I like to run along the Erie Canal when I exercise. At several of the access points there are signs posted that say something like “No Parking at All Times.” And of course, several of those signs have had black markers drawn through the “Parking” and replaced with “Wars.” My old neighborhood in (arm)Pittsfield, MA had virtually every stop sign scribbled with something like, “Stop Bush,” or “Stop War,” or some sort of Pravda-esque epithet.
Some weeks ago, I let this signage graffiti get under my skin. So I went home and printed up a small sign to attach to the one that I visit most frequently, and which gets a lot of foot traffic. To the bottom I affixed something like, “Stop Wars at All Times? … Without Taxes Governments Cannot Instigate Wars. Free individuals do not start wars, only governments do.”
Now I could have come up with something more eloquent. But my point/question is this: I probably violated the non-aggression axiom that my belief system is predicated on. How? Well, I affixed a piece of paper to a sign which was not on my property, and I did not receive consent for it. Now, you cannot take a consequentialist position and say, “the good you did was greater than the damage” for that itself leads to an ugly place, and raises the question of whether libertarians then are really Benthamite Utilitarians, or as principled as they claim to be.
Can you argue that the sign was already defaced? Well, again that does not permit me to add to its defacement? If a thug walks into my neighbor’s home and takes her TV, that does not sanction me to take her DVD player later on.
Can you argue that the sign is unowned, and so I had as much a right to it as anyone else? At the outset you might have done so. But the first marking that scribbled out “Parking” and put in “War” seems to have had prior appropriation rights over the sign. So if I am a true Lockean, I would have to treat that sign as any other earth given resource that was stumbled upon first by someone else – I had no right to affix a sign.
Is the sign owned? It is “owned” by a state government authority. As much as I despise state government authorities, I am not permitted to violate state owned property on any grounds either, am I? Would the libertarian position allow for someone to blow the state capitol building to pieces (if no one was in it) because it was a representative of violent oppression of the people who have not consented to be governed in this tyrannical way? The Declaration certainly permits for the overthrow of tyrannical governments. But I’ve never seen anyone articulate what is a proper way to assert (legally, in a common law sense) that I am subject to tyranny and then to articulate an appropriate way to overthrow the shackles of that tyranny. I understand that basic non-aggression axiom to mean that I can use violence to defend my property, but it does not make clear how and if I can use aggression to defend my political liberty generally. I suppose I can justify my violation of the property rights of the sign’s owner on the grounds that it is part of my broader attempt to get the shackles of our tyrannical government off of me and my fellow individuals, but unless I was more systematic about my defacing (I just added a piece of paper, so that word is a bit strong) of signs, I think this would be a case of my cherry picking a defense of an illicit reaction on my part.
What would a more appropriate course of action have been, if my intention was to get the attention of the person who actually scribbled on the sign first? After all, there is/was no one for me to negotiate with in order to put up a placard there, and writing an Op-Ed in the paper would not result in as high a probability of the first offender reading it.