Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The strange world of the Sovereign Citizens

One of the features of writing this blog that turns out to be a mixed blessing is that I frequently am sent suggestions by readers for topics for future posts.  I say it's a "mixed blessing" because while some people who read Skeptophilia are fellow skeptics and rationalists who are acting as a team of free-lance (and unpaid) investigative reporters on my behalf, there are some of them who are (to put not too fine a point on it) batshit crazy.  Thus, for example, the person who joined in with me in chuckling about how silly the people are who believe in the power of crystal-infused wands to mitigate chronic pain, but only because she'd found some crystals that really worked, because they were magical rocks that came from the sky.

I considered writing back and explaining to her the definition of the words "sky," "meteorite," and "planet," but decided that it probably was better to leave well enough alone.

There's a more insidious downside to writing this blog, though, and it usually comes about because of the good intentions of my most faithful readers.  There are about a half-dozen folks who send me topics with great regularity, and although I don't think any of them know the others, you would think (by looking at their submissions) that they are in cahoots and are engaging in some sort of Loony Topic One-Upmanship Contest.  Each time I get an email with a link from one of them, it should come with a message, "You think what the others sent you was insane -- wait till you see this!"  Mostly, though, they are just accompanied by some innocent-sounding text, like, "I thought you'd find this interesting."

So, of course, I have to click the link, meaning that I spend the next half-hour with an expression like this:

Which brings me to my friend Peter.

Peter is a skeptic and rationalist par excellence, and a frequent reader and contributor to Skeptophilia.  For which, I will say up front, I am very grateful.  But last week, he sent me an email in which he asked a seemingly innocent question, which was, "Have you ever heard of the 'Sovereign Citizens' movement?"

I said that I hadn't.  In response, he sent me a link to the following video clip.  (Note: by posting this, I am in no way suggesting that you should watch it.  In fact, when I watched it, the only thing that persuaded me not to slam my head face-first into the wall was that I didn't want to have to explain a broken nose and missing front teeth to my wife.  You should only watch this video if you have a strong tolerance for music from 50s informational video shorts and narrators who sound like June Cleaver on Prozac.  Don't say you haven't been warned.)

The gist, for those of you who took my advice and didn't watch the video, is that the government owns you because of your birth certificate, and that any time you register something, it belongs to the government because "regis" means "king."  (Nota bene:  do not fuck around with a linguist.  "Register" comes from the Latin verb regerere, meaning "to record" -- from re-, again, and gerere, to carry or bear.  It has nothing to do with the Latin word for "king," which is rex, and comes from a Proto-Indo European root "*reg-" meaning "right" or "rule.")

Be that as it may, the video goes on to inform you that at birth, your existence was recorded by the government and that has created a "straw man," which is dead.  Or maybe that you're dead and the straw man is alive.  It's a little hard to tell, frankly.  The gist of it seems to be that by paying taxes and signing your name and following laws, you're creating this "fake you" that the government owns, and that the "real you" needs to just stop doing all of that stuff.

So, I was watching this, and wondering if this was some kind of parody, and increasingly it dawned on me: these people are serious.  They really want you to "destroy your straw man" by tearing up your birth certificate, car registration, marriage license, and so on.  Which is how this all connects to the "Sovereign Citizen" movement.

The idea of the Sovereign Citizen movement is that we sheep-like ordinary folk are willingly handing over our rights, money, and freedom to governments, and that we should just stand up and take 'em all back.  Stop paying taxes, stop going along with things like registering children, cars, homes, and so on, stop going along with military draft registration.  In fact, just stop having anything whatsoever to do with the government.  This movement has apparently gained a lot of traction up in Canada, where an estimated 30,000 people consider themselves "sovereign citizens" who have severed all ties with the Canadian government -- including, in some cases, following the law.

In one sense, the Sovereign Citizen movement has a point; when you think about it, it is kind of silly that we've drawn some arbitrary lines all over the Earth and said, "If you are inside this set of invisible lines, you have national health care, gays can marry, you have free public education through college, and you're expected to pay 50% income tax rates; a mile away, across that invisible line, none of that is true."

Can you imagine trying to explain that to an intelligent alien species?

The problem, of course, is that however much you go around saying you're a sovereign citizen and you don't have to pay taxes and all, the government still has a considerable power to compel you, or at least make your life miserable if you don't cooperate.  And the reality is that however strange the idea might seem, governments do provide us with some reasonably nice benefits (e.g. police, fire departments, roads, and public schools).  So even if they curtail our rights some, and require us to do jury duty and file for marriage licenses and the rest, on the balance, I'll still take this over anarchy.

So the "sovereign citizens" end up coming across a little bit like the people who have founded "micronations" by semi-officially seceding their houses from the country in which they reside.  The general response by the powers-that-be is, "Okay, have fun playing in your pillow fort, but when the time comes to do your chores, you still have to do them.  Or else."

Anyhow, my thanks to Peter for telling me about all this, even if it started out with a link that had me wearing my "horrified expression" for six minutes straight.  And I don't want to discourage people from sending me topics -- I honestly love hearing from my faithful readers.  I will continue to look at all the links you send, I promise, whatever the cost to my poor aching facial muscles.  And you can continue to read what I write, free of charge.

You don't even have to register.

No comments:

Post a Comment