat: So if I don’t do what they say, they might shoot me.

Charlie: [pause] So, what you’re saying is that if you were to take your hat off, you might end up getting shot?

RedHat: I suppose so.

Charlie: And what would happen to the person who shoots you?

RedHat: Probably nothing, because he’s a policeman, he’s just doing his job, enforcing the law.

Charlie: Do you think he has a right to shoot you for not wearing the right hat?

RedHat: If I were to resist arrest, sure, the policeman has a right to shoot me.  The police enforce the laws, and here the law says we all have to wear whichever hat is voted for by the majority at the election.  Anyone who doesn’t like this year’s hat can move to another town.  Or they can stay in Demville and hope the next hat that gets chosen is more to their taste.

Charlie: Do you have any laws about socks?

RedHat: No.

Charlie: You don’t vote about which colour socks everyone has to wear?

RedHat: No, of course not.  That would be silly.  We only vote on important issues.

Charlie: No one has the right to shoot me for wearing the wrong colour socks?

RedHat: No, of course not.  That would be immoral.  Everyone has a right to wear whatever socks they choose.

Charlie: Who decided that hats are an issue that needs to be voted on?

RedHat: I don’t know exactly.  It wasn’t always like this.  For centuries, there was no system of voting.  There was a hat dictator who told everyone which hat they had to wear.  We are much better off now we have democracy, because we’re free to choose which hat we are all going to be forced to wear.

Charlie: How many people are there in this town?

RedHat: About 100,000.

Charlie: Does your vote make any difference to the outcome of elections?

RedHat: Of course!  All the votes are counted!  In theory, anyway.

Charlie: But what are the chances your vote will change which hat wins?

RedHat: I suppose that would only happen if, without my vote, there is a tie.

Charlie: What are the chances of that?

RedHat: In a town of 100,000 people?  Pretty low.  We’ve never had a tie.  In fact, the closest we ever came to a tie was a year when just 38 votes separated the top two.  Blue hats won that year, yellow came second.

Charlie: Which did you vote for?

RedHat: Blue.  Thank goodness I voted for it, or else it might have lost!

Charlie: Well, no, it would have won by 37.

RedHat: I guess.

Charlie: So your vote actually made no difference to the outcome.  Your vote has never made a difference to the outcome.

RedHat: Maybe not, but it’s still better that we have a vote than having no vote at all.

Charlie: But why are hats something you vote on?  Why not just let people decide for themselves what hat to wear?

RedHat: No, that would never work!  There would be hat chaos! 

Narrator: At that, Charlie left Demville, confused.  A few years later, he returned, and found that a radical transformation had taken place….

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 2:03 PM

I really like the contrast between hats and socks because many of the things that are considered "too important to be left to private decision-makers" are completely arbitrary. People say "roads are too important to be produced by the market" but then they allow their food to be produced on the market, despite the obvious fact that food is far more crucial to survival than roads.

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Clayton:
@Graham: Ah! I recall seeing a video with Ben Powell (I'm pretty sure) where he basically contrasts the way we choose governments/policies versus the way we choose a car. What if all 300 million Americans had to drive exactly the same make/model of car and we collectively chose it once every four years by majority vote?

I've heard David Friedman talk about that as well.  He mentions it in The Machinery of Freedom, in the chapter called "And, as a Free Bonus".  This idea could be a whole separate video, and if executed well, it could be powerful and funny.  It could explore the idea of purchasing power constituting a "market vote" and compare this directly to a democratic vote.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 2:24 PM

@Graham: OK, I need to throw my memory out the window... that section from MoF is indeed what I was remember. Gah.

Script feedback:

By choosing "funny hats" instead of an extreme case such as killing, you're weakening your ability to make the moral case since the listener can simply dismiss it as "well, we don't have laws about funny hats, now do we?" (Actually, we do, it's illegal to impersonate certain uniforms, etc.) This is fine since you are making up for it by using wit to appeal to the listener to think about the issue for himself. However, I question whether you really need to follow out the logic all the way to the policeman shooting you, because the listener will not sympathise with someone who is just being obstinate over an inconsequential point of public order (wearing the funny hat). People have little sympathy for jaywalkers who get caught and fined even though they themselves jaywalk all the time. It's a quirk of human nature, I guess.

Maybe you can change the police thing to something also humorous, such as being put on a time-out or being made to wear a dunce-hat. The listener will still get the idea. Perhaps RedHat is wearing a GreenHat in contrast to everyone else who is wearing Red as a punishment for not wearing his RedHat. Or whatever. Make it an oversight rather than obstinacy since the listener will not sympathize with someone who was just being obstinate. Then you can ask whether he will be punished for wearing the wrong color socks. This still points out the arbitrariness of it all without going down the route of questioning whether excessive force is justified by obstinacy.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 2:29 PM

Awesome script, Graham! You should call the video The Town with Only One Hat or something similar.

Clayton, I respectfully disagree with your suggestions. IMHO changing the consequences from being shot to being given a time-out or having to wear a dunce cap makes it silly and people won't take it as seriously. There have to be serious - ridiculously serious! - consequences to the decision. People have little sympathy for jaywalkers who get caught because, as they say, "That's the risk you take." Plus the consequences for getting caught jaywalking are relatively very minor. If jaywalkers were shot when caught, I think it would be a different story altogether.

I really don't think most people explore the full consequences of situations like these. If they're really going to make a fuss about disobeying every step of the way, then they're closed-minded authoritarians and there's little if any point in trying to reach them. It might be prudent to obey in the funny-hat situation, but how is it morally necessary to? I believe that's the question Graham's trying to ask.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 3:11 PM

But I think the fundamental moral question is whether it's morally justifiable to compel people to do things they don't want to do (or vice-versa) but failure to do does not hurt anyone. Under customary law (what I would call "natural order"), an action can only be compelled when it is someone's lawful duty (for example, delivery of purchased goods) or prohibited if it violates the property rights of another. Under the State order, compulsion and prohibition are fundamentally arbitrary vis-a-vis the individuals who are compelled or prohibited (they are not arbitrary vis-a-vis the ends of the State, however).

Democracy is supposed to remove the compulsion/prohibition, that is, it is supposed to restore voluntariness. We all wear funny red hats because we all chose to. By virtue of being given a vote, the wearing of the red hat became your choice too no matter what you actually voted. One of the tropes in operation here is the "Don't be a whiner... you played the game and lost fair-and-square" trope... that is, you were given a vote, you cast your vote, you didn't get your way, and now you have nothing to complain about. If you didn't vote, you have nothing to complain about because you opted out of the game knowing that's how things get decided, so you deserve whatever comes to you, it's the natural consequence of non-participation. This is like the "he who does not work shall not eat" trope. If taxes were raised and you didn't vote, you have no right to complain. You didn't even try to improve your lot in life. If taxes were raised and you did vote, well, sorry buddy, you played the game and lost. Don't be a whiner.

All of this is very disgusting when you take into account that it is things like war, capital punishment, etc. that are at stake. But people don't connect democracy with these extremal conditions - we compartmentalize those into a separate part of the social order related to "due process" and "compliance." Hence, Graham's idea to avoid the extremal conditions is a good idea.

But the same can be argued for the consequences of non-compliance. People have little sympathy for obstinacy, even if the obstinate gives reasons for his obstinacy. Call it the Free-State-Project Effect or the Annoying Libertarian Effect. Protesting the municipalization of garbage services by gumming up the daily routine of the city administration and causing general inconvenience for ordinary citizens just pisses them off, it doesn't prove anything. This is why I suggested avoiding the logic of government against obstinacy.

As far as the consequences being apparently mild (forced to have a time-out or wear a different hat), this is intentional; after all, much of the rationalization for our brutal policies rests on their implicit analogy with socially acceptable childhood punishments. Prison is a lot like detention, when you think about it. Only, it's a bit stricter, longer-lasting and requires more robust measures to prevent escape because of the fact you're dealing with adults, who often happen to be dangerous. So, a time-out is a perfect analogy to prison. If giving adults timeouts for not wearing a funny hat is not reasonable, then why is sending people to prison for smoking pot or wearing a burkha or expressing an unpopular opinion reasonable?

I think the underlying thought-experiment is fundamentally sound precisely because any real-world scenario is more serious than the scenario presented in the video, yet the scenario presented in the video is recognizably unfair or unjust, however minor or petty it may be.

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Clayton:
By choosing "funny hats" instead of an extreme case such as killing, you're weakening your ability to make the moral case since the listener can simply dismiss it as "well, we don't have laws about funny hats, now do we?" (Actually, we do, it's illegal to impersonate certain uniforms, etc.)

The viewer can dismiss any unrealistic law the same way.  "Well, we don't have laws about self-flaggelation / putting redheads to death, now do we?".  So I don't see how having a more extreme example avoids that problem.  You could make it a realistic example, like laws about what plants can be owned, but that would distract the viewer.  I think if you make it hats you don't spark any emotion, and the viewer easily gets the point that it's not a video about a particular law, but the system of law itself that is being questioned.

When I bring up socks, the viewer will notice the inconsistency in RedHat straight away, and then perhaps they will see the inconsistency in themselves, saying that X (e.g. roads) should be decided about democratically while Y (e.g. food) should be decided about through the market process.  At least it will get them thinking about what makes roads different from food, and whether the difference is more relevant than the difference between hats and socks.

Clayton:
This is fine since you are making up for it by using wit to appeal to the listener to think about the issue for himself. However, I question whether you really need to follow out the logic all the way to the policeman shooting you, because the listener will not sympathise with someone who is just being obstinate over an inconsequential point of public order (wearing the funny hat). People have little sympathy for jaywalkers who get caught and fined even though they themselves jaywalk all the time. It's a quirk of human nature, I guess.

I think I do need to follow the logic all the way to the gun, to show there is ultimately a threat of killing behind even "light punishments".  Bitbutter is doing a similar thing in the first half of Give Me Your Ball.  The gun is the crucial difference between a coercive and a voluntary exchange.

I don't really understand your last point.  Jaywalking is not illegal here in the UK.  Why don't people have sympathy for people caught jaywalking?

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 3:28 PM

I'm sorry, Clayton, but I still disagree. A couple of quick points:

First, I think the video can reach more people if they find something in it to relate to. The scenario has something ridiculous (everyone having to wear a single kind of hat) that nevertheless carries potentially deadly consequences for disobedience. Furthermore, it carries those potentially deadly consequences in spite of the disobedience not harming anyone. (Yes, I know that relies on a particular definition of "harm", but I think the vast majority of people will agree with that definition.)

Second, I think you might overstate people's lack of sympathy for obstinacy. I think there are many times where people have a lot of sympathy for it. It depends upon the reason(s) given for it. Do they make sense to people? A lot of times people don't consider the obstinacy worth the effort, and that's why they lose sympathy. "Some battles are worth picking, and some aren't," they say. Honestly, I think all too many people give up all too easily these days, and that's an attitude that I'd certainly like to see questioned and challenged. IMHO, Graham's video presents such a challenge.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 3:42 PM

I think I do need to follow the logic all the way to the gun, to show there is ultimately a threat of killing behind even "light punishments".  Bitbutter is doing a similar thing in the first half of Give Me Your Ball.  The gun is the crucial difference between a coercive and a voluntary exchange.

Fair enough - it's definitely an extremely difficult issue to tackle because there are so many interlocking bad rationalizations. It's a bit like that old saying... we can change it to "democracy wasn't built in a day."

I don't really understand your last point.  Jaywalking is not illegal here in the UK.  Why don't people have sympathy for people caught jaywalking?

I know you have laws against littering. If you think about it, on a grand scale, common littering is not that big a deal, "regular" folks do it all the time, and yet anyone who gets caught littering is not only ticketed but gets plenty of nasty looks from self-righteous passers-by who almost certainly have themselves littered. I'm just pointing out that human nature is ... quirky.

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The questions I want to put in people's minds are "Why is X something that we decide about by voting at all?" and "Why are elections about X held out at national level, rather than at a local level or global level?".

The first question is a great one. The second is definitely important too, but it seems secondary, like it is a follow up question to the first to further point out how odd it is that some arbitrary things are decided on by elections. The fact that X is decided by a voting process at all rather than by the usual voluntary market processes is the main thing that is arbitrary. The fact that this vote is taken at a national level as opposed to a local or global level is also arbitrary, but is secondary to the fact that the voting process exists at all.

You finished the first half of your script with:

"Narrator: At that, Charlie left Demville, confused.  A few years later, he returned, and found that a radical transformation had taken place…."

In light of the second question that you said you wanted your video to present, my guess is that the second half of your script is about a "radical transformation" in which the voting process to decide what color hats people wear changes to a more local level. So now in Demville people wear different color hats because there are multiple districts that engage in hat voting that come to different conclusions. Perhaps some districts even decide that people don't wear hats. This could then cause the viewer to wonder why the people don't just localize the voting process all the way to the individual so that each person can decide for himself which color hat he wishes to wear or whether he wishes not to wear a hat at all.

The audience would reason that people have different preferences on things and so the voting process should be localized all the way to the individual so that they can all have what they want rather than force others to do things against their will or be forced to do things themselves by others that they don't want.

When you rephrase your second question to "Why are elections about X held out at national level, rather than at a global level or local level or "extreme localized" individual level?" it actually becomes the same as the first question, so in a way it isn't a "secondary" question as I said before.

My favorite line of the script is:

"Charlie: Who decided that hats are an issue that needs to be voted on?"

It is my favorite line because this is when people just assume that things that are voted on should be voted on rather than be decided on by individuals like most things (like whether to wear socks or not and what kind of hat to wear if you choose to wear one, etc).

Actually, the subject of healthcare here in the US comes to mind. A substantial number of Republicans think that individuals should be able to decide for themselves which healthcare services they wish to purchase and do not think that it should be something that is voted on and forced on everyone. In effect, the Republicans vote that we shouldn't be forced to wear certain color hats. Some even say that "Obamacare" is unconstitutional meaning that they think health care is an issue that should not be voted on, but instead should be left to individuals to make their own choices. Of course, I don't think that this is an answer to Charlie's question. I doubt many Republicans would answer Charlie that "If the Constitution permits that an issue can be voted on then we should vote on it rather than let individuals make their own decisions."

Yet, it is interesting to note that the Republicans' way of saying that they don't think that healthcare is an issue that should voted on is by voting against government healthcare and by saying that it is unconstitutional. Further, it should be noted that despite how these Republicans express their opinion that healthcare is not something to be voted on, healthcare is indeed something that is voted on.

Analgously, even if RedHat thought that everyone should be free to wear or not wear whatever color hats he wants, he would still go along with his government's enforcement of the red hat rule pretending that it  is moral because it was democratically voted on despite how he personally believes that everyone should be free to decide on hats as individuals. As an anarchist I would say that it is morally wrong to force people to wear red hats, despite the government ruling, but as a believer in democracy RedHat would simply say that he disagrees with the government's rule. He would not go so far as to call it immoral, despite how it clearly is immoral, because of his belief in democracy. omehow you, Graham, should figure out how to draw attention to this fact. Perhaps begin the video by having someone who isn't wearing a red hat get arrested so that the audience responds, "Of course it's morally wrong to force people to wear red hats!" In this way they aren't just saying "I disagree that it should be illegal for people to not wear red hats," but instead are saying that it would be morally wrong to make it illegal for people to not wear red hats. Perhaps this would get Republicans to say that it is wrong to force people to buy healthcare against their will rather than just say that they don't agree with government healthcare, as if it were fine for people to take the other opinion and say that people should be forced to buy healthcare against their will. So you could cast a moral light on decisions reached by democratic voting processes in this way to show that just because it was voted on doesn't make it any less immoral.

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PeaceRequiresAnarchy:

The questions I want to put in people's minds are "Why is X something that we decide about by voting at all?" and "Why are elections about X held out at national level, rather than at a local level or global level?".

The first question is a great one. The second is definitely important too, but it seems secondary, like it is a follow up question to the first to further point out how odd it is that some arbitrary things are decided on by elections. The fact that X is decided by a voting process at all rather than by the usual voluntary market processes is the main thing that is arbitrary. The fact that this vote is taken at a national level as opposed to a local or global level is also arbitrary, but is secondary to the fact that the voting process exists at all.

You finished the first half of your script with:

"Narrator: At that, Charlie left Demville, confused.  A few years later, he returned, and found that a radical transformation had taken place…."

In light of the second question that you said you wanted your video to present, my guess is that the second half of your script is about a "radical transformation" in which the voting process to decide what color hats people wear changes to a more local level. So now in Demville people wear different color hats because there are multiple districts that engage in hat voting that come to different conclusions. Perhaps some districts even decide that people don't wear hats. This could then cause the viewer to wonder why the people don't just localize the voting process all the way to the individual so that each person can decide for himself which color hat he wishes to wear or whether he wishes not to wear a hat at all.

The audience would reason that people have different preferences on things and so the voting process should be localized all the way to the individual so that they can all have what they want rather than force others to do things against their will or be forced to do things themselves by others that they don't want.

When you rephrase your second question to "Why are elections about X held out at national level, rather than at a global level or local level or "extreme localized" individual level?" it actually becomes the same as the first question, so in a way it isn't a "secondary" question as I said before.

I agree, and you've guessed exactly what I have in mind.  I agree that the first question is more fundamental and direct, but that in some sense they are the same question.  When trying to answer the first question, you basically have two approaches: ethical or economic.  Either way, I find that people have difficulty applying the principles in general.  I'm sure I could convince someone that hats should not be put to a vote, but then they'll still believe that roads should be put to a vote, because it's hard to imagine a free market in roads and the arguments don't carry over so easily.  And once roads are dealt with, they will move on to something else, like money or security, and each one requires altered arguments, because the particular concern is different in each case.

The second question I believe is a very effective short-cut.  Once pointed out to them, most people can see that it is rather arbitrary that some things are voted on at the local level, others national, others international.  Why?  Who decided that?  How do we know that's optimal?  Unless they support global government, they must have some reason to limit the scope of the voting.  They must support secession to some extent.  If you work out what that reason is, you then just extend that principle all the way down to the individual.  We need a free market (which in this context means ultimated right to secession) in order to know the appropriate 'level' on which decisions should be taken, i.e. what firm size is optimal.  Here is an old post of mine describing how I use this technique: http://mises.org/Community/forums/t/13748.aspx

What I want to do in this video is show that the people of Demville never were convinced that hats should be a matter of individual choice rather than being put to a vote.  But they did come to believe in the principle of secession and localism, without realising that these are (when fully extended) exactly the same thing.  In the same way, instead of arguing that drugs should be legalised, I'd like to see more people (non-libertarians, even) arguing that drug laws should be decided at an increasingly local level.  Because that line of thinking leads to full legalisation and individual decisionmaking.

 

Re morality, do you think people who support drug prohibition would say that drug prohibition is immoral, but they support it anyway for some other reason (perhaps they think legalisation would have bad consequences) or do they actually think drug prohibition is the moral position?  I think it's probably a mixture, but the second notion is so easily dispelled that I prefer to focus on the people who agree that it's immoral but just see no other way, e.g. "OK, taxation is theft (and theft is immoral) but we HAVE to have government because anarchy is chaos".  I think this is the more common position than someone who actually thinks taxation is not theft (e.g. social contract theorists).  As I said before, I think George Ought To Help and The Philosophy Of Liberty make that point more effectively than I ever could, so I'm more interested in addressing more practical concerns.  Besides, I think the immorality of forcing someone to wear a hat of a particular color is so obvious that it hardly needs stating, and is implied anyway when RedHat says that killing someone over socks is immoral.

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Unless they support global government, they must have some reason to limit the scope of the voting.

That is definitely something that I would try to fit into the video. Perhaps use reverse psychology on the audience by having someone propose that hats be voted on at a more global level so that the voters in each hat election include not only the inhabitants of Demville, but the citizens of surrounding societies as well.

So the first part of your video will make the audience ask the important question: why is X an issue that should be voted on at all? And the second part will show that the more local the level that issues are voted on the better the results. This will hopefully trigger some people in the audience to push the better results of more local level elections all the way to the level of the individual. This second part of the video thus makes the “short-cut” argument for anarchical decision-making on those issues that the majoritarian still believes are issues that should be voted on for whatever reason.

What I am unsure about is how the video will make sure that everyone in the audience understands that the localism argument is applicable to all issues. I am worried that many people might just watch the video and say, “Yes, voting on hats at a more local level is better than a more global level and the extreme localization—‘hat anarchy’—is the best option, but the same is not true of other issues that I currently believe should be voted on, such as roads, police, healthcare, armies, charity, etc.”

In order for the video to be effective it must get the audience to see that the argument for hat anarchy and for localizing hat voting is applicable to other issues as well and currently I do not see how it does that.

A few years later, he returned, and found that a radical transformation had taken place.

That is evidence that hat localism is preferred. The statist can just say that hats are not analogous to other issues and then fail to learn anything from the whole second half of the video.

In fact, the same is true of the first half of the video as well. Why shouldn’t we expect that people will answer the first question (Why is X an issue that should be voted on?) with “It’s not” for issues like hats, but then continue to believe that it is for other issues such as roads, police, healthcare, armies, charity, etc.

It is thus crucial both to the first and second half of the the video that the video provides a counter-argument to the cheap objection that “some issues (e.g. roads, police, etc) are different than hats.” It needs to give a reason why the arguments for hat anarchy and hat localism presented in the video are applicable to other issues as well or else the audience might fail to even question why they believe that other issues should be voted on.

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OK, I've had a rethink, and this is what I came up with.  I postpone all of the script I haven't posted yet (about localism, secession, etc) for a sequel.  And I add another couple of minutes onto the end to address your point about applicability.  I just wrote this, and I'm not sure if I like it yet, but here it is:

 

Charlie: But why are hats something you vote on? 

RedHat: Because some things, like socks, are best left up to individuals to make decisions about for themselves.  Sock-makers compete to satisfy people’s preferences for socks, and so the free market determines what kinds of socks get produced, by who, where and how.  That system works well for things like socks.  But there are other things, like hats, that we make collective decisions about through voting.  It’s more efficient to produce only one colour of hat at a time.

Charlie: Why not just let people decide for themselves what hat to wear?  Why not have allow the free market to determine what kinds of hats get produced?

RedHat: No, that would never work!  There would be hat chaos!  Greedy hat makers would take advantage of everyone.  They would form a hat cartel, and then hats would be too expensive for poor people.  And who would protect the people from a nasty hat maker who makes poor quality or dangerous hats?  It would be a disaster if the hat industry was left to the free market rather than controlled democratically by everyone. 

Charlie: What is the relevant difference between socks and hats?  Why does a free market in socks work well, while a free market in hats would be a disaster?

RedHat: I don’t know.  But where you live, aren’t there some things that are left up to free markets, and other things that are decided by voting?

Charlie: Yes, like police, roads, schools, healthcare, postal services, and so on, which are controlled by government.  Our government’s policies are decided by voters.  In theory, anyway.

RedHat: Why do you decide about these things democratically?

Charlie: Well it would never work having those things left up to the free market.  Imagine a free market in schools!  There would be chaos!  Greedy school owners would take advantage of everyone.  They would form a school cartel, and then kids from poor families would not be able to afford schooling.  And who would protect the kids and parents from nasty schools who deliver poor quality schooling or teach the kids dangerous ideas and values?  It would be a disaster if the school industry was left to the free market!  Schools, roads, post offices, healthcare and police need to be controlled democratically by everyone.

RedHat: Who decided that schooling is something you decide about democratically?

Charlie: I don’t know exactly.  In some countries, where they don’t have voting, there are school dictators who indoctrinate kids by forcing them to learn whatever the dictator wants them to learn.  We’re much better off in countries where we get to vote, because we’re free to choose which politician is going to make the ultimate decisions about what our kids are going to be forced to learn.

RedHat: What happens to someone who refuses to pay taxes to pay for schools?

Charlie: Anyone who gets caught underpaying taxes is in trouble.

RedHat: He could be shot?

Charlie: If he resisted arrest, sure.

RedHat: So then I suppose the question for you is: What is the difference between hats and socks and all the other things that you leave to the free market, and schools, roads, post offices, healthcare and police, which you decide about by voting?

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AJ replied on Thu, Mar 29 2012 3:19 PM

The original video was excellent, and I like this last version, but I think the critical thing that made the first video work (i.e., garner many views) is that the viewer cannot tell what view is being "espoused," whose side you're on, what agenda you're pushing, or whatever you want to call it. It walks that line very well, such that for the duration of the presentation the viewer is unable to slot it into any political box.

During that time, the viewer is magically open to new ideas. If somehow you can manage to call government into question while maintaining that neutrality, you can have a large effect on people and get many views. The first video succeeded at that, perhaps because of the alien-visiting-earth trope and that down-to-earth apolitical chap and avoidance of any buzzwords of any ideology (e.g., "free market").

I wish I knew how you could pull off the same trick again with this new video. 

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