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The Sovereign Citizen

A tad self centered

Last week police in Massachusetts encountered a group of heavily armed men travelling in two cars. They didn't have drivers licences or gun permits and told the police that they didn't need those things because they don't recognize the US government as legitimate and so it's don't apply to them. There are many groups of them. Many are right wing extremists but the ones last week belonged to a black group called Rise of the Moors.

In Canada we have people with similar ideas who call themselves 'free men on the land'. These are nasty people. They will rent a property from you and then refuse to pay rent because they aren't bound by the laws of the land. They trash the place in revenge when finally successfully evicted.

I think these people are literally sick. They've caught a virus. But it's a mental virus. We call them memes. Years ago, Dennett likened memes to viruses that infected brains that were indifferent to the needs of those brains. With sovereign citizens we can see a clear example of a harmful meme though most memes are quite benign and we need them to survive.

But the sovereign citizens had been prepared to receive that meme by many aspects of the way we think about ourselves. People like to talk in terms of a 'social contract' that binds society together. I can see why. The idea of a contract is a set of rules that the signatories are bound by. Society has rules that everyone is bound by but it's pernicious to call that a contract because (apart from immigrants) the citizens born into a culture never sign a contract. I think the sovereign citizens are saying that they aren't bound by something they never agreed to.

I find this frustrating in a way. They are wrong but there is no rational argument that is persuasive to them. They can just cross their arms and refuse to agree. And we do live in an era where it's normal for public figures to tell big lies and make up alternative facts on the spot.

There are roots of this in both the left and the right.
I remember the post-modernist movement and it's assertion that there are no facts at all. There are only assertions made in the interests of the powerful.
That was a major attack on science.
And it almost makes sense if you look at the human project of scientific research. The problem is that science gives us useful knowledge that has built our world. Post-modernists gave us bad poetry and ugly pictures. The post-modernists tried to let the perfect kill the good. That worked for a lot of people.

Of course irrationalism is way older than post-modernists. All religions are irrational at base no matter how logical a superstructure they try to build on it. And religion is way closer to the core of our culture than post-modernists ever were.

In researching this topic I came across this idea at https://scholarworks.uark.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3062&context=etd
(start quote)
. . . the extreme right became linked to the Christian Identity Movement. The Christian Identity Movement was ideologically centered on the belief that members of the Aryan race were God’s chosen people, not the Jews, and that America was God’s promised land reserved for Aryans alone. The ideology was built around radical interpretations of the Bible and it was embedded with conspiracy theories that the United States government had been infiltrated completely by Jews creating what the movement called the Zionist Occupational Government. It is under this belief system that the numerous far–right groups emerged.

(end quote)
Yikes

I think it's important to note that rational persuasion will not work here. With persuasion the conversants have to understand the words each uses. I can't converse with a person speaks only French and I'm a Canadian :-( The problem is worse when people use the same language but interpret the words in radically different ways. What is to be done?

To a certain extent "might is right" will apply. Sovereign citizens may refuse to obey the law and they'll go to jail a lot. But one way I look at this is in terms of games theory where you have populations interacting. Most people in a society are co-operative in that they think they benefit by playing by the rules. The co-operative people trust that others are co-operative too. This gives opportunities to people who are cheaters. The cheaters thrive until the co-operators get wise and take steps against them. It turns out that an equilibrium can be achieved. A population generally has a proportion of co-operators/cheaters that is fairly constant. I consider sovereign citizens to be cheaters. Over time co-operators will learn how to handle the small number of them among us.

Returning to the earlier example of freemen on the land renting houses and then saying they are not bound by Canada's laws and don't pay rent.
This is parasitic behavior.
A society of only co-operators is conceivable (though unlikely) because it produces what it needs to survive. A society of only parasites couldn't survive because it doesn't produce. I think Kant had a maxim about that :-)

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.