Have you noticed how a culture of state extortion, intimidation, and coercion has bred a larger culture of extortion? Here is a simple example:

Prosecutors extort pleas from defendants in order to put them in jail for things they didn’t do. They pressure people in a vulnerable position to do things they would not do without the pressure. You could give a lot of examples of this kind of behavior: flipping witnesses in the Mueller investigation is the highest profile activity we have going on at the moment.

State behavior of this sort begets an attitude and willingness to engage in this kind of behavior in other settings. If the state – the source of law – acts in this predatory, intimidating way, why shouldn’t I? For an example, consider the case of Smiles 4 Keeps, a dental practice that threatens to report parents to state authorities for neglect if they do not bring their children in for regular checkups.

How could someone come up with such a business model? How could members of a civil society even conceive such a thing? You know that people will talk with each other about intimidating letters you send. You know word will go out among parents to stay as far away from Smiles 4 Keeps as you possibly can. Yet you judge that the best way to retain customers is to threaten them with an action that could result in loss of their children to the state! That’s what I mean by extortion culture.

You could write a depressing book about this subject, with many examples and little hope. You would come away from it convinced that our civil society has deteriorated even more than you thought, in only a generation and a half. One might say, don’t get too depressed: this kind of behavior commonly occurs in many settings, and certainly predates the last thirty years. You can always find people who treat others as objects, and who therefore make them victims of their own inhumane lusts.

I would say, though, we have never had extortionate behavior occur in the social environment that exists now, because digital communication did not exist before. Examples of lawless behavior by the state filter into the rest of society far more quickly and thoroughly now than they did before. If people in authority act without moral constraint, or any kind of integrity, why should I or anyone else? The war of all against all, based on ability to do what you like with other people, grows out of questions like that.

If government tortures and threatens people, how can they tell me what not to do? If the state requires me to report you for neglect, if you do not act the way I want you to act, why should I not incorporate coercion and threats in my business model? We observe extortion, intimidation, and manipulation everywhere. Why should I not participate if I can likewise gain an advantage? We have always followed our leaders’ examples, whether their behavior flows from good principles or bad. We witness now what happens when both leaders and followers make their threats explicit.

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