06 January 2011

Forced-labor "liberals"

It's an unpleasant experience to visit a liberal blog and discover a proposal of spine-chilling evil. Yet that's what happened three days ago when I went to Politics Plus and found this -- a proposal for conscription of young people into compulsory national service (civilian or military) from a supposedly liberal viewpoint.

As I commented at the post: "Since when is forced labor a liberal idea? There are very few matters of principle I’d be willing to go to jail over. Helping a young person escape conscription (military or otherwise) is one of them."

At 50 I'm now much too old to be at any risk of being swept up in such a scheme, but I can remember being 18. The idea that my life should be a mere utensil for purposes chosen by those in power, rather than my own, outrages me now just as much as it did then.

I do not use the word "evil" lightly above. The evil in this kind of idea is precisely the same as the evil in the right's ambition to ban abortion, thus forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term: the evil of making your body and your self belong not to you but to the powerful, to do their will, not yours.

Here are a few of the responses to my comment:

For poor youth choosing military service is the only realistic way to escape the ghetto, so they are already conscripted in a de facto sense.

Rubbish. Millions of people grow up poor and do not join the military, therefore there is not an equivalent of compulsion to do so. It's a choice they are free to make, and should be. Anyway, this is a dishonest misuse of the word "conscription". I have to work at a 40-hour-per-week civilian job, otherwise I would also be poor, but that doesn't mean I've been "conscripted" into that job in any meaningful sense. I have the choice to not work and try to make a living some other way, or just be poor, if I prefer. Conscription into civilian forced labor -- which is what I'm objecting to here -- would be morally intolerable. Working at a job because you need the money is not comparable.

Anyway, if you think poor people have too few options other than joining the military, then the proper liberal solution is to support better jobs programs to give them more options -- not to impose forced labor on them and everyone else.

what are you doing to get the kids who would be drafted or conscripted to get out of the slums and violence filled cities and rural towns of this nation?

Of course like most liberals I support good public education, jobs programs, and other methods for addressing poverty. I don't support imposing forced labor on people against their will. Give poor people enough respect to let them make their own choices -- and give them more choices, don't take choice away.

Would you be willing to go to jail to keep these kids from seeing a different way of life

Of course not. Anyone is free to join the military or work for worthy causes right now, as they should be. I would go to jail to save people from being coerced into forced labor.

Forced labor by young people is an idea whose time has passed. Most of the developed nations have already abolished military conscription (most recently Germany, despite conservative objections), and to my knowledge, none have imposed civilian forced labor as a substitute.

It's interesting, too, that civilian forced-labor proposals target only the young; you have a bunch of middle-aged people sitting around discussing what 18-year-olds should be forced to do for their own good (or middle-class people discussing what the poor should be forced to do for their own good). Most civilian work puts more of a premium on experience than on muscle power, so why 18-year-olds and not 40-year-olds? I think the people who are so keen on forced-labor plans for the young would be a lot less enthused if they themselves were also to be imposed on.

As an aside, from time to time I've seen liberals advocate bringing back military conscription because they think that, if all young people were at risk of being forced to go fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, there would be mass protests against the continuation of those wars. Aside from the breathtaking moral evil implicit in such an idea, it wouldn't work. Imposing conscription would not result in mass protests against the wars, it would result in mass protests against imposing conscription -- and a tremendous swing by young voters against the party which had imposed it.

I do wonder a bit: Is there something in the religious mentality that makes the idea of forced labor imposed by the government seem appealing? As I've said before, one of the positives about being an atheist is that I feel freer knowing that my life is my own and not cluttered up with some "higher purpose" imposed by a supernatural tyrant. Some religionists seem to like the concept of that imposed "higher purpose". I don't get that at all -- but does the idea of a government-imposed "higher purpose" seem appealing by some sort of analogy?

Two final points: First, it's ridiculous to argue that conscription would be an effective program for getting poor people out of poverty and slums. We had a military draft for decades, and many poor people were subject to it, and there were still poverty and slums, and there still are. Second, every supposed benefit of a forced-labor plan could equally well be obtained by a voluntary national-service system with both civilian and military options. Just get rid of the element of forced participation and I would have no objection.


Blogger Ahab said...

I am adamantly against mandated conscription into the military for moral reasons. People should not be forced to fight and kill (or directly support an institution that does so) against their will.

From a pragmatic perspective, forced conscription would decrease the quality of the armed forces. Not everyone is physically or psychologically suited for military life, and morale is far better when servicemembers WANT to be there.

06 January, 2011 06:23  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Ranch Style Greeting's Infodel!

This was an interesting posting and link's for me, because I wondered alot about this, especially over some of the water cooler chat in Washington as far as trying to get more young folk's in the military and even some that would like to try to impose a draft again ... or find some term to use that they can market, that would be the samne thing, and also because ... I know there are also some who want to figure out a way to do more contracting and privatizing military or other reason's like getting government contract's for profit, because also too, I am wondering ... if and when say all our troop's are out of Iraq even (supposedly in a year, which I will ... yeah, believe, when I see it ... heh, heh, heh, heh, heh) because of the new investment's and interest's there ... who are going to be watching and protecting it behind the scene's? Our taxes through funding and contract's? or our young military recruit's? or some other method? I also wonder about this cause year's ago I thought this may be an idea and great in a nationalist sense ... being that a gal I knew who enlisted in the Army and spent a decade in it as a career goal, suggested it, and some of it sounded great ... but what you are pointing out is also very importante too. I mean ... what is this actually? ... how can we "not" see it as "force"? I also have some concern because I have a niece who just enlisted over a year ago out of High School to further her education, and is already in Afghanistan, I also have another niece enlisting this month for the same reason, and a nephew Marine who also did so, and already served 3 mission's I found out in Iraq (I thought only 2 at first) ... but my 2 niece's come from single parent low income inner city home enviroment's, and seen it kind of as an only option. So many of my daughter's HS classmate's, also enlisted strictly just to get education grant's. This is also why I am for nationalized college education tuition paid for by gvmnt, or at least something other than what we have now. I actually tried to enlist as I told you before during a draft ... but not because I was patriotic or wanted an education, but for selfish reason's.

06 January, 2011 06:34  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Ahab: Interesting point's also.

06 January, 2011 06:35  
Blogger Jerry Critter said...

Rather than conscription, I would like to see more incentives for national service, like spend one or two years of service (military or civilian) and get 4 years of college free -- kind of like the old GI bill but for civilian service also.

06 January, 2011 09:01  
Blogger Eric Noren said...

Well said, and something I can agree with you on. If that's an accurate sample of the comments you received in response, perhaps you should join me on the dark side. Debate isn't quite so shallow on the right.

06 January, 2011 09:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: Good point. Civilian enterprises would probably also dread the presence of a big influx of people who didn't want to be working for them and had been forced into it, for the same reasons as the military would.

RC: I don't deny that many people benefit from military service, but it has to be voluntary -- the individual is the best judge of whether or not it's the right option for himself or herself. Same goes for any other kind of national service.

JC: That sounds good to me -- people respond better to incentives than to coercion, anyway.

HR: They're only a sample, but they're representative. I do agree with conservatives in some areas where they have a better position from the individual-freedom standpoint, such as gun-ownership rights.

06 January, 2011 09:30  
Anonymous Sherry Peyton said...

Frankly I saw Tomcat's post and passed over it with little thought. Most of his stuff is cut and past with short commentary and nothing much new. However, your post gives me pause. I think you may be right here. I have been troubled at the use of the poor as the norm for the military because they have so few options. There are better ways, than to force people into service I think.

I don't really see a religious angle here. But I will continue to ponder it. Thanks for an enlightening discussion.

06 January, 2011 09:56  
Blogger TomCat said...

I certainly respect your right to disagree with the idea that I threw out. Calling me evil is, in my opinion, going overboard.

06 January, 2011 13:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TC: I didn't call you evil. I called this proposal -- one among probably thousands of posts you've written -- evil. Which I sincerely consider it to be.

06 January, 2011 14:31  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Hey ... I'm evil ... and a Nazi racist too! :) ... heh, heh, heh, heh, heh

07 January, 2011 02:01  
Blogger Christine Vyrnon said...

I'm glad to see you tackle this - and though some liberals are gung-ho about required civil service - many aren't. Like others have said - there should be more choices - particularly when education creates so much debt and as a result force people to slave away in jobs that hold little meaning - but pay the debt they owe to be an educated member of society. The Choice of social service programs that offer debt forgiveness is a good idea - but like you I really dislike it when liberals banter on about forcing all citizens to serve their country - which would end up with those who know how to work the loopholes skipping out on civil service altogether.

07 January, 2011 07:40  
Blogger TomCat said...

Infidel, it may not have been what you meant, but the word 'evil' implies a morally corrupt intent.

My idea was fundamentally flawed, because it violated the prohibition against slavery in the 13th Amendment, something neither of us caught.

I got the argument I made in my reply (to your comment) that the youth of this country feel forced into military service to escape poverty from something I read from soldiers who did not want to return for a fourth deployment to Iraq. They did not think their explanation was BS.

I see a situation in this nation in which the poor and middle classes in this nation make all the sacrifices and the rich get all the benefits. My full intent was to find a way to solve some of our nation's worst problems in a way that is fully egalitarian, a way in which the well-to-do cannot escape their fair share of the sacrifices. The idea itself was a bad one. Once I realize I'm wrong about something, I say so. But there is nothing evil about searching for ways to achieve what I want to achieve.

07 January, 2011 11:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Hello TomCat, I appreciate your commenting again.

I don't deny that "evil" is a rather serious term to use, but I believe there's a meaningful distinction between calling a person "evil" and calling a single idea of that person's "evil".

I'm not sure whether your idea would, in fact, violate the 13th Amendment, since courts have ruled that military conscription does not violate it, but in any case my objections don't depend in that issue.

They did not think their explanation was BS.

I've also heard of people who feel that having to work at an ordinary job because they need the money constitutes coercion akin to conscription, but the fact that some people feel that way does not make it true. In any case, as I said in the post, millions of people grow up poor and do not join the military, which I think shows pretty clearly that being poor is not equivalent to forced conscription into the military.

All the benefits which forced national service would supposedly bring to the poor could equally well be achieved by a voluntary national-service system. If somebody doesn't want to participate, that's their right. Use incentives, not coercion.

The idea itself was a bad one. Once I realize I'm wrong about something, I say so.

That's admirable -- a lot of people won't.

My full intent was to find a way to solve some of our nation's worst problems in a way that is fully egalitarian, a way in which the well-to-do cannot escape their fair share of the sacrifices.

Just as a fully laissez-faire society is unacceptable because it leads to excessive inequality, so a fully egalitarian society could not be achieved without excessive interference with individual freedom. There must be pragmatic compromise. Being wealthy means you have a wider range of choices, and that's not always something we should view as illegitimate. To the extent that it's a problem, the proper solution, as I said in the post, is to widen the range of options available to the poor.

I'm all in favor of making the wealthy share the burden through progressive taxation, but conscription is a step too far toward a totalitarian nightmare where one's life belongs to the state instead of to oneself.

07 January, 2011 12:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Christine: and though some liberals are gung-ho about required civil service - many aren't.

I remain mystified by how anyone could think something so flagrantly illiberal as conscription could be a liberal idea. We're the heirs of those who struggled to end the draft in the 70s.

And, yes, if an idea like this were ever implemented, and some young person on the run from the national-service conscription board needed my help to get to the Canadian border, I'd do it, even at risk of going to jail. I'd feel it was my duty as a liberal to do so.

07 January, 2011 12:35  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

I think a volunteer service is the best course. And this country has several to offer to young people who need help in paying off tuition costs.

Apart from that, though, is this question: What happened to this country that made it so difficult for non-wealthy, trust-fund kids to get a good education without having to mortgage their future?

I personally know too many adults in their 30s and 40s who are still paying off their college loans at the same time they're trying to raise a family and pay health care costs and plan for their children's education.

A couple I know had to pay a consultation fee for docs at Children's Hospital Boston for their child for an unusual syndrome--it was NOT covered by their insurance, and the consultations with the docs and resultant tests cost them $1,000+ out of pocket.

How do lower middle class and poor people survive in this country. I have family and friends in Europe, and they think we're nuts. No one goes without medical help (and dental) when it is needed.

Not everyone gets to be a YouTube lucky ducky.

07 January, 2011 13:49  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

So many great comment's here from folk's ... I was just joking about the "evil" stuff. But what also got my atencion was where Shaw talk's about familia and friend's in EU that think were nut's! :) Aint that the truth!! We are .. like totally fucked up in the head in our own way here. Yet we rant endlessly about our so called "familia value's" ... but frankly as I wrote time and again ... those who rant all this shit, actually dont "value familia" whatsoever ... that is why I call America the "Land of Milking Money" and nation so full of shit. :)

One of the most pathetic thing's in this country ... is you cant even trust capitalism like you used to ... even folk's like myself are crying out for more socialism (and I was a life long voting republican for year's) :) simply because I trust government more than insurance companies these day's ... I know most likely if I end up with a serious injury, surgery, or such ... there is a good chance that the insurance company will weigh cost's and toss me out in the middle of it, even if I never missed one payment, and I would actually get better treatment in a County Hospital, I would rather pay government much higher taxes, than these cut throat's any day in these time's, because their greed intensifies by the year even.

I know this isnt about military or a draft, but Shaw's comment just took me down Memory Lane. She is so accurate on even folk's trying to get shit paid off ... I know a gal who had a baby two year's ago and is still paying on it, because the insurance denied this and that, she got laid off, then hour's cut on a new job, etc. Folk's like Shaw know's of paying off just basic education loan's etc, etc

I know folk's with 3 part time job's, and because their part time, by Texas Law ... employer's are NOT required to give ANY benefit whatsoever, not even sick leave, holiday pay, or any vacation ... this is the truth, believe me.

08 January, 2011 01:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SK: Excellent point. We already have civilian public service options, as well as the military.

Not only European countries, but every advanced country except ours, has some kind of universal health-coverage system. Costa Rica, which is not a rich country, has had such a system for decades, and the life expectancy there is longer than in the US. Americans are blinded from self-interest by ideology.

RC: Capitalism is necessary -- it's the most effective economic system ever discovered for producing wealth -- but it needs to be moderated so as not to turn into the law of the jungle. Things like benefits and paid vacations are not bestowed by employers out of benevolence. They were won by unions and political activism, and if the Randroid types get their way, they could be lost even for full-time workers.

08 January, 2011 05:08  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

"Randroid"? I reckon that has something to do with this Rand Paul character ... I seen a CNN vid with him talking about how he will economize and live with his dad in Washington ... and I thought he lived in Texas ... show's you WTF I know.

I never was union Guy ... but recently in the last few year's thought they may be necessary, because of the way thing's are changing. Dont get me wrong .. I have alway's liked capitalism ... but I never had to face the type of neo monopoly style this before, that so many large entities have and influence as strong as today in politic's. Also the kind of capitalism I am/ was from was "old school", where there was a certain amount more of trust and integrity, and those who actually acheived were rewarded, and so on. What capitalism is in 2011 USA ... I simply have question's about. I am self employed for instance ... and my client's know .... I am not going to fuck them ... I mean ... call me old fashioned, but that's how I operate ... and Yes ... I still profit, and know I'm in good standing with my customer's, were all happy ... not rich, but comfortable.

08 January, 2011 05:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

"Randroid" is a term for followers of the ideology of Ayn Rand, which the Pauls certainly are -- I think Rand Paul may even have been named after her.

08 January, 2011 06:47  
Blogger libhom said...

I oppose the draft.

However, it is a fact that denial of economic opportunity in concert with stalking by military recruiters serves as a form of coercion to push the poor into the military.

The problem is that the rich don't have to worry about dying in wars, so they tend to continue them so they can make money off of them. If there was a draft, it should be limited exclusively to the sons and daughters of the rich.

08 January, 2011 08:27  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Again, a renewed draft would not make its targets work to end wars. It would make them work to end the draft.

08 January, 2011 08:41  

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