Refusing Consent: The Power of Non-Compliance

3/6/16 UPDATE: In learning more about non-compliance, I realized this article really needed a serious overhaul. Brand paragraphs have been added, and only a few elements were changed from the original version. I sincerely hope this revision is more helpful to you all.

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“Obviously there is not need of fighting to overcome this single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement: it is not necessary to deprive him of anything, but simply to give him nothing; there is no need that the country make an effort to do anything for itself provided it does nothing against itself. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or, rather, apparently welcomes it.” [emphasis added]

Étienne de La Boétie




According to a Catholic interpretation of the Bible, the battle cries of St. Michael the Archangel and Lucifer (aka, Satan) were alleged to be serviam and non serviam; these translate into English as “I will serve,” and “I will not serve,” respectively. This dichotomy is portrayed in terms of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong. What troubles me to no end is, what if the implications of this story are completely backwards?

At the risk of being accused for promoting “Satanism,” I think Lucifer had the right idea. Taking as a given that the State imagines itself to be God, then I don’t think such a “deity” ought to be worshipped. If God is simply Nature itself, then “revealed” religion, including Christianity, was just spun out of woven cloth by an idiot. Regardless of metaphysical truth, what repulses me about this biblical story is the portrayal of serving “authority” as the ultimate good, whereas anything contrary to that is held to be the epitome of evil.

If anything, consenting to slavishly lower one’s self under the boot of “authority” is the worst sin imaginable. Freedom simply does not matter if you are not in a position to make any decisions. An “absence of servitude or restraint” is what composes the essence of liberty, just as anarchy means living without rulers. You cannot assert your support for human liberty while simultaneously advocating on behalf of rulers who seek to forcibly impose servitude on you by restraining your autonomy.

To that end, non-compliance is vital in securing liberty, if for no other practical reason than to demonstrate good libertarian role-modeling. It is straining credulity to proclaim one’s love of freedom, but then act as if obedience to the State is a virtue. Given these premises, I am left to conclude that refusing consent, or even allegiance, is an act of moral integrity.

Of course, non-compliance is not strictly limited to the political nature of government. In your personal life, there are individuals who will want something from you, and they will ask you, whether subtly or explicitly, for you to make a decision about it, at some point. Unless they are holding a gun to your head or otherwise coercing you, then generally speaking, these interactions are presumed to be voluntary between you and them.

Obviously, it is not always desirable to say, “no.” The range of difficulty can span from the painlessly easy to the agonizingly hard. On the hardest end of the range, one may incur the risk of ostracism for saying, “no,” which ranges from the very likely to an absolute guarantee. Furthermore, “asking for the order” may receive an affirmative or negative answer depending on the nature of the thing being asked.

For instance, if your teenage child is asking you if he may borrow the family car for his “hot date” this weekend, or for $50 in cash for some vague reason, these may be easily refused with minimal fussiness, since the car and the cash in question are both your property. However, if your adult child is asking for your blessing regarding her upcoming wedding, then telling her that her fiancé is a bad match for her, even if true, risks alienating her from your life, permanently. Refusing to buy sugary cereal for your toddler is not the same as being openly disapproving of your twenty-something’s choice of “career.”

Naturally, saying “yes” too much entails the risk of being like a hamster on a wheel. For humans, this type of behavior only breeds resentment, sooner or later. Thus, the only problem with being in the habit of saying “no” is risking passing up good opportunities without realizing it.

Some have suggested that there is a cultural stigma to saying “no” to people’s demands, especially regarding life-altering circumstances. Given that “society” does not exist, then the only thing that matters is what individuals value. Telling strangers that you are not willing to help them may be considered rude in most circumstances, yet guilt trips are most effective against you if wielded by the people in your own life.

Social norms may presume that if you are not willing to say “no” to people you encounter throughout your life, then why should anyone think that you’ll be able to say “no” to the government under pressure? Although the presumption that saying “no” to what is voluntary builds fortitude for saying “no” to what is coercive, this is not necessarily accurate. The way that individuals act when behaving consensually is noticeably different than when they are doing so coercively; therefore, assuming that saying “no” to voluntary interactions is the same as saying “no” under duress is like comparing apples to oranges, and is therefore a non sequitur.

Civil disobedience is saying “no” to the government. Doing so discretely is more likely to be genuine, since it removes the possibility for ulterior motives. As can be expected, discrete civil disobedience is another approach towards living free away from Leviathan’s grasp, albeit an approach not for the risk adverse.

Strategic withdrawal is refusing your individual consent to being governed. Whether it be in the form of conscientious objection, withdrawal from public school, or cancelling your voter registration, all sorts of methods for “vacating” the State exist. Granted, although these examples are mostly legal remedies, I think they also serve as de facto litmus tests, for how can someone claim that they want to abolish the State if they continue to vote for politicians?

You ought to keep in mind that individuals are the ones making these decisions, not some bunch of central planners “tweaking” everything to death. Saying “no” is an expression of spontaneous order, for there are also those individuals who will seldom say “no,” even if you think they should. Liberty is all about making choices and being responsible for the consequences of those decisions, whether they be good, bad, or neutral.

Much of the discomfort experienced in your own life can be mitigated, or even halted, if you just say “no” a lot more often to unreasonable demands. Here are some examples of how this could work:

  • When the clerk at a retail store wants to know your zip code, say, “I’d prefer not to, thanks.”
  • If your boss wants you to work some unpaid overtime, tell him, “I’d be flattered if you offered me some real work for which I’d be paid for, but I do have a life outside of this job that I would like to get back to.”
  • When a bureaucrat demands anything of you, tell him you’ll need some gratuitous information from him before you can even begin the arduous task of complying with his request.
  • When an acquaintance at a dinner party wants to know your net income, tell them politely that it’s none of his business.
  • When a public school teacher demands that you intrinsically believe their pabulum, reply with, “Does it state in the syllabus that I must accept what you say as gospel?”
  • When a family relative attempts to manipulate you into doing something that you don’t want to do, tell him something along the lines of, “I’ve already told you three times now, I don’t want to attend Uncle Roger’s BYOB party.”
  • When a college professor is stubbornly insisting that everyone attend an extra credit lecture, make sure that you have other plans; for example, say, “You don’t want me to break my previous engagements, do you?”
  • When a business client wants you to do something that is unethical, clearly tell her that you are not some mercenary who will do anything under the sun just for a buck – you have your own moral code and compromising that is not what you agreed to do for her.
  • When a cop asks if he may search your car, reply with, “I don’t consent to any searches, officer.”

Non-compliance is a frequently overlooked method. Refusing to participate in the deceitful, diversionary, or destructive wishes of others is a simple yet hard technique to practice. By saying “no” more often, albeit prudently, I think you will find that the blessings of liberty will be immediate and overflowing.

As Boétie pointed out centuries ago, if you refuse to submit, then you will end your own servitude. Giving nothing to those who do not have your best interest at heart renders them impotent in their attempts to either control you or otherwise gain something at your expense. Whether it be parasitic or predatory in spirit, refusing to needlessly indulge the whims of those you encounter throughout your life is certainly not emulating any form of immorality. Ideally, you should be able to do so all the while keeping the peace, but if push comes to shove, I think it’s better to risk hurt feelings, and even ostracism, when you decide to firmly stand on your convictions.

One thought on “Refusing Consent: The Power of Non-Compliance

  1. Pingback: Fanciful Notices: Should You Post a Warning Sign on Your Property? - The Last Bastille Blog

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