Why is it not cool to talk politics in mixed company? I’m thinking it’s just because politics is an aggressive, predatory sort of thing. It’s really just about us all trying to force others to do or not do what we want or don’t want them to do. So it’s better not to discuss it and keep pretending we are living together peacefully. As the late, great, economist/philosopher/historian, Murray Rothbard explained:
The great German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer pointed out that there are two mutually exclusive ways of acquiring wealth; one, the above way of production and exchange, he called the “economic means.” The other way is simpler in that it does not require productivity; it is the way of seizure of another’s goods or services by the use of force and violence. This is the method of one-sided confiscation, of theft of the property of others. This is the method which Oppenheimer termed “the political means” to wealth.
And of course we wouldn’t be comfortable discussing with our neighbor our plans to plunder his house or forcibly stop him from doing something he enjoys. This is why we’re not comfortable discussing who we will vote for in the coming election, because our political leaders are just middle men doing the dirty work for us.
Maybe we don’t like smoking and would like to see it outlawed. Maybe we’d love to see sugary drinks banned and obese people jailed until they lose weight. Maybe we’d like to see taxes raised until all incomes are equal or until all the poor are happy. Maybe we’d like to bomb some middle eastern country to smithereens using tax dollars. All of these sorts of wishes entail infringing on someone else’s freedom to do or not do what they choose. And all involve coercive means of enforcement.
And so when we engage in the political process, we are simply engaging in a very anti-social, aggressive behavior against our neighbors by proxy. And we try to keep up the appearance that this is not so, so that we can continue to socialize with them as if we did not have a knife at their back.
As a friend of mine wrote: “The elephant in the room is that people have a coercive relationship with us and don’t want to inspect that.”
But there is another way. It is the “economic means,” the voluntary way, the social way that is built into us. It is this social “instinct” that makes us feel uncomfortable discussion politics. Let’s not ignore it, but listen to it, and not engage in the political process except, if necessary, in self-defence.