After the initial protests for George Floyd’s alleged murder, the hashtag Defund the Police began circulating as a rallying cry for reform. Of course, with a shocking slogan such as this, there are bound to be those who rally against it. but what surprised its supporters was the apparent misunderstanding of it.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson responded last week that “the chief demand of the Black Lives Matter movement is to get rid of the police — defund them or abolish them entirely. Police, not criminals, they say, are the greatest threat to the well-being of African-Americans — and that is a lie.”
A writer for the Seattle Times also noted that although reforms in policing are needed, “Crime will not end if we abolish or defund the police”, and believes that those punished most by defunding will be the poor and marginalized who the protestors are trying to protect.
Abolishing the police without alternatives, however, is not what the movement claims to preach. Supporters of Defund the Police have responded in multiple ways but most explain a more nuanced position of restructuring the police so they have fewer tasks to handle and putting their funding towards other goals.
Conservative outlets aren’t the only ones that seem against the slogan as CNN claimed that “the word ‘defund’ is handing another political weapon to Trump that he’ll use to distract and divide” and writers from Business Insider believe that the slogan has too many definitions to different individuals for it to be effective.
To many libertarians, this scenario is all too familiar. Many of these responses could be transferred to another radical rallying cry: taxation is theft. The favorite slogan among libertarians often brings the same reactions as Defund the Police. Detractors will often take it at face value and conclude there.
“There are two responses,” explains former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Daniel “Taxation Is Theft” Behrman:
“Either someone will jump through some mental gymnastics to try to say that I agreed to pay taxes when I received a service I didn’t want […]. Others […] jump to its necessity, essentially arguing that theft is necessary for them to enjoy the benefits of that theft.”
Like Defund the Police, Behrman explains how most arguing against Taxation is Theft are “quick to admit that there is a problem of corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse that leads to a lot of their money being spent on things that they object to on a moral basis.” The two slogans have similar problems of dissenters admitting there’s a problem, but that this solution might not be best.
Taxation is Theft even has libertarians detractors, one example being Bad Arguments: A Guide To Logic and Winning Debates author Killian Hobbs. As Hobbs writes in his new book, “We cannot convince someone that removing all forms of government aid makes sense if we leave our solution at ‘taxation is theft.’ We need to take our arguments in favor of the market and showcase how it can and would improve the lives of average people.”
However, the true issue could lie in the intent of those arguing against these phrases. Truthfully, if these people believe that a three-word slogan equates to an entire argument, they are either ignorant or purposefully being obtuse to discredit their opponents.
It’s an old tactic: Make your enemy’s position seem radical and to take away their credibility. What is a common occurrence for libertarians debating other philosophies has now fallen into the laps of progressive Defund the Police movement.
So, what is the lesson of this similarity? That the rallying cries of radical ideas tend to draw fallacious responses and should not be taken at face value. If someone exclaims “Defund the Police” or “Taxation is Theft”, the response shouldn’t be built on slippery slopes and misrepresentations, but clarification and the exchange of discourse. It’s easy to roll with the simple response and claim that three words make a position, but to do the hard work of researching and asking will create better understandings all around.
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